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Managing poor performance – providing feedback

This is the last in our series of posts on the issue of managing poor performance, highlighting the experience of our HR expert executive coaches, including Marg LennonPaula Liverani-Brooks and Trish Kelly. We heard from Trish last week on using a performance plan, and this week she discusses the use of the performance plan and providing feedback:

The starting point for managing poor performance is for the manager to ensure they are being objective and have a base line for managing the poor performance, that is the Performance Plan.

Trish Kelly, Executive Coach
Trish Kelly, Executive Coach

Having sought advice from their HR partner and having established there is clear and objective evidence of poor performance, the manager needs to set up a meeting with the employee. At this meeting the manager should follow these steps:

  • outline the specific issues and examples of the poor performance,
  • obtain the employee’s response,
  • clearly articulate the expectations for performance and
  • develop, in consultation with the employee, strategies and a timeline for the provision of support to improve the performance and the processes and timeline to measure improvement.

Managers should also provide the employee with information about broad support programs such as Employee Assistance Programs.

At the conclusion of each meeting, the manager should document the actions, agreements and issues from the meeting and provide these to the employee.

This can be a lonely and difficult process for the manager. The manager needs to remain professional throughout this process and ensure the feedback provided is objective and based on the performance expectations.

It is important for the manager to continue to work closely with their HR partner, discussing any issues and how to handle them as they arise. These might include how to manage the situation if the employee goes on stress leave, lodges a complaint against the supervisor or other staff members or is critical of the manager and the process in the workplace.

In most organisations employee related costs are one of the highest, if not the highest, line item in the budget and successful organisations have motivated, engaged and high performing staff.

Where an employee is not meeting the performance expectations of their role, not only is there likely to be an impact on the effectiveness of the organisation, it is also likely to affect the motivation of other employees. Therefore it is in the interest of the organisation and its employees to intervene early and manage poor performance.

Contributor:  Trish Kelly is a Sydney-based executive coach who was the General Manager Human Resources for 8 years in the NSW Department of Education and Communities. Trish is an experienced leader, change manager and facilitator with over 30 years’ experience in the public sector. Trish’s executive coaching expertise is available in Sydney, Wollongong, Newcastle, throughout NSW and Australia-wide by arrangement.

Managing poor performance – using a performance plan

Over the last few weeks, we have been exploring the issue of managing poor performance with our HR expert executive coaches, including Marg Lennon and Paula Liverani-Brooks. This week we hear from Trish Kelly, a Sydney-based executive coach who was the General Manager Human Resources for 8 years in the NSW Department of Education and Communities, at that time the largest organisation in the southern hemisphere. Trish says:

Trish Kelly, Executive Coach
Trish Kelly, Executive Coach

Poor performance is an ongoing concern or pattern where an employee is not meeting the required level of performance for the role. It is not a one-off occurrence.

In order to identify poor performance, a manager must first understand what the performance expectations are for the role. This means understanding and communicating what successful performance looks like.

Performance expectations should be set out objectively in an employee’s Performance Plan which is developed collaboratively by the employee and their manager. The Plan sets out the key responsibilities, performance indicators, learning and development and support needed to achieve the accountabilities of the role.

As part of the Performance Plan there should be regular informal and formal feedback provided to the employee about their performance. Effective performance management would therefore identify early indications and patterns in behaviour that there is a problem, so enabling this to be discussed.

There could be a number of reasons for poor performance. The first of these is a poor recruitment decision: in simple terms, the person does not have the capabilities for the role they were selected for. The manager should be aware that the person may have a number of capabilities that are just not suited to this role. Given the cost of separation and recruitment, if the person has capabilities suited to another role, moving a person is certainly an option a manager should explore.

Related to this is a change in the nature of the role that does not match the employee’s capabilities. In this instance, the employee has not been able to adapt sufficiently to a change in role or may not have been provided with the necessary support to do so.

