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I have a remote direct who almost always lets calls go to voicemail. She usually calls back promptly, but because she's located in a different state from the rest of our small company, I think it's particularly important for her to appear responsive and easy to get in touch with. 

I've been doing O3s for about 8 weeks, so I haven't rolled out the rest of the trinity yet. But when I get further in the process, I'd like to address this with her. 

Is this a situation where feedback would work? The part that gets fuzzy to me is that it's completely fine for calls to go to voicemail sometimes--obviously, if she's in the restroom or doing something else that takes her away from her desk for a moment, I don't expect her to kill herself trying to get to the phone. It's the pattern of phone tag that's a problem. And yet coaching doesn't quite make sense either, from what I understand. 

If I was going to address this with feedback, I would imagine saying something like this: "Hey, can I give you some feedback? When you let calls go to voicemail, it makes you look less responsive, and can delay other people's work. Could you make sure to pick up the phone more often going forward? Thanks."

 

 

katehorstman's picture

Feedback can work perfectly here. And your word choice is great- here’s your action, this is the reaction. Alternately, "when you let calls go to voicemail, I don’t feel like I can count on you." "When you let calls roll to voicemail, I don’t feel like you’re communicating with the team."

I would note, if she calls back promptly, she might be a high C. It might be that she feels she needs to know what the call is about before she addresses it. You’re her boss, so feedback is completely appropriate to adjust her future behavior. High C's prefer email, and email is not always most effective. But it might also help to prewire things to her. It could be that things are prewired to her prior to calls if things aren’t urgent. If she knows what is needed in advance of the call, she might be more likely to engage. Also, if she is a High C, you might tailor your feedback: "when you let calls go to voicemail, we can’t get the data we need." Or, “when you let calls go to voicemail, we don’t have your numbers to rely on.” Something that would appeal to her High C could be really effective.

I think your main worry might be pushback. If that is the case, and she says, well, I was in the break room, just let it go. You’ll get another chance, right? And if she continues to make excuses, then Systemic Feedback might be in order.  Or even the Shot Across the Bow. “When you always have a reason not to answer the phone, I wonder if you're at your desk.”

I hope this helps,

Kate 

michaelscadden's picture

There are 2 other effects worth noting.  First, it's explicitly dismissive of the boss, not to mention peers and all others.  People will feel ignored and it's unlikely that's the image she's aiming for.  Second, it forces you to address an issue twice.  First when you call, then again when she gets to returning the call.  Waste of your time/efforts.

However you phrase it, you need to set expectations.

JonathanGiglio's picture

Is this your preference or hers and is this leading to your employee being less effective? Note - JP Morgan just got rid of voicemails for their Retail Bankers -http://www.inc.com/associated-press/jpmorgan-chase-getting-rid-of-voicem..., who I imagine are responsible for picking up their phones immediately. Does your company have an instant messaging system or email? How about regular conference calls? Also - do you know the amount of conference calls she's on? Remember, you're only seeing the phone calls she doesn't pick up, not the "other" phone time she's spending. When someone calls you - they are asking you to drop your work for theirs. Does this person have this type of role? Or does this person do project work where the more immediate concerns might be the qualify of her plans. If you expect this person to be immediately available for responding to the phone, what are you willing to give up in return? There are switching costs when a person stops their current task to answer a phone. Contrary to myth, multi-tasking is not physically possible. I wouldn't characterize this person as unresponsive, just having a different set of priorities. Personally, I'm a voicemail type guy. My boss doesn't want me jumping at every rabbit, but concentrating on the most important work first.

Association_Manager's picture

Thanks so much for your thoughts, guys!

We haven't done DiSC, but I'm pretty sure she's a high S. I'm also a high S with probably some high C thrown in. I know she feels awkward on the phone sometimes, so that may be part of it. But the thing I really think might be going on is that she may be spending a lot of time on childcare during the day--she works from home and has an almost two-year-old there with no other caregiver available during the day--and hence is not picking up either because she's with the baby or because she has the ringer off to make sure the baby doesn't wake up. I'm trying to focus on her actual results and behavior rather than assume that this situation needs to change, but it does concern me a bit, especially since she's pregnant again right now. 

She's an individual contributor who spends very little time on the phone--probably 90% of the time she spends on the phone is with me, and we probably talk slightly less than is ideal--2 or 3 times per week. I don't want her jumping at every rabbit, but she's also part-time, so it's really easy for me to leave a voicemail at 10 wanting to get her thoughts on something or asking her to change her priorities for the day, she calls back at 10:30 but gets my voicemail because I'm in meetings, and then I don't have another chance to call her until 1 and then we've lost most of her workday.

 

 

 

Association_Manager's picture

Thanks so much for your thoughts, guys!

We haven't done DiSC, but I'm pretty sure she's a high S. I'm also a high S with probably some high C thrown in. I know she feels awkward on the phone sometimes, so that may be part of it. But the thing I really think might be going on is that she may be spending a lot of time on childcare during the day--she works from home and has an almost two-year-old there with no other caregiver available during the day--and hence is not picking up either because she's with the baby or because she has the ringer off to make sure the baby doesn't wake up. I'm trying to focus on her actual results and behavior rather than assume that this situation needs to change, but it does concern me a bit, especially since she's pregnant again right now. 

She's an individual contributor who spends very little time on the phone--probably 90% of the time she spends on the phone is with me, and we probably talk slightly less than is ideal--2 or 3 times per week. I don't want her jumping at every rabbit, but she's also part-time, so it's really easy for me to leave a voicemail at 10 wanting to get her thoughts on something or asking her to change her priorities for the day, she calls back at 10:30 but gets my voicemail because I'm in meetings, and then I don't have another chance to call her until 1 and then we've lost most of her workday.

 

 

 

JonathanGiglio's picture

Thanks for coming to the forums with your concerns. As a part time worker, this can certainly be a challenge. Clear goals and direction are paramount.

It's fantastic that your company allows its workers to work from home and care for their children and still help your company succeed. Don't beat yourself up here - you're doing good work.

Can you set up a standing call? Or even say - I'd like you to pick up all calls before 10am if you can. Or maybe her window is 11am - 1pm - whatever it happens to be.

She's pregnant, so she'll be on leave soon again and this is part time work. Hopefully she'll return to continue making a positive ocntribution. Focus on results, have compassion, and embrace the reality of the situation.

Association_Manager's picture

Thanks, Jonathan--I really like the idea of a standing call or "I'd like you to pick up all calls before X time if you can." That would solve most of the actual problems that have occurred. Appreciate your thoughts!