4 Battle-Tested Strategies for New Managers and Tough Conversations

New Managers and Tough Conversations

New Managers and Tough Conversations Often Do Not Go Well Together
We know from decades of designing and delivering customized management training programs that new managers and leaders are especially apt to shy away from difficult conversations or tough situations.  What is it about new managers and tough conversations?

Afraid of Being a Bad Boss
The first thing we found out about new managers and tough conversations is that many managers are concerned about becoming the “bad boss” or alienating their new team members. But there are some times when it is important to step up and confront a problem that will only grow if not handled in a smart, timely and skillful manner.

New Teams Are Not Always High Performing
The second thing we found out about new managers and tough conversations is that managers rarely inherit a ready-made team of collaborative, cooperative individuals. More than likely, managers have at least one team member who lacks the skill, knowledge, capability, willingness or motivation to get the job done in a way that makes sense.

New Managers Have Increased Visibility and Expectations
The third thing we found out about new managers and tough conversations is that others are, of course, watching. Managers need to find a way to deal with each difficult situation effectively.  Managers need to show the team that they have their best interests at heart and deserve respect.

A Recent New Manager Training Scenario
Here is a scenario shared at a recent new manager training program with escalating negotiation strategies for managing the situation well:

  • You have a team member (Chris) whose work is critical to the team’s current project. His work is well done but consistently late. His tardiness (due to simple procrastination) affects his colleagues who have to sacrifice nights and weekends in order to deliver their related pieces of the project on time.

Tough Conversation Strategy #1

  • A Simple Conversation with an “Anchor”
    Establish that your guiding principle (your “anchor”) as a manager is to build a healthy, dynamic team. Make clear how Chris’ delays affect the rest of the team and how difficult it is for them to make up for time lost. Ask if there is a way you can help set up a schedule that will ensure Chris’ work is delivered in timely fashion so that team members can finish without working overtime.

Tough Conversation Strategy #2

  • Using a “Positive No” Between Two “Yesses “
    You reiterate that your goal as a new manager is to support Chris as well as the others on the team. But you cannot allow Chris’ procrastination to undermine others’ efforts and sabotage their work-life balance. Offer to brainstorm solutions together to create a solution that makes sense.

Tough Conversation Strategy #3

  • Reframe the Problem
    Clarify the team’s goals, plan, scope, deliverables, success metrics, roles and responsibilities with Chris. Then ask to explore ways together to do that consistently and in a way that shares the work burden fairly.

Tough Conversation Strategy #4

  • Offer an Alternative
    If Chris continues to be uncooperative, it is time to come up with an option that will give you some leverage. Is there another role Chris can play on the project team? Would Chris be happier and more productive working elsewhere in the company?

The point is that you want to urge Chris toward compliance with the timetable you need to set for the project. You may find that Chris will choose to leave the team. If so, you have lost a difficult member who jeopardized the team’s morale and success. If not, by addressing the situation directly and without being unnecessarily aggressive, you have built a more collaborative relationship.

The Bottom Line
Chris may have been a tough customer. But there are strategies as a new manager to bring this type of employee into the fold, onboard with the team’s goals, and a fully productive team member.

To learn more about managing teams, download 6 Ways New Managers Foster Better Team Collaboration

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