The truth is: Many managers struggle to hold their teams accountable.
And when it’s your job to provide unsolicited feedback (HRBPs, I’m looking at you), it doesn’t exactly take a rocket scientist to understand why so many People professionals are met with defensiveness, dismissiveness, and even outright irritation when sharing their thoughts and observations.
As frustrating as that can be, that doesn’t mean we should stop providing feedback — solicited or not. (For the record: It doesn’t mean we should lose our temper and yell at everyone to stop being so defensive either — therapeutic though that exercise might be. 😉)
So what should we do?
Here are our top five tips for helping your managers hold their teams accountable without making the discussion contentious:
1. Start with a shared goal.
Remind your managers that you’re here to help them. You — like them — are just trying to help their team succeed.
Encouraging them to have tough discussions doesn’t mean you’re trying to push anyone out of the company. Instead, you’re trying to open the lines of communication so your manager is better equipped to help their team succeed.
2. Lead with curiosity.
There’s nothing that gets people’s hackles rising faster than someone crashing their way into a discussion like they’ve already made up their mind without bothering to get the other person’s input. Reduce friction — and get to a better solution — by leading with questions.
Consider questions like, “How would you define success in this role?” “Where are they currently excelling/falling short?” “What impact are they having on the overall team?” “How clearly have you communicated to them how they’re currently performing against the expectations of their role?” “What will happen if you continue to manage the situation as you have been so far?”
3. Coach, don’t enforce.
At the end of the day, performance management works a whole lot better when your manager is actually bought into the process. Instead of telling them what to do, help them reach the solution for themselves.
Consider language like, “What haven’t you tried yet?” “What’s holding you back?” “What support would you need in order to help get this person’s performance where it needs to be?” “What are the business needs in terms of a reasonable timeline by which you’d need to see their performance level up, and what would that look like? How would you measure it?”
4. Know when to go meta.
If the discussion starts to feel tense, take a step back and call it out. Help them process their emotions in a more productive way through empathetic but solution-oriented questions.
Consider language like, “I get the impression this isn’t landing well, and I want to make sure I’m doing my part to understand your perspective. What’s going through your mind right now? What about this conversation is driving the greatest stress?”
5. Open yourself to feedback.
Make it clear that you’re committed to meeting them halfway in this partnership.
Consider language like, “I don’t feel great about how last week’s discussion went, and I want to change that moving forward. If you were in my shoes, how would you have approached that discussion? What do you wish I had done differently?”
It’s not about right or wrong. It’s about knowing your audience and tailoring your approach for success.
As the old adage goes, it’s not what you say, but how you say it.
If you’re looking for more manager support, we have In Good Company, a manager-training course that you can assign to your managers within minutes, crafted by our own Melanie Naranjo, VP of People, and totally free. That’s right, we thought this training was so important, we made it free.