No leader enjoys conflict. We all just wish everyone would do their job, get along and hit goals. But the reality is that issues always surface. A good leader knows how to handle these issues and has a system for managing them.
Here are steps for handling difficult situations:
Step one: Be clear with your expectations.
As a manager, you have to ask yourself whether everyone on your team knows exactly what your expectations are. Are all systems, procedures and expectations clearly spelled out and documented for all to review and fully understand?
Be sure to have the following in place for your business:
Corporate systems manual. Your systems manual should include everything needed to fully operate your business so everyone knows what to do or where to find the answers. The manual makes it easy to train new people because everything is documented and you are not relying on the training supervisor’s memory. Our business manual clearly lists general guidelines and procedures relating to dress code, punctuality, attendance at meetings, appropriate usage of work hours, cell phone usage, procedures for absenteeism, client conduct, team conduct and more. It includes our customer service initiatives, our approach to marketing and advertising, our system for sales, client programming guidelines, operational systems and more. To ensure that new staff read the manual, have them take a quiz on all the important components. For existing staff, your monthly evaluations should enforce that critical company expectations are being met regularly.
Employee agreement. When staff members are hired, give them a written document with their job description and your expectations. Review each item with them to ensure they fully understand all aspects of their job and their compensation package.
Evaluations. Evaluations should be done several times each year. Typically, you only remember what has happened in the last few months, so you may miss out on highlighting your staff member’s strengths and sharing with them when they are not meeting your expectations. The more you share with staff what they are doing well and tell them that you appreciate them, the more your team will perform at a level to gain your praise and recognition. Then, you will have fewer issues to deal with. Instead of dealing with a year’s worth of issues in an annual review, regular evaluations throughout the year can make the process more manageable and digestible for your team. In our business, each staff member undergoes a number of formal and informal evaluations throughout the year:
- On-floor evaluation. The primary purpose of these reviews is to evaluate technical knowledge and practical skills, reinforce client programming guidelines and assess communication and client interaction skills. These reviews include an analysis of a videotaped training session, an on-floor evaluation conducted by a manager and an on-floor evaluation conducted by a peer.
- Indicators of performance. These reviews evaluate administrative skills and adherence to behind the scenes protocols and procedures. We audit client files and various other administrative responsibilities.
- Yearly performance appraisal. We conduct this review each December with any wage changes in effect Jan. 1 of the next year. In this review, we evaluate employee performance, review company expectations/policies, establish new revenue/hourly goals, sign a contract and review wages.
In the reviews, we go over the feedback forms and surveys that our clients complete, as well as the client shopper evaluations. Trainers also receive monthly reports of their revenue performance stats.
At any given time, a team member should know exactly whether they are hitting goals and meeting expectations. At each evaluation, we highlight strengths and establish goals and areas to focus on for improvement.
Step two: Handle employees who do not meet expectations.
Inevitably, you are going to have people on your team who are not meeting expectations, and you must deal with it right away. Otherwise, your strong team members will notice that the “problem child” is getting away with not meeting expectations and the virus spreads until multiple team members are slacking.
To nip this in the bud, schedule a private meeting with the team member in question and refrain from criticizing them in public as that will cause them to go into defense mode. But if you are aware of something that you need to address immediately, pull them aside privately and address it right away without others eavesdropping.
When addressing an issue, I find the following approach works most of the time:
- Begin with a positive statement. There has to be something about this person that you appreciate, respect and value. If not, why are they still on your team? So, say something like this: “Bill, I really appreciate the energy you bring to your session and the creativity you have with your exercises,” or “Sue, the rapport you have with clients is incredible. I can tell they really like you.”
- Ask questions about the issue and/or state facts. If you can ask questions about the situation first, it often calms the situation, and the individual does not feel they are being attacked. Nine times out of 10, they will bring up the concern before you have to. For example, if two team members have a conflict, you can say: “I understand that you had an issue with Joe and I wanted to hear from you what happened and what you think you and Joe could have done differently and what we need to do from here to resolve the situation.”
- Offer your help, support or a suggestion. In the above example of team member conflict, you could say, “I can see both sides here. I think it would be very helpful to have all three of us get together to talk about each other’s perspective and brainstorm how we can work together more successfully from this point forward.”
- Finish with a positive statement. Be sure they leave knowing you care about them and only want the best for them. The reprimand has nothing to do with them as a person—it is about changing actions so they and the business can reach their/its potential.
Anytime you have these conversations with a team member, it is helpful to document the conversation. Record the outcome, goals, action plan and a time frame to reassess. In a situation where you have to let someone go or in the event of a wrongful dismissal suit, these documented conversations come in handy.
Step three: Know when it is time to move on.
So at what point do you give up on a team member? Here are cases where I think termination is the best option:
- Extreme unacceptable behaviors. Examples include stealing, severe lying or insubordination, harassment, drug abuse, etc.
- Poor attitude and not meeting expectations. Three strikes and you are out. After the first meeting, if they are still not meeting expectations, I schedule another meeting. Each meeting becomes more about pointing out where they are not meeting expectations. We continue to set goals, action plans, time frames and consequences. Typically after all of this, they realize that it is not a right fit, and they quit. Having a team member quit is always better than firing them from a legal perspective. If they don’t get the hint, I will say something like, “We have met multiple times over the last few weeks, and it is clear to me that you are not able to meet the expectations that I have and that we need to part ways. At this point, I will give you the opportunity to resign.” If they do not, you terminate their position and again, document the reasoning and rationale.
- Great attitude, but lacking in skills after multiple chances and opportunities to redeem themselves. This is where I can be a little soft. If the person is trying hard and desires to meet the expectations but is just having difficulty, I will pour my energy and resources to help them along. Eventually, they either get it and everyone is happy, or they get frustrated that they just cannot meet goals and will resign.
If I am having a hard time deciding whether I need to terminate someone, I will ask myself, “Knowing what I know now, would I re-hire this person?” If the answer is no, it is time to move on.
My hope is that with this information, you will arm yourself with systems to ensure less conflict. But if and when conflict does surface, I hope this article provides you a step-by-step approach to resolving it quickly.
Sherri McMillan, M.Sc., has been inspiring the world to adopt a fitness lifestyle for more than 20 years and has received numerous industry awards, including the 2006 IDEA Fitness Director of the Year, the 1998 IDEA Personal Trainer of the Year and the 1998 CanFitPro Fitness Presenter of the Year. Her million-dollar training studios in Portland, OR, and Vancouver, WA, have received Better Business Bureau Business of the Year recognition. McMillan is a fitness trainer, a fitness columnist for various magazines and newspapers, author of five books and manuals, a featured presenter in various fitness DVDs, an international fitness presenter, and a spokesperson for Nike, Nautilus, Twist Conditioning and PowerBar. She can be reached at http://www.nwfitnesseducation.com/ or sherrimcmillan.blogspot.com.