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Submitted by twinsen on


Yesterday in our O3, I passed on some feedback about our latest systems deployment to Jennifer.  Basically I said, when you don't do X on time and go through the process thoroughly, Patrick has to stay late and work during the deployment night to fix bugs, Fred had to re-schedule his work and help out and his priorities got affected - so what can we do differently about it?

And then Jennifer broke down crying saying how she's frustrated about failing and she didn't know Fred had to do work and she's bad at doing X and she feels the last 6 months of O3s have all been negative feedback (obviously not true, but I wasn't in the mood to prove that).

How should this be handled?  I ended up taking her off doing X but I don't know if I caved in or something.



ashdenver's picture

It seems like Jennifer doesn't feel comfortable in her role and perhaps a mentoring partnership with someone like Fred or Patrick might help her "get" things in a way that she hasn't so far. 

She might have issues with time management - getting lost or wrapped up in one thing to the detriment of others.  Fred or Patrick might be asked to keep her honest.  "Jennifer, I'll need Acme done by 2pm today and Fritz Co done by 8am tomorrow.  How's it coming? Will we make the deadlines? What can I do to help?"  

She might have issues with prioritizing responsibilities - not understanding the big picture to be able to effectively & appropriately determining which thing has which priority on which day. In this case, you might need to take a more active role in her daily prioritization.  "Let's take a look at what you've got today."  "Do you know why this Widget item jumped up to the top of the priority list today when it wasn't so critical yesterday?"  Some people need a reminder from first grade math: there can only be ONE number-one thing. 

Overall it doesn't sound like Jennifer was able to answer your question about what could be done differently because she was too wrapped up in her emotions.  Maybe with some time and distance she'll be able to come up with possible solutions but otherwise you're still her manager and it's your responsibility to coach, guide, mentor and coax out her best performance.  You likely need to get more deeply engaged - at least for a while - to help her feel supported (without feeling micromanaged) and guided toward success rather than abandoned & doomed to failure.

When the next X-type of project or task comes up, talk to her about it.  "Jennifer, X is back again. I want you to be able to succeed at this time so what lessons did we learn from the last X project? What support do you want from me to knock this out of the park?" 

At the very least, I would think the next O3 could focus on "Now that it's been a week, how are you feeling about X? What ideas have you come for things to be done differently on X the next time?"  Don't let it fall to the wayside but don't beat her over the head with it either.  Be her advocate and supporter in the O3 as long as you can do so with authenticity. 

DiSC profile: 7-2-1-5

jhack's picture

" she feels the last 6 months of O3s have all been negative feedback"

Communication is what the listener does.  If she sees all feedback as negative, maybe she's not wrong.  

90% positive feedback is the rule of thumb.  Small corrections, accumulating in improved overall behavior, is the goal.  

" when you don't do X on time and go through the process thoroughly..."   If she doesn't have the prerequisite skills, she needs coaching.  Maybe she simply can't do it on time.  

John Hack

jhbchina's picture

These are tough times, everyone take a deep breathe and be a bit compassionate.

Jennifer, when you cry when I give you some negative feedback, I begin to wonder, is there something going on in your personal life that is making you cry?

I care about you and this is just feedback so that you can do better in the future. What makes her feel that "she's frustrated about failing". Jennifer, you are not failing, you are improving because now you don't do XX and that is good!

What can I do to help, (As long she is not in late stage coaching).



twinsen's picture
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Thank you for all the comments. 

Ashdenver's analysis is pretty much spot on - she is an I and prioritizing is her achilles heel.  (rest of the team are Ds and Cs).  I guess I just assumed setting daily priorities and tasks are for someone on the intern level. 

JHB:  She has had some health problems lately.  Not to be a completely insensitive pointy haired manager a la Dilbert, I did give her a day off when she told me the day before that her part was all complete (which it was not, we later found out).

John:  She does need coaching - I started her on a couple of tracks but she can never really accomplish the goal.  i.e. I asked her to do ABC once and remarkably she delegated it to a team member (or at least convinced a team member to do it).  This time on X, I asked for folks to be there for consultation but explicitly not do it for her. 

I will try the "what can I do to help" angle again.  I did say the same thing last time but she was too upset for us to do anything constructive.  If people can't tell, I'm a rather young and newbie manager (been in the role since May 2008).  All my directs are older than me - so for me, it feels a bit like playing therapist; which I'd rather spend time winning new budgets, doing sales jobs in PowerPoint and doing political hand to hand combat, etc.  


twinsen's picture
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In our next O3 session, I started off by asking her to what can I do to help her and that I want her to be happy, achieving results and obviously not being frustrated with failure.  Jennifer replied that she thinks it's mostly her fault.  And I asked her about what can be done differently or what are things we can change so it's not leading to the same outcome and she says the workload lessened this week and she's not feeling the same.

Not sure if that's the response I expected..

I know folks preach the 90% positive feedback rule but if a direct does something ineffective, I *should* give the correcting feedback, no?  Or should I just say "Look this is incorrect, please do this and that".  I already bite my lip hard enough with the feedback model not to offer a 10 point plan to correct their behaviour (I'm a high D&C).


430jan's picture

Do you always give adjusting feedback to a direct that does something ineffective? It was very freeing to me to hear that the answer to this is "no". Listen to the "Heart of Feedback" cast. It's great and speaks to what you are talking about. Read the book they recommend in the cast too.

Often we really can do our direct's job better than they can. That's a fact. But if we are constantly adjusting and tweaking their work product it may be better in the short run, but at what cost? They are discouraged and disinterested and they will give you minimal effort. Why bother if it isn't ever good enough anyway?I wonder if this is why she is relieved to have a lessened workload? Less chance of being called on the carpet? Fear is not the result that you want.

If she can't make your deadline and thinks she completed the tasks that she hasn't, I would suggest breaking it down into smaller parts and being crystal clear about what the deliverable is. Super small deliverables with super short deadlines at first. Get her going on success so you have something positive to say and she gets motivated to do better. If she is high I she probably is not intuitive about what you want.

The best thing about management is people. The worst thing about management is the people. Welcome to the club Laurence. I hope that you listen like mad to these podcasts.They have been so encouraging to me.


twinsen's picture
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Janet:  I've read your post about 3 or 4 times on different occassions (after being frustrated, at the end of a long day, at the start of the day, in the middle of the night) and I will try with the super small deliverables.  You're exactly right that's why she's frustrated with herself - the why bother attitude, as everyone in the team has so far been able to step up their game except for her.  I've listened to the Heart of Feedback and pretty much all the Trinity related casts but I'll go over it again. 

You're also right about the best and worst thing.  I really have to stop comparing myself (what would I do with my own boss) and start measuring things in weeks rather than hours or days.


430jan's picture

Right on my friend (that's 70's lingo).

At least we have some tools here to try to make a difference when get up in the morning (or in the middle of the night). Good luck!