Difficult conversations and raises: two sides of the same coin

Personnel decisions are never easy. Denying a raise, giving less than happy feedback at a mid-year review, or even letting somebody go are certainly among the toughest parts of my job. But I’ve realized that if I’m not willing to follow through with those difficult but necessary actions, then I’ll never be able to create a work environment that is highly successful, productive, and full of people that have many career choices but choose to be part of our team.

The easiest and most enjoyable parts of a boss’ job are congratulating a team on an accomplishment, giving well-deserved raises, and promoting from within. That guy who you need to stay on top of to get him to do his job, do you think you’ll be giving him a promotion? If you feel like half of your employees are just mediocre, are you going to be willing to provide the kind of benefits that would attract top talent?

Delivering the hard news when it’s needed sets you up to deliver good news to those who are growing and contributing to the growth of the company. Moreover, it’s not fair to under-performing employees to string them along while resentment grows in your mind until one day it becomes impossible to allow things to continue. Every employee deserves to know where they stand, and nobody should be shocked that they’re being let go.

As Tom DeMarco and Timothy Lister put it in their classic Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams, at some companies there is the shared belief that they are simply the best, and that only a fool would want to work elsewhere. That’s my goal, and I think it should be the goal of every manager. To reach this goal, every employee needs to be held in high esteem by his or her peers. Keeping a few under-performing employees around can crush that culture of excellence.