Challenging conversations and how to manage them

It’s first thing on a Monday morning and there is already an assault of complaints coming in: Jim hasn’t completed last week’s work; Mary misprinted all the brochures; and worst of all, the staff kitchen is completely unstocked.  Understandably, your first instinct may be to go and give everyone a piece of your mind.  However, it’s really important in these scenarios to know how to delicately, yet effectively, deal with workplace issues, in a way that solves your issues but also doesn’t anger your employees – after all, unhappy workers are inefficient ones. Knowing how to have challenging conversations can lead to attendance, performance and productivity increasing.

If you currently feel ill-equipped for this, fear not, as we have some useful advice for you below.

What is a challenging conversation? 

A challenging conversation is any conversation where the primary subject matter may evoke strong, potentially unpredictable, or uncontrollable emotions. Due to this, it’s essential to bring these discussions up in a sensitive manner.

Some examples of challenging conversation topics could be:

  • Underperforming at work
  • Dealing with office disputes/investigating grievances
  • Handling clashing personalities
  • Comforting employees after bad news, e.g. if they are about to be made redundant
  • Addressing personal problems that may be affecting work performance.

These sorts of conversations are best had in a more quiet, intimate environment, usually one-on-one, to prevent the employee feeling publicly embarrassed.

Why have a challenging conversation?

From a surface level, it may seem easier to let small mistakes go unmentioned, however, in the long-term it can have some detrimental effects.  For example, your employee will carry on believing that there is no problem and continue to harm the productivity of your company – after all, if they’re not told, how will they know they’re doing anything wrong!  It also denies your employee the opportunity to fix their errors and improve, for if they don’t put things right (and you say nothing) this could set a bad example to everybody else and either damage morale or make everyone on the team think that this form of behaviour is acceptable.

Tips on how to manage a challenge conversation:

  • Tackle the issue the moment you spot it. Don’t wait for it to fester and spiral out of control before you have a word.  If you wait, the problem will only become more complicated and deep-rooted, making your job even harder.
  • Talk in a quiet place, just you and whoever is directly involved. You don’t want your employee to feel as though they are being made a public spectacle of – this will help minimise any feelings of embarrassment/disappointment/anger.
  • Have an open line of communication with your staff and team.  Where they will feel comfortable raising issues or concerns.
  • Listen to employee representatives to gauge how your staff are reacting to the issue – this can help gauge the severity of your conversation
  • Have a clear plan for your conversation.  If you’re discussing a difficult topic there’s nothing worse than aimlessly talking around the issue and ultimately your employee having no idea what it is you are concerned about.  Have a clear idea of your purpose, for example “what’s the challenge at hand” and “how it can be resolved”.
  • Manage your own emotions.  Whilst these sorts of talks can definitely be distressing to both parties, as a figure of authority and calm.  It is vital to keep your cool even if your employee isn’t.
  • Stay open-minded!  Perhaps your staff has a legitimate reason for a dip in performance recently, such as troubling personal issues (maybe they’re going through a divorce or a family member has passed away).  Give them a chance to explain their side of the story and present yours as well, and from there a mutual, amicable solution can be found.

Submit an enquiry via our online form today to find out how we can help your business, or call 07771 642 182 to book a 30 minute consultation with Karen directly.


What is the GROW Model?

The GROW model is an incredibly useful and commonly used goal-setting and problem-solving model which first came about in the UK, during the 1980s and 1990s. It provides a basic framework that can be used in mentoring and coaching sessions.

What does GROW even mean?

The acronym stands for:

  • Goal
  • Reality
  • Options
  • Way Forward


Within this first stage of the model, the goal is the main focus, and everything in this stage is orientated around ensuring the client will get to where they want to be. It’s expected that a specific topic will be discussed between the mentor/coach and the mentee/client. From this, it’s vital that exact objectives and end results are set – these may be both long and short term. It’s also crucial for these goals to be SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely).

For example, in the context of weight loss, it would be useless to set a goal like “I want to look slim” or “I want to lose 15 kilos by next week”. Instead, something like “I want to lose 10 kilos in 3 months and retain that weight” provides a specific short and a long term goal, whilst being realistic and quantifiable. Most importantly positive and inspirational to the client, acting as an attainable challenge that will sensibly push them.

