Donna's blog on coaching, leadership, and life

Archive for October, 2017

Managing a highly-skilled contributor, who is short on interpersonal skills? A few tips.

I’m guessing many of you can relate to the title of this post. It may be about a salesperson who is bringing in a ton of revenue, yet fails to treat support staff with respect. Or, it may be someone with exceptional technical skills who is alienating their peers with poor or gruff communications. In some cases, your ability to enforce certain standards may be—or may feel—limited.

We know how important it is to set consistent performance standards across our teams and organizations. We know how crucial it is for professionals to build internal relationships. Yet, it’s not unusual for specialized talent, tenure, or organizational metrics to get in the way of truly requiring these things.

Situations like these can be very frustrating for managers. They can be even more frustrating for peers or employees who have little to no control over performance outcomes. These circumstances can also cause unrest and low morale on a team.

The good news is, as a manager, you always have the freedom to engage someone in their own development. You still have the opportunity to provide candid feedback, coaching, and support. You may want to start with a formal and genuine exchange. Get the person’s perspective of their comprehensive performance, offer yours, and go from there.

So what can you do if a difficult, yet gifted, person reports to you or is a key contributor in your organization? Here are just a few quick guidelines that may help before, and during, that necessary one-on-one discussion:

– Before the meeting, take time to review or consider the job description or “requirements” of the job. (Ideally, they’re documented.) Note any competencies in the job description that fall under interpersonal successes. Do any of them describe attributes relating to service attitude or teamwork? If so, this will help you discuss what’s expected relating to relationship building. You can also use your organization’s values, if applicable, as an anchor for discussion.

– Schedule a meeting with the individual to discuss their perspective of their successes and challenges on the job. Assure them that you’ll offer your perspective as well. Let them know that your goal is to establish how you can partner with them to best support their development and success.

– As you prepare, be ready for resistance or defensiveness, so that you’ll be ready to respond versus react. Be prepared to calmly respond while reiterating the importance of improved relationships. Give some thought to what resources, articles, or tools you may be able to provide them in support of this goal.

– Ask them for their perspective first. Ask what’s going well, and where they may be struggling on the job. Listen and take notes as they answer both questions. Once they’ve finished, offer your perspective. Come prepared with specific examples to validate their successes, and to help clarify their development opportunities.

– Let them know that they are your very first choice to be successful in this role. Reiterate that their position calls for their ability to build collaborative internal relationships. Let them know that you’re willing to provide coaching in support of their development efforts.

– (This would be a great time to offer any resources or tools, mentioned in the third bullet, above.) Ask them to choose one or two specific action plans or new approaches that they’re willing to focus on and use within the next few weeks. (Be prepared to offer a few ideas if they’re stumped.) Let them know you’ll meet again to debrief their experience with action plans, and discuss any results or challenges they may have experienced. Tell them you remain available in the meantime for any questions or if they think a conversation will be beneficial.

– Before leaving this meeting, schedule that follow-up meeting 3-4 weeks out to discuss progress and establish a way forward. Be sure to confirm about a week ahead of time and restate the objective of the meeting. This approach reinforces the importance of their willingness to take part in their development.

Although addressing performance relating to interpersonal traits and behaviors is not easy for anyone, applying these simple tips is a great start for further discussions and results.