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Having Difficult Conversations

21st August 2014 David Twiddle, Twiddle & Co

Difficult conversations are the part of talent management that we’d all rather pass over if we had the chance, but they’re also some of the most vital elements of HR and business management as a whole.

In family businesses, the conversations lose none of their importance but become even more difficult.  When a family business is growing rapidly, certain employees may begin to struggle in the face of change. Long-standing, valued employees may find it difficult to keep pace with the rate of growth, and could begin to hold the business back.

The most successful family businesses are able to adapt to a changing market and face this issue head on. However, in this type of business it may seem far easier (in the short-term) to procrastinate and delay having this difficult employee conversation – putting the long-term prospects of the business at risk. Here’s Twiddle & Co.’s guide to addressing this issue.

Ask yourself difficult questions

Before you start the conversation with the employee, you as the owner must first ask yourself some searching questions – and provide honest answers to them.

Q How is the business changing?
Has the employee been told of these plans? Knowing the journey that your business has been on in addition to what’s to come allows you to view the employee’s position in relation to the change. Furthermore, communicating these plans to the employee (and all employees) is essential.

Q Have you spoken to the employee about their role and performance?
When did the employee first begin to struggle? Creating an open dialogue between you and the employee may be enough to reveal the source of their struggles. A personal issue may have been affecting their work, or they may have become disillusioned. Don’t dig too deep to find the source, but encourage the employee to open up to you and share their worries.

Q What do others in the business think of the employee’s performance?
If you’ve asked someone else in the business about the employee, it is important to listen to their thoughts and examine the differences between your points of view.

Q Has anyone raised concerns about the employee’s performance?
If someone comes to you with concerns about the employee, it’s clear that their performance is already having an effect on those working with them. The situation must be managed to ensure that other employees do not lose morale.

Q How has the employee’s role changed, and how will it change?
To determine whether an employee will be able to cope at your company in the future, you must know how you expect their role to change in the future – and then decide whether they’ll be suited to it.

Q What are their strengths and weaknesses?
Can these be developed? If it’s possible to resolve the problems that your employee is facing, this will make that difficult conversation far easier.

Q Who would be their immediate replacement?
If your employee left the company suddenly, who would replace them the following day? Would it be easy to find a replacement?

Talk to the employee
Once you’ve answered these questions, talk to the employee about the company’s past, present and future. Inform them how the changes will affect everyone in the company, including the employee. Ask which aspects of the role the individual enjoys, and which they don’t. Also, take the time to discuss how the employee views the business as a whole – and where their role fits in.

Courses of action 
Following these conversations, you are equipped with the knowledge to decide on a course of action. Three main options are available to you.

First: that the employee remains in the role – but with a development plan and regular review sessions.
The development plan aims to tackle their weaknesses, and is likely to involve giving them additional tasks and responsibilities that they’ve indicated that they want to become involved with.

Second: admit that their role has changed and that the employee no longer wants it.
Explore possibilities for redeployment within the company.

The third and final option is to create an exit strategy.
If it’s clear that it’s in everyone’s interest that the employee leaves the business, it’s time to start thinking about outplacement support, succession and golden goodbyes. Consulting work leading to a phased exit must also be considered, as it retains the dignity and integrity of the employee.

Of course, in a family business this issue is particularly sensitive, as a decision may well result in some tension outside of the boardroom and in the family environment. Nevertheless, for the business to move forward through periods of rapid change, this issue must be addressed quickly before the situation deteriorates.

Twiddle & Co. are talent management experts who can help you plan for difficult conversations and guide you through to a satisfactory solution for everyone involved.


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