The second is unclear expectations, where there is a lack of a Performance Plan or the employee’s Performance Plan is of poor quality. This may be because the Plan is not sufficiently explicit or not well aligned to the position, perhaps because it is too generic. This often occurs when the Performance Plan has not been discussed with the employee.

The third cause may be personal issues.

On the other hand, some performance issues result from failures in management. Chief amongst these are poor supervision, failure to provide communication about the role and lack of targeted training and support. The best thing about management failures is that these should be the easiest for a manager to address.

It is important to identify the cause or causes of poor performance as the aim is to address these causes and assist the employee to meet the performance expectations for the role.

To be effective, the manager needs to raise the specific performance issues with the employee when they occur. This includes providing specific objective examples of the performance issues and their consequences. The manager should ask the employee’s response to these issues so there is an opportunity the possible causes for poor performance with a view to assisting the employee to meet performance expectations…a win/win outcome.

These are difficult conversations for any manager to have with an employee so it is important to discuss the issue and the approach with their HR partner before having the conversation. The manager should also make their own manager aware of this situation.

Contributor:  Trish Kelly is a Sydney-based executive coach who was the General Manager Human Resources for 8 years in the NSW Department of Education and Communities. Trish is an experienced leader, change manager and facilitator with over 30 years’ experience in the public sector. Trish’s executive coaching expertise is available in Sydney, Wollongong, Newcastle, throughout NSW and Australia-wide by arrangement.

Managing poor performance – identifying objectives

This is part 3 of a series of discussions with our HR expert coaches on managing poor performance.  We kicked off the series with a post from Marg Lennon on identifying the issues involved in poor performance. Last week Paula Liverani-Brooks spoke about setting expectations.  Paula continues her discussion this week:

Paula Liverani Brooks executive coach
Paula Liverani Brooks, executive coach

One trap inexperienced managers often fall into is making assumptions – i.e. this is how I like to be managed, hence that is how I will manage others. ALWAYS ask, do not make assumptions, keep that dialogue going and get honest feedback.

If you are using all these strategies and the person is still struggling, it is time to get help. Your own manager and your HR Business Partner are good starting places. You should be having conversations with them, just as you are doing with your team members. They will be able to guide you, ask you questions you may not have thought of and, when things are not working, help in setting up a formal performance review.

Always take notes during your meetings and KEEP THEM! You can send an email to yourself with the dates in which certain conversations were held, especially if they were difficult ones! If you are having performance issues with someone from your team you may need to start a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP). To do this, you will need to “re-tell” the story. If you have forgotten incidents and dates and have not kept emails from the time you have asked them to do something, it will be a difficult process to start.

Remember that you are doing this to help the individuals in your team grow and make sure you are improving their performance but also to use it as examples of the (great or average) jobs they are doing when give them feedback. Be fair – everyone needs encouragement!

PIPs are a way to make official the fact that someone’s performance needs improvement. Good PIPs are specific, great PIPs cover all areas of improvement, give examples (which should have been shared prior to the PIP – this is NOT a surprise party!) of the things that have happened, and be very specific in terms of what you would like to see from now on in terms of KPIs and behaviours. As I said at the beginning, behaviours are always more difficult to correct and it’s more difficult to put an improvement plan around them. Difficult, however, does not mean impossible – so get help from your HR BP to make sure you are covering all bases and that your expectations are crystal clear.

A PIP may of course lead to a formal warning and, if the objectives are not met, at the end may also lead to termination. The person needs to be informed of all of this as you go in – your HR BP can guide you through the legalities of the formal process. Remember that the person has a right to discuss your observations and may come back with observations that differ from your own. Hence the importance of keeping accurate notes and emails.

I have seen PIPs work and this is usually when there is a genuine understanding of what has not worked and a commitment on both sides to make it work. I received a phone call, just yesterday, from a manager who was telling me about someone we had taken through a PIP together and how he was still grateful of the effort we had made to make sure the person was placed in a position in which he could improve. Those are the win-wins you are trying to achieve.

