Liz Elting: No One Benefits from Sugarcoating


Liz Elting: No One Benefits from Sugarcoating

By Liz Elting

The Wall Street Journal - September 27, 2013

Managers share the burdens and benefits of being responsible for those we oversee, and at the end of the day, a manager is responsible for bringing out the best possible performance in his or her employees. If the employees end up falling short, it can be a daunting task for the manager to effectively address the situation.

Success as a manager depends on properly communicating expectations. After all, how will employees be able to quantify their performance if we haven’t clearly set and conveyed the performance standards? When expectations are clear and undisputed, it becomes much easier to address areas of concern.

People have made entire careers out of analyzing how to maintain and perfect this process, but for many of us, it is simply another component in our day-to-day work that we need to figure out as we go. All managers will develop their own styles and determine what is best for them. After 20 years in business, I still have to work each day to communicate not only our company goals and direction, but also those for my employees’ roles and contributions. If I define what success looks like with my employees, then the question of how to spot underperformance is simpler to answer.

Once managers establish these expectations, they need to create working environments that give employees the support and resources they need to meet the agreed-upon standards. At my company, we foster an ongoing meritocracy to reinforce the importance of meeting – and exceeding – goals that have been mutually set. We want our employees to take ownership of their tasks and responsibilities – they should be the first to know when they’ve succeeded, as well as when they’ve fallen short. Hopefully they are able to take action to address the issue without having to be prompted by their manager.

However, when issues do make it up the ladder and land on my desk, one thing I’ve learned over the years is that it doesn’t help anyone to sugarcoat or mince words. Explaining to an underperforming employee that expectations are not being met can be difficult, but it’s a conversation that needs to be approached directly and honestly. You can drive the point home without using a hammer, but the nail still needs to end up in the same place.

No company founder, manager or employee wants to end up in a situation where underperformance needs to be addressed. It’s important to recognize that arriving at that point almost always includes some shortcomings on the part of all involved parties. By clearly establishing expectations and creating an atmosphere in which employees can reach their potential right from the start, you’ll be better equipped to handle these kinds of issues. For me, the best strategy to address underperformance is learning how to recognize and prevent it.

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