I am a sales manager for a specific product in a large US company. My team is small and we all work very hard. As a result, I applied to hire a new team member to accommodate the sharp increase in opportunities.
I ended up going with an internal hire who came from another sales team. I will call him K. He got up to speed pretty quickly and seemed to settle in well. At about the same time he started, my boss, the EVP of sales, rolled out a new CRM system.
Even though learning a new system was stressful for everyone, we all got a lot of training. This system does things our old one didn’t do, so we were all enthusiastic about the change.
We are now held accountable for several new tasks as part of our sales approach. One is to ask for introductions to other potential buyers in the organizations we sell to and to provide detailed records of this effort. Another is to keep detailed notes of all contacts that are made.
Most everyone on the team, except K, seems to have found a groove with these new requirements. We all keep the system open all day and enter information as we go. It isn’t hard once you get the hang of it. K, on the other hand, is using his old system of keeping his incremental activity in a notepad. He claims he will enter everything at the end of the week.
Part of my job is to go into the system at the end of each week and create a report for my boss of all activity. The first month we were all on a learning curve, but now, three months in, K’s records are spotty at best. I am cc’d on a lot of emails and also have attended some of K’s sales calls, so I know for a fact that some information is not where it should be.
I have spoken to K about this three times and pointed out the gaps where things are missing. I’ve asked him if he is having trouble getting the hang of the new system. Last Friday I offered to sit with him and help while he got all of his information in, but he declined. He tells me he will absolutely pay more attention to putting his information in, but then Friday comes and—no change.
My boss is concerned and is challenging me to confront K, but I just don’t know what to do when he keeps yessing me and then not doing anything differently. I don’t know if he is just not taking me seriously, if he thinks I am pushover, or if he thinks he can fly under the radar forever. I don’t want to be mean, but how do I get across that he needs to step it up and comply with using the new system properly?
Dear Being Yessed,
This kind of situation is so frustrating. Being unable to gain insight into what is getting in the way of someone doing what they say they are going to do (and what they need to do) leads inevitably to speculation about what is going on in their head. Speculating can lead to making assumptions, which can lead to all kinds of trouble.
Our time-tested performance management model, SLII®, would suggest that K is stuck at the development stage called “the disillusioned learner.” This stage is a deeply unpleasant combination of low competence, often a lack of confidence, and low commitment to improving. It can look a lot like an attitude problem. If you as the leader cannot successfully help him find his way past it, this stage could easily be terminal—meaning you would have to let him go.
I think one fair assumption is that something is getting in the way of K’s lack of compliance. The only way to find out what it is, is to ask him. You can start with questions like:
- What is stopping you from using the system the way the rest of us do and keeping track of your activity as you go?
- What is really going on with you?
- Do you understand that our keeping detailed reports is a requirement? That it is not optional? That I am held accountable by my boss to ensure compliance, and that I am now getting in trouble?
- Do you understand why my boss and I both think having accurate records is important?
- What do you think might help you to get the proper records done by end of business every Friday?
- What kind of support or extra training might be helpful?
If K persists in shutting you out, you can explain that your job is to partner with him to help him be successful, but he has to meet you halfway. If that doesn’t help, you can explain that compliance with basic processes is a condition of employment, and if he is unwilling or unable to do the job the way it needs to be done, you will have no choice but to replace him. That sounds harsh, but it is the truth. You can tell the truth as long as it is without blame or judgment, and it might actually get the message across.
You may or may not be able to compel K to change, and you need to be prepared to respond appropriately. Be ready to explain the consequences of his choices.
You can certainly ask if there is anything you are doing that is contributing to the situation—but ultimately try to not make it about you. Keep the focus on K and what he needs.
Madeleine Homan Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.
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