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Stepwise discussion part 2

Stepwise procedure

Step 3

Possible solutions

If we assume we have recognition of the problem we can carry out this next step.
This is identifying all of the potential solutions (this is a little bit like a brain storm).

You might start this conversation with:

“What are our options in resolving this issue?”

What we are trying to do here is get the person to address the actual behaviours that will change what he or she does in order to resolve the problem. They have already admitted that a problem exists and it’s not good enough just to say “Yes, I will resolve the problem immediately.”

In the situation where reports are being handed in late you don’t want to hear, “I recognise the problem and I will do my very best to get them in on time, starting immediately.”

For most managers this signals success and there is a sigh of relief, the person gets a pat on the back for being cooperative and the meeting ends. Several months later the manager realises that little has changed and you are back to square one.
Perhaps your own motivation begins to lower.

It is very important, during this step, to identify actual behaviours that may help resolve the issue.
In a similar vein to a brain storm the aim is to identify a list of behaviours.
As you list them don’t criticise or get distracted.
Any adverse comments will act as a negative reinforcement for any fresh ideas.

Possible behavioural changes may be:

  1. Add reminders in the diary or mobile phone for deadlines
  2. Begin to put the report together as soon as the meeting is over
  3. Give the reports top priority
  4. Improve note taking skills
  5. Send copies by email
  6. Circulate report for comments 3 days before submission
  7. Plan to have a first draft complete 2 days ahead of submission
  8. Thoroughly check for errors

This list of behaviour changes will result from the development of the discussion.

After the initial question:

“What are our options in resolving this issue?”

Then remain silent to induce a response.
If the silence is prolonged then encourage a response by saying something along the lines of:

“Well, any ideas?”

You could provide ideas (and you should provide some) but you want the majority of the thinking to come from the individual.

Employee:    “I usually forget when the day of submission is”
You:             “So, what can you do to help yourself?”
Employee:    “I need a reminder.”
You:             “How are you going to achieve that?”
Employee:    “I could put a note in my diary.”
You:             “Do you always read you diary?”
Employee:    “You’re right I’ll put a reminder in my phone as well.”

The conversation can extend in this manner gradually teasing out what actions could be done.

In order to focus attention you could ask the employee to take notes and give you a tidied up copy later.
This will improve the employee’s motivation. At worst, you should take notes and copy in the employee later.

Step 4

Selecting actions

The list of possible options derived from step 3 may be 3 it may be 15. The aim of this step is to decide from the list which will benefit the employee most in correcting his or her performance.

Get the employee to reiterate the list of options and to decide on which actions he or she will need to carry out.
Make sure that a time frame is agreed.

You:             “OK, we have a list of options, now what do you propose to do to solve the problem?”
Employee:    “Haven’t we already discussed those?”
You:             “We have a list of options but no actual commitment to actions yet. What are you going to do?”
Employee:    “As soon as the meeting is finished I will add reminders to my diary and phone.”
You:             “Good, anything else?”
Employee:    “I will prioritise the reports by not allowing others to distract me.”
You:             “Good, anything else?” etc

Eventually, you would add.

You:             “Now that you have decided on specific actions when do you intend to implement them?”
Employee:    “I will implement them this week as soon as the meeting is over.”
You:             “Thank you let us meet again in 2 weeks to see how you’re progressing.”

Step 5

Follow up

From step 4 we have established that the employee will take specific actions, starting soon and that we would have Another formal meeting in weeks time to check on progress.

You should both have a written copy of the agreed actions.

If you had to pick one reason for failure of any process to improve performance it would be a complete lack of follow up.

Remember that to get behaviour change is one thing to maintain it is another.
You can only do this with positive reinforcement.

The problem with waiting until your formal meeting (in this case 1 week isn’t too bad) is that it may be too late.
You could easily find that behaviour has not happened or it had begun but owing to a lack of positive reinforcement has reverted back to before.

It may be the case that a manager follows up quite quickly to see if things are on track, assumes everything is going to be alright and does no more.

It is important that you try to follow up informally as fast as possible. If you see any progress give the appropriate positive reinforcement to maintain the effort and accelerate any good behaviours.

The only reason for any follow up is to maintain behaviours and hence good performance.

If they are doing what has been asked of them then the follow up will consist of positive reinforcement and any feedback (see Feedback – part 1) required.
If they are not doing what is asked the purpose is to see what you can do to help correct the problems.
This may consist of any of the points raised earlier (see Coaching Steps - part 1 and Coaching Steps - part 2).
For example, feedback, removing obstacles, identifying priorities etc.

One problem you may come across in the ‘follow up’ step is the use of the word ‘check’.
We said above that we want to ‘check on progress’. This is slightly different to ‘checking up’ on someone.
In the phrase ‘check on progress’ it is precisely that; we wish to know the progress purely to help out if there are any problems as identified earlier with obstacles etc. The aim is not to belittle the individual for once again ‘failing’ to reach an agreed target.

Remember, the only reason you are managing people is to help them in any way you can to maximise their performance.
It is very important that even if a person is behind but has made progress that you recognise the fact with positive reinforcement.
Small steps will reach the goal and may even exceed requirements.

Positive reinforcement is given for carrying out and repeating of a behaviour.
Therefore, it is vital that you define that behaviour as accurately as possible so that you know when it has been completed.
One problem that you may have during follow up is the person is unaware the behaviour has completed because it has not been sufficiently well defined.

When following up it is much better to use a neutral approach, for example:
“Hi, Jim how are you getting on with the task we discussed the other day?” or
“Hi, Jim how’s progress?”

This suggests that you are interested in the overall process and not just the finished article.
So a phrase like:
“Have you done?” or
“Where’s the report then?” or
“Just two days to go Jim!” don’t really help in getting the job done.
They inhibit motivation and would be more akin to ‘checking up’ with no apparent intention of providing any help.