Sunday, March 3, 2013

I'm melting! I'm melting! What a world...

While we're discussing handling performance issues, let's discuss the case where someone has made a really big boo boo. All folks will screw up at some point. Hey, we’re human. But we're not talking here about making an honest technical mistake -- we're talking about having a full-blown meltdown... a "personal foul" as it were. Yelling at a customer, or publicly insulting someone in an email or in a meeting setting is inexcusable.

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Do not let it slide. It is important to deliver correction to the guilty party. Never assume that the incident was a fluke and won’t repeat itself. If you let it go without getting involved, you are providing excellent positive reinforcement. Not only will it repeat itself, but it will become infectious. You must act to correct, and how you do this will determine its effectiveness, as well as determine whether the employee (and the rest of the team) view you as a moron.

The first, and most important, aspect to remember is to deliver whatever correction is needed only in a private environment. Sure, you could start blurting, but that will only serve to inflame the situation and make a lot of other people uncomfortable. Sadly, we all see instances of poor managers jumping on folks in a public setting. No matter how big the mistake, this should never happen. You must intervene as necessary, and take the employee to your office, another conference room, or anywhere that the two of you can have a completely concealed discussion. If the problem is a relatively minor one, this can probably wait for the conclusion of whatever activity is in progress. But, for major missteps, such as the mistreatment of a customer or fellow employee, it may be appropriate to immediately but gently remove the offender with, “Excuse me, Joe, could I speak with you outside for a moment?”

Either way, do not wait any longer than necessary to pull him aside. Try thrusting your dog’s nose into the carpet where he “messed” two weeks ago, and he’s not going to make quite the connection he would make 5 seconds after that event. The entire event needs to be fully fresh in his mind – and your own. If you wait until tomorrow or next week, the event will start to fade from memory, and there might be room for him to deny that some part of it even happened. Act fast.

Now that you’ve retired to a calm, private setting, you have the option of at least somewhat salvaging an unpleasant moment by growing your team member a bit. Be nice. There’s no need to go nuts. You have to view these as “learnable moments” for your employee. It’s possible that he is unaware he’s acted inappropriately. So I usually start with something like, “So, how do you think that went in there?”

His first response may tell you that he knows exactly what he did, knows why it was inappropriate, and has no intent to ever repeat his action:
“I am so sorry about that comment I made. I knew it the moment I said it. He really pressed my buttons and got me riled up, but I absolutely could have controlled myself better. You have my word that it won’t happen again, and I’m going to go apologize to him as soon as we get out of here.”
Okay, we’re done here. My wish for you is that you always receive these types of replies. But, in most cases, you won’t be quite so fortunate. Now you have some more work to do.

Next up, we'll discuss the key points for how to handle this conversation.

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