Being a manager is hard work. As Jack Welch said, “My main job was developing talent. I was a gardener providing water and other nourishment to our top 750 people. Of course, I had to pull out some weeds, too.”

Contributor: Paula Liverani-Brooks is an executive coach based in Sydney and is available Australia-wide by arrangement. Paula is a Human Resources leader who has extensive experience in multinational organisations ranging from Bio-Tech to Consumer Goods and Financial institutions.

Managing poor performance – setting expectations

Last week, we opened a discussion with 3 of our coaches on managing poor performance, with a post from Marg Lennon. This week we hear from Paula Liverani-Brooks, a Human Resources leader in multinational organisations ranging from Bio-Tech to Consumer Goods and Financial institutions. Paula says:

Executive Coach Exchange Paula Liverani Brooks
Paula Liverani-Brooks, Executive Coach

We have all been evaluated on our performance objectives and more and more companies include behaviours when talking about performance. Poor performance is when someone is unable to meet their KPIs either in terms of objectives or behaviours or both.

As managers we all know that it is much easier to help someone who is lacking technical skills. We can teach them how to improve, find a solution and even send them to a training course. When it comes to behaviours it is always harder.

Jack Welch, Chairman and CEO of General Electric from 1981 to 2001, divided people’s performance into 4 categories.

“Type 1: shares our values; makes the numbers—sky’s the limit!

Type 2: shares the values; misses the numbers—typically, another chance, or two.

Type 3: doesn’t share the values; doesn’t make the numbers—gone.

Type 4 is the toughest call of all: the manager who doesn’t share the values, but delivers the numbers. This type is the toughest to part with because organizations always want to deliver and to let someone go who gets the job done is yet another unnatural act. But we have to remove these Type 4s because they have the power, by themselves, to destroy the open, informal, trust-based culture we need to win today and tomorrow.

 We made our leap forward when we began removing our Type 4 managers and making it clear to the entire company why they were asked to leave—not for the usual “personal reasons” or “to pursue other opportunities,” but for not sharing our values. Until an organization develops the courage to do this, people will never have full confidence that these soft values are truly real.”

If only performance management were always as easy as it was for Jack Welch!

I do share the notion that behaviours are incredibly important but things are not always as straightforward in today’s world. It is our job as managers to make sure that we identify the issues before we can legally or morally terminate people.

So, even though I share Jack’s principles, I think that when it comes to performance as a manager the first thing you need to do is set expectations. The clearer the expectations are, the easier it is to become good at performance management. At the same time the expectations need to be MUTUAL – so you need to have a dialogue!

It is important that when you set expectations you do not do this as a one-way exercise. As a manager, you need to be able to get the dialogue going. Setting expectations is the opposite of micro-managing, so make sure you have those frank and honest conversations about what needs to be done, what behaviours you would like to observe and what the timelines are.

Once that is done it is important to have updates and check-ups, to see what type of help is needed and where corrections need to be made. Managing people is a full-time job and how well you do it will also directly affect your results. You want your team to succeed because that will also reflect positively on you.

Contributor: Paula Liverani-Brooks is an executive coach based in Sydney and is available Australia-wide by arrangement. Paula is a Human Resources leader who has extensive experience in multinational organisations ranging from Bio-Tech to Consumer Goods and Financial institutions.

Managing poor performance – identifying the issues

At some point in their careers, every manager will have to tackle the issue of poor performance. This is a challenging issue, particularly for people in their first managerial role, so we asked 3 of our HR expert coaches to give us their views.

Marg Lennon has a strong Senior Executive Human Resources background in the Pharmaceutical and Medical Device industries, having spent many years in Australian, Asia Pacific and Global roles.

Trish Kelly was the General Manager Human Resources for 8 years in the NSW Department of Education and Communities, then the largest organisation in the southern hemisphere.

Paula Liverani-Brooks is a Human Resources leader in multinational organisations ranging from Bio-Tech to Consumer Goods and Financial institutions.