Within this goal setting stage, the coach may ask a variety of questions, such as

  • ‘What are you aiming for?’
  • ‘How would you feel once this goal is achieved?’
  • ‘How will your life be different then from now?’


Here, the mentor and client shall examine the present reality of the client, using specialist techniques. This could start by the client assessing their current situation by themselves, before the mentor steps in to provide more specific advice on the scenario at hand. The mentor should be looking to identify their client’s potential, rather than focusing on any personal problems.

Back to our previous example of weight loss, questions that the mentor may ask could be, “What did you do differently when you’ve successfully lost weight in the past?”, “between the times when you’ve kept weight off versus putting it back on again, what was different?”

More broad questions should be able to identify any hurdles that may occur on their path to improvement and accurately determine how far they are from the end goal.


At this point both the mentor and mentee need to figure out how to make this plan achievable. There will naturally be an array of options available as to how the client will be able to conquer any of the current issues laid out in the Reality section. The mentor should endeavour to initially have the client dominate the conversation, and invite them to make a range of suggestions, which can then be discussed. It is vital for the mentor to be cautious and sensitive when offering their own ideas, and ensure that it is aligned with the client’s own capabilities.


We have arrived at the final stage! The Options discussed now need to be converted into actionable steps and strategies which will deliver the client to their goal. A plan will be drawn up by the mentor, which should include specific guidelines and times in order to increase the manageability of this plan, making it more likely for the client to succeed. With any personal plan retaining flexibility is vital, if the client experiences any negative events, the plan should not make them feel defeated or disheartened.

An example question that a coach may ask could include, “what actions will you take to achieve your goals?”. Drawing us back to our weight loss scenario, those actions could include making a daily diet plan or shopping list, remembering to include celebration on achievement at certain points.

Submit an enquiry via our online form today to find out how we can help your business, or call 07771 642 182 to book a 30 minute consultation with Karen directly.


Why are probation reviews so important for your new-starters?

Despite the recruitment process being both long and thorough, it is not yet a perfect art. It is easy for someone to vastly oversell themselves in an interview (companies too for that matter!) and once employed reveal a number of unexpected hitches, such as lack of punctuality, underperforming or not being a fit for the company culture.

Thankfully, probation periods and reviews are a move to resolve this issue. Within this probation framework, you are able to tell whether your new starter truly has the skillset that they promised and likewise the new starter can assess if this is the right role and company for them. For those who do make it, probation reviews will provide valuable insight into performance, training needs, and give timely feedback so that your new employee understands the expectations of their new role and company.

What is a probation review?

This is a meeting in which you and your new starter properly assess their progress in the new role, whether they have achieved any targets set, completed training requirements and received the support needed to be successful.

What’s a probation period?

It is essentially a trial period for new employees, which usually last three or six months, and in some circumstances can be extended by a further 3 months. Within the probation period they may be exempt from certain benefits that other workers may have, such as company sick pay.  Additionally, if a new employee doesn’t complete the probation period successfully, they may be let go with a short notice period.  Making it very useful to companies if a new starter is quickly proving to be ineffective.

What can happen in a probation review? 

There are three possible outcomes on completion of a probation period:

  • Dismissal; if their performance has been highly unsatisfactory you will have no choice but to let them go.  This must be confirmed in writing and providing the statutory notice period and pay.
  • Extend the probationary period; if there have been any criteria that the employee has not met, or you believe they need a bit more time before reaching the standard your company expects, you will be able to extend their probation for an additional 3 months. Of course, this must be confirmed in writing with the reason, the new probation period end date, review dates, and a set of goals for the new starter to strive towards.
  • Success! They have completed this period as expected and confirmation of this should be confirmed in writing.

Who do probation reviews benefit? 

Probation reviews can be hugely helpful to both employer and new employee. They are a vital method in motivating your workers to work on their performance by having a direct line of communication, and it ensures that they do not get lost and overwhelmed when starting a new job.  We all know that it can be very nerve-wracking!  It can be encouraging to make sure that both of you are on the same page and working towards the same goals. From an employer’s perspective, it is crucial to understand the strengths and weaknesses of all your workers, and these reviews can help lay them out in black and white, and give constructive feedback based upon this.

