When You Report to a Chicken

How Not to Fire Someone” was the intriguing title of a Harvard Business Review podcast I listened to over the weekend. The engaging, likable speaker told a story about the first time she’d had to fire an underperformer, a botched experience in which she plowed through a work version of the “It’s not you, it’s me” breakup script. As you might imagine, the employee left without ever knowing what she had done wrong and was probably doomed to repeat the same mistakes at her next job.

While the podcast speaker focused on the mistake she made in firing someone without being honest about the reason, I think she missed a bigger failing. Her chicken-hearted behavior during the conversation was one thing, but failing to be honest about performance concerns before it was too late for them to be reversed was the greater crime.

Imagine that you are on the bubble in terms of keeping your job. Would you prefer to have the “Things really need to change” talk, or to be spared a potentially humiliating conversation and then thrown into the street without notice? Most of us would prefer honest feedback. But getting it can be remarkably challenging if we report to people who are unskilled at difficult conversations or are just plain wimps.

If you report to someone who is a scaredy-cat when it comes to delivering important feedback, take things into your own hands. Don’t wait for formal reviews to find out how you’re doing. Schedule regular meetings with your supervisor and make it easy for him or her to tell you what you need to do to be successful. “What are three things I could start, stop, or change to be more effective?” is an easy, nonthreatening question to ask.

If you are met with silence, push a little and let the supervisor know you really want guidance. If the response is, “Keep doing what you’re doing,” be afraid. No one is perfect, including you, and if the person you report to won’t give you a tip or two when you are clearly receptive, he or she does not have your best interests at heart.

Do you have any advice for obtaining the feedback you need to be successful?

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