How to use strategy sessions as a way to manage indirect sources of info about your employees (part 3)
This is the third part of a three part series in which I describe how managers should use strategy sessions to address indirect sources of information. Many managers react to indirect sources of information and pass it along as feedback, when instead they should focus on direct sources of information for providing performance feedback. When dealing with indirect sources of info, I advocate for “strategy sessions.”
In the example I’m using in this series, you’re receiving information from your employee’s peers and partners that the employee is being “difficult” in meetings. In my previous articles (part 1 here, and part 2 here), I describe the first six steps for managers to take:
1) Make sure it’s important and worth strategizing about
2) Introduce the conversation as a strategy session
3) Introduce the issue that needs to be strategized share the information that is driving the need for discussion
4) Ask for the employee’s perspective on what the issue is
5) Find points of agreement on what the issue is
6) Strategize on how to resolve the problem
In today’s article, I wrap up the steps for conducting a strategy session with your employee:
7. Agree on what both of you plan to do differently
Since you never directly observed the original behavior, you can’t give quality feedback on the behavior. You can, however, agree on what should be done moving forward. This is a form of providing expectations of behavior. As a result of the strategy session, you and your employee may agree to the following:
“I (the manager) will work with the people making promises for delivery to assure that they are setting the correct expectations for what we can deliver, and you (the employee) will work on doing the following: 1. When you’re in the meeting and you have to (again) tell them that we cannot deliver as promised, describe it as “We are working on aligning our teams so that there is better understanding on what our deliverables are and their timelines. It is my understanding that we are not on track for the deliver you expect, but this may be because of a misunderstanding that my manager and I are working on resolving.”
In our example, the employee can become armed with the “strategy” for handing the difficult situation, both in specific employee actions and in addressing the root cause. With this greater strategy, the employee is better equipped to be less “difficult” in meetings, and, more importantly, there is a greater likelihood that the issue around the “difficulty” can be resolved.
So with this indirect feedback about the employee, there is an opportunity to improve both the employee’s performance (and general ability to deliver a tough message), and the larger issue that is making the employee’s job difficult. The employee can get better at delivering a “difficult message”, but the team can get better at setting expectations of delivery, making the likelihood that the difficult message can change to the easy-to-deliver message of “we’re on track.”
Strategy sessions with your employee can result in some desired change in behavior, but the focus should be on resolving the larger issue. Operate on the assumption that it isn’t only the employee’s behaviors that are causing the issue (see more about complex feedback situations here). By doing a strategy session instead of a performance feedback conversation, you raise the conversation to the “issue” level, empowering the employee to help solve the problem, while still affording the opportunity to identify and expect changes in behavior of the employee.
8. Still look for direct observation opportunities – based on the strategy session results
A strategy session still affords the opportunity for the manager to perform direct observation of the employee, and provide performance feedback on the elements that the employee agreed to perform as a result of the strategy session. If the employee has to deliver a difficult message during a meeting, the manager can attend that meeting and observe how it was delivered, and provide feedback (either reinforcing or corrective) on that action. This is much more specific and immediate than relying on the non-specific and non-immediate indirect information about your employee.
9. Check in on how well the issue is being resolved
The mark of a good manager is one that helps drive issues to resolution. One strategy conversation isn’t going to solve a problem. The employee and the manager needs to perform their actions based on the strategy session. This is the kind of thing that can be documented on a performance log. Also, checking in and seeing how well progress is being made allows you to re-strategize, assess if it may need a larger effort (or if it’s resolved). The key is to keep the discussion with the employee at the level of the issue and what the employee agreed to do differently as a result of the issue. This will make such conversations more fair to the employee. From the employee’s perspective, it’s great to have a manager who actually makes the work environment better and removes issues.
In addition, let’s say that the issue is resolved. . . it could happen! In this example, the employee’s “bad behavior” actually is transitioned to the employee helping you and your team improve and the employee’s behavior improves. The manager who can track and give credit to the employee’s role (as well as other employee’s roles) in helping improve the team will be considered a good manager, if not a great manager.
The Manager by Designsm blog discusses performance feedback a lot, but before you get to performance feedback you need to know what behavior you are trying to correct. If you don’t have direct observation, it is nigh impossible to provide performance feedback. But it is possible – without direct observation — to strategize and agree to new expected behaviors with your employee. You need to be prepared, however, to listen to your employee’s perspective and ideas, and to take responsibility in executing your part in the strategy you agree to. If you do this, then you are on the path to becoming a trustworthy manager.