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The 3 Fs of Managing People

October 21, 2017 Ricki Braswell CAE

Why is it sooo difficult to manage people? Probably because we spend time trying to “manage” people.

I’ve come to the conclusion that people aren’t meant to be managed. Scary words from a CEO, right? The truth is, I’m not very good at managing people, so instead I strive for creating clear expectations, responsibility, and accountability.

I believe that everyone has unique gifts and we should position people to utilize their strengths. When someone isn’t performing up to my expectations, communication is the key to affecting change. I have learned that the ultimate outcome is completely in the hands of the team member.

So how do we hold people accountable and what happens when they repeatedly fail to live up to their responsibility? The key is effectively communicating the expectation for their performance and developing ownership around the outcome. I find it most effective to do this during face-to-face meetings with a system called the 3 Fs: Fair, Firm, Frank.

3 F’s of Effective Communication


When a team member underperforms, I schedule a short meeting with them to discuss the situation. During the discussion, I begin with questions about their behavior or performance to determine what led to it and how to correct it.

The objective: To make certain the team member understands the expectation of the level of performance, acknowledges where they fell short, and creates a commitment and a plan of action which results in achieving the expected level of performance.

In this meeting, you want to be FAIR – listen to the team member while creating clarity around what happened and what the preferred action would be to avoid repeating the situation in the future.


Sometimes the “fair” conversation doesn’t have the desired results or the team member improves for a period of time but then slides back into old habits. In the event that this happens, you will have to schedule another meeting. During this second meeting you have to be FIRM.

The objective: To have the team member, immediately, bring their performance up to the expected level.

Briefly review the area of underperformance and remind the team member of the commitment and plan of action they made during the first meeting. Be clear that if the team member chooses not to immediately bring their performance up to the expected level, that will indicate to you that they are not a willing, contributing member of the team.


Despite having the “Fair” and “Firm” conversations in an attempt to correct performance, there are times when a team member simply does not upgrade their performance to a consistent and acceptable level. If that occurs then it is time to be FRANK.

The objective: To clearly explain that the consequence of a failure to immediately perform at the acceptable level will be termination.

As with all leadership, you should find your own style, language, and habits. I tend to try to be encouraging and remind the team member of why I believe in them, while emphasizing the need for the team member to perform up to expectations.

I also like to email a team member after the meetings recapping what they committed to. This confirms I heard what they intended and that we are working off of the same expectations.

Regardless of your leadership style, the 3 F’s provide a solid guide for how to address underperformance in the unfortunate instance when it is progressive.

Note of thanks: Dr. Rachel Pullsen shared “the 3 F’s” with me and the other women who came together this past July for the first annual Pankey Women’s Retreat. Thanks so much, Rachel, and give a big thanks to your sister-in-law who I believe is the originator of the 3 F’s. We all grew as a result of your sharing!

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About Author

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Ricki Braswell CAE

Ricki Braswell, CAE, joined the Pankey Institute as President & CEO in April 2011. A former Executive Director for National Association of Dental Laboratories, National Board for Certification in Dental Laboratory Technology and The Foundation for Dental Laboratory Technology, she has a wealth of experience in nonprofits, corporate communications, human resources, and publishing. Ricki has served on The L. D. Pankey Foundation board of directors. In 2010, Dental Products Report named her one of the Top 25 Women in Dentistry.

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