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Managers: Stop Butting Heads With Your Staff!

Jonathan Schultz
November 29th, 2017

At companies all over the globe you often see front-line managers butting heads with their employees. I hear leaders and managers say it all the time, "I'm tired of babysitting my staff. Why won't my team do this? I wish my employees would just (insert productive habit here)!” Or even something as harsh as, "These employees shouldn’t be making what they make for the sub par work they do!" Employees say things like, “My boss never listens to me!” and “I’m sick of working for this *&@#%!”

OUCH! I, myself used to struggle with some of these same thoughts. Until through some hard lessons, and a little coaching, I came to some realizations that have changed the way I lead forever. In this article, I would like to share these coaching insights with you to help you better lead your team! You deserve to manage stress free and enjoy the presence and support of your direct reports without the need to fight for compliance and accountability!

If you’re a manager or leader struggling with your whole team, part of your team, or perhaps you just know someone else who could use some help in this area, please read on. Even if you are a master of self control and hold in all this anger without any sort of passive aggression, this frustration will undoubtedly cause you to reach your maximum B.S. limit and you will eventually snap!

When you unleash your frustrations on them, regardless of how you butt heads with your staff, nothing good will come of it. Your employees walk away from the conversation feeling deflated and beat down. Sure, you may feel a temporary high as you have asserted your dominance, but this buzz is quickly lost when the employee you lost your cool with continues the undesired behavior even after your argument with them! This creates a "Groundhog Day" type effect where you relive the same frustrating moments week after week. Another even more severe potential negative outcome is if one of your valued team members quits their job due to this constant demoralizing behavior.

How Do Leaders Communicate In a Way That Creates Desired Change in Behavior?

First, you must understand a few things about your employees:

They have good intentions, and want to please you.

Chances are, your employees actually care about pleasing you. If you truly believe in others good intentions, in turn, it will bring the best intentions out of them. All people want to appear confident and proficient in their work. Screwing up and being yelled at does not benefit them. When an employee makes a mistake, doesn’t follow a process, or isn't performing how you want, they are not necessarily targeting you in an attempt to be insubordinate. Before you snap, remember the saying, "You get more with honey than you do vinegar." Ask yourself, was this an honest mistake that anyone could have made? How bad is this situation? Have I ever made a mistake similar to this? How can the punishment fit the crime?

If you're a parent raising a young child, you expect that your child will mess something up. It's a given that your kid is going to color on the walls in crayon. He may find a pair of scissors and decide to give the dog a haircut. If you're really lucky, your kid even might put a wet roll of toilet paper into the microwave for 10 minutes to dry out! Regardless of these childhood atrocities, you still love your kid unconditionally, right? You don't assume they are evil and out to get you, then send them away to boarding school! Perhaps they were trying to draw a pretty picture on the wall just for you. Just maybe your child thought the dog looked hot because he was panting and needed a haircut to cool off. Did you consider he felt bad for dropping the T.P. in the toilet bowl, and he wanted to dry it off so you wouldn't need to buy more? (You can tell my parents had a rough time raising me!) That being said, the intentions were good and the motives were pure. Love your employees like you love your kids, with unconditional care and love, and expect mistakes. Truly believe that they have the best of intentions and mean well. You will harbor a lot less anger this way. Just be there to guide them and help them learn from the errors so they don't keep “shaving the dog” their entire career.

Something is preventing them from behaving how you want.

If you’re butting heads with team members because they just won't do what you want them to do, many managers take the "they are lazy" stance. This is a costly assumption. In order to positively alter an employee's behavior the leader must uncover exactly WHAT limiting belief or "SCAM" is preventing them from acting. In the book, "Coaching Salespeople Into Sales Champions,"Keith Rosen, Master Certified Coach (MCC), describes a "SCAM" as a Story, Con, Assumption, or Mindset, that employees create that prevent them from taking action in a way that will better their situation. The only way to help your stray staff members is to coach them around their "SCAM" to uncover these crippling mental barriers. In a non biased, or confrontational way ask "Why?” "What's getting in the way?" "What's preventing you from...?". These discovery questions will show you that "laziness" or "insubordination" are NOT the real problem. Once you unearth the real limiting belief you must help them see what might be possible if they changed their way of thinking or try a new approach to the situation.

For years I stood on my soapbox and preached, “Call your past customers and ask for referrals to sell more and hit your objectives!” Yet, no matter the intensity or frequency of my commands I would see very limited action taken by the sales team. Enter one-on-one coaching.

