How to have tough conversations with employees

By Web Editor | 05/25/2010 6:01:00 PM


PBA Symposium’s keynote speaker Susan Scott continues to encourage managers to tackle those fierce conversations, while she takes on the business world’s worst “best” practices.

Since 2002, Susan Scott’s best-seller Fierce Conversations: Achieving Success at Work and in Life One Conversation at a Time, has taught thousands of business leaders how to ignite productive dialogue that interrogates reality, provokes learning, resolves tough challenges and enriches relationships.

In her new book, Fierce Leadership: A Bold Alternative to the Worst “Best” Practices of Business Today, Scott takes on some of the most popular “best practices” that permeate our business world.

“Not only are some of these practices ineffective,” she says. “They’re costing companies billions of dollars, driving away our most valuable employees and profitable customers, limiting performance and stalling careers.”

In her no-nonsense style, Scott’s new book busts six of the worst “best” practices and reveals a technique she calls “squid eye”—the ability to see the obvious. “Once we identify the ‘tells’—disastrous behaviors— then we can prevent them from crippling our organization,” says Scott. Informed by more than a decade of conversations with executives at Fortune 500 companies, Scott offers surprising alternatives that managers at every level can put into place, including:

• From 360º anonymous feedback to 365 face-to-face feedback
• From hiring for smarts to hiring for smart+heart
• From holding people accountable to modeling accountability and holding people able
• From employee engagement programs to actually engaging employees
• From customer centricity to customer connectivity
• From legislated optimism to radical transparency

As Scott prepares her keynote speech and breakout session for PBA Symposium 2010, which will be held July 17-20 at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, she took a moment for a little candid conversation with SALON TODAY Editor in Chief Stacey Soble about the importance of connectivity:

ST: Your new book talks about the importance of customer connectivity. Why is connectivity important, and how can an owner connect with clients?
SS: It’s true, the greatest place for exponential growth for an individual or an organization lives in the area of human connectivity, and it is the only sustainable competitive edge. I do have my own experience with the owner of the salon I patronize— whenever she’s there, she comes over, kisses me, greets me and says, “Hey there, gorgeous.” She lingers with me long enough to make me feel she’s really checking in with me.

But connectivity with your clients really starts with the connection you have with your staff. You can’t go around your stylists to build loyalty—you have to do it through your employees. If you don’t have genuine affection for and an emotional connection with your stylists, you’re toast. You have to have a great relationship where your employees feel encouraged, valued, seen, heard, celebrated, and acted on—if you don’t have that with your service providers, there’s little you can do to build a relationship with the clients.

ST: If an owner does have that relationship with her staff members, how can she reinforce it to the employees’ clients?
SS: Praise your employees and acknowledge them in some form other than their paycheck. We forget to tell people we appreciate them or what specifically about them we do appreciate. It’s best when it happens right in the moment. You can go up to a stylist and say to her client, “You look gorgeous, I can see Paula worked her magic again.” Or catch them directly after the client leaves and say something like, “Mrs. So and So came in complaining and whining, and I’m so delighted with how you handled her and gave her a great style. You just blow me away.”

When you think it, say it.

ST: When there is a problem, and it’s time to have one of those tough conversations, what do you recommend?
SS: Well, specifically, take a look at Chapter 4 in Fierce Conversations, because there definitely is an approach. Take time to prepare an invitation to the person you need to have the conversation with. Your invitation should take 60 seconds or less and needs to be clear and compelling, such as “I want to talk with you about the effect X is having on Y.” State an example of what you mean and how it makes you feel when it happens. Take ownership for any part you have in the problem, state that you want to resolve it, and ask them what’s going on from their standpoint. Then you have to listen, and vow not to jump in—let them talk until they feel completely heard. Then ask, “What will you do to resolve this, what do you need from me and when can I follow up with you?”

The magic is in the 60-second opening, then the listening. You might remember in the movie Avatar, the Na’vi greet each other by saying, “I see you.” That actually comes from a traditional greeting from the indigenous African Massai. If they encounter one another on a trail, they will take hold of each other’s arms and one will say, “I see you.” The other responds, “I am here.” It’s as if to say, until you see me I do not exist.

So many of us go through our daily work not being seen. Very often people tell me, “I wonder if anyone knows I am here.” That’s when you have people calling in sick and turnover.

While you’re in Las Vegas for PBA Symposium, take advantage of the business-building opportunities PBA Beauty Week and Cosmoprof North America (CPNA10) have to offer. Here’s just a sampling:

CEO Summit for the Professional Industry Beauty Never Fades the Pulse of the Industry (Hosted by PBA)
Sunday, July 18; 2 to 3 p.m.
Packaging Lounge Education Conference

In the midst of a turbulent economic climate and a hard-hitting recession, the beauty industry has found itself at a crossroad. Despite these difficult times, some companies, led by talented women and men, have been able to adapt and continue to grow their businesses. Learn as today’s top executives at world-renowned companies share their secrets to increasing sales volumes, their strategies for success and how they have managed to keep their customers satisfied. Join Ann Mincey as she moderates a CEO forum to discuss the current state of the beauty industry. Panelists include Michael Riley, CEO, Scruples; Pat Parenty, president, L’Oréal USA’s Professional Products Division; John Heffner, CEO, CND; Ron Krass, CEO, Zotos.

Niche Breakthrough Ideas and How They Come to Life Session organized in partnership with ICMAD
Monday, July 19; 2 to 3:30 p.m.
Pavilion D

ICMAD is a platform where entrepreneurs of indie brands come together to network, learn from each other and provide a support structure to help them succeed in an ultra-competitive and hard-to-navigate landscape. Three of ICMAD’s most successful entrepreneurs will give insight on how they took a vision and made it a reality in today’s highly competitive cosmetic marketplace. The three presenters—Robb Akridge, Ph.D. co-founder/ vice president of Clincial Affairs for Clarisonic; Michael Benjamin, president and CEO of Temptu; and Jane Iredale, president and founder of Iredale Mineral Cosmetics—stand out as success stories. This session will be an open discussion, which will highlight what it takes to make a difference in the cosmetic business. You don’t have to be big if you have the right niche idea. (Tickets are $20 for PBA members and $30 for non-members.)

Increasing Revenue with Social Networking
Tuesday, July 20; 11 a.m. to 12 p.m.
Pavillion B

This session is designed to help attendees—business owners in different areas of the beauty industry—increase revenue by utilizing various aspects of social media and networking. Our panelists will explore up and coming trends in mobile marketing, online consumer communities and social media channels. Attendees will greatly benefit from the shared successes and experiences our panelists bring to the session, and they will be introduced to the extensive options to utilize social networking. Dan Lagani, founder of Tre Cani Advisors, will address the future of e-commerce and discuss the importance of content management strategy. Speaking from the marketing side, Maurice Flynn, social media and marketing sales expert/trainer,, will talk about the power of consumer online communities and the function of sales promotion and shopper marketing. Finally, Joshua Onysko, founder and CEO of Pangea Organics will highlight how managing a personal brand across social media channels and gaining brand credibility can increase target markets through digital channels. (Tickets are $20 for PBA members and $30 for non-members.)

CLICK! For more information and/or tickets to any of these events, visit






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