It’s a close call as to who finds this sentence more terrifying in the workplace – the person hearing it, or the person asking the question – and all too often, I’ve seen a simple people issue turn into a much bigger problem because it’s been ignored in the hope that it’ll go away (spoiler – it won’t). In small businesses, relationships are closer and everyone knows what’s happening, meaning that tackling difficult conversations can seem even more daunting. So, if you’re a small business owner with a people issue to address, here are three things to bear in mind:
Generally, the sooner an issue is tackled the better. Got a member of staff who’s usually bang on time but then arrives 15 minutes late out of the blue? Assuming they haven’t already been in touch to let you know what’s happening, a quick chat later that day should clear things up and means both parties are aware that it hasn’t gone unnoticed – even if no further action is required.
The above is a very basic example whereby a simple “is everything OK?” should be sufficient to start a conversation, but there are situations where more preparation is needed. This could be from a logistical point of view (e.g. ensuring you have a room or other space to talk confidentially) or, if there’s a protected characteristic involved, you may want to prepare what you’re going to say in advance.
If you have an issue that’s been going on for some time, it’s definitely worth jotting down a few notes by way of evidence prior to the conversation. Whether you need to refer to them or not will depend very much on how things go – and, in my experience, you can’t predict how someone will react in advance!
Going back to timekeeping, you may find that there’s a perfectly plausible explanation after the first conversation – and another one three days later, and another one four days after that…. Addressing an issue every time it comes up and keeping a note of your conversations means that you’ve got that evidence ready to refer to should you need to. Alternatively, you might want to vary working arrangements or offer additional support depending on individual circumstances – if that’s the case, make sure you implement any changes agreed as quickly as possible.
As my very wise friend Emma once said, you can always have a conversation – so take a deep breath and ask the question! It’ll be a weight off your mind as well as potentially saving you time and money further down the line.
If you have a people issue you’d like some help with, please get in touch.