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 Hi all,

I have tried searching through all the podcasts / forum topics for a situation around when a manager needs to bring a small group together to curb the animosity and pave a way forward.

I am in a customer-facing / sales environment and I have a relatively new direct (4 months) who has caused friction within an existing team of 3 out of the 6 high performers. She has complained to other departments that she hates coming to work, wants to resign and no-one helps her. This is despite her having the most training and coaching than any other employee.

One-on-ones (with specific behavioural feedback, ie. when you put your hand in a customer's face and tell them to go away, the impact that has is that..., and when you keep interrupting your colleague, refusing to listen and then blaming others, what happens is that they...), and peer feedback have not worked. She often lies to other staff, blames others, or displays other defence mechanisms.

I am thinking of holding a group meeting (with some ground rules) where we can all sit down, draw a line in the sand with what has happened in the past and look at ways we can better serve our customers.

Would this be in line with MT recommendations?

Thanks

mattpalmer's picture

I'm not game to use Mark's term "galactically stupid" yet, but if I were, I would.  You never manage "a group", you manage a number of individuals. Your problem is with individuals (if I'm understanding correctly, it's with *one* individual).  You should deal with the individual(s), not a group.

On balance of probabilities, I would say that you're *probably* not giving feedback effectively.  I only say that because feedback *usually* works, although it is true that you can get people who don't take the hint.

Can you give specific examples of the behaviour that was engaged in (including context), and the *exact* words you used when giving feedback on that behaviour, and the *exact* words that your direct said in response?  That might help someone to give you some guidance on where you might have been less than effective.  From the snippets you gave, it sounds like you've probably got the basics down (your identification of behaviour in the first instance seems solid, although I think your second one was a bit diffuse), but what question did you ask your direct at the end?  What did your direct say in response?

Also, how many times have you given adjusting feedback, completely within the model, and over what time period?  It could very well be time for some systemic feedback (there's a cast for that, and it's a ripper).  However, there are things that are more serious than feedback is appropriate for, and quite honestly, giving a customer the "talk to the hand" and telling them to go away is, in my book, not a feedback opportunity -- it's a "do that again and you're gone" behaviour.  The other behaviours -- lying, blaming others, regular complaining -- fit into the category "tearing down the team", and I completely agree with M&M when they say there's only two things to fire people for: lack of performance, and tearing down the team.

If you're after a bit of assistance on what to say if you're going to go "beyond feedback", the book, "Coaching for Improved Work Performance" by Ferdinand Fournies might be a help to you -- it certainly helped me get a good handle on what can be done when feedback doesn't work.

robin_s's picture

Is this a new employee, or just new to your team (you said "new direct")?  If a new employee, is there any kind of probationary period?  Personally, I would consider the behaviors you described as aggregious and grounds for termination.  Telling a customer to go away?  And tearing down a previously functional team?  If she is saying she wants to resign I'd help her along that path.  Just my 2 cents.

pmoriarty's picture

Is there some reason not to fire the employee in question?  Being rude to customers and lying would both be grounds for termination in my mind.  Sometimes it's just a bad fit.  

matto's picture

Thanks for both of your suggestions.

Unfortunately, the 3-month probationary period has now passed. I would need to go down the performance management route (and get HR involved) at this stage. She is new to the organisation, and comes with 15 years of sales experience. I have given her feedback for 2 months, on a range of issues. She improves for a few days, then reverts to her old ways. I have a large team (no excuse), so I often rely on third-party feedback / other staff relaying what had happened. I completely agree with managing the individual, and not the group, but feel I have exhausted all avenues, leaving me with the group intervention (similar to how a school principal would bring three bickering students together in the office - okay, probably not the best example).

Matt, the problem I have is that I have not witnessed a lot of the behaviour directly (relying on third-party feedback). The feedback is coming from 20-year veterans who are top performers and well-regarded in the region. When confronted with the 'I would never say that', or 'I would never do that', or the silent, complete shutdown response, it puts me in a difficult position. Although I say that 'I believe it took place, or I believe it happened', or an even better example, 'The customer said that you were rushing him into taking the product, and a product that he had no real need for', I still feel as though it weakens the feedback. I am a young manager, so am not terribly experienced in this, but do feel I am following the model well. Although it is possible that she is not grasping the feedback (taking the hint). She often misinterprets what customers say, and in fact, at times gets things completely wrong. 

I have a number of examples. Even another one that happened recently was she asked me for a couple days of annual leave. I explained that she had no leave available, but the two days would put her into negative, and we could probably work with that, as a friend of hers was travelling from interstate. After a few days, she asked my assistant for three days off saying that I approved it. My assistant then said that she recalled hearing something about it, and said it was fine. I returned from a workshop the following Monday, only to find out that she sneakily obtained an entire week (previously approved 2 days, plus the other 3 she scammed) of annual leave. 

matto's picture

 PMoriarty-

Thanks - I agree. I think this is the path I need to head down, and in all honesty, it's long overdue. 

Smacquarrie's picture

 Matt,

This is a prime example that needs to be documented and brought up for review with the individual. Lying to get extra time off has given me opportunity in the past to promote my employee to customer. Document these issues you are having. 

I am not a big fan of micromanager but this is a case where it is needed. On Monday you need to schedule a meeting with this person where you cover the issues as if you experienced them first hand. Spell out your expectations and the time frame in which you expect to see improvement. Leave nothing open to interpretation. 

