Online discussion forums (fora?) are a funny thing. While we generally have our daily conversations inside our bubbles, where opinions rarely surprise us and everybody knows your name, forums allow us to hold conversations with people from outside (often far outside) our little bubbles. I live in Portland, Oregon, which is the epitome of the “liberal bubble,” where I can generally expect that 99% of the people on the streetcar live on the same side of the political spectrum—if not quite as far to one end—as I do. Because of this geography, I jump at opportunities to…Read More
We’ve all seen it: that sweet statement at the end of every job posting that tells everyone not to worry, that the people doing the hiring hold absolutely no bias whatsoever and will totally make every decision without regard to race, sex, national origin, disability status, sexual orientation, etc.
We all know that’s complete and utter BS, right?Read More
You know that feeling. The in-your-gut, sinking feeling you get before you have to deliver a performance warning to a staff member. Maybe you have an HR business partner with you, maybe you’re alone, but you know that this conversation is going to be miserable for everyone involved. It HAS to be…right?
Obviously, you know I’m going to say WRONG. (Though it would be funny if I were just like “yep, it sucks. Sorry!”)
Here’s the thing: Most of us, when delivering negative performance feedback to an employee, genuinely want that employee to improve. We want our people to succeed and we want to give them the tools to do so. These are conversations with people who have potential, have succeeded in the past but backslid, or whom you hired before finding out that they’re a little short on skills. Unfortunately, we know that the employee is going to see this first conversation as Step 1 on the road to being fired, and they’ll react by either walking on eggshells for months or dusting off their resume.
So, how do we, with all of our good intentions, use this opportunity to create a partnership with our employees? How do we avoid crushing their spirits when all we want to do is motivate? I’m so glad you asked!
Start with the result you want. This means actually beginning the conversation with something like “I really want our team to crush these sales goals this year.” Notice you are NOT starting with “We need to have a talk about your performance.” This step begins even before the meeting—your invitation to meet should be titled something like “Planning Meeting” or “Strategy Session”
Talk about some successes your team has had. Keeping that positivity going, your first mention of performance should be a good one. What did your employee do to contribute to the team this year? This can be as simple as noting a personality trait, like “You’ve really been patient in answering all those questions from the analysts.”
Bring the conversation around to supporting your employee. You still haven’t said “Here’s where you’re falling short.” Here’s where you say “I feel pretty clear on how Joe and Sheila are planning to reach their goals, but it seems like you and I could spend some time working on your plan. For example, I notice that you spend more time away from your desk than the rest of the team, and I wonder if that’s because you need some help figuring out the most efficient way to get the info you need to complete your projects. What do you think?” Here, you’ve assumed there’s a good reason for your employee going missing from his desk and falling short on goals, and you’ve offered them space to explain what’s going on.
(3a). If the problem is a personality issue: These are trickier, but you can use a similar strategy. Rather than your employee taking long breaks or falling short on sales goals, they’re just acting like a jerk. In this case, modify your message a bit but make sure they still start with the benefit of the doubt. “I feel like you and Joe haven’t found a groove in working together, and I wonder if the stress is causing you to react angrily when something goes wrong. I know we’re all on the same team and moving in the same direction, so how can I help you be happier at work?”
Wrap it up efficiently. You’ve gotten your point across and, with luck, had a productive conversation about what your employee’s perspective and needs are. Here’s where it is important not to dwell too long—make the assumption that one meeting was enough to get your point across, and that things will improve. This first meeting is not the time to set out a 60-day timeline and hardline goals.
Make a plan to check in. I know, I just said not to set a timeline. BUT. You do want to let your employee know that your interest in the subject is not going away. All it takes is a casual “Let’s have lunch next Friday to see how things are going and find out if any other ideas have bubbled up. In the meantime, let me know if you have some ideas for how I can support you.” Make the plan for sometime in the next two weeks—not a month or two out. If you don’t plan a follow-up, it’s too easy for both of you to let things slide back to where they were.
So, that’s conversation #1. Yes, you might need to go further down the road if this doesn’t spur a change, but this first conversation lays the foundation for the spirit of the process. Employees who want to improve will be on notice that a) they need to step it up and b) their manager is here to help them succeed, not waiting for them to fail.
Creating an equity & inclusion team in a white-dominated nonprofit is a business fraught with peril. Picture it*: You're launching your internal equity & inclusion action team. On this team of 10, only 2 people identify as POC. Of those 2, neither has a management role, and most of the other people on the team are managers or executive level.
