My direct has a mental health disorder (a type of anxiety disorder or PTSD) and has formally requested disability accommodations, which I have given her. I also just did a customer survey and she got the worst reviews of anyone in the team--a third of her clients said she was not helpful. (Not a single client said this of me or my other direct). I want to coach her and train her to improve but she is so sensitive that any time I've given her constructive feedback she gets nearly depressed and demotivated. I'm not sure if I can even tell her how bad her reviews from customers were. She needs to know, though, and we have to make a performance improvement plan. Any suggestions?

TomW's picture
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Have you been following the model, giving her positive feedback for when she does well and doing one-on-ones?

If you haven't then start there.

pucciot's picture
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In a situation like this it is very important that you find a way to use her best communication style.

If she works better with the written word :
You may wish to put her reviews in writing and invite her to read them on her own over the weekend.
Let her slowly read them at her leisure and slowly digest them.

She may feel threatened and become defensive if you sit across a table from her and tell her about them.

You may invite her to respond to the reviews to you - in writing. Not verbally in person.

The reading and writing process may help distance herself from the perceived threat and stress of hearing it from her boss.
Writing a responses will help her process and organize her thoughts in a slower nonthreatening stressful way.

Be sure to include a positive verbal hopeful comment when you interact with her about these.
And also a positive encouraging written response that is hopeful about the future.

You can try the best that you can - and in the end you are _not_ responsible for her emotional state.
You are responsible for trying to encourage her to her best positive work behaviors and performance.

--- Also She may also respond to other communication styles -
and Action styles. Use positive looking hand gestures - "thumbs up" !
Place a bright gold star on a paper report ! It will be silly and fun and perhaps appreciated.
A hand written note of thanks or encouragement.
A little $1 gift of appreciation on Her desk.

A helpful service for her - carry a box for her. Or offer to help with a particular project on a small thing.

All of these are ways that people communicate and they add up.

Good Luck


pucciot's picture
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You mentioned that she has asked for accommodations for her known Mental Health problem.

This means that you can , within reason, openly acknowledge it.  If you do choose to have her look over the reviews on her own in writing you may suggest that she go over these and discuss them with a trusted loved one or a counselor or therapist.

Don't command this, just offer the suggestion. It might sound like this. :

"Julie, you know that we have done a customer survey.  I have put the comments about you here in writing.  I think that it would be best for you to look over them slowly on your own.  And then respond back to me next week, in writing and we can talk about it.  Sure, I am happy to talk with you about them. But, I think that perhaps for your sake writing your thoughts down for each of the reviews might be helpful.    If you find any of them upsetting to you I would encourage you to discuss them with me, or even perhaps a loved one or someone you trust like a counselor.   Then you and I can work together on improving your future performance. 

No, nope .. I don't want to talk about them right now.  I have other things I need to attend to.  Please, go over them on your own and we can discuss them next week.  Everything is good for today.  I will look forward to talking with you later.  Please excuse me now."

Good Luck


donm's picture
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You have to quit dwelling on the past. Also, you need to look to her behaviors, and not the opinions of others. People say she is "unhelpful." What exactly does that mean? Let me answer that question: It means nothing without more information.

What does she do or not do that causes people to think she is "unhelpful?" You need to encourage her to do what is "helpful." Make a list of "helpful" behaviors and ask her to try to implement these in her work. You and your other direct are doing something she is not doing, or you are not doing something she is doing. Again, "behavior" is the key word, NOT perception, opinion, or vague phrases like "isnt' helpful."

You needn't introduce the entire list at one time. Just once per week, if successful, will cause 50 more helpful behaviors to manifest themselves in her work. Even only once per month will see 12 improvements over the year.

Things that might make the list (I don't even know what type of work is being done) might be:

Answer email within 1 hour; Submit tickets while still talking to the customer; Set Outlook reminder to follow up in two days, and stop to follow up the reminder when it pops up; Immediately submit the problem to the next tier if you cannot solve it; Write an email explaining in bullets the steps you will take to resolve the issue, and use the list of steps as a guide...

Note that everything I listed is a concrete "do this, by this time" or similar. You might want to listen to the "MT task" podcast for assigning tasks if you have not already listened to it.

You don't need to tell her what she is doing wrong. You don't need to tell her what others think. You need her to do things that are correct, and by doing this, what others think will change to reflect her new behavior. Once you have her doing "helpful" things, and her work performance improves, use exactly the same method to introduce "unhelpful" behaviors she needs to modify or stop altogether. These are not criticisms. They are clear steps she can take with observable outputs and - I hope - improved performance and opinion of her customers.

pucciot's picture
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I agree with donm there is some great stuff above.

The only issue that I would want to address is the original poster's concern :

" I'm not sure if I can even tell her how bad her reviews from customers were. She needs to know, though, and we have to make a performance improvement plan. Any suggestions?"

If this manager has made it known that there was a collection of customer survey reviews - and this manager has shared the individual comments with the other people that are reviewed in the survey, they he must also share those results with this employee.

I thought the crux of concern was how should he do this.  How should he let her know the results of this survey that pertain to her ?   That is why I suggested to do it in writing on her own.

That is _not_ Feedback in the MT-Model.  That is the result of a Customer Survey.  If he shares it with her peers then he must share it with her.   

As far as future performance and coaching - then, yes,  I totally agree with donm above.



purplegrrl's picture

So the work we are doing is actually counseling of college students. All the appointments with our clients (the students) are confidential. The only way to observe her performance is to ask to sit in on her sessions, which I've only done once and makes her very nervous. To get her buy in to observe the sessions I am thinking she should job shadow me for a while and then I can sit in on her sessions after that. Any other suggestions? There are standard competencies for our profession I can point to, even though it's a much "mushier" field to evaluate than, say, tech support. Regarding giving her the customer feedback I think I'm going to just summarize it and focus on specific and measurable goals like you suggested. 

donm's picture
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When you have her sit in when you do a session, have a plan. I would suggest you have her make notes such as "Things I would have done differently." Have her make a list of things that she could implement on her own. This is NOT meant for her to critique you. The purpose of the session (from her point of view) is to observe and make notes concerning things she would not have done, or things she would have done differently.

If you get a chance to sit in on her sessions, do the same type of list. The list are performance behaviors that need modification.

After the session, you and she should sit down and discuss the list(s) that have been created. The main thing is to stay away from "you did this wrong" or "you did this right." You need to pose things in a manner such as: "How could you have done this more effectively?" "What could you do to improve this response?" "What could you do to....?" Let her come up with the answers. Give guidance only when necessary. People who come up with their own answers have more likelihood to implement the improvements for obvious reasons.

The point is to find, as I originally stated, actual things that can be changed, rather than vague "Get better at what you do" kinds of suggestions. I am certainly not the one to know about your line of work, but the key issue is to have her listen for the right things when she observes your sessions, and to find concrete things for her to do when you sit in on her sessions. Just keep in mind that future behavior is the only thing you can impact.