Managers at Work
"While at a meeting, I noticed one of my staffers behaving rather rudely with a client and asking questions she should have researched the answers to ahead of time. I sent her an email after the meeting. While she has excellent technical skills and a lot of potential otherwise, we have another important client meeting coming up and I'm concerned about this behavior continuing. But I don't have time to baby-sit her. Now some time has gone by. How do I address this effectively?"
Well, Lesson 1 is the obvious one: Address issues like this immediately. And Lesson 2 has to do with the use of email: It seems like an efficient form of communication, but it isn't always effective in delivering the message you want delivered.
So says Darryl Rosen, a performance coach for managers and sales professionals and author of a new book, "Table for Three? Bringing Your Smart Phone to Lunch and 50 Dumb Mistakes Smart Managers Don't Make." It's so much easier for managers to sit in the office and send a terse reply to an email than to resolve an issue face-to-face, he says, adding, "I'm shocked at the way people communicate through email. Too often messages are lost in email."
Indeed, business communication textbooks offer strong opinions on when email should and shouldn't be used.
"Email has a tendency to create a false sense of security in the minds of its users," write Dan O'Hair, Gustav Friedrich and Lynda Dee Dixon, co-authors of "Strategic Communication in Business and the Professions."
"Many employees have acknowledged that they have sent pointed, even aggressive messages to colleagues that they would never have communicated in person-often with dire consequences. Because it is asynchronous and buffered by a computer screen, email seems to encourage negative messages."
It's so much easier to hide behind the computer screen than to try to resolve the problem face-to-face, isn't it? As a leader, however, you need to set an example for your employees. So prepare for a conversation and ask yourself how you helped create this problem and see if you can avoid making assumptions about this staff member's character based on her actions.
In this case, you don't know how your original email was received. And at this point, you don't really know whether this employee will remember the details of the previous meeting, Rosen says.
So now the problem is compounded by the time lapse. If she remembers what happened, you can invite her to share her perspective, Rosen says. "And then you have a starting point."
If she doesn't remember or doesn't admit what happened, then you could easily find your conversation going sour with personal opinions and accusations being exchanged, he says. Instead of tossing allegations or confronting her so that she becomes defensive, you could approach the topic more generally by saying, "I'd like to have a conversation with you on how we can continue to improve our approach in front of clients. How does that sound to you?"
Or use something like this: "Let's brainstorm ways we can continue to improve our approach in front of clients."
Some managers might think it weak or cowardly to take a more general approach to this conversation. But think of this as a coaching opportunity. If you frame the conversation ahead of time and get buy-in, your conversation will be so much more effective in getting results, Rosen says.
Or meet outside the office, in a neutral place where there's less tension and anxiety, and ask the employee to specify how she thinks she's doing in terms of client preparation and performance at meetings. Another strategy after the meeting is to ask her to rate how she thought her performance and preparation were on a scale of one to 10. "If you think their performance was a two and they think it was a nine, you've got a big problem, a major disconnect on what's appropriate," he says.
With an issue like this, many managers would fall into the trap of spending too much time talking and not enough time listening, Rosen says. "Managers tend to talk way too much. By doing it this way, you will develop a better game plan to use in front of clients."
Maybe you would call it "baby-sitting," but in the end it is your job to help motivate your staff to get results. When you take the time to understand people's frame of mind, you will be a more effective manager. "When people feel better about what they're doing, that will lead to better results," Rosen says.
Avoiding the tough conversations is one of the common "dumb mistakes" that managers make, according to Rosen. Here are a couple of others identified in his writing that also contribute to a lack of motivation:
Turning jobs into an episode of "Survivor." When all the weaklings got kicked off the island, your department was left with a group of talented stars. If you set ambitious goals and say things like "Get it done," without providing information or assistance, they burn out quickly. "Instead, ask them 'What information can I provide to help you achieve this goal? What are the best ways we can succeed?'" Let them know you'll support them and provide the resources to achieve the goals.
Watching their lips but not hearing anything. Can you identify the greatest challenge each person has on your team? Do you really know what each person does? "Help others feel heard by turning down the volume of your ego and turning up the volume of listening," he says. "Then ask them clarifying questions."
Managers at Work is a monthly column exploring the issues and challenges facing managers. Contact Kathleen Driscoll with questions or comments by phone at (585) 249-9295 or by email at email@example.com/14/12 (c) 2012 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.