Take A Hike: A Mindful Approach To Difficult Employee Conversations

This post originally appeared on Forbes.com here.

All business leaders have certain years that they look back on as a turning point. Often, the most challenging times in a company’s history are also the most valuable, because of the lessons we learn about our business, our team members and ourselves as leaders.

In 2014, after experiencing two of the strongest years in our history, we were feeling confident and ready to soar to new heights. Midway through the year, we realized we were not going to hit our budgeted sales or profit numbers. The news hit our team hard, and we felt the pressure of having to make the right decision to protect the company, our team members and our clients.

Ultimately, we decided to make the bold, and vulnerable, decision to roll out the Great Game of Business open-book management program, and it helped us correct course. At the same time, a challenge with a team member began to surface, and we faced another difficult decision.

A Tough But Needed Conversation

It’s never easy to tell a team member that their performance isn’t where it should be. At imageOne, our team members are the heart and soul of our company. Caring for team members in the totality of their lives is part of our purpose, and that level of care makes delivering a tough message to team members that much more difficult.

Lisa was no exception — she was a long-time, highly-valued team member. We were acquainted with her wonderful husband and we adored her two children, whom we heard stories about every day. We were also aware that Lisa was the main source of income for her busy household, and we knew that income came from us.

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As much as we wanted to keep Lisa’s role and compensation in place, the reality was that Lisa was struggling. Her current position didn’t suit her, she wasn’t motivated to grow within her role, and she was significantly overpaid. I knew what I needed to do: it was time to change her role and lower her compensation.

Even though it was a long time coming, it was a painful decision to make. It’s part of our company culture to approach team member challenges from the perspective of servant leadership. We had worked closely with Lisa to try new ways to support and train her, and we had several conversations with her about how we could help get her to where we needed her to be.

I racked my brain for another course of action, but I knew in my heart that making a change was best for our business, our team members and ultimately Lisa.

Starting a Mindful Discussion

These are the moments when I am most grateful for my meditation practice. Even though I am aware of the emotions that are surfacing — concern, stress and anxiety — I am able to remain calm and clear, drawing on the wisdom of my past experiences to make the best decision. As a leader, the ability to regulate my emotions and approach difficult conversations from a place of care is transformative.

Before my meditation practice, I might have acted on my feelings of anxiety and rushed through the conversation with Lisa, potentially even terminating her. Instead, I thought about my relationship with her and what I knew about her communication style. Where would Lisa be most comfortable? What did she need to hear from me? How could I show her that we were still committed to her success, despite this difficult transition?

I decided to ask Lisa to meet me at a local trailhead and join me for a simple hike. During the hike, I explained our situation to her, what had to happen and that at this point, it wasn’t negotiable. I was focused, direct and clear. Although it was apparent that she was unhappy with the situation, I pledged to support her no matter what — whether she decided to leave the company or re-commit to her role and work her way back up to her current level within imageOne.

Our conversation that day was one of the most difficult team member decisions I’ve ever had to make. I knew that what I was sharing with her would affect not only her ego but more importantly, her family’s finances. I’m proud to say that Lisa stayed with the company and has been working hard to climb the ranks.

Two years later, Lisa shared with me that she appreciated my approach with her on that day. In hindsight, she realized it was the push she needed to re-evaluate if this was really what she wanted to do with her life and if so, what she needed to do to succeed in her role. For me, the experience was humbling.

Be a Leader That Lifts Up

My leadership is guided by a commitment to our company core values, our focus on having people in the right “seats” and a philosophy of being a “lifter upper,” not a “dragger downer.” But even with such a clear compass guiding my decisions, the nature of leadership is uncertainty.

On any given day, the onus is on us to approach our business with the right mindset. I credit my daily meditation practice for putting me in the right headspace to allow for our conversation to unfold in a productive way. Lisa appreciated my genuine honesty, humility, vulnerability, and authenticity – taking a mindful approach to her situation made a huge difference, and it resulted in her renewing her commitment to the company and her passion for a new role.

Does a hike with a team member take more time than a textbook performance evaluation? Of course. But I’ve found that when we go beyond expectations and genuinely care for our team members, the results are extraordinary.

From the customer service our team members deliver to how they innovate and improve our business, they are more engaged than ever before. Our team members deserve our full presence, consideration, and compassion. It’s just the right thing to do!

Connect with Rob Dube on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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