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This is my first post. I've been listening to MT for about a year and have been a manager for the same. I have 4 directs, 3 of whom have only been on my team since Feb.

I have been conducting weekly O3s with all team members and the model has worked quite nicely. I find that my directs enjoy the face time and really make optimum use of their time with me. Yesterday I had my first negative experience during an O3.

This happened with my most junior team member - someone I recently promoted from a non-exempt to an exempt position. We were walking through one of the deliverables she had drafted and I was giving her feedback. Unfortunately there were a lot of mistakes and I was pointing them out. This deliverable was due to be submitted to my boss within a few days so I wanted to make sure it was polished. After about 5 minutes of walking through her work and providing my updates, my direct started crying. I was completely caught off guard.

We were in my cubicle so I asked if she wanted to go into the office right next door and she nodded. From there I was completely winging it. I've never had to deal with this and I truly felt badly. I asked her if she was OK. The feedback I received was that she thought I was being too hard on her. I honestly didn't think I was being too tough, but now I'm questioning myself. I wonder if there isn't something more I can do to proactively prevent the mistakes in her deliverables before they come to me.

Does anyone have any advice on how to deal with brand new team members who need a lot of care, time, and coaching? I have tried to have her meet with others in the same role who are at a more senior level. Unfortunately the skills she needs to develop (e.g. MS Office 101) are so basic that my team members complain they don't have the time to walk her through everything.

Also - any advice how to deal with the crying would be appreciated. I know I fumbled through this so I would just like to be prepared if it ever happens again...or better yet, prevent it from happening again!

Thanks,
Andrea

rthibode's picture

Hi Andrea, welcome to the discussion forums.

It sounds like your direct was a bit surprised to learn that her skills in basic MS Office stuff are a problem. She is probably feeling pretty vulnerable, too, as she's in a new and exempt position (this means non-union, right?)

If I were you, I'd call her in and say something like "My goal when we met last week was to help you produce a 100% polished document. I don't think I handled it very well. I want to continue helping you to produce top-quality work that will satisfy Boss X. What are your ideas for how we could accomplish this together?"

You might suggest a training course, earlier/multiple drafts of work submitted to you, coaching by an individual who has the needed skills. But first it would be good to get her suggestions so she'll have more ownership of the solutions.

You could also remind her of all the things that were good about the document she produced, and remind her that you promoted her because you have a lot of confidence in her abilities and potential for growth.

Good luck and let us know how it goes.

WillDuke's picture

I always have a box of tissues on my desk, even though most of my directs are men. You just never know, and sometimes people have a cold. :)

Anyway, if someone tears up, if they need a tissue, I hand them the box; or more accurately just slide it across the table. This really isn't the time to invade their space by making them reach for a tissue. Then I give them a moment. I have found that just giving them time to get themselves under control works best. Don't talk. Don't tell them it's okay. Don't look away. Just sit quietly and respectfully while they gather themselves. They're embarrassed enough already.

My wife tears up under stress. She'll cry when she's in a stressful situation and it drives her crazy. It's purely a physical reaction to stress. It's not weakness, it just happens.

If time passes and they're not coming back together, then ask them if they need a moment. Perhaps you could get them a cup of water from the cooler. That gives them a little privacy, and a little time. But that's usually not necessary.

Then, just pick up the conversation where you left off. If you feel you have been too harsh, apologize. (I absolutely love M&M's cast on apologizing, I learned a lot from that one.) Maybe you were delivering your message in a D fashion to an S personality. (See member podcasts on DiSC.)

