Hi, I'm at my wit's end regarding improving the performance of a marginal performer of a direct report of mine.

I have a direct report who seems competent, but has caused myself (and my boss) our share of problems as far as small mistakes and dropped balls. When I give negative feedback on such incidents, I can count on getting a litany of justifications and arguments why the issue happened, along with grievances with co-workers and the environment thrown in for good measure. It has gotten to the point where if I have to give him negative feedback, I think to myself "am I ready for another argument?" And the main problem is that if he's arguing, then he's not listening, and has taught himself to ignore such negative feedback - or he's been able to deflect away blame by generating a "cloud of dust" in the past.

The problem, of course, is how to improve his performance. The "right" answer is systemic feedback, but when tried in the past, it just generates the same stream of defensive behavior. I'm being held responsible for his failure to improve by my superior, and the situation is getting serious. Has anyone else had a direct with this pattern of behavior? If so, how did you disarm it?

Smacquarrie's picture

Provide feedback. When the excuses start, stop them cold. Explain that this is not about anyone other than them. What is it about their process that led to the miss?
I have DR's that will try to blame everyone and everything other than themselves. If they failed to perform, for what ever reason, you are asking what they will do differently next time to ensure that the deliverable is met.
Ex. - If a report was missing information because Sally didn't get it to Rachel in time, what is Rachel doing differently to get the information in a more timely fashion?

Does this help?

gehrhorn's picture
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The Feedback Continuum and The Part After Feedback Systemic feedback is for consistent failure to act on feedback. This sounds like a rejection of any negative feedback, which is different. 

e.g., "Can I give you some feedback? When you do X, here's what happens..." is a different message than, "Can I give you some feedback, when you say 'Yes' when I ask you 'Can I give you some feedback?' and then do X it makes me think you don't understand the purpose of feedback. Or maybe that you aren't really ready to hear it and should say 'can we do it later' instead of 'Yes'. Could you do that differently?"

williamelledgepe's picture
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Based on your description I would recommend listening to the podcast "Feedback and Shot Across the Bow."  It is from Oct 2007.  This is in addition to the two casts listed in the previous comment which will also help - but I believe you may need to back up a tad and repeat a couple earlier steps from "Feedback and Shot Across the Bow."  There are two pieces I think would be particularly helpful given your description of the situation.

First, since you are "at wits end" - a feeling I know too well - you have been emotionally "sucked in."  Evaluate if you are envisioning a future of improved behavior or if you are trying to enforce the learning of a lesson.  In your brain - relax, know it can change, picture it changing, and move on.  Move on.  

Second, if you are having an argument you are getting sucked in when you should not.  The cast have 4 sub-bullets: 1) don't argue, 2) smile, 3) diffuse, and 4) step away.  

Step 3 is particularly anti-intuititve, but it works.  It won't make you feel better, but it is not about your feelings.  It is pretty hard for the direct to lie to themselves.  When you end the feedback before an argument they are left with an odd encounter that makes them question what happened.  Especially if you have been sucked in before.  If they "get to argue" with their boss (an argument they "win" of course), they leave the encounter with a flurry of statements they will repeat in their mind and an amazing story to tell at home or around the water cooler.  

I believe step 1 for you is "stay frosty."  After that, listen to all three casts mentioned inthe chain of comments.  

Kevin1's picture

shot across the bow will be very useful to you here. Another cast that could help is 'there is no why in feedback'. As previously mentioned, don't get sucked into the argument about why they did what they did. Focus only on the result and ask them how they will achieve the looked for result.

Give them feedback on not listening to feedback.

If you are on the hook, then make sure you are documenting your negative feedback and their responses.

Stay frosty. Keep a positive future frame of reference. Can you chuckle when you give them feedback?

Hope that helps


billjw's picture
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I have a very similar situation. It's everybody else's fault but the DRs - it's becoming comical. :) 

Keep in mind the purpose of feedback is to change behaviour but a summary reading of your issue is that isn't happening.

So have you got to the point where you need to put this in writing, thus formalising it.

In the situation I am dealing with (I have two, funnily enough) we decided to formalise it. Putting it in writing and letting them read it has an impact. It states what they need to achieve and what we will do to assist but the goals are really clear and non-negotiable.

I agree with Kevin - Stay frosty. But I wouldn't be chuckling anymore.