First, knowing Susan likes customers that are fun and easy to work with, enroll her in the behavioral change, “Susan, what I want for you is to bring in as many referrals in as possible, that way you need not rely on the market, economy and floor traffic your entire career. Wouldn't it be great and rewarding if you could hang out with buyers that already like you and trust you?”

“So, Susan, what's keeping you from calling your sold customers for referrals?”

Susan replied, “Well, I don't have that many to call and when I do call them, I'm scared they will be mad that I'm bothering them. I don't want to annoy my customers.”

The SCAM’s Mary had created around prospecting to her customers were that she had no one to call, a story she made up, because in reality she had over 300 customers in her sold database. The assumption she had convinced herself of, was that they would be annoyed if she called them.

“I've seen your great online reviews from your clients Susan.”, I replied, “Of your 300+ customers, how many of them really enjoyed working with you?”

“Probably at least 250 of them,” she said.

“Do you mind receiving a call from someone you really enjoy working with?” I asked.

“I suppose not, no, I don't mind.” Susan said.

I probed deeper, “How many of your customers have asked you not to call them because you were annoying them?”

She thought for a few seconds, “Well no one's really told me they were annoyed…” I could see Susan was starting to realize she hadn't really TRIED to call them yet, and her assumption was unraveling.

“So what specifically would you be comfortable saying to your most satisfied group of 250 clients, that wouldn't annoy them or bother them when you call?”

From there, Susan and I crafted a wonderful message that she could deliver to her most satisfied customer base and ask for referrals. Which she has since been doing to great effect. Susan was not lazy or insubordinate, nor was she trying to avoid selling and making money, she just needed her SCAM uncovered and addressed in a supportive way. Don’t ASSUME people are lazy or insubordinate, seek to understand the real barriers to behavior and your life as a leader will be a lot less frustrating, and extremely fulfilling.

They may not understand your expectations.

Many times you're not seeing eye to eye with members of your team, it’s a simple situation of lack of clear expectations. I recommend you review expectations with any applicant before you hire them, again after you hire them, and then quarterly. You should also update your expectations as things change, because they always will. If your team member doesn’t know what you expect of them, or what you want them to do as your direct report, whose fault is it if they don’t act accordingly? It's been said many different ways by many different leaders, "People cannot live up to expectations they do not know exist."

While coaching with one of my fellow managers, “John” we came to the root of some deep-seated frustration he held with a sales representative, “Bob”. It all boiled down to expectations. John felt his expectations were continually not being met by Bob. After we both sat with Bob, clearly reviewed John’s expectations in detail, it became clear that we had a disconnect. We expected to see that Bob didn’t care, or had no concern that he had not met his objectives. However, instead, Bob clearly felt guilty once realization set in that he had let us down. Bob needed his manager's expectations refreshed because too much time had gone by since these had been covered. Bob then put together a plan to remedy his shortcomings, and has since worked hard to fix the issues. There was a weight lifted off my frustrated manager and team member’s shoulders that day. Communicating expectations makes everyone’s job easier, and will help you avoid butting heads.

Their proficiency may not have been tested after training.

It's easy to assume someone knows what they should be doing once they complete a training course. We provide training classes, watch our employees go through these, and just because they didn’t fall asleep during the class, we believe they must know exactly what's going on... If ONLY it were that easy! Have you ever failed to absorb something from training or do you pick up everything the first time, every time? We must test proficiency prior to turning our employees loose on the job. Simply put, if we don’t find out the training wasn’t absorbed early, we will find out the hard way later. Would you want a pilot that had not been tested for proficiency to fly you and your family across the country? Would you want a heart surgeon to operate on you after one class but without passing a test? You bet not! Test your team AFTER the training to ensure they have absorbed it or blame yourself when they falter.

One sales representative “Steve” worked at another one of our dealer groups lots for nearly a year before transferring to our store. Since he had been in the car business before, and at one of our stores, we assumed he knew how to do the proper paperwork when delivering a vehicle. After a very frustrating first month of constant paperwork mishaps costing himself, the company and his customers time and money, we decided to “test” Steve on his competence regarding delivery paperwork. We discovered that at the store where he worked before the finance department did most of the paperwork, so he didn't really understand it. Even though he had a basic knowledge of what was needed, enough to be dangerous, Steve needed training and testing prior to turning him loose. Had we tested his proficiency initially, we would have saved more than a few headaches! Was he tested at all? Sure he was, he had to “Sell his boss a car” but he sure wasn't tested on paperwork. Test your staff members on all aspects of their job, if you want to ensure they are proficient at all aspects of their job.

