Got a Maverick in your team?

A good telling off

There was a great article in Director magazine this month from their Information and Advisory Service.  The writer used Bond’s wayward character from Skyfall, when he played dead and started a boozy retirement near a tropical beach; hardly a model employee of the UK government.

Of course, M needed to talk.

I guess you don’t have 007 in your team, but there probably is someone that you need to have a difficult conversations with, clear the air, and get them back on track.  And you know that if you delay this conversation, things will only deteriorate, they may just chip away at your credibility as leader, and before you know it, set a precedent for unacceptably poor behaviour.

So, what are you to do?  First of all, be prepared.

There’s a 5 step process for this type of conversation which I covered in my workshop this morning, “Coaching Others to Be Their Best”.  Once you have clearly identified the message you wish to give, focusing on the unacceptable behaviour and it’s consequences, you can prepare for the conversation process itself.  It begins with delivering that message, after which you take the 5 steps below.

  1. Inquiry:  This is the first, very important step which takes the heat and defensiveness out of the conversation, and as manager, YOU HAVE TO BE PREPARED TO LISTEN.  You can ask how they feel about your message, what’s their take, their view on the situation, and avoid interrupting them.
  2. Acknowledgement:  This demonstrates that you DID listen in step 1.  It’s the opportunity to reflect what they said, paraphrase if needed, and confirm your understanding of their perspective.  There is an important distinction to recognise here; you don’t have to agree with what has been said, you are simply acknowledging that you understand.
  3. Advocacy:  Now is your opportunity to share your perspective and to re-state what is and what is not acceptable.  You may have to refer to their employment contract, your own written agreement, perhaps the statement of the team’s shared values.  Whatever your point of reference, this is the step for making clear your position as leader.  It may have been tempting to go straight here to step 3 and just lay down the law.  However, using steps 1 and 2 will most likely get you into a more adult to adult conversation.
  4. Problem solving:  Once you have both made clear your position and have been understood, it’s time to work out together how this matter will be solved.  The onus is on the employee to take responsibility for the fix that is needed, but as leader you can provide support and encouragement, as well as some ideas of your own.
  5. Agreeing on action: Your conversation should conclude with some clear action steps, you may want to test the actions against SMART criteria, and you (as leader) should also be clear on any support which you need to provide.

So there you have it – Inquiry, Acknowledgement, Advocacy, Problem solving, Agreeing on action – the 5 steps for holding a difficult conversation.  But first ……. prepare!

I’ll be running this workshop again in Bristol next year, so do let me know if you are interested in coming along.


Have a great weekend.