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Ugh, I don't care for this new board. (I clicked on "More information about formatting options" and lost all that I had originally typed.)

I recognize that this post will be on the far end of the feedback spectrum but I do consider this to be a dire circumstance.

Background:

I officially took over this position on December 8th, 2008. My Transition Plan from my boss (the VP) was such that my first 30 days were observation; my next 30 days were "getting my feet wet" and my final 30 days were "becoming autonomous. Keeping in mind the fact that my boss neglected the fact that we had no *monthly* O3 scheduled for the first 30 days of my new manager gig, he rectified this last week by scheduling my first O3 for next Monday.

This is our team's absolute without-a-doubt busiest time of the year. Bar none.

I inherited a total of 7 people, 1 of which has been on Maternity Leave since early September and I've never met, so essentially I have 6 people.

Of those 6 people, 1 is from my home office and region (the region is made up of 5 office locations but we've since realigned so there are now 4 regions in the mix.) The other 5 of my active 6 people are from another region (in 2 offices.)

My 1 home office person has performed (metrics-wise) beyond compare. NONE of her accounts were in "late" status once we passed the soft deadline. (50+ of her accounts were officially "late" because they were all related and she was more focused on getting the work done than updating the tool.)

The other 5 people have performed anywhere from somewhat-acceptable to hideously.

Three business days after the soft deadline (and two business days before the hard-and-fast deadline) my remaining 5 people have a total of 11 accounts still open.

Those 11 accounts are attributable to 2 DR's.

Of those 11 accounts, I have had 3 client-escalations.

All 3 escalations have been attributable to 1 DR.

Of that 1 DR's 9 open accounts, all 9 plus 1 from prior not currently reflected as open are escalating. (We love combined accounts.)

Today alone, on the 1 account from prior not currently reflected as open, the client basically said:

- "Your DR never told us about any deadlines."

(The DR told me - but never showed me proof that he told the client - that he provided 3 instances of deadline commitment the client was supposed to meet in order for my firm to honor our side of the commitment arrangement.)

- "Your DR told me to reconcile $1,000 and I did."

(The DR told me today that the discrepancy was between A and B whereas our firm requires the clients to reconcile between A and Z. It turns out that the A-Z discrepancy was $10,000, not the $1,000 my DR admits to having asked them to initially reconcile.)

In preparation for my call to this irate client, I asked the home office (top performer) person to help me make sense of the data this DR had provided me and, ostensibly, to the client.

It turns out that the A-Z $10,000 discrepancy was never provided to the client and it took me 15 mins of probing to withdraw from my DR.

While I was on the phone with the client, let's say the Controller, I began to outline and apologize for the DR's "miscommunication" and then indicated that we were actually talking about $10,000, not $1,000. (A tenfold disparity.) At which point, the Controller asked me to hold while she got her CFO on the call with us.

During that hold time, my home office star came to me with a request for specific information, which I passed along to the client.

Following the phone call with the Controller & CFO, the home office star and I determined that the entire $10,000 *plus* the additional $1,000 variances could be explained away in 100 words or less. I drafted and sent that email to the client, copying my home office star and the DR.

What bothers me the most is that this DR has 9 years with the company and let this client's $10,000 variance sit for *4 months* while nothing happened (quite literally, without any need for confirmation one way or another) when my home office star was able to essentially resolve the entire thing in less than 30 minutes.

I plan to have a team meeting next Wednesday during which 3 topics will be covered and 2 of them will relate to how we empathize with clients (*we* would want to know up-front what the potential for ugliness is while there's still time to fix it) AND how we take personal accountability (complete with loop diagrams.)

Following that, my weekly O3 with this DR will be two days later, next Friday, at which point (about 1 week following the hard deadline) I would *like* to have the "Come to Jesus" meeting in which we talk about:

- when you ignore it for this long, it lands in my lap and I'm not happy about that.

- when you don't take initiative, you make our firm look bad to the client.

- when you're not able to spot these types of discrepancies for 4 months when someone with 7 yrs less experience than you can spot them in 30 mins, it makes me think you're not really suited for this job.

The Dilemma / Area for Feedback:

Is this too soon to have this type of discussion with this DR?

He's not the only one of the 5 or 6 that had lates-into-the-soft-deadline-period but he is the only one that had not just one, but more than one, client escalation. He is also the only one who will cost the firm amendment and exception fees (for which I don't yet have an exact dollar figure.)

As of today, I would be more than happy to offload him onto someone else at the first opportunity however I recognize that his region (and that of his 4 contemporaries in those 2 offices) were trained quite differently from my home office star.

On the one hand, I recognize that I can train a sea lion to honk a horn and do things in the officially prescribed manner so the logical side of me mildly says "Coach him and give him a chance."

