Care

How to do Negative

It’s one that can make us squirm more than Stephen King’s last horror story. You know, that chat you need to have with one of your direct reports where you have to point out a big fat negative in their work. Why is it so hard? I’ll tell you why….

  1. You hate the fact that you always have to be the bad guy.
  2. You can’t believe they have made the mistake after you clearly told them how to do it correctly.
  3. You are a nice person. They are a nice person. I don’t want to hurt their feelings.

Giving bad feedback is not an easy thing to do. If anyone says that they find this easy, they are either lying, or maybe they enjoy it a little bit too much. I am guessing you are neither.

No, giving negative feedback is a hard thing to do well as you are potentially hurting your relationship with the person in question, or you are disrupting the positive culture you are trying to create. There are so many aspects of this conversation that can go wrong, and that is never an easy situation to manage. But, there is a big BUT (that didn’t quite come out right… Anyway, here it comes.

BUT, being able to give negative feedback well is an absolutely critical aspect to being able to manage a team well. This is one of the key tools that you need to use to be able to build ability and confidence in your team. There are other great benefits including building trust and increasing closeness in a relationship. Here are some ideas on how to get better at delivering a negative.

  1. Earlier the better – delaying your feedback will reduce the effectiveness of your conversation. Details will be hard to remember, and the person will be less receptive. The term nip-it-in-the-bud can be utilised here. This also stops feelings festering inside of you which can build tension and increases the likelihood of the negative feedback becoming emotionally charged. Giving the feedback swiftly is the best way to go.
  2. Ask instead of tell – Allowing for self-assessment can be a great way to instil learning in the situation and disarm any backlash from the feedback. I find that if I point out faults all the time, it can beat people down, and then as the manager you can labelled as a tyrant. Instead, get the person to do a self-evaluation by asking them “what is out of place with this/what you did/how this turned out” or “how could have this been done better” or “I can spot a problem with this. Can you see it?”. This invites discussion, and gives the person a chance to figure it out themselves, rather than being told what they did was incorrect. It is a great way to turn a potentially negative conversation into a positive one.
  3. Specifics are critical – when giving negative feedback you will cause yourself a world of pain if you are being vague and inattentive. There is a lot of room for misinterpretation, misunderstanding, and confusion. We want to avoid all of these at the best of times. Critically when someone is completing a task poorly using details and examples is essential so be sure to have your facts straight. Preparation is your friend, as per any management discussion.

There are many more tools and ways of delivering negative feedback, but I feel that these are a good start.

One common requirement that needs to be used with any technique in this situation. It is acknowledging THE WAY we deliver our feedback is more important that what we actually say. So be sure to be respectful, keep the feedback as private as possible (no public shaming), and use an appropriate tone.

A positive intension will carry you through most of these important conversations, and like many things – the more you do it, the better you will become at it.

How to turn a bunch of dysfunctional individuals into a Dream Team

Yesterday, I had a training session with a client of mine. He was struggling with communicating his marketing and sales objectives to his team. Mainly because they are all different, and on their own agendas. Sound familiar…?

It struck me that this topic is very common, so I thought I would share a few key points I use to turn this scenario into an advantage.

Difference equals diversity, and this is a great base for a great team.

In team sport, you can’t have the same type of player across the whole field. Eleven Lionel Messi’s sounds mouth-watering, but who is going to lay the tough tackles, or be the huge presence in goal? What about the emotional side? If you have eleven stars, then how are they all going to get the limelight? They would rip each other apart within the first few weeks of a season!

Whenever I have taken over a team with large diversity, I have seen the disconnects and range of talents as an opportunity rather than a horrible stress.

No matter what the scenario, these same steps can be used to great effect:

1. Start with you, and what you need to do – Before giving direction to any group of people the manager needs to be crystal clear on what they are trying to achieve. An obvious start is with commercial goals, sales targets, and particular brand focuses important to the business in the next six to 12 months. Also, think about the customer experience that your brand is trying to achieve. Or, what you are setting out to achieve in your role over the next 12-24 months? Goals can come in many forms, but before any direction is given to the team, these goals must be set into SMART goal language.

