Reading the riot act: 5 tips for doing it effectively

There’s a time for polite coaching and then there’s a time where you just have to lay down the law.

Perhaps your employees are breaking the rules, no matter how many times you tell them.

Or maybe an employee’s actions have cost your company a lot of money.

Let ’em hear it – the right way

Here are five tips managers can follow to make sure their speech actually hits home

1) Keep the end in mind. What are you looking to achieve? Is there a behavior that you would like to stop? Do you want to make someone aware of the impact of their actions?

It’s important to stay focused on the end goal. Once we get into the conversation – it’s very easy to drift and get off topic – crushing the impact of your message. Before you start the conversation – write down the 3 things that you want to make sure you address. When we force ourselves to write things down – we will always be more focused.


2) Keep your ego (and emotions) in check. We’ve all been there – thinking that our employees are specifically sticking it to us – to make us look bad. It’s usually not the case. Even if it is true, it’s not useful to personalize the situation.

Once we let our ego and emotion get the best of us – we lose credibility. We start thinking about how actions are impacting “us” vs. the “team.” It’s best to focus on how the actions or behaviors are negatively impacting the team or company. The message will be better received and will be less likely to cause escalation.


3) Use real examples. Without specific examples, people may not fully understand what they did wrong. It may be clear to us, but if it was clear to them – we probably wouldn’t need to have this conversation.

It is also important to explain the impact of their actions or behavior.  By explaining the impact, it becomes more real. For example, “Joe – It is unacceptable for you to be late publishing your numbers. Folks in accounting are dependent on your numbers. When you are late, they have to work thru the weekend to publish their analysis”


4) Don’t pile on. Once we get on a roll, it’s very easy to break out the laundry list (and another thing – I remember 2 years ago when you stole my pen and never returned it). Try to keep things short. The less we say – the more impact the message will have.

This gets back to the first point of keeping the end in mind. We dilute our message when we bring up too many issues. People can not digest more than a few items. And you can always buy another pen.


5. Follow-up. You just went to all that work to make sure your speech would hit workers hard. You shouldn’t ruin its impact by letting things fall by the wayside.

Let employees know what will happen if they do not get in line. Right after the conversation, go to your calendar and put a date and time that you will revisit the issue. 


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  1. Alli Polin says

    Found myself nodding along with all of these, Mike! All five make a big difference to the impact of the message. One that sticks out to me that I’ve seen too often is no specifics (#3). Sometimes it’s because too much time has passed between “the incident” and the coaching. Generalities don’t serve anyone!

    Look forward to sharing the great advice in this post!

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