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7 Signs You Need to Give More Tough Love

Probably more than anything over the last few weeks, this issue of how to show “tough love” has been ever present. More and more managers are struggling with poor performance but shying away from tough conversations.

The reasons are many: upsetting someone, who if they left would set you back; our natural desire to be liked; the anxiety that any high-stakes conversation brings. Let’s face it: we all over think how that conversation might go (mind you that’s better than not thinking about it at all!).

On a recent series of workshops I asked the group to think back to a moment in the past where a manager had taken them aside and had a no holds barred (critical) conversation. One where they were left in no doubt about their manager’s feelings, what they needed and the consequences. Perhaps one where at the time (or directly afterwards) you were angry, upset, or tried to justify what happened, even blamed others or made excuses.

The interesting thing is that every single person said on reflection, looking back the feedback they received was justified and it made a positive difference in terms of how they behaved from then on. The feedback turned out to be a gift that taught them something important.

Tough love is a term that stems from parenthood, where parents who love their children set boundaries, say no, give feedback, all with a positive intent. Deep down the children know and understand this love.

Same for managers. Managers need to be a manager not a friend. Their job as a manager is NOT to be liked. It’s to help people become healthy, highly effective contributors to the team and the business. If people trust the intent, then a manager can challenge and it’s through challenging that great work is achieved.

So what are the signs we may be too soft in our management style and need to give a little more ‘tough love’?

  1. You change targets or expectations for someone after he or she failed to perform or meet your standards. That’s simply letting people off the hook. If the targets were reasonable, then failure to meet them should be discussed and the person at least needs to own their part
  2. You don’t talk about or instigate consequences for poor behaviour. A classic failure with feedback. We raise the issue, provide specific examples, state clearly what we need to happen but miss the consequence piece of the conversation. If there are no consequences, don’t expect a change in behaviour. If people can operate with impunity, they invariably will
  3. You give bonuses or other rewards even when people don’t hit targets because at least they tried hard. Another classic problem. Parents now do this at kid’s parties. Every child gets a prize. If people know they will get rewarded anyway, the message it sends is that the targets were just for show
  4. You fail to set clear, meaningful goals for your people. Most people know about SMART goals, yet it is surprising how vague goals still creep in, especially around behavior (as compared to hard goals around production, sales etc). Clarity – understanding exactly what is required, and meaning – a goal that people see as linked to purpose and vision, are essential. It creates the motivation and care factor
  5. You hold back on feedback because you are worried about upsetting someone. Tough feedback often does upset people. Initially. However almost all adults can see very quickly that the feedback they are receiving has merit, truth and is something they should take on board. Avoiding a conversation that you know needs to be had, merely puts off the inevitable. Bottled up, these things can explode and you have the conversation when you are angry and that rarely goes well. Best to do it earlier, in a relatively calm state
  6. You soften tough feedback, effectively pulling your punches. Slightly better than number 5 but often not effective. A light touch can work but often the recipient misses the point, doesn’t take it seriously and you end up with no change. Say what you mean. Mean what you say
  7. You allow people to ease off after a win, instead of kicking on for greater success. A very different “softness” to the previous indicators. Many individuals achieve success and then rest on their laurels. Great individuals and teams see the first success as the first step on a path to greatness.

Nelson Mandela summed this last point up so well:

“I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can only rest for a moment, for with freedom comes responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not ended.” Nelson Mandela

I’ll finish with a quote about parenthood:

“Parents need to be their kids’ leaders, not their friends. Your job as a parent is NOT to be liked. It’s to help your kids become healthy, functioning adults”. Replace parent for manager/leader and staff for kids and the idea is the same.

So give the feedback to people they need to hear, be fair and do it with good intent. It’s a gift they will thank you for in years to come.

Richard Wentworth Ping
CEO Wentworth People