There are a variety of issues that may be brought up within a review, and it’s the perfect chance to have an open discussion; whether it’s your new starters’ concerns or yours. For example, perhaps they mesh perfectly with the workplace culture and are enjoying their job, however the commute is simply too much. Potentially this could be resolved looking at whether flexible working hours or occasionally working from home is a viable option. Or, if you feel as though they’re underperforming a clear set of goals and appropriate support can be outlined so they have a target to strive towards.

Submit an enquiry via our online form today to find out how we can help your business, or call 07771 642 182 to book a 30 minute consultation with Karen directly.


How to recognise and celebrate success at work

It is incredibly important for everybody in the workplace to feel properly appreciated for the work and effort that they put in. However, despite this, 65% of employees have not received any recognition over the past year, making it unsurprising that one of the top reasons workers leave their company is because they feel under appreciated.

Thankfully, this is easy to change!  No matter how nice and desirable gifts or expensive employee programs are, most people are actually just looking for a productive yet enjoyable workplace where they don’t feel as though their efforts are going unseen. We will show you some easy solutions on how to better celebrate successes in your workplace (because everybody, no matter their position, likes to be appreciated).

How can I recognise my colleagues in a way that they’d appreciate?

Below, we have listed the top five ways in which employees were recognised that they found the most memorable, as found by a Gallup workplace study.

  • Public recognition or acknowledgment
  • Private recognition from a boss, peer, or customer
  • Receiving or obtaining a high level of achievement through evaluations or reviews
  • Promotion or increase in scope and responsibility
  • Monetary awards pay increase, trips, etc.

You may have noticed that the top two on the list don’t include any monetary value, making it very evident that no matter the financial budget of your company, appreciating your employees properly and cultivating a workplace culture that celebrates achievements is still possible.

Public recognition in particular is an excellent way to celebrate any successes that have a wider impact on the business or other employees. Not only does it deeply validate that individual or team on their good work, it is a grand display of how valuable work is, and informs the other workers the benefits of performing in such a way. Seeing other people be publicly praised may motivate your other employees to also do better, in the hopes of the same level of recognition.

On the other hand, private recognition can be more tailored to the individual, and focus directly on their performance or development. Showing recognition to growing employees can often produce positive outcomes, by giving them motivation and support in the workplace.  Especially with the rise in popularity of group projects and open plan, collaborative work spaces, it’s valuable to build a culture of positive peer feedback.

Gifts will always be appreciated. Whilst a handwritten thank you is sufficient for something smaller, larger tasks (such as creating a new product, for example) may be deserving of something bigger.  Some common gift ideas include going out for a meal to celebrate the achievement together, a gift card or perhaps even an extra day off.

When should I recognise them? 

You can appreciate your employees whenever it feels most appropriate to you – it can be valuable to put an almost equal emphasis on both large and small successes, as after all even the biggest projects are just compilations of small wins. Recognition should usually be given after the completion of the task and can focus on the skills used for the job and company values.

The more immediate the recognition, the more effective, as it shows just how much you truly value their work.  Even if an official celebration has to be delayed, there’s no reason to not give a simple thank you and acknowledgement of the achievement as soon as the job is done.

How do you provide meaningful recognition?

The acronym C.O.I.N can help with that – it provides a framework on how to give impactful, constructive and positive feedback.

  • Context
    Identify the behaviour that you want to recognise, ensuring you have a specific example that you want to celebrate.
  • Observation
    Outline in detail the exact skills that you want to reward – don’t be vague.
  • Impact
    Allow all your colleagues to understand why you’re commenting on this behaviour by describing its impact on you, and everyone else in the workplace.
  • Next
    Give positive feedback to allow your employee to keep up the good work.

Submit an enquiry via our online form today to find out how we can help your business, or call 07771 642 182 to book a 30 minute consultation with Karen directly.