On the other hand, the level of avoidance, blame and rationalization I saw from this DR (especially in comparison to his regional colleagues) was just outright appalling and the emotional side of me says "Get him out while the gettin' is good!"

(If I haven't already mentioned it, there is a reasonable possibility that this one client will provide me with sufficient grounds to have IT pull email records to prove "falsifying records" (what he told me that he told the client versus what he actually told the client) and if that happens, I do plan to pursue that avenue and seek his outright termination if HR will sign off on it. Worst case, there will be a stern write-up followed by an extended probationary period.)

HMac's picture

You asked:

The Dilemma / Area for Feedback:
Is this too soon to have this type of discussion with this DR?

Ash: I don't see any dilemma here at all. The circumstances (and the potential for harm to client accounts) suggest to me that despite anybody's intended schedule back on Day 1, you have to step in. Now.

H. Ross Perot, the founder of EDS, was once asked to compare General Motors (he was on their board) with EDS. He response was something like: "At GM, when they see a rattlesnake, they institute a study about whether the snake is poisonous, and whether it represents a threat, and what impact the snake is having. At EDS, when we see a rattlesnake, we kill it."

Seems to me you've spotted a "rattlesnake."

Best,

Hugh

PS - one word of caution. I may be reading too much into your account, but I suggest you be careful about not appearing to "play favorites" with the one person from home office (it sounds like you might have some history with them. That's great. Just don't let it be used by others as an excuse).

jhack's picture

Ash,

Is your team responsible for anything other than accounts receivable? (i.e., Sales or delivery of product or services?)

John

RobRedmond's picture

Hi, Ash.

* A big come to Jesus meeting without daily feedback is not a good idea.

* Feedback should be daily in real-time

* Feedback committments (the part where they tell you what they will do differently) are key

* When they fail _those_ committments, you are then entitled to escalate the situation

* When you hit your employee suddenly below the belt with multiple failures that have been going on for a while, it is called an "ambush".

* Ambushes destroy trust and therefore relationships.

* If variances can sit on an employee's desk without being detected for four months, you have more than a personnel problem - you have a process problem.

I recommend you establish a process through which unclosed transactions such as these are automatically highlighted for review by you. You need to check reports about your employee's work to see what is going on. Taking out your frustration with your inability to see what is going on at his desk with a come to Jesus meeting is bound to blow up in your face. Without an underlying relationship to draw upon, you will be building a wall between the two of you and highlighting the negative.

Don't worry about being a so-called "micromanager." Get in his work and find out what he does all day every day. Measure it. Set goals. Measure him against those goals and find him successful or not.

If he doesn't have a goal regarding closing transactions, you've left yourself wide open for "I didn't realize it was such a big deal." You have no weapon other than your emotions to throw at him.

Set goals and measure. Feedback. Coach. Good management is boring - there are no "come to Jesus meetings." There are only "Well, we talked about how you needed to do this eight times in the last eight days, and unfortunately you didn't do it" meetings.

-Rob Redmond
http://www.strugglingmanager.com/

ashdenver's picture

JHack/John,

Another team takes payroll data from client systems and imports it into our mainframe which then produces reports.

My team takes those reports and compares them against the client-provided documents outlining the previous deposits mades (their 941's, their SUI filings, etc.) and when variances are found, they are supposed to notify the client and work with them to resolve it. Sometimes that means the client has to amend their previous filings to match our side. Sometimes we have to tweak things on our side to match their filings. Either way, that's what my team does.

My issue with this DR is that he does not notify the client. He notifies some other internal person and tasks them with resolving the variances solely on their own. He doesn't notify the client until the very last minute when we might have had the client's data for 6 or more months, while they've thought everything was peachy-keen, only to find out that out-of-the-blue we can't file their annual returns.

HMac/Hugh,

I would agree that this is a rattlesnake. He's on my hit list and we will be coming up with a very strong corrective action plan to curtail this type of behaviour which negatively impacts our clients. (I have spent yet another day dealing with clients he has pissed off.)

As for playing favorites, you raise a good point. How do I walk the fine line of: "this is the model behaviour that I want the entire team to emulate, these are the results I want to see out of everyone" without it coming across as favoritism? She really is my top performer across the board, on all measurables & deliverables. In that regard, she's my favorite worker professionally. She just happens to sit two rows over from me, as opposed to the rest of them 1,000 miles away.

When I say "Go do your stuff like Alyson does hers" should I just make it abundantly clear that I'm directing them toward that because she is most closely aligned with the objectives and goals of the organization, that her deliverables are stellar, that she consistently closes before deadline, etc.?

I also don't want to make the rest of the team hate her for being Little Miss Perfect so I've already got it tucked into my brain that I can't drop her name so much as saying "here's what it will take for you to meet those metrics."

jhack's picture

Ash,

You took over the team 5 weeks ago (or so).