We asked them:

  • how managers can identify poor performance and its causes
  • where the responsibility lies
  • how managers can address poor performance and where to start
  • whether there are any traps to look out for.

Over the next weeks, we will share their answers and reflections. We begin our series with Marg Lennon, who says:

Marg Lennon, Executive Coach
Marg Lennon, Executive Coach

Every manager will experience the need to improve an employee’s performance at some stage in their managerial life. Every employee deserves effective feedback on how they are doing with a view to improving their performance, and it is the manager’s job to provide that feedback. Sometimes the person is shocked to find out they are not doing as well as they thought, as no one had told them previously.

The first question to ask is just what exactly is poor performance. Are you talking about the employee’s specialist and technical skills as described in their job description? Or do you really mean that their behaviour and attitude do not align with that of the organisation?

Once you’re clear about what type of performance issue you’re addressing, it’s useful to take a step back and consider other factors that may be affecting the employee in their work environment. Some questions to ponder:

  • How long has this been going on?
  • Is the employee really clear on their tasks, timelines, quality of work and your expectations? (Often managers think they have communicated in a concise fashion, but the employee can hear and act differently from expectations).
  • Have you delegated the tasks well and not micromanaged the situation?
  • Are the timelines realistic?
  • Have you noticed any change recently?

The next step, when you feel you may have grasped the broader picture, is to have a discussion with the employee to discover what the cause of this situation might be. Initially this discussion is a discovery one: you want to know what’s going on for this person that may be affecting their work.

Responding to the issues you have uncovered, you could find solutions in technical or skills training or mentoring from another more skilled employee on a specific task. You still need to restate your expectations and standards and this could include providing examples of similar work, if possible. It’s important the employee knows exactly what you require from them, so they can understand the performance standards required and you can look for further improvements.

If the performance relates to a behavioural issue, then it’s important to give clear examples of the poor behaviour and the improvements you expect to see. The employee needs to know specifically in which areas you are looking for improvement.

Conclude the meeting with a summary of what outcomes is required and the timelines, along with a scheduled follow up meeting. Ensure the employee shows they have understood your expectations by being able to verbally express what they think you said and the areas in which you are expecting to see an improvement.

It is essential to monitor the ongoing performance and to meet with your employee again after a short period. They need a chance to improve, so don’t expect miracles overnight.

Contributor: Marg Lennon provides coaching, mentoring and leadership development consultancy services to clients across a variety of industries. Marg is available in Sydney, Canberra and by Facetime anywhere.

How to build the best team

Learnings from the Orica GreenEdge Cycling Team

My husband has been an avid cyclist since his childhood. He remembers sitting in the Scout Hall in the late 60’s to watch 8 millimetre movies on the Tour and the Giro that the “lucky old hands” had shot during their trips to Europe – by sea (which also tells you how old he is!). He never thought that he would be fortunate enough to go and see these races live, nor that cycling would become such a followed sport in Australia (he used to get teased about his shaved legs…often), or that we would end up having a Tour de France winner or our very our own cycling team. And of course he never thought he would marry an Italian who knows nothing about cycling.

Executive Coach Exchange Orica GreenEDGE Photo ASO G.Domouveaux
Photo: ASO/G.Domouveaux

So last Sunday, when he organised to go and watch the Orica GreenEdge Movie “All For One” with his cycling group I could not refuse, also because I am an incredibly supporting wife – most of the time that is …

The amazing thing was that not only did I enjoy the movie, I also found some great reminders on how to build and maintain successful teams – so here they are – apologies to all of those cycling enthusiasts in advance as this is more a focus on team building and the things that I found inspiring than on cycling itself.

