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Vail Daily column: Delivering a tough message

Chuck Wachendorfer
Vail Chamber
Chuck Wachendorfer
Special to the Daily |

During a recent coaching call, one of my business owner clients, Bill on the East Coast, shared with me a challenging situation he was facing with one of his longest tenured employees. It seems that after 19 years of loyal service, Claudia’s performance had been slipping for the last 18 to 24 months. Bill tried a number of things to help Claudia but she repeatedly missed deadlines because she was either overwhelmed or couldn’t prioritize her work. As the backlog of work grew, his frustration had reached a point where something had to be done. His clients were being affected and beginning to call in with complaints. Watching from the sidelines, Bill’s team was wondering when he would step in and address the situation with Claudia to stop the bleeding.

During the course of the last 20 years, Bill’s service business had quadrupled in volume and so had his team. Along with all that incredible growth, Claudia’s role had changed quite a bit over that time as well. What had started out as purely an administrative assistant role for Claudia now included handling payroll, managing an office staff of 12 and bookkeeping for the business. Out of ideas on how to help Claudia get a grip on her role, Bill was afraid to give her any more responsibility and thinking about how he could begin taking things off her plate; maybe even reducing her role in the business and replacing her with someone more qualified.

Looking for a solution, Bill was interested in my perspective on how he handles this troublesome situation with Claudia. As I listened to Bill, a few thoughts ran through my mind;

• People don’t usually don’t take a job to fail. In fact in Claudia’s case, after 17 successful years, it’s unlikely she just decided to start underperforming.

• Focus on behavior, not intention. While people don’t intend to fail, sometimes their behavior falls short. As a leader, work to improve someone’s behavior to improve performance, never challenge their intention.

• Development impacts performance. While selected for a new job based on past experience and results, development in a new role matters most to performance. I began wondering how much time anyone was spending with Claudia to help her understand and get a grip on her new responsibilities.

MAKING A GAME PLAN

During the course of the next 30 minutes, Bill and I worked together to put together a game plan for communicating Bill’s observations and concerns along with a solution to help Claudia improve her performance. At Think2Perform, we teach leaders to use the Whole Message Model to communicate a difficult message like this clearly and successfully;

• Observations: These are the facts of the situation and can be direct observations of someone’s performance or data driven stats about their performance. In Claudia’s case, Bill listed the blown deadlines and missed events over the last few months.

• Thoughts: Based on the facts collected, what are the thoughts you as a leader have about why this might be happening or possible implications of this performance continuing? For Bill, he was beginning to wonder if Claudia could handle the workload. To his credit, he also realized he had spent little time with Claudia helping her understand how to manage her time and prioritize her work.

• Feelings: What are emotions that are being created by the situation? In any given interaction, there can be a number of emotions in play. With Claudia’s performance, Bill shared his frustration with her performance and its impact on the business along with his confidence in her talents and abilities. As the owner and leader of the business, he also took shared responsibility for helping Claudia improve her performance.

• Goals: This is the game plan for improving performance with specific results throughout a defined period of time. It is situation specific with the follower responsible for the outcome and the leader responsible for development. In Claudia’s case, Bill outlined a daily 15 minute meeting they would begin with each day to get a handle on the day’s priorities, establish goals and manage time commitments. After three weeks, they set a time to evaluate performance and discuss any next steps.

A month passed before Bill and I had our next regularly scheduled time to chat, leaving Bill time to deliver the message and work with Claudia. After three to four weeks of working more closely together, Bill was happy to report that Claudia’s performance had improved greatly. During that time, he also learned of some distractions affecting Claudia that he was previously unaware of and was able to help remove.

Do you have a situation where someone’s performance has been suffering for awhile? Is there an opportunity for you as a leader to more clearly communicate your observations and outline a game plan for improving performance? While development matters greatly to improve performance, giving clear feedback matters greatly to development.

Chuck Wachendorfer is a partner and the chief operating officer at Think2Perform, a business and sports performance firm that improves bottom-line results for executives, athletes and organizations. Think2Perform is a partner of the Vail Chamber & Business Association. To learn more about the firm, visit http://www.vailchamber.org or http://www.think2perform.com.


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