SMART goals at work: examples for what, how & why

No matter where you are in life, setting goals is a crucial part of any form of improvement or change, be it at home, work or school. If you ever feel like sometimes you just aren’t achieving as much as you believe you are capable of, this strategy can help you. Setting SMART goals will enable you to stay on track, keeping the goal in mind and maintaining progress.

What does SMART mean?

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Time bound

This acronym, first coined in the 1980s by George T. Duran, is used to break down goals and objectives to make them easier to accomplish. These criteria have mostly come from Peter Drucker’s ‘Management by Objectives’ concept and has been further developed by Robert S. Rubin and other authors who have expanded the acronym to SMARTER, adding Evaluated and Reviewed.

How to use SMART goals to optimise your potential 

1. Specific

It is important for your goal to be precise and targeted as otherwise it may feel overwhelming to begin working towards it, leading to lack of motivation and ultimately no success. Your goal should be able to address these five ‘W’ questions:

  • What do I want to accomplish?
  • Why is this goal important?
  • Who is involved?
  • Where is it located?
  • Which resources or limits are involved?

2. Measurable

Your goal should be measurable and have quantifiable objectives that can easily be worked towards. This is vital so that your improvement and progress is trackable, making it more motivating than trying to work towards something abstract.
A measurable goal should be able to answer questions such as:

  • How much?
  • How many?
  • How will I know when it is accomplished?

3. Achievable

In order for your goal to be achievable, it’s essential that your target is realistic. No matter how ambitious you may be, setting unrealistic goals will be disheartening. You should be able to find a balance between pushing yourself and testing the best of your abilities whilst also keeping it attainable.

Ask yourself these questions as you set your achievable goal:

  • How can I accomplish this goal?
  • How realistic is the goal, whilst factoring potential hurdles, for example finances?

4. Relevant

There’s no point setting any targets unless they mean something to you!  This stage is to make sure that your goal matters to you and will benefit your life.  Additionally, by creating worthwhile goals, people will be more likely to help and assist you along the way, and this peer support can be crucial in remaining on target.

A relevant goal should answer “yes” to these example questions:

  • Will this be worthwhile?
  • Is this the right time for me?
  • Does this align with my other needs?
  • Am I a suitable person to reach this goal?

5. Time-bound

Setting yourself a deadline can be very helpful as it can give you something to work towards and add extra motivation. Every goal should have a specific target date, and your everyday tasks should not overshadow your long-term aspirations.

A time-bound target should be able to answer:

  • When will I achieve this?
  • What can I do six months from now?
  • What can I do today?

Why use SMART?

SMART goals are able to give the clarity and focus, which in turn create motivation, needed to achieve your real goals.  It can turn your ideas into actionable objectives by defining the specifics of your goals and what exactly needs to be completed to achieve them. Additionally, a completion deadline can be highly encouraging if you enjoy a challenge and pushing yourself, and at the end you’ll be able to see in literal terms how much progress you have made. The best part? SMART goals can be used by anyone for anything without any type of formal training due to its clearly defined steps.  Goals can be changed based on the individual and their abilities, and ever-adapting plans can still easily follow the SMART guidelines.

Submit an enquiry via our online form today to find out how we can help your business, or call 07771 642 182 to book a 30 minute consultation with Karen directly.


KarenHRM newsletter: Happy New Year 2021

Welcome to our newsletter!

Welcome to the January 2021 edition of our monthly newsletter. Following the exciting launch of our new website in October, this month we have shifted our focus to plans for the coming year with even more thoughtful human resources content to inform and inspire you.

Here at Karen HRM for the New Year 2021 we have planned expert blogs coming out in the next few weeks on the themes of; Probationary Reviews, Using the GROW model for coaching and mentoring, SMART objectives, Challenging Conversations, and more.

To learn more about this innovative approach, be sure to watch the second in our series of videos hosted by our founder Karen Dolan, below. In this instalment, Karen explains how our HR services and many years of experience can help guide you throughout every phase of managing your people.

You can expect professional advice and support whatever your people issue or need.

Submit an enquiry via our online form today to find out how we can help your business or call 07771642182 to book a 30-minute consultation with Karen directly.

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