Allow people to be themselves, have fun … and celebrate being human

One of the things Orica GreenEdge did was start shooting small videos that they would then upload on YouTube called “Backstage Pass“. In these not only did they advertise their team, they also showed the riders as people and how they could have an amazing fun time despite the pressure and fatigue. The “human” side comes out often in the interviews and how their “humanity” has helped them through the tough times as well as the successes.  These videos allow us a glimpse exactly into that, which of course includes disappointments, frustrations and …successes. If you haven’t seen the videos go and take a look because even for non-cyclists like myself they are great fun. So how do we allow individuals to express themselves and shine through adversity? Adding fun and allowing people to be themselves seems like a good start.

Invest in your “Talent” and believe in them as individuals…

The best interviews throughout the movie are with someone who looks like a little kid. His name is Esteban Chavez, he is from Colombia and his story is amazing. When he was contacted by Orica GreenEdge he had had a life changing accident that had left him in a coma and subsequently nerve damage to his shoulder that was not healing. The team saw the potential in him, had him join the team and invested in him, until he proved himself with an astounding 2nd stage victory at the Vuelta de Espana in 2015. The interviews with him and his parents are the most touching throughout the movie. When you believe in the Talent of your team members amazing things happen, and what happened to Mathew Hayman another member of the team is perhaps even more incredible. Cycling is a sport for people who like pain, or at least that can deal with pain over long periods of time. Paris-Roubaix is one of those classics that show you the pain even when you are watching it from home. Mathew Hayman (37 years old and team support rider) had ridden in it 15 times before. Six weeks before the 2016 edition he broke his arm in another race. Six weeks later he won this race, the toughest race on the cycling calendar – despite all odds (including the fact that he had been dropped during it which in this race means you can’t catch up). So believe in all of your team because in times such as this, hard work and determination breed success, especially against the odds, even team members that have always been “supporters” (or “domestiques” to use a cycling term) and may be close to the end of their career.  And what a difference doe their success make to the rest of your team!

Share successes…at a higher and deeper level

We all talk about sharing success – however, what Simon Gerrans did in the 2013 Tour de France gives it an even deeper meaning. Simon was the lead man – team captain – for the Orica GreenEdge team and in 2013 he, along with the team won the time trial and consequently the Yellow Jersey as leader of the Tour de France. Again, I do not know much about cycling but even I know that it is a BIG deal. The attention is all on you – you feel like you are on top of the world and everyone thinks you are. Cyclists that get the Yellow Jersey try and keep it for as long as they can, even though they know they may not win the Tour. So what did Simon do? He walks in the tour bus after this exhilarating experience and tells his team mate Daryl Impey “tomorrow you get to win the Yellow Jersey”. And that is exactly what happened. They worked to make sure that the next day Impey was the one in Yellow. This takes the sharing of success to a much deeper lever – it means allowing your team mates to have their own victories even when you could be the victorious one. Personally I have not had the opportunity to experience this type of generosity often – but I can just imagine what this can feel like both for the giver as well as the receiver and the type of emotions this would create in the team.  This is taking celebrating success to an all-new level.

All of these things created a truly inspiring team that achieved unbelievable goals, permitted individuals to shine by believing in them and at the same time allowed them to be themselves while having a good time. Now, who wouldn’t want to be part of this team?

Contributor:  Our featured member, Paula Liverani-Brooks, is an HR consultant and executive coach.

Now that you’ve hired your talent, what happens next?

Last week we looked at an interesting case study, where Unilever had taken a novel approach to diversify its candidate pool for entry level positions, by automating most stages of the recruitment process.

We discussed:

  • what consequences this approach may have for diversity in hiring, and
  • that a conscious effort to identify and encode desired characteristics has potential to help organisations understand their own culture.
Executive Coach Exchange leader pixabay PaulLeng
How important is it to understand organisational culture when recruiting a leader?

This issue of understanding an organisation’s own culture is highlighted in this thought-provoking article by Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic and Clarke Murphy.

The authors highlight the difficulty that organisations have in recruiting and promoting effective leaders, and link this to the difficulty that organisations have in identifying the most important features of their own culture.

