If you just let mediocre or poor performance slide with employees, contractors, vendors or the like, it will inevitably lead to even worse performance. People who aren’t getting the job done rarely just start to do well out of the blue. At some point, you may need to cut the cord, either by no longer using that particular contractor or firing that employee. But before things go that far, it’s important to have those difficult conversations that we all dread so much. Here are a seven ways to make such conversations easier and more productive.
7 Ways to Constructively Give Criticism for a Better Real Estate Business
1. Try using the “compliment sandwich.”
- Make sure the compliments don’t sound trite and forced. If they do, the person being critiqued may feel like this is faint or even false praise that’s just setting up the hammer to drop. The praise needs to be genuine.
- On the flip side, some people can overemphasize the compliments and fill the sandwich with so little meat that your main point—the problem in need of addressing—gets lost in the shuffle. I was in one meeting where a manager of ours was giving what was supposed to be a negative performance review, and yet I could hardly even make out the criticism when she was about ready to end the meeting. I had to intervene to even make the point that there was a problem.
2. Schedule meetings ahead of time.
3. Speak in the third person and use personal examples.
4. Speak in terms of solutions.
Don’t get so bogged down in the problem that you forget about the solutions. How do we get from A to B? What are the action steps? If you just dress someone down, that person will obviously understand that he’s not getting the job done. But other than a bruised ego, what has it got him? You need to be clear about what the steps are to get from here to there. They may be obvious. Say you have an employee who has a problem with absenteeism. Well, that employee needs to show up to work consistently. Or say you have a contractor who doesn’t finish projects. Well, that contractor needs to be more thorough on the punch out. They may not be able to do it, but it’s obvious what needs to be done.
5. Get their feedback and ideas; give them ownership.
You may be able to get a degree of compliance by simply demanding someone do something. But to really get someone on board with the need for change, that person needs to take ownership of it. A good meeting of this nature should not simply involve you lecturing the offending party. It may have to start that way, but it should turn into a conversation. Ask for their feedback and ideas on how to solve the problem. “So, let’s say a tenant yells at you again. What do you think would be the best way to handle it?”
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Listen to their ideas intently. Some of them may be better than what you were originally thinking. But again, don’t let it stray off course. If their solution to absenteeism is “well, I will just work harder when I actually do show up,” that’s not going to cut it.
6. Use key performance indicators.
Key performance indicators (KPIs) are a great way to judge the success or failure of all sorts of things in your company, including employees and contractors. A few examples include:
- Applications per Showing (Leasing Agent)
- Call Back Percentage (Maintenance Technician)
- Time a Job Took to Complete as a Ratio of the Price of the Bid (Contractors)
You may not know what a good “applications per showing” ratio is when you first start measuring it, but once you have one, you will know what is better and what is worse going forward. If the ratio starts at one application for every three showings, then you know that two for every five is better and one for every four is worse. You can also compare one employee or contractor to another.
By creating and tracking these numbers, it makes it easier to point to real, concrete things that can’t just be brushed aside as a difference of opinion. While you need to make it clear that you as the employer or client have the opinion that really matter, when subjective opinions differ, it makes it more likely that the parties will retrench into defensiveness and the whole conversation will become combative. That’s why numbers are so great. It’s hard to argue with numbers.
7. Use write-ups and followups.
Alas, one conversation rarely fixes a problem. As noted at the beginning, sometimes you just have to cut the cord. But even when it comes to firing an employee, it’s a lot easier to do it if you have built up to it with such difficult conversations. I remember a successful investor once telling me that “no employee should ever be surprised to be fired.” Even when employees or contractors do start to get their act together, they will often need followups and course corrections along the way.
Finally, if you don’t have a written track record, it will be all but impossible to challenge an unemployment claim if you actually do fire an employee. These claims come back to bite you by increasing your unemployment insurance costs. So, when you do have a serious conversation about a major problem with an employee, you should write up the problem and ask the person to sign it. They won’t like that, sure, but it will drive the point home. Writing things down, in and of itself, signals their importance.
I should note that for smaller issues, such write-ups are usually unnecessary, although you should at least document it for your own records. With contractors, it’s probably wise to send them something in writing that documents the issues you are having (politely, of course), but it doesn’t have to be so formal since you don’t have to fire them. You can just stop using them.