[quote]Does anyone have any advice on how to deal with brand new team members who need a lot of care, time, and coaching?[/quote]
Your answer is in your question. You're doing the O3s, the feedback, and you specifically say coaching. That's it. You know what to do. Heck, you're even already doing it. You're just rattled because of the crying. Get back to work. :)

Rasheed Dean's picture

Thanks to both of you for such solid advice. Believe it or not, I was actually listening to the "Do you need to apologize" podcast during my commute this morning! I realize that I could have been more empathetic and sensitive in my delivery of feedback and I will definitely apologize. Problem is - just got to the office and the impacted direct has called in sick today. Now I'm really concerned about the impact this has had on her. I'm hoping she just needs the weekend to distance herself from this, but now I'm facing a dilemma. If she comes in on Monday and is refocused, will my apology just drudge up the negative emotions?

WillDuke's picture

If you owe her an apology, then you owe her one. If you don't, then don't give her one. I'm not sure you do owe her an apology though. Only you know.

Might it dredge the issue back up? Maybe. But if so then that just meant that she was suppressing it, but hadn't really let it go. If you owe the apology you'll be better off for giving it.

And who knows, maybe she really is sick. :)

steven_martin's picture

While it is not ideal if you think you owe her an apology can you call her and do it today. This might settle things down for her and prevent her from stewing on things over weekend. I would suggest a quick call to say that you are sorry for how you handled things. Try not to get into things just say your sorry, hope she is getting better leave it at that. Then do the samething when she gets back in the office, and then you can get into how you can bring her up to the level you want her to be at.

steven

HMac's picture

Andrea - Be tough on the work, and supportive of the people. It sounds to me like that's what you were doing. It also sounds like you handled the crying very well (and I'm a guy who tears up for a good card trick...).

Stay tough on the work - your boss didn't want to see work product with obvious mistakes in it, and that would reflect poorly on your subordinate and on you. So - I don't know that you ought to have doen anything differently...

BJ_Marshall's picture

[quote="andreariggen"]I know I fumbled through this so I would just like to be prepared if it ever happens again...or better yet, prevent it from happening again![/quote]

Welcome, Andrea!

How did you preface the feedback on her document? If she wasn't prepared to receive this much adjusting feedback, I could see how she might shut down.

I agree that you should focus on the work quality and work with her to achieve that goal together. Here are a couple options that might help in the future:
[list]1. Might you instead hand her the document with her errors marked, ask her to review it, and then the two of you can sit down outside the O3 to discuss?
2. Ask her to brainstorm ways for her to improve her MSOffice/writing skills. Coaching is like delegating professional development. You might be able to make suggestions yourself, but if the suggestions come from her, she's more likely to own those decisions.
[/list:u]
Above all, please don't let this shake your confidence. You're taking the right steps, you obviously have genuine concern for your directs, and you're going to make mistakes. Like M&M say: Good judgment comes from experience; experience comes from bad judgment.

Cheers,
BJ

US41's picture

You have several issues at work here:

1. The crying
2. The capability of your direct to perform the assignment
3. Your use of feedback
4. Delegation and the juggling koan

The bottom line is that crying is unprofessional behavior, hiring and delegation must be to people who have the requisite talents, feedback is not punishment nor a spell checker, and giving huge assignments to directs upon which your career depends without careful planning is not a good idea.

Beware of directs that cry in front of you who have not just learn terrible news regarding their family. Find out the reason for the crying before you pull them into another room.

Directs that cry in your presence because of their work load are behaving inappropriately. Are you sitting down? I give directs adjusting feedback if they cry about work. Crying is a behavior, and crying is not professional. It's OK for them to be nervous, scared, overwhelmed, pushed to the edge, and ready to snap. Their emotions are theirs and they are entitled to them. They are not entitled to behave unprofessionally.

Sure, if your direct has some horrible personal tragedy in their lives and learns the news at work and starts crying, your response is entirely appropriately and I would not give feedback for that.

"Can I give you some feedback? ... When you are overwhelmed by your job and cry in front of your boss in response, that's kind of unprofessional. What could you do differently?"

I know someone out there is reading this and saying to themselves, "Outrageous!" It may instigate a rather long discussion about all of the exceptions to the rule that invalidate this practice, but my experience says otherwise. Two years ago, I would have responded to this advice with horror and outrage myself. Today, having had the experience I have had and the many people I now manage, I think crying is a control tactic - it is emotional manipulation.

