Dear Joseph,

I have an employee who has previous job experience as a manager but who took an entry level role to get into a full-time position with our company. This employee has been making progress learning our company’s policies and procedures and initially showed a great interest in learning as much as possible.

More recently, this employee has become distracted. She turns in work that has been completed half-heartedly. She makes small mistakes that are obviously due to a lack of effort. Now she has applied for a management role in the company. I don’t feel comfortable recommending her based on her current poor work. How do I reenergize this employee? I don’t want this person to feel this is a reprimand—because she hasn’t done anything wrong. I want to inspire her to kick it up a notch and prove she is ready.

Signed,
Struggling Coach

Dear Struggling Coach,

This is easy! Your last paragraph gives me great hope that your heart is right where it needs to be. You aren’t angry. Your motive is not to punish. It sounds like you want to be honest in your recommendation. You are a person of integrity. And you also want this person to succeed.

Ninety percent of the time ninety percent of our difficulties in crucial conversations are not skill problems but motivation problems. We feel angry, scared, or hurt by others’ behavior and our motive degenerates to wanting to blame, be right, punish, keep the peace, etc. I don’t hear any of that in your question.

So here’s a tip—you already know what to say! When I ask people, “What fears do you have about this crucial conversation?” the words flow freely. They say things like, “I don’t want to hurt them,” or, “I don’t want to lose our relationship,” or, “I don’t want them to think I am angry with them.”

Then I ask, “Okay, so what do you hope happens as a result of the conversation?” Again, they wax poetic and their well-formed thoughts take verbal wing! “I want them to show up on time for meetings,” or, “I want them to succeed.”

We are often like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz; we’re already wearing the very ruby slippers we need in order to get home. You’ve just got to look down to see them. Your ruby slippers are in your last paragraph. Imagine starting your crucial conversation with this person by saying something brilliant like, “I’ve got some feedback I want to share with you. May I? I don’t want you to feel reprimanded—because you haven’t done anything wrong. I want to inspire you to kick it up a notch and prove you are ready.” What a great opener! It’s vulnerable. It’s honest. It’s caring. It has everything you need to start your crucial conversation.

Oftentimes, all you need to do in order to help people feel safe is share what you do and don’t want to have happen in the conversation. If your heart is in the right place, you’re off to a great start.

I wish you and her the best!

Warmly,
Joseph