Deliver the Heavy Mail

05 July 2017

“Heavy mail” is the unpleasant news you don’t want to deliver;  i.e. weekend over-time required, furloughs, poor performance.  Two unpleasant performance management issues crossed my desk recently and they highlight the importance of delivering the “heavy mail” quickly.  Key lessons are:

1)  Have clear expectations;

2)  Talk about the work frequently when they are new in the job;

3)  Gain commitment by asking the person, “Will you…?”

4)  Time is NOT your friend.


Discomfort delivering negative feedback, “heavy mail,” is about you as boss.  “Boss” comes from the Dutch “baas” which means supervisor, master, overseer.  Being a “good boss” is pre-requisite to performance management.  A “good boss” is respected for their authority, knowledge and position.  Reference the Boss Audit.  The keys to delivering performance-related heavy mail are as follows:

1)  Set expectations early.

Describe and define good performance.  Without this, people believe what they are doing is right, and their behavior only gets more entrenched with each passing day.

We want to assume that people are “professionals” and will approach work with the same ethic as we do.  We give them lots of time to settle in and make the work “their own.”  We assume they know what they are doing and we don’t want to offend or micro-manage.  WRONG.  These are all bad assumptions and only make getting to desired performance more difficult.

2)  Know your objective.

As boss, you want good performance with self-sufficient people who do the daily work.

3)  Talk often about the work.

Discussions on progress are important.  Early on, while work habits are being formed, talk often about the work.  Check in frequently.  Positive comments about what is working well, adjustment comments about what to improve. Mr. Coats, my drama teacher always made us share two good things before sharing an improvement. Without standards/expectations, this is difficult to do.  Reference Be the Boss to set standards.

4)  Gain Commitment.

Leave nothing to chance; ask the person, “Will you…?”  This may feel confrontational, but it is extremely important.  “Will you…” is forcing the issue of compliance.  “Will you…” drives clarity of expectations.  “Will you share this E-bits with your supervisors?”   “Will you…” requires a simple answer; yes or no. “Will you deal with performance issues before they become entrenched?”

When performance discussions are held early-on, they are viewed as coaching moments.  The longer you wait they become “heavy mail.”  Will you up your game on performance management?

Learn more at the next Principled Supervisor workshop.

Stay Lean,

Alden B.

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