 

2. What is their story? It is common to take employees out for a coffee or lunch and get to know them. Check in on them. Tell them about yourself. This is all very nice, but there are key points to cover here and one must always be prepared with an agenda, even when the tone of the catch-up is largely informal. Key areas to understand with each individual are:

a. What have they done (some info on their past)

b. What do they need and want now (both personally and professionally can be relevant, as well as physical and emotional)

c. What do they want to do/achieve/learn/gain in the next 12 months?

Let the conversation flow. Be curious. Get a full picture of the person.

3. Divide and Conquer – I know it sounds a little over the top, but this is one of the biggest mistakes I see seasoned (and junior) managers make with their team. If any of us try and set out new directives in a team environment with no warning or consultation, there is HUGE risk of Mutiny.

It is not a risk worth taking.

Investing some time into consulting each individual with what we want them to focus on is going to be a very powerful and positive discussion. Give context within the larger project that you want them to contribute to (i.e. set the vision). Highlight how this leverages their strengths, and gives them exposure to the things they want to learn and develop.

Also, be willing to be flexible and listen to any changes the person thinks would make the directive better. There is no need to be stubborn, or to set everything in concrete. In fact, the more that it seems like their idea, the more buy-in you will get to the overall strategy. WIN-WIN! Whatever happens, come to an agreement with each individual. Set the expectation clearly, and get ready to move to the next step.

4. Turn the troops into Lieutenants – No one wants to be a number. A part of the pack. A worker bee. It’s not fun. Turn your beautiful bunch of misfits into leaders. Each one of them will be a specialist, a department manager, an owner of a task or key element of the business. They can have a title. They can have status. They can lead the discussion, or give education, or command a section of the team meetings. It always astounds me how much people step up when given extra responsibility. An opportunity to contribute can be more valuable than cold hard cash to many of us. This is a great strategy for tapping into the wants and needs of the individuals while aligning this with the overall business goals that need to be achieved.

5. Round them up and take off – Now is the time to get the group together and openly talk about the new directives, what everyone’s role is going to be, and how progress is going to be tracked. As there are no surprises because of the individual meetings, the team will be ready to advocate the changes you are discussing. All the processes and systems can be made clear, trained in, and discussed. The initial meeting will provide a platform to gain momentum and buy-in from the group. This is built-on even further, again-and-again in future meetings.

 

I love under-performing, unfashionable, even rebellious retail teams. I love working with them, and turning them into monster success stories. Having said this, I know it’s tough. There are the big characters that aggressively push against your authority. Then there are the unmotivated “clock punchers” that seem impossible to talk to. Or the passive-aggressive’s. Maybe you have the “been there, done that” veterans that aren’t open to change. Or the young-hot-shot-know-it-all that is getting under everyone’s skin. It seems like every team has the hard-working unsung hero too, which can sometimes be harder to manage than it may seem.

Too often, these tough teams become a burden. They can fill us with dread and even despair. I get it – I’ve been there many times before. But, with a good solid plan, some determination, and a sprinkle of patience, these “Motley-Crews” can be turned into teams we love to work with that also deliver.

5 Tips to Turn Customer Complaints into Business Assets

Some people can be horrible to deal with. You are trying to be helpful, respectful, and patient but the more you try to appease them the more unpleasant they become. I once had a customer literally shout and chastise me over a staff incident for about an hour until she wore herself out and finally accepted my offer that I would investigate the incident and pass it onto senior management to be dealt with. I can see her face now, and it sends me to an energy draining place that leaves me deflated and beaten up. Have you experienced something like this?

