High Performer - Clear and Open

Cut the Bullshit Part Four: Name the #$@*ing Behavior

“Why don’t you just tell them that?”

“Huh?” my client invariably says.

“You want high performers, but you think your employee is uncoachable, not listening, and acting out?”

“That’s what I’m saying, yes.”

“So just say that,” I say.

“But how would they respond? They might quit! I can’t start a conversation when I don’t know how it will end!”

Bullshit. (Part Four)

Once more, with feeling.

Bull. Shit.

You’re afraid of the unknown and of discomfort, and it’s screwing up your whole life. I know, welcome to the human race. You’re in good company, but you’re making it harder than it needs to be. This is actually good news.

Most managers manage around issues, never actually naming it with an employee. They turn themselves into pretzels to not be direct, and the long list of people who’ve been fired and still don’t know why is the proof.

  • “It’s not working out.”
  • “You’re not a good fit.”
  • “It feels like we’re going in different directions.”

Oh my God, BULLSHIT! How can you put food in that mouth?

Most managers are cowards when it comes to confrontation, and push away high performers:

  • They avoid uncomfortable feedback and let behaviors become patterns that are more difficult to change
  • They use cliché (“we need you to step up to the plate!”) and torture employees, making them guess at how they’re supposed to change
  • They tell themselves they don’t want to hurt the employee, when in truth they don’t want to feel uncomfortable themselves (this is “caretaking”)

Why? Because you need to be liked? Because you think you don’t know how? Because they’re a friend or family member? All good reasons.

And they’re all bullshit.

Do you know when employees want to know how they’re doing?

All the f’ing time.

Especially if they’re not doing well. But they’re too afraid to ask, mostly, so the manager has to be the brave one and lead the conversation. That’s management: leading uncomfortable conversations so everyone gets what they need (not necessarily what they want).

How often do you actually tell them how they’re doing? I mean really tell them in an honest, direct, uncomfortable, vulnerable conversation–the kind you don’t even have often enough with your spouse anymore? Once or twice a year in a performance review using forms you downloaded from an HR website?


It should happen twice a month. Eye to eye. Heart to heart.

The alternative is supervision: tricking people into doing what you want through incentives, passive-aggressive hints, performance improvement plans, peer pressure, inspirational company meetings, etc. Anything to avoid saying something like:

  • “You make pretty poor first impressions, did you know that?”
  • “You’re not nearly as good at X as you think, and it makes me wonder where else you over-estimate yourself.”
  • “Your inability to follow-through consistently is making everyone around you crazy.”

And then you shut your mouth and see what they do with it. No, you don’t get to know in advance. You both squirm.

Assuming you’ve already built a strong, trusting relationship, and they experience that you see their gifts and appreciate them, trust the bond can bear the discomfort and push it. All that goodwill and trust you’ve earned is for these moments.

You want your people to act like adults? Treat them as such. If you treat them like children and are dishonest, manipulative, and/or evasive with them because you’re afraid of discomfort, you don’t get to complain when they act out, and when your business is mediocre. You got exactly what you wanted: something comfortable. I’m sorry no one told you that the path to excellence isn’t comfortable, but now you know.

A High Performer is High Maintenance

A high performer thrives on direct, ongoing, honest feedback. High-performers care about results on a personal level, and if you don’t connect with them personally about how much they’re rocking, or the ways in which they could improve, they will find another place to work faster than you can say bullshit. If you don’t have anybody like this, it may be because you’re already driven them away.

Indirectness is one of the primary ingredients of mediocrity, because the delay slows the improvement cycle. It’s like a shower where you turn the hot water knob and it changes the temperature ten seconds later.

You want a high performer?


Everything has its price. If you’re not paying the price of discomfort in the way you manage, your actions say you don’t. Want your first month of Clear and Open Membership for free? Email me what bullshit you want me to talk about in the finale, part five, “Cut the Bullshit: Apocolypse” that you’re struggling with. (Because these days, that’s what you call the end of a series.)