My boss warned me about this, as I had a crying direct two years ago. I bent over backwards to be the compassionate, sweet boss who would not cause crying - and they walked all over me for about a year.

One day, my boss was giving me guidance about my lack of confidence and over-sensitivity to the fact that as a high D kind of manager that I might be afraid that I am being callus and cold to others. This in turn can be exploited as a weakness he said, and I did not believe him. However, I was given very, very strong guidance (it involved a pointing finger and a stern, parental warning that I would never cut it as a real manager if I was afraid of my people and let them play games).

My direct started crying about how hard her work was during her O3 the very next week. I summoned all of my courage and took a deep breath, and I gave her the feedback while handing her tissues.

No kidding, she stopped crying INSTANTLY, and then had an angry face quite suddenly, and then the REAL her came out and she started barking at me like a bulldog and the weak, poor little girl had vaporized. Who was this new person - this very strong-willed person who would never cry... except to get her way, apparently.

I was shocked! I had allowed myself to be manipulated by this sort of thing many, many times over many years. Having fired people quite a few times now and having faced many more people who are under my management in the time since, I have seen this many times, I am convinced that after you ask what is wrong (without showing emotion) and discover the problem is work, that negative feedback is what is called for.

Have you listened to the juggling Koan? Have you given your direct an assignment they cannot complete? It is too big of a rock at their level? Have you hired someone for a job that requires a talent that they do not have? It's a possibility, despite the crying nonsense.

If that's the case, delegate smaller rocks, find them another job, or fire them.

Feedback is a tool that encourages effective behavior in the future. It is not a grammar and spelling correction tool nor a punishment system. I don't think taking an assignment from a direct and then peppering them with criticism is a good coaching system.

If they create a document that is filled with errors, then read the document, and give positive feedback for doing it on-time. Then return it to them and say, "I noticed many errors. Sweep through it again for quality, and I want it back on my desk in the morning - say 10am."

If you see it still has errors, shoot it right back to them again and have them sweep through it for errors again.

If you keep returning to them assignments that come from them incomplete, they will get the message and work to avoid that sort of activity in the future.

Be careful not to delegate a task upon which your corporate survival depends and give a deadline that is five minutes before you O3 with your boss or your boss's staff meeting. Give them a deadline that allows for these iterations to occur, or make your own materials and have them go through the exercise anyway.

But your direct will never be successful in the corporate world if they are allowed to believe that crying is an acceptable behavior. Crying destroys your credibility. Crying is a behavior that can be controlled in all but the most terrible personal circumstances, and work is not an acceptable cause.

Professionals take the news that they are fired with a dead-pan face, no matter what is going on inside, and they immediately respond by saying, "OK, how can I be of help in transitioning my job back to you? What do you need from me?" They don't curl up and cry like babies whining about how unfair it all is.

If you reward this behavior by turning into a soft-hearted mommy, you are not preparing your direct for their career effectively, and offices like mine will eat them alive, they will never get anywhere, and they will blame their lack of success on race, gender, nationality and spiral into a cauldron of blame caused by ignorance.

Feedback for your directs - even for crying.

I know. Harsh.

US101's picture

US41 - I learn a lot from your insightful and thorough posts. Thank you.

In the recent podcast, Trinity Feedback, M&M talk about the "why" or "reason" behind and inneffective behavior is not important.

Wouldn’t it help me change my future behavior (or a directs future behavior) to better understand why I did the ineffective behavior?

I often open my feedback with, “Why did you…” Or, “Why are you…” This feels so natural, but that doesn’t make it effective.

Why is opening feedback with "Why did you...?" not effective?

