Janet heads up a team of fifteen sales representatives who sell technology solutions in the financial services industry. She is preparing to have a difficult conversation with one of those sales people whose performance has slipped significantly. This will be Janet’s first appraisal with Nicky, a popular, and well-liked member of the sales team. As Janet prepares for the meeting she knows that a foundational premise to the exchange will be to speak candidly. She believes the important first step is to set out all of the issues with a view to having a conversation, finding a resolution and setting out a plan to go forward.
By nature, Janet is driven to reach goals, very competitive, confident and in exercising initiative makes things happen. Janet is currently under pressure as the expected sales levels have not been reached by the team. Nicky is considered to play a key role in delivering sales, but this has not been reflected in the current numbers.
Nicky openly expresses her views; she is engaging and communicates with enthusiasm. Nicky is a ‘glass half full’ person often promising much that doesn’t actually get delivered. She is popular and builds networks with ease.
The most challenging part of the conversation for Janet will be to tie Nicky down to explaining why sales are falling. Janet needs the meeting to accomplish something if only to explain the current downturn. In addition, she wants there to be a specific agreement about what will be done, by whom, and when it will be completed.
As soon as Nicky enters the meeting room she dominates the conversation by passionately recounting an opportunity that she was currently working on. The more Janet tries to pull the conversation back on track the more Nicky regales with stories about what she would be working on and the opportunities in the pipeline. At this point, Janet found herself retreating (in her mind) against this barrage of chatter.
Her intention to obtain mutual understanding with Nicky that something has to be done to improve performance and close the performance gap was fading. Janet’s plan to provide a clear message to Nicky that she wanted her to succeed, and that she was there to assist, fell by the wayside. Janet’s frustration rose to a level where she assertively told Nicky to stop talking and listen. Janet then continued the meeting assuming control. Janet laid out the sales issues firmly and with little consideration to the impact of her now firm voice.
Had Janet, as the leader, known how to re-focus Nicky and keep her on track she would have achieved her desired outcome. Instead, Nicky closed down; her confidence seemed to fade immediately; she had hoped to gain Janet’s approval but instead felt herself becoming emotional.
The reality of the situation is that both Janet and Nicky were operating from their natural zone, and they did not have the awareness to adapt. As the leader Janet realized that the performance appraisal was not going well and that there was a real risk of Nicky’s performance slipping further due to lack of self-confidence. Then Janet recalled that when applying for this current role her executive search consultant asked her to complete the Communication DNA Discovery Process which identified her communication style as being direct. She realized that if before the conversation or even as she was preparing for the performance appraisal meeting Nicky had also completed her Communication DNA then the result of the difficult conversation could have been different. Janet would have seen the benefits of giving Nicky time to be exuberant with her stories and further, understood how to keep her on track so they could have a mutually beneficial exchange.
- Keep to an overview of the strategy and not too much detail
- Smile a lot and keep an upbeat, positive tone
- Have meetings in a relaxed environment, and allow more time
- Let them talk openly but keep on track
- Address their lifestyle goals
- Provide clean and simple graphics to invoke emotions (fewer words)
- Talk about “spending budgets” and returns in a range
- Ask what their “gut feeling” is on your recommendations
- Make decisions interactively together and provide opinions of others
- Recognize them with invitations to social events
With this knowledge Janet would have discovered how to address Nicky’s more exuberant approach, acknowledge her successes, smile a lot and keep an upbeat tone which would have put Nicky at her ease for more difficult and strategic discussion to take place. Janet had wanted them to make decisions together and share opinions on how best to move forward. However, Nicky would have realized that Janet didn’t need long stories but did need meetings to be structured and with meaningful outcomes.
The performance appraisal did not go well. No conclusion was reached. Janet suggested to Nicky that they reconvene at which time Nicky should produce a plan and strategy on how best to increase sales and, in addition, bring any suggestions she might want to include to improve the sales process.