You're probably asking yourself if those 2 people feel tokenized by their invitation to join the team. From Helen Kim Ho:
Tokenism is, simply, covert racism. Racism requires those in power to maintain their privilege by exercising social, economic and/or political muscle against people of color (POC). Tokenism achieves the same while giving those in power the appearance of being non-racist and even champions of diversity because they recruit and use POC as racialized props.
You have one-on-one conversations with the folks you're inviting onto the team, and one POC brings up some serious reservations. Among other things, he feels:
- suspicious of what you really expect him to contribute given his non-management position in the organization;
- unsure that he will feel heard in the room;
- skeptical that he won't be putting his job on the line by speaking the truth about his experience in the organization;
- incredulous about the idea that a group of mostly white managers are going to lead any real change.
So, yeah. Serious skepticism from someone who has a right to be skeptical. In examining whether this is a case of tokenization--which, as a reminder, would be using 2 staff POC to show that the team is a diverse bunch while continuing to hoard power among the white managers in the room--you really have to ask some questions:
Why are these 2 people--and not other POC--specifically being asked to join the team?
Are the team leaders prepared to relinquish power such that the white voices in the room are not constantly centered?
These are challenging questions to answer, and the right answers are extremely hard to live up to.
This conversation brings up questions beyond tokenization, most of which are applicable to every organization I've worked with. Chief among these is the very basic Why aren't there more managers of color in this organization? Also important: Is this employee right to worry about his voice being heard and his job being on the line?
I can't answer these questions for your organization, but I can ask--and you should be asking them of yourselves.
In my real-life day job, I'd be somewhat confident in my ability to help amplify this man's voice and certainly confident in my power to protect his job. If I'm in the room when an equity team meets, I can help to de-center the white voices (though I, as a white person operating in a white-dominated organization, have to be constantly vigilant to make sure I am helping and not hurting).
Sadly, as a fish doesn't see the water she swims in, even your most well-intentioned white leaders likely don't see the white supremacy culture they are perpetuating, so yes--often, a white person in leadership has to promise to protect/lift up a person of color just so he feels like his presence on an equity committee isn't a threat to his job. That may be actual irony, folks. Get to work.
*Shout out to Sophia Petrillo, obviously.
At my day job, we LOVE talking about equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI). There are several of us here who could easily spend hours every day talking about what we're doing wrong, brainstorming ideas for improvement, and generally wishing we could fix the world. Ah, if only all this talk could solve an organization's EDI shortcomings--we'd be way ahead of the curve.
Unfortunately for all of us chatterboxes, talk is cheap. Even more unfortunately for yours truly--she who never met a checklist she couldn't check or an award she wouldn't strive for--there is no end game. The actual day-to-day work of EDI is itself the goal, which means none of us will ever get to the point where we look at what we've done and think "That's it! Mission accomplished."
So, how do we do the work when we don't have an end goal in sight? More importantly, how in the world do we know we're actually doing the work in any meaningful way? While I can't create a finish line for you, I can offer you some concrete steps you can take, starting today, in your organization.
- Understand--and get others to understand--that the meat of the EDI work lives not in a committee's discussions but in the daily actions and decisions of every employee. Committee discussions are great for setting tone, determining guidelines, and creating visibility, but they can't actually do the work. That's up to staff.
- Create a method to learn what the decision points are in your company's work. This could be a survey of all staff or a meeting with representatives from each department. Learn what people do and where they exert power in their daily work.
- Make a master list of decisions people make in a day. It is at each of these decision points where the magic can happen. When a hiring manager looks at a hiring decision with an equity lens and makes a decision in line with the organization's EDI goals, the outcome changes. It is in the accrual of hundreds/thousands of these outcome changes that the EDI work progresses. Your list can start small--one frequently made decision from each department or team--and can grow once the team members have had a chance to practice.
- Determine what equity frameworks or tools would be useful in approaching a decision. How do we change the outcome to support our EDI goals by changing one staff member's approach to a decision?
- Create an evaluation system. This could look like an "accountability team" that meets regularly and hears and discusses reports from departments on the decisions they've made and the outcomes they've seen. This could be a required monthly report from each department manager that the executive team reviews and shares with the organization.
- Add the evaluation of EDI work to your organization's performance review process. This doesn't have to be a numerical score, but every staff member should be able to articulate at least one decision they've made to which they applied an equity lens during the decision-making process.
That would really be a great start. My organization is working on implementing and improving these steps as we continue our move away from the theoretical and into the practical. I can't wait to see our outcomes.
Feel free to share your questions in the comments, or send me an email if you'd like a little additional guidance!