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BLUF: How do I coach a direct to remember what deadlines/deliverables he has committed to? How can I make sure a direct meets his deadlines without crushing his soul and mine (a.k.a. checking up on him constantly)? How do I get back on track with the feedback model after mangling it badly?

I'm sure there is a podcast for this. I remember something about shorter time frames. Maybe the delegation cast?

I have a direct that I promoted into a new role that requires that we work much more closely than he has in the past. He has been a high performer when he is able to work entirely on his own. However his current role requires that he meet deadlines that we set together. He is a part-time employee; there is a lot to keep track of; being able to prioritize is critical. My problem is that he has agrees to a deliverable and a deadline for one task, but then confuses those details with others.

When I have to  follow up with him on a missed deadline, I have had a hard time delivering the feedback model correctly because:
1) For me having to ask for missing deliverables has had a "looking for mistakes" quality that does not pair well the feedback model. I'm really just looking for the work product, but the frequency required feels like micromanaging.
2) He does not remember committing to the task or honestly has it confused with another similar task -- it is very clear to me that these are honest mistakes.

This is happening too frequently and I need to get us both back on track. I find it hard to keep feedback short, clear and crisp when he has no idea what I'm talking about. Let's face it, at this point I've gone and completely messed up the feedback model pretty badly.

Doris O
7136

 

mi5mark's picture

Well like most things in life practice makes perfect so don't beat yourself up for trying to manage someone correctly.

I would listen to the delegation and feedback model podcasts again. In terms of delegation you should delegate the reporting mechanism at the same time as the task is delegated, so if you want updates every Tuesday then delegate this as a task also. Make sure they verbally commit to the delegation and in this case I would recommed that you follow it up with an email re-iterating what you have discussed and what they have agreed to.

You must carry on giving feedback and I would suggest figuring out what DISC profile this person has so you can word things better and perhaps looking at some motivational interviewing techniques. For me these work really well in my particular field of management.

You may also wish to consider letting the direct know that you are learning new management techniques so although you won't always get things right, you are determind to improve.

maura's picture

I think the podcast you are looking for is called Developing a Sense of Urgency in Your Team (parts 1 and 2).  Great stuff.

Doris_O's picture

Thank you M15Mark & Maura!  I'm checking out the podcasts you recommended today. 

Any additional thoughts anyone has on how to coach directs specifically on how to set priorities, keep track of deadlines, take better notes and use their own notes effectively would be much appreciated. 

Reflecting on this a bit more - my difficulty isn't that my direct forgot or failed to deliver by the deadlines, but that he forgot what he was responsible for doing. Last week he a full commitment to the projects (really fairly small tasks) and understanding of them, this week the memory of the projects was gone. I was so focused on trying to give feedback that I overlooked whether or not it would be effective to do so. 

He was completely blindsided when I asked about the missed deliverables. I gave feedback, but probably should just walked away instead, because he had no idea what I was talking about. I may as well have been giving negative feedback about something he had no responsibility for. As a result the commitment was converted to compliance.

So lesson learned: I'm going to be more aware of when when feedback would be most effective versus when the memory of the project is lost in the moment. In those situations I'll try to ask that we take a few minutes to review deadlines and deliverables instead of giving feedback. For the next week or so I'm going to focus on giving positive feedback and at least once a day ask that we review deadlines, deliverables and priorities.

I still need to figure out how to improve future behavior - mine and his. I'm still working on how to give feedback, coaching, how I assign tasks and delegate responsibility, and eventually systemic feedback to effectively address the memory issue. Any suggestions on this memory issue would also be much appreciated.

mattpalmer's picture

Just in case you're having trouble actually *framing* the feedback, here are a couple of examples of what I'd likely say in this situation (and I've been there...):

"Hey Fred, can I give you some feedback?  When you don't write down what you've committed to doing and the deadline for doing it, they get forgotten or muddled with other tasks.  Could you work on that?"

"Hey Fred, can I give you some feedback?  When you don't deliver things to me by the agreed deadline, I can't give the boss the combined project on time, and it makes me look bad.  Could you work on that?"  (Adjust consequences to suit)

The key is that you're focusing on general behaviours here.  While your direct might not remember the specifics of a particular task, I'd be surprised if he doesn't remember that he delivered this to you late (given that you should be delivering feedback about 15 seconds after he gives you the deliverable).  So, lead off with the second one.  If he says tries to justify his actions with "well, I forgot", then feedback no. 1 comes into play.

Another thing to make sure of is that you're giving enough positive feedback.  While letting people know their performance isn't up to spec is important, it is almost more important to emphasise the positives, to ensure that your direct knows what they *should* be doing.  This is especially important if they sometimes deliver and sometimes don't.  Reinforcing the successful attempts provides a huge multiplier to the effectiveness of adjusting the failed attempts.

