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Gary Cattermole

The Survey Initiative


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The truth doesn’t have to hurt


Gary Cattermole believes the workplace is somewhere where honesty really is the very best policy. Here he explains why it's key to achieving effective employee engagement.

When it comes to our professional development, there is no tangible value to be had from surrounding yourself with people who tell you what you want to hear about your performance, as opposed to what you need to hear. 

Being honest is not about being blunt - any criticism that is given should always be constructive. People do not respond well to harsh words and thoughtless, negative comments. What is needed is carefully constructed feedback that is designed to help and support rather than wound and ultimately hinder. For instance, taking it outside the workplace, you may not like someone’s new haircut but rather than telling them it looks awful, it is much kinder to say you preferred it a bit longer. It is always best to be honest without causing offence. 

The workplace is no different. If you are unhappy with someone’s performance, you need to nip it in the bud. In order to do so, the individual will require honest feedback and real-life, working examples of when they haven’t performed well. You should avoid being overly critical and using accusatory or generalised language such as, ‘you always’ or ‘whenever you...’ – be precise.

It is also important to provide positive feedback alongside the negative. Without doing so, a person can easily feel as though they are being verbally attacked, in which case they will do one of two things. Either they will become defensive and aggressive or they’ll ‘retreat into their shell’ – becoming shut off from their surroundings. Either response will lead to negative outcomes, not just for them as individuals in terms of their attitude and performance but for their colleagues and the business as a whole. 

Honesty is a two-way street

The best way to alter behaviour and enhance performance is by using clearly communicated, formerly structured and transparent systems of appraisal that are applied and understood across the entire business. Also, when appraising a member of staff, it is important to consider how your own actions, the actions of others or organisational change could have impacted on their performance. 

For example, has the person’s role changed since they were employed or last appraised? If so, was the change in responsibility clearly communicated to them and were their skills assessed to gauge their suitability for their altered role prior to them having to perform according to expectations? Has the person’s role been extended beyond their initial remit so that it is unfilled? This also adds pressure and responsibility to the remaining staff that managers don’t immediately recognise – unless they have established an honest rapport with their workforce. 

Even if their roles or the organisation haven’t changed significantly, consider whether the goals, objectives and competencies that apply to their role were discussed fully at the start of their employment. After all, a person can only be expected to meet standards if they know what those standards are. It is also important to remember that it is not just the individual who is responsible for his/her performance, there are many external influences too, so it’s important to think outside the box in order to formulate as accurate a picture of a person’s role and the factors that could influence their performance. 

By engaging with your workforce, you will be in a much better position to identify external influences. Perhaps there are issues with relationships with co-workers, issues at homes, financial pressures – there are a huge range of factors that can influence performance. 

By identifying the cause of decreased or poor performance, a supportive manager is well placed to help staff overcome the issues affecting them. This level of engagement will engender respect, trust and loyalty and reduce the negative impact on the business in terms of reduced productivity or loss of a member of staff who has great potential.

So next time you have to appraise a poor performing member of staff or give feedback that may be hard for someone to hear, think about how you say what they need to hear but be sure not to steer towards being dishonest for the sake of their feelings – it will benefit no one. 

It’s not all bad

Of course, it is just as important to be honest about good performance – people thrive on positive feedback and it reinforces good working practices and behaviour. 

If an employee is doing well but their performance is not recognised, they will eventually become disenfranchised. This will either lead to reduced productivity from the individual involved as they could adopt a ‘why bother’ attitude or they may go elsewhere, meaning you lose a valuable member of staff.

Gary Cattermole is director of staff survey and employee engagement specialist, The Survey Initiative. For further information about staff surveys, appraisals and employee engagement, have a look at the website

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Gary Cattermole


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