This leads to a situation where even those organisations that have a good recruitment strategy – not relying too much on intuition over more valid selection tools – fail to look at whether their candidate’s qualities and skills are a good match for their organisation’s culture.  “As a result, too many leaders are (correctly) hired on talent but subsequently fired due to poor culture fit,” Chamorro-Premuzic and Murphy say.

The authors make the point – and we think this is a vitally important consideration in any effort to recruit a new leader – that “for most people, leadership potential will be somewhat context-dependent”.

A person who has outperformed in a previous role, with:

  • familiar structures,
  • a support framework, and
  • a clear understanding, built over time, of the organisation’s goals,

may easily flounder – in fact, could almost be expected to flounder – in a new and unfamiliar organisation.

If this leader has been recruited to undertake transformation in the new organisation, the task is doubly hard.

The authors identify 3 key areas where more work needs to be done in the hiring process to avoid the disruption and inefficiencies involved in repeated hiring and firing:

  • understand the organisation’s own culture;
  • decode the motives and values of their candidate to see whether these are a good fit for the organisational culture; and
  • where this is a desired outcome – be realistic about whether a new leader can change the organisational culture.

The authors recognise the difficulty that a new leader will have in reshaping organisational culture, and that, potentially, only a “moderate misfit” will have the time, inclination and personal attributes to do so.

The authors suggest objective measurement, including via well-structured climate surveys and crowdsourcing ideas from team members, to help organisations understand their own culture first.  This approach puts organisations in a strong position of self-knowledge, before either recruiting or beginning the transformation process.



To improve diversity, do we need to remove the human element?

Earlier this year, the Wall Street Journal reported on Unilever’s novel approach to diversify its candidate pool for entry level positions.

Unilever’s strategy, implemented in 2016, saw the company move away from on-campus recruiting and the submission of resumes. Unilever had traditionally focused on recruiting from a small number of colleges, using recruiters for the process.

Executive Coach Exchange faces geralt pixabay
Can automation reduce bias in the hiring process?

Instead, Unilever placed ads on social media and job search sites, then invited candidates to apply directly. The application software uploaded information directly from the candidates’ LinkedIn profiles.

In a further departure from the usual recruitment process, downselected candidates were then asked to play a series of online games which assessed issues such as concentration and short-term memory. The next step was to submit a video interview; the software assessed response times, facial expressions and vocabulary.

After these steps were completed, candidates participated in their first and last interview with HR and management personnel.

Unilever stated that this process increased the percentage of overall candidates who received and accepted job offers (as well as increasing efficiency in the hiring process). The number of colleges in the applicant pool increased significantly and the anecdotal experience of Unilever management was that the successful candidates were as strong as, or stronger than, previous intakes.

Unilever’s initial view is that this process has great potential for reducing bias in the hiring process.  As the WSJ article points out, human input into the software naturally involves bias in the choice and weighting of desired characteristics (facial expressions and vocabulary would be particularly prone to issues here); and software is not capable of recognising and compensating for the bias of its inputs or programmers. However, even if the process only increases the number of colleges represented, it would have a positive effect in opening up the talent pool.

In addition, the conscious effort involved in identifying and encoding desired characteristics has great potential to help organisations understand their own culture.

Next week we will look at recent reporting on what happens when organisations try to predict whether new leaders will fit within their culture.



Narrating our colleagues positively

We recently came across this interesting article by Jane E Dutton and Julia Lee, “The Benefits of Saying Nice Things About Your Colleagues”.

The authors make a great case for positively “narrating” our colleagues, saying that “the stories we hear from others that highlight our unique contributions can help us find purpose in our relationships with our colleagues and our work”.

Executive Coach Exchange narratives gellinger pixabay
The authors of this interesting article make a strong case for positive narration of our colleagues.

They suggest four key opportunities to tell positive stories about our colleagues:

  • first impressions – introducing new team members in a way that builds connections as soon as they start in the team,
  • new projects – highlighting the value that each team member brings to a project in initial project team introductions,
  • when a colleague is undermined – using this opportunity to reinforce the colleague’s value in the organisation, and
  • endings and exits – creating meaning when a colleague resigns or is made redundant, by sharing positive stories about the colleague’s contribution.