Customer satisfaction is becoming harder and harder and to deliver. The contemporary customer has never been so empowered and informed, while the competitive climate of almost all industries has also elevated. Add in the time poor nature of many clientele, and it is pressure cooker that occasionally boils over and leaves us on the receiving end of some harsh critiques to put it politely. In my experience, this comes with the territory of running a business, no matter what your industry is. There are a few practical ways to turn such negative exchanges into a positive. Here are my top tips:

  1. Diffuse. Anger, irritation, sadness, despair… these are all strong emotions, and no matter how right or wrong you are, there is no talking to someone when they are over-ridden by these feelings. To best deal with this we need to find every bit of empathy we can muster. Seeing through the bile being spat out at you and being patient isn’t always easy, but it is an essential step to turning the situation into a positive one. Diffusing the exchange is key and using the AQUA tool is a good place to start:

A – Acknowledge – it will only elevate the problem if we dismiss the complaint.

Q – Question – showing empathy and using a few questions to get the person talking about facts is already starting to diffuse the emotion and will get the person speaking rationally.

U – Understand – show understanding by using caring body language, lots of eye contact, and simply be the authentic person you are. See yourself as a friend rather than a representative of your business. At the end of the day, you are on the same team.

A – Action – be clear and direct with what is going to happen next. Follow it up personally and instil confidence in the customer by doing what you said you would do.

 

  1. Side-by-Side. A lot of the time the real problem is forgotten and the abuse can start to be directed towards you. This is not good, nor is it productive for the customer. A great way to change the dynamic is to stand or sit next to the customer rather than directly across from them. The attention needs to be directed at the problem, both conversationally and physically. Using your notepad or the product in question, you can start to write and point to the problem and keep referring to it. Hopefully it won’t be too long before the customer is directing their energy at the problem instead of you. In fact, at times it may give you a chance to join in and direct your own emotion at the problem too! All of the sudden, everyone is working on the problem together and collaborating rather than fighting.
  2. Getting the complaint is a good thing. According to the retail professionals at the Australian Retailers Association HQ, Australian businesses lose 13% in sales per year due to customer dis-satisfaction. That is a huge number. Imagine the positive impact on our revenues if we avoided even half of these loses. How can we make an impact on these losses if people keep the problems to themselves and simply do not come back to shop with us? Seriously, what can we do? Absolutely nothing. By that stage, the horse has well and truly bolted. We must have ways of intervening before this and getting the truth from our patrons. Feedback forms, Net Promoter Score Surveys, Suggestion Boxes, Follow-up e-mails/phone calls/text messages are all methods to get this info. There are many many more, but my advice is to use the most personal process available to you. If you deliver a service that runs over an extended time, then be sure to check in as often as you can while being appropriate. Getting the complaint is a huge win. You can do something about it and turn things around.
  3. Better than getting it right in the first place. I have had a few situations as a customer where I have lodged a complaint and the way it was addressed either killed the brand off for me forever (i.e. I never went back), or it turned me into an even bigger follower than I was before. Sounds mad, but every complaint is an opportunity to create some of your best long term customers. As we discussed before, complaints are usually laden with emotion. It is all about how we feel as a valued consumer. When a complaint is received the first thought must be – how do I WOW this person? I want my complainee (is that a word!?!) to feel that they are the most valued person in the world. I want them to think that my brand is full of wonderful caring people that really do care. Now, I know, this is tough, but if you are prepared with tools, processes, and actions ready to go, then it becomes a lot easier to nail. It is also viable, because you have crunched the numbers on what resources you can afford to use over a quarter or year. No matter what, you want these customers to be raving about how special you made them feel when talking to their friends over a coffee or glass of wine.
  4. Be willing to fire clients. Some people are terrible to deal with and always will be. It’s not that they are terrible people, they are just not our sort of people. They don’t get us, and we don’t get them. This is ok. The reason why this is an asset is that we can draw the conclusion that this is now one less person to throw resources into. We can now concentrate on the customers that we love and that love us. I would always rather have 500 diehard fans than 10,000 marginally interested ones. We must sometimes understand that subtraction is better than addition for our client base. When we receive certain complaints, or repeated problems with an individual customer then this is a flag to fire them and move on with serving those that you love.