US41's picture

[quote="jonp"]Wouldn’t it help me change my future behavior (or a directs future behavior) to better understand why I did the ineffective behavior?[/quote]

In my opinion, no, it will not help you. The behavior is the problem - not the cause. Causes don't affect performance at work - behavior does. We pay for people to give us particular behaviors. When they engage in behaviors that harm their ability to work with others or deliver performance, we give feedback to encourage otherwise (start and stop). If they use effective behaviors, we give feedback to encourage continuing it (continue).

At work, your directs' performance and development is your business, and therefore their behavior is your business.

How would we approach cause? Ask what caused the behavior? What makes you think the story you would hear would be true? Would your direct lie? Or would they simply report it inaccurately due to rationalization in their own minds?

Is the cause even your business - and is it appropriate to ask after it?

In fact, I think it is debatable whether or not human beings ever really know why they do things. Self-observation is the worst possible way to gather data, as humans are notoriously poor observers of their own minds. If the mind is the problem, then using the broken tool to derive further information about what is broken is a poor choice.

We ask people if we can give them feedback so that they have a chance to tell us that their parents just died//they were diagnosed with cancer//their dog died that morning and they are not in the mood to listen and therefore will not profit from our observations and guidance toward future improvement.

We don't ask after cause because causes don't necessarily affect work - but behavior always does.

Example: your direct comes to work late and is late for your staff meeting.

Mgr: "Why are you late?"
DR: "There was traffic."

What are you going to do now? Tell them to stop having traffic? Allow traffic to serve as absolution from tardiness to your staff meeting? Will now everyone say "Traffic" when you ask why they are late, and you're going to eat it?

Instead, we give feedback on arriving late. "Can I give you some feedback? When you walk into the staff meeting late, you interrupt us all, throw us off our rhythm, miss important information to cascade to your team, and frankly, it ticks me off. What can you do differently?"

DR: "OH, sorry, there was traffic."

Mgr: "Coming late is not acceptable. What can you do differently?"

DR: "What am I supposed to do, get up at 4:30am and miss traffic? Move closer?"

Mgr: "Actually, yes, those are possible solutions. What else could you do?"

I still laugh remembering that guy's face when his boss said that. He looked shocked. No one had ever held him accountable for choosing to live 2 hours away from the office before.

After I received that feedback, no kidding, I sold my house, and I moved closer to the office.

LOL!!!!! Yep, I'm the villain from all of my examples. :-)

Here's another one:

Mike and Mark were at our company doing manager-tools training for two days. I showed up the first day 15 mins late. I had a valid reason: The training started at 8am, and I lived 45 mins from the office. My son's school did not open until 7:00 to receive him, so I took him to school, hit a little traffic, and I was late getting to the meeting.

I walked in, and Mark said, "There he is!" He walked over beside me, and very quietly (usually when he's picking on me in good fun he is very public about it) and privately "Dude, can I give you some feedback?" I rolled my eyes. "Yes." "When you come in 15 mins late, we all wait for you to get here. What will you do different tomorrow."

I gave a history lesson as to why I was late as if to say "This problem cannot be solved."

Mark said, "What can you do differently?"

"OK, OK... I'll try my best to be here on time tomorrow."

I had a neighbor take my son to school, and I walked in 15 mins early the next time.

Often we over-sympathize with our directs and think the behavior is justified and difficult or unreasonable to have to change, but in reality, it can be solved --- they just don't want to do it. That is not acceptable. Do not accept poor performance. Set the bar high for Shamu to jump over it.

I think its possible that if I ask a direct why they are late, I am trying to help them solve their problem with the assumption the problem is mine to solve. It isn't my problem - it is their problem to solve without me. My only problem is their behavior. I'm not their parent - I'm the manager. I set objectives, I measure performance, give feedback, hold O3's, delegate, and coach - and I report on everything to my boss.