The authors provide a particularly powerful example of using positive narration when a colleague is undermined, in the story of “Sasha” and “Svetlana”, two new managers who found it difficult to have their voices heard in a male-dominated work team. The article reports, “They decided to publicly support each other and others whose voices were often not heard. For example, when Svetlana proposed a new plan to reduce costs, Sasha followed up by repeating and elaborating on Svetlana’s idea, giving full credit to Svetlana. … These actions shifted the way each manager saw themselves …”

In relation to endings and exits, the authors explain that sharing positive stories can extend beyond the immediate team, to potential new workplaces for the former colleague. The authors give the example of “Sipho”, whose colleagues were encouraged to contribute positive stories about his contribution, and then found that this prompted and empowered them to recommend him to new employers.

As well as the practical support for the individual in a situation like this, the positive narrative approach can help to maintain a connection as the colleague moves to the next opportunity. The approach also mitigates some of the potential damage to relationships between the remaining team members, creating a better outcome overall for the team than can be the case when a departing colleague is ushered straight out the door.

We all have examples of the damage done by dismissive or negative stories about colleagues in the workplace. This article makes an excellent case for taking an intentional, positive approach to workplace narratives.


When to speak up – and when not to

How do you know when to speak up? How do you know when it’s better not to? What are the rules?

Photo: Dawn Arlotta

This is an issue many of our clients seem to wrestle with. It’s often difficult to speak up when you know something others don’t. Here is a step-by-step guide to speaking up.

  1. What’s the context?

The time that people find most difficult to speak up is in a meeting, especially when it’s the boss who has got something wrong. In this situation, ask yourself these questions:

  • How critical is it for me to speak?
  • Do I need to speak now?
  • What are the consequences if I don’t speak?

If you know something important that other people don’t, and the consequences are serious for others if you don’t tell them, you need to speak up.

However, you also need to judge the situation.  If you are about to tell your boss, in public, that they are mistaken, you need to use strong politeness markers.

Depending on the people involved and your personal style, you can signal that you are not being deliberately confrontational, aggressive or offensive with introductions like:

  • “I recently learned that …”
  • “You may already be aware that …”
  • “I’ve just received new/additional information on this issue”, or even
  • “Could you let us know your opinion on this opposing view?”

However, balance this with the fact that if it’s important enough to speak up, then you should try to ensure your message is delivered with confidence, and isn’t lost in too much deference.

  1. Is it essential you speak right now?

If it’s not urgent, find a time later to talk to the person who had the wrong information. Politely let them know you have been given different or perhaps more recent information. Offer to check which of you is correct and update the person later. Try to find out where the other person got their information and be prepared to be wrong.

  1. Is it important?

Sometimes someone is wrong but it’s not important. You need to use your judgement here. If there is no risk and no serious consequences, sometimes it’s best to let it go. Don’t let this become an excuse for never speaking up, however.

  1. Is it personal?

If someone has said something personal, it’s best wherever possible to talk to them later. You are the only person who can judge whether you need to speak to them and when. If you find it’s impeding your relationship, you should seriously consider speaking to them. You may be surprised at how often people are apologetic and upset to find their words were hurtful.

  1. Does it always have to be you?

Observe carefully how other people in the team act in these situations, especially more experienced team members. Are you the only one who ever speaks up? If so, ask yourself why no-one else is prepared to speak. Consider other ways to get your information across.

  1. How can I avoid this situation in the first place?

If you are the subject matter expert, for example in HR, legal or finance, offer to find out the latest information in advance and prepare some notes for your boss for future meetings. A good boss will be glad of the offer of assistance and pleased with your initiative.

Speaking up needn’t be scary. If you learn when to speak and how to speak up politely but firmly, you will gain a reputation as a subject matter expert, a trusted authority and a good communicator.