I rarely watch television – hell, with a business and an alpaca farm to run, two small children and ultra marathoning, I usually don’t have time to have a cuppa tea – not a warm one anyway. But this week I was watching the end of The Project on Channel 10 and watching a story unfold about a past NRL player, Hazem El Masri and his wife. Now there is a huge backlog of a personal story behind why the story was interesting to the media and the masses, but the bit that peaked my interest was the way in which the NRL dealt with his suspension as an ambassador and ultimate exit from the game/organisation. And it led me to shake my head, reaching for my wine and wondering, yet again, why is it so damn hard to have difficult conversations with people at work?
According to El Masri, he was told he was “having a break” and that break became longer and longer and left even his wife asking “What’s going on here ?”, Until he was eventually dumped. Even after he had been cleared formally of any charges and wrong doing, he has heard nothing from the NRL. What he is seeking is closure.
Tough conversations may solve problems, but they're often a no-pain, no-gain situation. An article I read recently suggests * “To succeed at difficult conversations, managers need the tongue of a gifted narrator, the mind of a wise psychologist and a heart of a gutsy lion tamer.” I’m sorry, but I just don’t think it’s that hard to have a difficult conversation. It's by no means pleasant and no one wants to hurt anyone's feelings, but...
I have my examples too. One CEO that I worked with offered an executive a new position, with salary approximately 60% of the one the employee was on currently to have the employee decide to leave. This employee wasn’t doing anything inherently wrong; he just wasn’t a great performer in the eyes of this CEO. The employee spent numerous hours in my office as an HR Director, pondering “What have I done?”, “Why doesn’t he like me ?”, “What can I do differently?”. In reality, it wasn’t this employee that needed to change; the CEO needed to pull up his big boy pants and have an honest conversation.
It’s not easy, and here’s a news flash - it’s not meant to be! And perhaps this employee might have reacted badly or with tears, but the best thing for the organisation, the employee and the CEO is to have that conversation!
In another example, I have had a CEO tell a direct report in the presence of others and over email, “We can’t be without you”, “You are the CEO in practice”, “I need you” etc. In reality, I don’t know what was happening in this CEO’s head, but this leader was being ousted by the Board ( which the CEO knew ), and they brought in a third party to orchestrate the discussion and “deal” to get this guy to leave. Again, the employee is wondering “Hang on, you just told me, I was doing well !”, “What did I do?” and yet again, it’s the CEO with the issue and the long list of things they could do differently.
Did you know, there is even a coaching discipline now known as “coaching an employee out”? Really? Are we are doing this now? We’re outsourcing the conversation !? We will just add the cost of these “coaches” to the sums of money being thrown at people to leave in return for the “Deed of Release/Confidentiality Agreements” to be signed, shall we? Seems like an expensive circus to avoid a conversation with me.
If I had a dollar for every orchestrated “redundancy” I have been asked to conjure up, I am writing this from the private island somewhere. So many conversations around, how can I manage so & so or this demographic better. How do I get so & so to leave? I know, here’s an idea! How about have the conversation for starters! Honestly, over coffee, without formality to start with, human to human! Radical aren’t I?
El Masri now says he wouldn’t change anything about the experience. He feels it has ultimately made him a better person. In fact, many people after being exited badly from organisation find an enormous weight being lifted after the dust has settled and they have moved on, usually cash in hand!
Come on people, time to front up and own the tough conversations for the benefit of everyone concerned.
Need some help? Give me a call, if you buy me a coffee, I'll help you size up some big boy/girl pants! No further invoice pending.