Anyone who has provided feedback to a team member and then watched that individual begin to cry or bluster knows the outcome: a feeling of extreme discomfort. If this has been your personal experience, you might regret having said anything. And you may decide to not be so direct in the future. That decision won’t be in the best interests of your employee. But you can give honest helpful feedback in a way that will help your team members.
Honest Helpful Feedback and Planning Ahead
Your employees want professional development in order to move ahead with their career. Career advancement requires great soft skills along with sales skills. And it’s your job as a manager to let team members know what they need to work on. To ensure a positive outcome, plan in advance for how you’ll introduce the topic and what you’ll say to inspire your struggling team member to change their work habits. The way you introduce the topic and your word choices will make a difference in terms of how they respond.
The first step to take before addressing a performance problem is to check your mindset. Therese Huston, in her MITSloan Management Review article, advises managers to focus on what you plan to accomplish instead of worrying about your team member’s reaction. This strategy means thinking about the difference you’ll make for them in the long term if you coach them right now.
For example, you may know this sale rep could be more effective if they improved their listening skills. Because when they fail to listen to what a prospect tells them, they consistently fail to personalize their pitch when it’s time to close the deal.
So how you do you make that point as painlessly as possible? Scott Eblin’s post outlines the importance of coming to these conversations well-prepared. It’s tough enough to point out a team member’s shortcomings. If you flounder and fail to provide concrete examples of trouble spots, your sales rep won’t find you credible.
If you have listened in on a few of your rep’s video selling sessions or done a ride along on an in-person sales call, you should be documenting what they could have done differently. This documentation can serve as the basis for your conversation.
Positive, not accusatory, language will be less threatening to your rep. Choose your words carefully and state directly that you want the best for that employee as they work toward their career goals. Then address the core issue. Eblin suggests something like, “…here are the gaps that I’m seeing and the impact they’re making…” Follow up that statement with the actions your rep can take to be more successful. In addressing the need to be a close listener, your rep should adopt the habit of restating what they think they just heard and encourage the prospect to confirm they got it right. You could also suggest they pause for a full minute after a prospect stops talking so they can internalize what they heard.
Tie Your Feedback to Professional Development
Your rep might fear they don’t have the skills to successfully make the necessary improvements. If you’ve had them take a psychometric and sales skill assessment, you’ll have insight into which tasks are easy and which ones require more effort from them. Review what motivates them and the details of their work style. Assessment results will highlight their strengths and how they can use them to improve their performance.
Like most managers, you’re probably familiar with the dirt sandwich form of giving feedback. That’s when you tuck the bad news in between a positive opening and closing to the conversation. And many times, employees miss the bad news and fail to improve the specific aspects of their performance that need work. As you prepare to offer honest helpful feedback, keep Eblin’s advice in mind: “The first is to define reality. The second is to offer hope.”
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