You may also benefit from providing tasks and deadlines in a more structured way.  Following up with e-mail, as mismark suggested, is a fantastic idea.  Also consider if you're not being as clear as you could be about defining the outcome you're looking for, and the deadline.  I've had plenty of situations where I've thought I was clear at the time, then everything's gone to hell in a handbasket and on doing my own little personal hotwash, I've realised that I totally made a mess of defining the goals I was looking for, and usually wasn't clear enough with the deadline.  For example, I might have said "I'd like this by midday on Friday", rather than "this must be done by midday this friday, so that I can incorporate it into my report for the CEO in our 2pm meeting".

As far as getting back on track with the feedback model, everything you need there is in your head.  Just convince yourself that while you may have made a mess of it so far, it isn't impossible to fix (because it isn't), and you'll try to do it better next time.  Practice before you deliver a couple of times, too -- I spent 10 minutes once in the empty lunch room practicing (out loud) a piece of feedback.  Came out perfectly.

Best of luck.  Remember that you can never fail, only fail to try.

Doris_O's picture

Thank you M15Mark & Maura! I'm checking out the podcasts you recommended today.

Any additional thoughts anyone has on how to coach directs specifically on how to set priorities, keep track of deadlines, take better notes and use their own notes effectively would be much appreciated.

Reflecting on this a bit more - my difficulty isn't that my direct forgot or failed to deliver by the deadlines, but that he forgot what he was responsible for doing. Last week he was fully committed to the tasks. This week the memory of the tasks, deadlines, what needed to be done and why -- all of it was gone. I was so focused on trying to give feedback that I overlooked whether or not it would be effective to do so.

He was completely blindsided when I asked about the missed deliverables. I gave feedback, but probably should just walked away instead, because he had no idea what I was talking about. I may as well have been giving negative feedback about something that he had no responsibility for. As a result the commitment was converted to compliance - epic failure all around.

So lesson learned: I'm going to be more aware of when feedback would be effective versus when the memory of the project is lost. In those situations I'll try to ask that we take a few minutes to review deadlines and deliverables instead of giving feedback. For the next week or so I'm going to focus on giving positive feedback and at least once a day ask that we review deadlines, deliverables and priorities. Some of the tasks are so small that a reminder email would take longer than the task itself, so I'm working on how to manage those effectively and efficiently.

I still need to figure out how to improve future behavior - mine and his. I'm still working on how to give feedback, coaching, how I assign tasks and delegate responsibility, and eventually systemic feedback to effectively address the memory issue.

sholden's picture

One recommendation on the project management side is that you as the project manager need to have a master project list and if you are tracking due dates and deliverables you need to be communicating that information with your directs.  

If you have short task items (informal) [many parts of a bigger project] and you are using Outlook/Exchange you can add a reminder to an email you send on the topic.

Doris_O's picture

Thanks MattPalmer and SHolden. All very helpful. All of the tasks so far are less than an hour to complete. The projects at this point should not take more than one week. I've mistakenly thought that a master project lists, etc... were not needed for the small stuff, I've since corrected that. I'm working on being more consistent with every single task and project.

Maura - the developing a sense of urgency podasts were just what I needed - thank you!

I'm struggling with 4 things now: 

1. Mission drift - even with written email or written list of who is doing what when (which were in place for some tasks, but not at all) - tasks are becoming much larger or smaller than actually called for. I get 50% of any given project sort of on time. Requests to complete the rest are interpreted as my changing my mind, not as holding the direct to the original work. Again we're talking about some very small tasks and projects, with very short time frames.

2. What kind of feedback to give when only half the job gets done but was done on time? Positive for getting something on time? Negative for missing 50%? 

3. How to give feedback to someone who is now very defensive as a result of my blundering. I messed up the feedback model. So the "boss tattoo" on my forehead now has neon lighting. Now my direct just hears me criticizing him regardless of what I'm saying or how I'm saying it. 

4. My tone of voice. After the 3rd, 4th, 5th time of asking someone to do something, my tone of voice is less than patient, more abrasive, etc... than I intended. 

Doris
7136

derosier's picture

 I'm thinking that a couple of items aren't jiving in your post.  You describe the direct as a high performer. But in my experience, high performers don't continually forget things. They don't miss deliverables. They don't get so confused about what they're responsible for.

So the truth is more likely one of the following:

1. He really isn't a high performer at all and maybe you need to adjust your perception here.

OR

2. There's something fundamentally wrong in how you delegate and if there's some "honest mistakes" going on, look at how you're getting commitments from your direct and following up on those.

Likely it's somewhere between, and from your description strongly skewed towards #1.

