Make The Implicit Explicit: Communicate Preventative Feedback Effectively
One of your reps is testing your limits. They’re not underperforming, but their work for the most part is average at best. They’ve been able to skate by, but you’re worried about the peripheral effects their habits may have on the rest of the team.
Maybe they take too much time off? Maybe they never participate in optional collaborative tasks? Or maybe you simply want to trust them with more responsibility but you’re afraid their apathetic nature will only lead to disappointment.
You suspect their professional behavior is the product of personal disorganization or laziness, but since it hasn’t directly impacted their work (yet), you’re not sure how to approach the conversation without “micromanaging.” Again, they’re not a problem yet, but you want to prevent it from getting to that point. So how do you handle it?
What's really going on?
Let’s start by being brutally honest here. Ask yourself “Am I truly concerned about their habit’s long-term effect on performance? Is their behavior really impacting the rest of the team? Or is their way just different from how I'd prefer he/she do things?”
Sales often attracts big personalities and unique characters. If their performance is excellent, then it may be in your best interest to forgive their quirks and let them carry on with their personal process. But if their performance is anything less than excellent, then as their manager it’s your job to help them improve their productivity as an individual and as a team player.
Tips for an effective conversation:
Make the implicit explicit. Don’t assume that everyone’s frame of reference is the same as your own. In your coaching, get more specific about the areas they could improve. For example, instead of advising to “engage more with your contacts,” try specifying how you would define "more," such as: “You shouldn’t let more than a week go by without reaching out with a valuable follow up.”
The implicit to explicit practice can also be applied in the context of internal expectations, such as participation or attendance. However, it can be difficult for managers working in a casual office culture to feel comfortable defining standards. If you're concerned about taking away flexibility, try framing the evaluation like this: “I know it’s not mandatory, but most team members participate in at least [insert number] of our [insert event or activity] per month. You don’t have to hit that number, but I’d like you to try to get closer to it.” At first, it might feel like you’re micromanaging, but if the rep is not meeting your implied expectations, then the explicit detail might be necessary.
Delivery is everything. Remember that in this scenario, the rep is not a real issue yet and that your efforts are intended to be preventative. Because of this, it’s best to conduct the conversation in private. A common misunderstanding among managers is that if they "lay down the law" for one, then they have to do the same for the rest of their team. But remember we discussed earlier about giving top performers their quirks? Addressing the conversation in a team setting will only result in the following scenarios:
- Your top performers will think your concerns are directed at them and doubt their performance.
- Your mediocre employee will feel they’ve been called out publicly or made an example of.
- Or your mediocre employee will completely miss that it's directed at them and ultimately you will see no improvement.
In conclusion, if it isn’t broke then don’t fix it. But if you're beginning to see it bend, pull the rep aside and clearly define your expectations. Waiting for a rep to read your mind and live up to an unspoken standard will only disappoint you and drive everyone involved crazy.
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