Maybe when I ask a direct why they are late I am hoping they will have a good reason and bail me out of my job of giving feedback (a job that is incredibly difficult no matter how natural it sounds). Constant confrontation, however, is the reason management pays so well. It's our job to give feedback, and behavior at work is the scope of our interest.

terrih's picture

[quote]Why is opening feedback with "Why did you...?" not effective?[/quote]

OMG, this was the question I hated WORST as a kid! We'd get in trouble, Mom would demand to know why we did that, and this is what went through my head:

a) I don't know why I did that.
b) There is no right answer to that question—I'm in trouble no matter what I say.
c) Why does she ask why???

OK, but we're all adults now, right? We all have reasons for what we do, even if our reasoning turns out to be wrong.

But asking "why" focuses on the past. The behavior wasn't effective, so there's no point rehashing the reasoning behind it. The point of feedback is encouraging more effective behavior, right? So let's focus on a new reasoning process that will result in more effective behavior.

i.e. "What could you do differently?"

WillDuke's picture

I wonder if it's disrespectful to ask someone "why" they did something. Asking why assumes that they either didn't think it through, didn't know what they were doing, or had bad intent.

It also implies that they aren't capable of understanding the consequences of their actions. A parent would ask this of a child because a parent needs to educate a child. But does a manager need to educate a direct?

With the feedback model, on the other hand, we're respecting another adult's ability to make choices and understand the consequences. We simply point out behavior and results and and respect the direct enough to understand. Then we show respect again as we give that direct the responsibility to choose an alternative approach.

Perhaps that is why asking "why" creates a more defensive direct.

tcomeau's picture

[quote="US101"]

Why is opening feedback with "Why did you...?" not effective?[/quote]

M&M mentioned this in passing in the Trinity 'cast: Humans are rationalizing animals. Asking why will get you a rationalization, but probably not a reason. Also, asking "why did..." gets you focused on the past, and the trinity is about the future.

Mark suggested that it's never helpful to talk about the past. I don't entirely agree, since sometimes you need to dig in to the past to understand why things work the way they do. That's why people in my business have investigation and review boards. Asking a "why" question about an individual action, however, is almost never going to be helpful.

tc>

Rasheed Dean's picture

Just wanted to send a quick update...

My direct returned to the office today. After reading this post and listening to the apologizing cast, I decided that I did indeed need to apologize to my team member for what happened last week. I realized that I was over-complicating the assignment under the guise of trying to teach her some best practices. What I realized was that I was placing unnecessary complexity on a very simple task and it was just causing her to be more confused and overwhelmed. Anyway, I took the approach recommended in the cast and it really worked out nicely. I think it was good for her to see that not only am I human and I make mistakes, but that I'm willing to own up to them. We chatted very openly afterward and we went right back to the coaching model on her development needs. All is back on track...thanks for helping me to avert a crisis!

WillDuke's picture

Thanks for the follow-up Andrea. It's good to hear that it worked out. I'm a big proponent, I think most here are, of honest open communication. You had her best interests at heart. So you stumbled, so she stumbled, so what? Things are clear now and improvement is on the way. What more could anyone ask for?

Good job!

US101's picture

Terri, WillDuke, tcomeau, US41

Thanks for your replies about the problem with delivering feedback with "Why did you...?"

To sum up what I've heard:
[list=]It focuses on the past
Humans are rationalizing animals. Asking why will get you a rationalization, but probably not a reason.
It's disrespectful
It creates defensiveness
It assumes the direct either didn't think it through, didn't know what they were doing, or had bad intent
It implies that they aren't capable of understanding the consequences of their actions. A parent would ask this of a child because a parent needs to educate a child. But does a manager need to educate a direct?
The behavior is the problem, not the cause of the behavior
Often we over-sympathize with our directs and think the behavior is justified and difficult or unreasonable to have to change, but in reality, it can be solved --- they just don't want to do it. That is not acceptable.
I think its possible that if I ask a direct why they are late, I am trying to help them solve their problem with the assumption the problem is mine to solve.
Maybe when I ask a direct why they did an inneffective behavior I am hoping they will have a good reason and bail me out of my job of giving feedback[/list]

tcomeau's picture

[quote="US101"]
Thanks for your replies about the problem with delivering feedback with "Why did you...?"
[/quote]

I've thought about this some more, and I have one additional comment.