Either way, use the delegation tools to do it right and do your feedback correctly and gently get this direct in line. And if it continues, you've got a problem on your hands that requires coaching and then...

To your last specific Qs:

If you only get 50% of the project delivered, but on time, it's not delivered and not on time. Seriously. Unacceptable. Now, in my line of work, there's always problems (unknown unknowns) that tend to screw up deadlines. You generally work those through, try to get better at estimating and be understanding to a degree. But if the direct has committed to a time-line, and you thinks it's perfectly reasonable and there's no reasonable obstacles that come up, then there's some feedback warranted. Maybe the feedback is the assignment is late. Maybe it's that the estimate was wrong and the direct needs to be better at estimating. Whatever works.

I'm not 100% convinced you've blundered. Give feedback regardless. If you honestly _did_ do something wrong, then apologize for that. But having clear expectations and those not being met is definitely not you doing something wrong.

BTW, don't let your direct con you here, s/he sees you back down then they'll see they can manipulate you. Unless you're working with mentally challenged people, or you haven't actually assigned the work, then the person having no recollection of the work or the what and why is totally unreasonable. Maybe the feedback then is not about the work being late, but the fact the direct can't recall the assignment, maybe they should write things down. Obviously if you are working with handicapped people your approach does need to change here, but I'm assuming normal professionals here. 

As for your tone of voice, yeah, that's hard. Maybe walking away till you can give the feedback better is what you need to do. But seriously, you do need to be consistent on how you give your feedback.

 

Doris_O's picture

 Thanks Derosier for your comments.

Since I posted last, I've become aware that my direct has 3-4 things going on in his personal life that are major stressors. All but one of them I was aware of, but when asked about them in O3's, "everything was fine". Now I can see that those things have been more of a distraction than either or us were aware of. So I understand why something assigned on Thursday was completely forgotten by Tuesday with a holiday weekend of personal upheaval in between. 

I've put someone who was a high performer in a very different position with a steep learning curve. The things that made him successful before don't serve him as well in this position. A certain amount of failure is necessary to gain the experience to do the job well. This is fairly disconcerting to someone who is accustomed to being the smartest and the best. I want him to learn from those experiences and do better next time. To my direct; things not going perfectly = epic failure and blame. So between this and life at home, he's been pretty defensive regardless of how well or poorly I'm delivering feedback.

I didn't make the connections until I read your post and he casually mentioned the 4th thing that was going on. Again he said it was "fine" and "no big deal". I've learned that the fact that it was mentioned at all means things aren't "fine". So I need to keep that in mind; since we are both high D/C. One of the feedback podcasts Mark talks about not giving feedback when a direct says "yes" but their tone of voice says "I'm not really listening to you"; hopefully I've learned that lesson!  

Aside from all that, I've been re-listening to the podcasts on using DISC for more effective feedback and the O3 refresh. I've reviewed how I am assigning work/deadlines and while I think I was pretty clear, etc... I am tightening up a few things in what and how I assign or delegate work. It's also pretty clear that while he does take notes, but they are to vague and he does rely too much on memory regarding what to do how and when. Even when I provide a written project plan with deadlines, etc..., I see now that he relies heavily on his memory and drive to just get things done.

Right now I'm focusing on O3s and positive feedback, to regain his trust in me and these processes. I'm working on asking different/better questions in O3's. I'm also assigning a few projects that are not part of this job, but are second nature to him, so that he can have some wins. Once I know he is open to hearing what I'm saying; we'll bring back negative feedback and we'll start coaching on taking and using notes effectively.  

Thanks again to everyone who has responded here in the forums and to Manager Tools. This has been a tough time for both me and my direct. I think we are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

dmb41carter36's picture

Does he use some kind of personal calendering system? Is this person dedicated to working for you on projects?

If he doesn't have any type of personal calendering system, I think this may be a coaching moment. There a million calendering systems out there from low tech (paper/scratch pad), to moderate tech apps, to comprehensive systems like Outlook/Notes etc. I have just this year started managing my capacity with my outlook calender. I break work down into managable blocks. This way when I get assigned a new task, I can decide and have visibility to the impact of what is not getting done. I also use color coding to signify my priorites. It helps me stay on track and be sure I am actually working on my priorities. There are a few podcasts on calendar management that have helped me a ton. 

If this person also has operational duties, perhaps you should better understand the shared capacity side of it. Also, you could consider some kind of standard work for this person. You could say from 8-9, you do x (category or specific task), from 9-10 you do "y" etc. You may think this is "Micro-Managing" but you would need to  counter that with the fact that this type of approach actually protects the direct and the manager. As a direct, you always know what you should be working on so the boss can stay off your back as long as you were following the agreed upon plan. There is much documentation in the Lean circles on "Standardized Work". Perhaps it would be a benefit in your situation.