You then need to pay attention to this person. Observe at a distance and offer immediate feedback when their interactions do not go as planned. 

Pet HR know what you are doing and about the course you have spelled out for your direct. 

I would suggest a very short duration to meet new goals given previous behavior you have cited. 

Mac

mattpalmer's picture

If I can borrow a soapbox for a moment...

"I would need to go down the performance management route (and get HR involved) at this stage."

So do it.  Yes, it's a pain that you can't get rid of someone easily.  I would feel very frustrated in such a situation.  If you don't work to fix this problem now, it's only going to get worse.  This problem employee will think she's got carte blanche.  Worse, your true top performers will leave for somewhere that doesn't accept poor performance.

Find out from HR *exactly* what process you need to follow, what 'I's to dot and which 'T's to cross.  Then follow that guidance.  If it requires three written warnings and a partridge in a pear tree, do it.  However, don't go to HR with an attitude of "what stupid bureaucracy are you going to impose on me?".  Instead, say "I need your help to improve my team".  People invariably *want* to help.  Go to them with an open mind and you might find that they'll make the job a lot easier for you.

Finally, consider this an object lesson in keeping a close eye on your probationary period calendar.  I doubt that this direct was a model employee until month three, day one.  A probationary period is like an extended job interview.  Always be looking for reasons to say "no", and when you find a reason, use it.

jaiver's picture

Definately talk with HR and tell them about the unapproved leave.  At a lot of companies that alone would be enough for dismisal.   It sounds like she may be a "professional victim" and i can tell you from experience it will only get worse if you do not take steps now.   Good luck. 

matto's picture

 Thanks Mac and Jaiver. Much appreciated.

Jaiver, I LOVE the 'professional victim' comment. And completely agree. 

flexiblefine's picture

I agree with the others who have said it's time to let HR know what's going on -- both about the unapproved leave and about the systemic behavioral issues. Give them a heads-up about the behavior, and start documenting. you may also want to change your usual schedule or activites so you can see more of her behavior first-hand.

Bringing the whole group together to discuss poor past behavior won't encourage improvement for the future -- it may feel like persecution. Coach, document, observe, and be as prepared as you can for any outcome from rapid improvement to slow termination.

flexiblefine
Houston, Texas, USA
DiSC: 1476

KTatley's picture

 Feedback always works - do it properly, escalate into systemic feedback and you will "fix or fire" your problem.

 

Your employee does sound like a case for dismissal - I would be surprised if your policies and procedures do not have dishonesty as grounds for dismissal (obviously needs to be more than a white lie). Even if they don't, that doesn't matter because Labor Courts understand that dishonesty is good grounds for dismissal. However you still need to document it and try to fix it first. Again the cast on systemic feedback is a must.

 

Also there is a cast on "Third Party negative feedback" - this is relevant to your situation on whether you should give feedback based on behaviours observed by others. A good principle is to remember that feedback is factual and that includes the fact that you as a manger get negative third party feedback. What the third party says may not be accurate but you can still give feedback about the fact that the third party gave negative feedback because that actually happened. It's important in all feedback not to get stuck into a discussion about the facts or what actually happened, keep it above that. Something like (from step 2 onwards):

"When I hear from my other members of staff that you have said that you hate coming into work that makes me worry about your level of engagement and makes me think that you have a negative impact on staff morale (etc. etc.). Can you please stop engaging in the behaviours that are causing me to get negative feedback about you"

Note that this is entirely factual - it is not dependent on what (if anything) was actually said. If the staff member wants to argue over what they did or did not do then cut them off and say you're not here to have a discussion about the finer semantics - you are speaking to them because you had negative feedback from someone else and this is what you are giving them feedback about.

Mark goes further to say that you can drop the reference to the third party altogether - this also works because of the other principles of feedback - being frequent, casual and consistent and that feedback is talking about behaviours and consequences. Think about this carefully, behaviours don't actually have to have happened for you to give feedback because you use the words "when you" - if they don't do the behaviour then the consequences don't apply and when they do, the consequences become relevant. Ponder for a moment the concept of "Pro-active Feedback":

"When you put your hand into the fire you will get burnt"

"But I haven't put my hand into the fire"

"Yes, I never said you had and when you do put your hand into the fire you will get burnt"

 

 

 

STEVENM's picture

"Can you please stop engaging in the behaviours that are causing me to get negative feedback about you

Note that this is entirely factual - it is not dependent on what (if anything) was actually said. If the staff member wants to argue over what they did or did not do then cut them off and say you're not here to have a discussion about the finer semantics - you are speaking to them because you had negative feedback from someone else and this is what you are giving them feedback about."

That's actually not entirely factual in my mind.  This piece, specifically, I take issue with.  "Can you please stop" is a direct accusation towards the direct that they've actually done the thing that got you this feedback.  Even though you have not been able to verify it (otherwise you wouldn't be giving proactive or indirect feedback). Probably just a bad choice of words, but I think it would be an important misstep in this case. Immediate defensiveness. And they'd be right to feel it, if innocent, given that wording. The surface says you're just addressing the fact that you heard something, but the subtext is that you've counted it as a strike against them.  Because you're asking them to stop without acknowledging they may never have done it.

That, or it's "Hearing such things is something I want to stop even if they have no basis in fact, and I'm putting it on you to fix it."  Without giving him the tools to do so (he doesn't even know who he's dealing with).  At best that's frustrating and at worst...