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Ask the HR Expert: Employee Engagement and Performance Issues

Posted by NEHRA  April 21, 2011 09:00 AM

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Q. My firm is reluctant to use social media because of legal risks, and because they fear that employees will waste time on Facebook, YouTube, etc. Any advice?

A. Many companies are afraid of the realistic downside of social media (employees saying the wrong thing, badmouthing the employer, inadvertently sharing information publicly that should only be shared privately, etc.). I speak to many leadership teams, and I remind them that once upon a time, we would lock our rotary telephones so employees wouldn't 'steal' company resources by calling their relatives or friends with the 800 telephone line. And I also recall the head of legal storming into my office exclaiming: "You're not really going to allow our employees to have access to email, are you? They'll steal our intellectual property." As we reflect back today, it is rather ridiculous to think about these former 'concerns'. That is where we are with social media today social media is not going away. In fact, this is the world where Gen Y lives, and if companies want to engage and communicate with this generation, they MUST embrace social media. How? By creating their own You Tube channel where your Gen Y employees articulate your firm's values. Or, have your employees join LinkedIn groups to share job opportunities. Identify your most 'connected' employees and ask if they would be interested in being your brand ambassadors. If you're not embracing and leveraging social media, your departing employees might be. Sites such as are increasingly becoming popular with departing employees who feel their companies did not treat them fairly. One of the fastest growing sites, for example, provides individuals with their social media 'ranking.' In the future, instead of asking employees what their credit ranking is, they might ask what their Klout ranking is.


Q. How can I convince our leaders to focus energy and resources on employee engagement?

A. One of the unfortunate outcomes of our multiple year recession has been the elimination of a talent "burning platform." Many leaders lost the urgency to embrace retention and engagement. Voluntary turnover statistics are down across all industries, and if companies are not losing people and have little difficulty finding people, then some leaders are apt to take for granted the need for ongoing talent management and engagement initiatives. Big mistake! We're beginning to see signs of a recovery, and employers are hiring again. As the job market picks up, we will see a return to the pre-recession turnover levels and those leaders who are not embracing the need to engage the troops will be caught off guard. I encourage HR professionals to share relevant statistics with their leadership team. There is a cottage industry out there that measures and reports on the connection between engagement and profitable growth. (note: check for the latest research to share with your team). Make the business case for engagement!

If your leadership team still "doesn't get it", try to find the most senior respected person in your firm who does get it. Partner with him / her to sway your leaders. If unsuccessful, don't lose hope. There is still a lot you can do as an individual leader, working with your employees to build open and transparent communication, understanding the motivational drivers of your employees, providing staff development opportunities, and giving ongoing feedback and recognition!


Q. I need to have a difficult performance discussion with one of the supervisors on my team. She's supposed to be managing and developing others but in reality she only focuses on her own needs. She keeps asking when she's going to be promoted to manager, but the way she's going she'll never get there. I want to basically tell her that if she's only looking out for herself she'll never get promoted. The problem is that if I'm too direct she'll get defensive. In fact she always reacts this way whenever I provide constructive criticism. Any advice on how to be direct yet not have her fly off the handle?

A. Small conversations work best when they are positive, non-critical interventions, since these don't trigger defensive responses. Any form of criticism, no matter how well intended or "constructive," activates the limbic system, that primal, fight or flight area of our brains. When we feel attacked the typical response is to defend, deflect or rationalize.

In this case, I'd suggest using one of your regularly scheduled one-on-one meetings to have a conversation about developing the rest of the team. I'll "make up" some of the details to provide a sense of what a small non-threatening yet direct conversation might sound like:

"We're off to a good start in the first quarter because the following items were accomplished (name some of her achievements)."

"Over the next quarter I'd like to see you focus on developing your team. Can we talk about what this would look like? (Notice how I asked permission to talk about this versus "telling"? Most people will say, 'yes' ")

"Remember you had mentioned the project management course you wanted to take? [Another question will help create a two-way conversation]. Given the nature of the work my sense is that this is something your entire team could really benefit from and I'd like to see everyone go through it with you. Can you look in to the next session on this and we can talk about enrolling your team and getting them through the program during the next quarter?"

"I was also thinking we could schedule some time to talk about each person on your team and think through their individual development needs. Would you be open to that?"

"This way, it gives you some time to step back from the day-to-day work and devote some of your time as a supervisor to thinking about the professional development of your staff. I know you're interested in positioning yourself for a manager level position and one of the core competencies for that role is developing others."

In looking at the talking points I've put together you'll notice that none of them focus on past deficiencies. Instead, you are remapping your frustrations of "doesn't develop others and only looks out for herself, into a future focused picture of what you want to have happen instead.

For more guidance on addressing employee performance issues, including anticipating and responding to typical reactions to feedback you can find resources at:


Q. I'm the VP of Sales for my company and I have a sales person who is great with clients, an A+, but with his colleagues he treats them like second class citizens, a D-. As a result I'm getting lots of complaints, we've had one person threaten to quit and I can tell morale is at an all-time low, especially in the customer service area, which is the group that supports our sales team. This has been going on for far too long and I admit I'm at fault for not acting sooner, but I'm not sure what to say other than stop treating people like dirt. By the way, our tagline is that "we're a place where each relationship matters". Within Customer Service the "joke" is that that's true unless you're an employee. How should I approach this guy?

A. The good news is that this person is capable of building solid and respectful relationships. He just chooses not to do so with his colleagues. Your frustration is how he treats others. You can remap that frustration quite simply, and have a small non-confrontational performance conversation that sounds something like this:

"We're a place where each relationship matters. (It's helpful to anchor your feedback with the business rationale, so look for a company value, competency or related job responsibility that fits with your request).

"You have great relationships with your clients. I'd like to see you transfer these same relationship building skills to your colleagues. What I'm asking is that you put just as much effort into building positive respectful work relationships with the people in Customer Service."

At this point you will literally take a breath and allow this individual to respond to your request. You can then say something like, "Can we strategize on ways you can build these relationships with the folks in Customer Service?"

Your goal is to get this individual to acknowledge the issue and agree to changing. There's always the chance that he will be difficult, won't agree, make excuses or have a myriad of other reactions to the feedback. For more guidance on addressing employee performance issues, including anticipating and responding to typical reactions to feedback you can find resources at:


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About NEHRA - The Voice of HR Featuring articles and resources for Human Resources / HR professional and hiring managers from the Northeast Human Resources Association (NEHRA).

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