Preface: Workplace Undercover is a regular feature of this blog. The scenario below was written by Eillen Bui, our research associate. Responding to this scenario is Stephanie Foy, Project Manager for Leading Consciously and Principal of Foy and Associates.
To quickly review Part A : Jeff, a manager, was hard time discussing Kathy’s performance with her during her annual review. So far, Stephanie has made two recommendations: encourage everyone to take a deep breath to diffuse anxiety and increase openness and receptivity, and assume a strength-focused approach, identifying what you appreciate and agree with.
Let’s continue with Stephanie’s recommendations on what Jeff might do next:
3. Shift to discussion of growth areas, not weaknesses. Ask the employee to list her own growth areas before you give your opinion.
After Kathy has talked about her strengths, Jeff could say, “Now, let’s talk about some of the things that we believe are growth areas for you. Would you be willing to start?”
Notice the change in wording from weaknesses to growth areas. This again signifies a belief in her favorable future and her capacity for positive change. By allowing her to list her own growth areas first, Kathy also gains power and may be less defensive.
If she surfaces any growth areas that that is related to those he is concerned about, he now has an opening to raise the issue and work towards a solution.
4. Go into inquiry. Unearth the employee’s perspective. Agree with as much as you can.
Here’s a sample dialogue.
Kathy: I think I need to work on selling higher priced items. It is easier for me to sell accessories than larger items.
Jeff: What leads you to think that?
Kathy: To be honest, I’m not that familiar with the higher prices goods, and most of the people who come in aren’t either.
Jeff: The higher priced goods produce the best value, so you are correct that we need to help you work on your sales. When I checked the numbers, you have missed your sales quota a number of times in the last year.
Note that he is agreeing with her about the need, just for different reasons. This will be much easier for her to hear and take action on. Note also that he is open about his thinking processes.
Since he believes her customer service is also part of the issue, he should not start immediately addressing her poor sales. Rather he might ask more questions to find out what her thinking is and whether she connects her poor sales with customer service:
Jeff: Why do you think that you don’t sell the bigger items?
Kathy: They just don’t buy what I suggest!
Jeff: Why do you think that is the case?
Kathy: They just don’t have a fashion sense and great style like me.
5. Be open about your own concerns using specific examples.
At this point, Jeff has a choice. He can either treat her as an idiot or decide that his job is to coach her on how to deliver good customer service. Treating her as though she is an idiot is not likely to help him build an effective relationship with her. The alternative, then, is to move into coaching by being open about his concerns and asking questions about her perspective.
Jeff: Could it be that what you are offering, while great, is not what they came for? For example, the other day a lady came in for black slacks and a blouse and you offered her a red dress.
In this way, Jeff agrees with the part he can agree with. What she is offering may be great, but was not what the client wanted. A specific example makes it more real for her and not something she can dismiss as his wrong perception.
6. Seek agreement that there is a problem.
This is where the rubber meets the road. If the employee does not believe there is a problem, Jeff’s best attempts to induce her to change will be to no avail.
Jeff might seek her agreement about the problem by verifying that she does indeed know that she engages in the problematic behavior and then asking if that behavior is a problem:
Jeff: Would you agree that you often offer other things than what the customer asked for?
Jeff: I believe that this approach is hurting your sales and possibly have customers dissatisfied with your service. Do you see it that way?
Note that he is open about his perspective and then asks for her agreement or disagreement.
Kathy: I can see your point.
Jeff: What are some ways you could handle situations like this?
Kathy: I guess just show them what they want.
Jeff: What if you offered the black pants and blouse and the red dress and said something like ‘Here are the pants and blouse you asked for. You know, you would look really great in this red dress, if you were willing to consider something else or for another occasion.’ Would that be something you would be willing to try?”
This was astute of Jeff. He knew that Kathy took pride in her “fashion sense,” and offered her an option in which she could both use that skill as well as respond to the customer. He has played to her strengths and given her a better approach to satisfy customers and improve sales.
7. Seek commitment to trying a solution and following up on results.
If she agrees, he should establish the follow-up, placing the responsibility on her to initiate it.
Jeff: I will be observing you on the floor and we can both watch to see how this works. Please check back with me in a few days and let me know how it is going.
Jeff needs to support Kathy to grow and that usually means proactive follow-up. Managers often think that once they tell someone to correct or do something differently, the person will automatically do so the next time and perfectly every time after that.
Unfortunately, none of us change that quickly or easily. As any therapist or coach will tell you, deciding to change is only the beginning. It takes concerted effort and a positive support network. Jeff can support Kathy by engaging with her in the change process.
Now Jeff can move on to other concerns. By taking each concern individually, getting Kathy’s agreement that there is a problem and then leveraging her own motivation and strength to overcome the issue, Jeff will be more effective and Kathy will stand a much better chance of improving her effectiveness. Jeff can build her trust and confidence by staying in touch and continuing to give her ongoing feedback and coaching.
8. Commit to providing ongoing feedback.
To build effective relationships, we have to tend them all along, not once a year at the annual review.
People need ongoing feedback, both positive and corrective, to be able to become better employees. By modeling listening, openness, and inquiry, managers like Jeff can be more effective. The results will show up in improvements in the attitude and performance of their staff.
Stephanie Foy is Principal of Foy & Associates and a consultant and coach, specializing in enhancing personal and organizational performance, growth and wellbeing. Stephanie is also the Project Manager for Leading Consciously.
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