How to avoid your initial angry reaction and make positive lasting change.

Now let's get something straight here, I am not saying we are always going to get along with our staff. Also, no one can keep their cool 100 percent of the time. Nor am I saying to let them get away with murder. There must be a hierarchy and someone to answer to for any organization to be successful. I just want you to understand some of the problem could be on us as leaders. After all, it's our job, as the people leading the charge, to use coaching to help them correct the situation in a way that fosters a supportive, positive environment. The alternative isn't pretty, it’s a passive aggressive, cancerous environment where repeated unfavorable actions cause a boss to snap, over and over, and over and over again! This can't be good for your blood pressure, let alone career satisfaction for you and your employees.

If you’ve been managing in this manner, let me ask you a few loaded questions: Has holding in your frustration, or yelling at your team repeatedly changed anything in a positive way? What favorable results have you seen from this? Does this build trust or degrade it? Do you want sustainable growth for your team members, or a never ending cycle of new hires as you replace the people that leave you? Are you sick and tired of butting heads with your employees?

Before you start ranting and raving at your team member, or say something snide and hostile, there is a very powerful question you should ask yourself. In the book, "Triggers" by Dr. Marshall Goldsmith, he asks, "Am I willing, at this time, to make the investment required, to make a positive difference on this topic?" [blockquote-left]"Am I willing, at this time, to make the investment required, to make a positive difference on this topic?"[/blockquote-left]Prior to reacting to an unfavorable situation in your environment in an unfavorable way, asking this question will allow you to slow down. Now you may cool off, and contribute to the situation as opposed to make a bad situation worse. Being willing to invest the energy to contribute to the conversation in a positive way, will be the first key in creating positive change. If you can't invest the energy at the time, then just stay quiet and cool off.

Hold your team members accountable in a supportive, positive way.

Let’s revisit our coachee’s stories. Now that we’ve clearly discussed our expectations, and have a new starting point. In the end, if Bob doesn’t follow the newly communicated expectations, then leadership follows the, "Am I willing..." question, mentioned above, before freaking out, then there will be consequences. If Susan doesn’t follow the prospecting plan we created, we will not be passive aggressive toward her. Holding in our frustration and allowing her to get away without the follow up calls will only create the problem we're trying to avoid. We now sit her down and ask again, “Now what’s preventing you from calling your customers?”. If one of our employees makes a mistake that a bit of common sense should have prevented, they will be held accountable. However, we will know they did not foster any ill will in their mistake, so there is no need to become angry with them or mistrust their intentions. If Steve continues to screw up his paperwork after his training and measurement of his competence has been completed, we will address the issue.

In each case we will follow the advice of Theodore Roosevelt when he said, "Speak softly and carry a big stick." Meaning, we will be polite and respectful, will not snap to anger and stress, but there will be consequences in order to hold our team members accountable. Being a manager who has the "stick", or method of accountability, prevents you from flipping out. Now as you may have inferred, using consequences does not give you permission to regress back to yelling. Instead, it should be a series of clear, direct feedback that escalate to more, depending on the severity. In Bob’s particular case, both parties agreed to consequences that begin with extra hours until set guidelines are met. Further offenses or failure to meet commitments would lead to monetary punishment and documented reprimand. In Susan’s case, if she doesn't want to service her existing customers, they will be distributed among other sales associates who are willing and able to call on them.

It can be as simple as a clear message to an employee that they’ve not met your expectations. This message should be delivered in person if minor, or in writing if more serious. It can be direct such as, “Bob, you agreed last month to deliver your paperwork by the 30th of each month. It is now the 5th and I still do not have your paperwork. When can I expect to have it? What got in the way? Do you need my assistance in revising your plan?” This type of feedback is still calm, collected, respectful but clearly conveys the expectation was not met.

If an offense occurs again, or the severity of the missed expectation is more grave, you should escalate the message to call for either a clear corrective action within a specific timeframe, or even a warning for termination (or termination in some instances). Just remember, this consequence should still always clearly convey the expectation, the miss of the expectation and be calm, collected and respectful.

Your employees will be better off for it, and their behavior will be conducive to your aligned efforts. Stop butting heads with your team. Put away the boxing gloves. Lead your team in the way they deserve. Believe in their best intentions, lead with a calm, collected head and coaching mentality. Create a plan for holding them accountable to your clear-cut, well communicated expectations. As a result your work environment will improve for you and your team. Your employees will gain trust in you and your turnover will drop! Best of luck to you and your team!


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