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Tough Conversations: Best Practices for Giving Employee Feedback

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Tough Conversations

From time to time, you’ll need to have a tough conversation with an employee. Maybe you have to provide constructive criticism, or maybe you have to let them go. Regardless of the situation, it’s important to take an empathetic approach.

Here, Tracy Stepp, the director of human possibilities at The Claremont Club, shares her strategies for having tough conversations with staff.

CS: What are best practices for providing constructive feedback to employees?

TS: When we hire our staff, we try to be very clear about our expectations. I think setting up expectations and clearly communicating those expectations are so important when you first start out with people, so they understand where you stand and what’s important to you — such as your core values and company culture, or what’s expected of their role, for example.

CS: What mechanisms or structure do you have for providing feedback to staff?

TS: We recently did away with annual performance reviews. We used to do them every year and it was really becoming kind of counterproductive, because you give an annual review and employees get hit with all the stuff they need to work on at one time. It wasn’t a positive way to help people grow. So we started doing consistent check-ins, where we’re constantly communicating with our people on a daily, weekly and quarterly basis. It’s important to have one-on-ones to support relationship building and open communication, so that managers feel more comfortable giving feedback.

That’s one thing that we try to do really well, is to make sure people feel comfortable talking to us. We tell them they can say anything they want to say, as long as they say it in a nice and kind way. We want to know what employees aren’t happy with, we want to hear problems, what’s not working out — because obviously that gives us an opportunity to improve. We take more of a proactive approach to everything and try to be very open and honest. We try to build relationships with our staff so they really trust us. We’re more like family.

CS: What if you’ve determined an employee isn’t a good culture or job fit. How would you approach the situation?

TS: If they’re not meeting expectations or are not a good fit with our culture, then we unfortunately will tell them that we’re really sorry, but it’s not a good fit for the position we’ve hired them for. When we do our new employee orientations, we’re really clear about the type of people we’re looking for and that they have to fit in with the culture. They have to have the skills to do the job obviously, but they also have to be a culture fit. They have to be good with people, because this is a people business. We’re very upfront that we will make the change in their employment if it’s not a good fit for any reason — and we normally do that within the first 30 to 60 days.

I have found that’s one of the most important things — is again, letting people know upfront what’s expected. Because when I let them know what’s expected, then when I meet with them later and I have to tell them, “Remember orientation — we talked about this and how important it is for us to have the right fit” — then they take it so much better.

CS: Are there any other tips you can share for how to have tough conversations with staff?

TS: Again, being empathetic and understanding is important. Say we have to let someone go — I’m a believer that when one door closes another door opens. I tried to be positive, that there’s probably something that’s better out there for them. And a lot of times they’ll come back and say you were right, I got a better job that’s a better fit.

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Rachel Zabonick

Rachel Zabonick is the editor-in-chief of Club Solutions Magazine. She can be reached at rachel@peakemedia.com.

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