This is about coaching and feedback. What makes this time critical is that clients are unhappy, and you could lose them. You need to say in your one-on-one with this person that you have very specific expectations, and that they may be different than they used to be. And you need to spell them out.

No harping on history. You can only change the future. No anger (how ever much you may be upset.) Just a clear description. Rob's right: "you need to check reports about your employee's work" and your employee needs to know that you will do it. Not punishment, just a way for you to ensure client satisfaction.

I was in a similar situation (new role for me, underperforming direct, angry clients). We had a frank discussion about what was expected and what he was able/willing to do. It became clear to him and to me that it wasn't going to work. He left. The key is clear expectations. And if you set those clear expectations, and the person says "I can do that," then you're in good shape: either they do it and all is better, or they don't and you quickly shift to late stage coaching.

Don't tell anyone to do it like Alyson. Set the goal, let your directs do it their way. If they struggle, then you work closely with them - not to micromanage, but to manage. You dig deep enough to make sure the process is working. Let each person find their own way to meet the goals. They can't behave like Alyson (ESPECIALLY if they can't see her!) Never drop her name. Talk about goals and how THEY will meet them. If they need coaching to get better, well, there's the MT coaching model...

John Hack

ashdenver's picture

You're all right. Ugh.

I'm glad that I didn't lose my temper with this stuff or say anything I might have come to regret.

I think my characterization of the "Come to Jesus" meeting was a hyperbolic version of the "Expectations Setting" meeting. The "this is the brave new world and here's your rule book, bub" meeting.

Since I have an O3 with this guy in an hour, I'm going to go prep some feedback and really proof it, edit it, etc. so that I don't blow it on the first go-round.

The one thing I said that may have been a bit revealing yesterday (through IM) was when he asked me for direction on something exceedingly technical in nature and I responded with "I don't know what to tell you, Matt. This should have been addressed a long time ago. Tech Support is in the process of 'closing them as they stand' so whatever gets processed is what the client is going to end up with and the amendments you'll file will have to fix that, I would imagine."

I was out-and-out pissed off when I told him that and I was just irritated beyond comprehension with virtually everything he was saying and doing yesterday. It turns out that we went on from there to get in touch with Tech Support and the VP about where to go with the mess he had us standing there with and his question got answered - though not resolved.

damcg63's picture

My $.02 (without knowing much about your business):

- Ok to wait until you cool down.

- Not ok to wait until the O3 if it is next week. Give the feedback soon.

- I didn't see this in your text, but want to mention - don't talk about the performance of other directs when giving feedback. The Home Office high performer in not relevant when discussing this with the rattlesnake. It is your standard for this persons performance and has nothing to do with other people.

- Ask rattler to think about a framework whereby this sort of thing does not happen again and you two are on the same page going forward. Have them present this at your O3.

(One note - someone above mentioned possible favoritism - try and be introspective about this. I have caught myself a few times using local people as go-to people just because my communication media with them is much richer. Think about whether you may be doing this and how you can open up channels more with the others....you may have to compensate for the distance.)

- Now that you have Rattlesnake understanding your standard - get it out to your other Garter snakes. They are behind as well - let them know how you expect them to perform and add a guidepost for their performance to, say, every 3rd O3.

That's what I might do.... Good luck.

-Dan

ashdenver's picture

I had the meeting with The Rattler (I feel like I'm living in Gotham City with that name!) and it went fairly well, I thought.

It seems as though there's a good deal of expectation resetting I need to do with the team overall. I received feedback (but not in the MT-traditional sense) from my own VP that the bulk of the group has received some "rather odd direction in the past."

To that end, I am holding a Team Meeting this Wednesday to level-set those expectations. Some of the keys in that meeting will be:

- personal accountability
- ownership of the job
- proactive client communication
- empathy for the client's situation

Overall, I would say that The Rattler and I had a good meeting. He asked appropriate questions which fed nicely into the feedback I was prepared to deliver and that made it seem less 'adversarial' than it otherwise might have considering the three large topics. We were able to maintain a good dialogue and, even taking into account that he is a nervous giggler (though that could be his rattle!), we were able to laugh together at the start and end of our O3.

Thanks ya'll! I couldn't have done it without ya.

jhack's picture

That's great to hear.

Remember to focus on measurable behaviors and results in the team meeting. No one is to be the "example" of a good employee. No bemoaning the past (although some history might come up, and some folks find it easier to accept change when they understand the history that led to the current circumstances...)

Glad it went well, and keep us posted.

John

asteriskrntt1's picture

Ash,

Congrats on you coming to the forum for some very sound advice. Shows you are good management stock.

The results and standards you want are simply the job description, not favouritism. You want people to do their jobs properly. If it so happens that one person is doing that much better than everyone else, great. Just don't overtly compare your other directs to that person. Compare them to the standard you want to achieve. Keep up the good work!

*RNTT