Asking "why..." questions can be a good and powerful thing to do, but it is not part of feedback. It may lead to feedback, but feedback should start with observed behavior. "Why" is a motivation or process question, not a behavior question.

It's important to ask that kind of question outside the feedback loop:
[list]
- Why did we not achieve our quality goal?
- Why are we having trouble shipping on time?
- Why did we approve that loan with such a low loan-to-value?
- Why did we fail to address the problem of foam striking the Orbiter?
- Why is a public official making large cash transactions?
- Why do you keep calling the office when you're on vacation?
[/list:u]

The answers to those questions should describe behaviors, not rationale, in order to be useful. Changing behavior may mean changing process, or paying more attention to following a good process, or highlight the need for feedback on specific behaviors.

If you answer the "Why are we having trouble shipping on time?" with "Bob is lazy," or "Bob doesn't have a sense of urgency," it's not helpful. If it's "Bob takes 20 minutes to print each shipping label" you may find Bob needs a new printer, or you may find Bob needs to quit taking smoke breaks after each package. In the former case, you find or buy a faster printer. In the latter case, [b]now[/b] you're ready to deliver "When you take a break between each package, it means we can ship no more than three packages an hour, which is less than half our goal. That reduces the productivity of the whole team, and reduces billable shipments. What can you do differently?"

(And don't forget to come back the next day with "Hey, Bob! Eight packages in an hour! That's money coming in. Thanks, and keep it up.")

tc>

WillDuke's picture

I like your thinking here Tom. I didn't like the idea of throwing away "why" questions entirely, just in certain circumstances. Pulling "why" out of the feedback loop seems right to me. Asking why to help you understand is reasonable. Asking someone why the heck they did something so stupid seems less effective. :)

Thanks!

stephenbooth_uk's picture

[quote="US101"] But does a manager need to educate a direct?[/quote]

Aren't coaching and feedback forms of education?

According to the American Heritage Dictionary a definition of 'educate' is "To provide with knowledge or training in a particular area or for a particular purpose". Isn't that part of a manager's job? You develop your directs, to make them better at their job or prepare them for yours as part of your sucession planning, by providing them with knowledge (e.g. affirming feedbacks tells them what is desirable, adjusting feedback tells them what is undesirable), opportunities to gain knowledge and/or skills (e.g. coaching them and sign posting them to sources of knowledge and opportunities to develop skills) and putting them on courses to develop their knowledge and/or skills as appropriate.

Stephen

BJ_Marshall's picture

[quote="stephenbooth_uk"]Aren't coaching and feedback forms of education?[/quote]

I see educating as more confrontational (I can't think of a better word right now), while coaching and feedback are more collaborative. Yes, they all impart knowledge, but coaching and feedback are ways to find the knowledge together. Think of how the direct (not you) answers the "What can you do differently?" question, and also think of how the direct (not you) can brainstorm resources to tap when working on developing a skill.

Cheers,
BJ

stephenbooth_uk's picture

[quote="wmarsha1"]I see educating as more confrontational (I can't think of a better word right now), while coaching and feedback are more collaborative. Yes, they all impart knowledge, but coaching and feedback are ways to find the knowledge together. [/quote]

My experiences of education, once I was past the basic 3Rs, has tended towards the Socratic method, reseach and simulation. The educator asks questions of the educatee ("What could you do differently?") or sets them challenges ("By this time next week find out how to do X and apply it in Y"). It's confrontational to a degree, asking questions generally involves some level of confrontation, but there is a degree of collaboration (actually in some circumstances, e.g. "Playing Devils Advocate", confrontation can be a form of collaboration) as the questions and challenges are designed to impart knowledge and develop skills. The educator may signpost the educatee to resources or may expect them to find the resources themselves.

Stephen