By Becky Hill, director, HR Now

Relationships fail because of ‘unspoken’ requests. But, by taking time at the start to explain and communicate exactly what you need, working relationships, and employees, can thrive.

Misunderstandings are sadly all too common. A good example is when business leaders expect employees to perform to their own standards, but fall into the trap of expecting employees to know exactly what those standards are. If you don’t explain, then how can anyone know?

On a day to day level, we often assume employees will achieve a goal or task but don’t take into account their strengths, weaknesses, lack of knowledge and understanding of what is required of them to do. Naturally this leads to disappointment and frustration when they don’t deliver. No one, not even the most insightful employee, can read your mind.

Subsequent conversations to tackle why jobs aren’t done or expectations met can be difficult, and are often avoided. Worse, we feel the person will automatically understand why we are frustrated, and what they did wrong, and eventually get it right.

Don’t stick your head in the sand

Not addressing issues at the outset will only make the matter worse. When employee relationships become strained, they can end up in disciplinary, grievance or even dismissal. And no one wants that. It’s expensive and upsetting for all concerned; courts will take a very dim view if an employer wasn’t able to prove that expectations were clearly stated at the outset.

It seems improbable that a simple lack of communication and statement of clarity can lead to such drastic outcomes. Not so. Here are three very recent examples we have seen:

1) An assistant manager assumed that a senior officer would be directly reporting to them. But the senior officer had been asked to take instructions from the senior manager instead. The result? The assistant manager felt undermined and frustrated. She resigned, resulting in recruitment costs, more work for the team and considerable stress all round.

2) During their appraisal, an employee was told that their performance was unsatisfactory and that they were now subject to a capability plan. No prior feedback had been given. The subsequent grievance brought by the employee resulted in a considerable cost settlement being agreed.

3) An employee breached a health and safety policy. Because that policy was not set out clearly, or communicated effectively, the costly disciplinary action that followed resulted in the relationship becoming irrevocably broken.

Sadly, these scenarios are not uncommon; the breakdown of working relationships between employer and employee is something we hear about every day at HR Now.

The trick is not to let it get to this point, and to set the right expectations right from the very start by having the right conversations. Below are tips on how to do that.

Set clear expectations

1. Conversations for relationships – define how you need to work together and align your employee needs and deliverables to your business commitments.
2. Conversations for possibility (the what) – generate ideas, make it safe for employees to speculate without criticism, agree commitment to the possibility of delivery
3. Conversations for opportunity – share conditions of satisfaction and agree how you’ll know when they are delivered
4. Conversations for action (the how) – make ‘promises’ outline what needs to be done, how and when it needs to be delivered
5. Conversations for breakdowns – make it safe for them to declare something isn’t going as planned, then start again by realigning commitments, requests and promises
6. Conversations for accomplishment – with clear objectives you’ll always recognize success, acknowledge and share it

With the pressures of business life, and so little time to explain, it’s easy to see how relationships between employers and employees can become strained. But, if business leaders take the time to explain what they need, communicate how things should be done, and the standards they expect, employees – and business – will thrive.