When you’ve finally made the decision to hire a business development professional, you envision a jump in prospective customers, an increase in sales, and a significant bump in profits. As the owner, you’ve been making it happen for quite a while and are now ready to turn it over to someone so that you can focus on new markets, new products or new services.

But that’s not what happens. In fact nothing happens, other than the fact that that you are now paying for someone who you had hoped would justify their salary quickly. So you wait. When things don’t improve, you restate the goals. You ask how they are spending their time. You may even do some of their job because it’s easier and faster to do it yourself rather than create a structure, train and goal set, and then provide performance management, feedback, and coaching.

It’s annoying. You finally realize that you don’t have the patience or time to provide the support they need to produce results. And what is more frustrating than being a manager who has to call in help to deal with someone in business development who is failing? Being a consultant who learns that a manager has waited too long to get support for dealing with that failing employee.

It’s understandable. Most of us defer difficult conversations. We hope things will get better on their own (they won’t). We don’t like conflict or friction (who does?). We don’t have time to think about the best way to have the conversation (but developing talent is really the heart of a manager’s job).

While the discomfort may not be able to be completely extracted from this conversation, here are some ideas about how to step in firmly to this critical situation:

Don’t kick the can down the road: Procrastination is not helpful. There is a good chance the employee already has some idea that they are not being successful.  Dealing with problems when they are small is not only easier than when they are larger, but the manager isn’t as frustrated with the employees’ performance (which can come off as angry rather than supportive).

Look in the mirror: Have you done everything you can to make sure your employee can be successful? Have you provided the training, information, coaching, tools, and feedback? If not, some of their lack of success may lie with you.

Don’t bury the lead: People often try to obscure hard conversations by starting with casual chatter (the weather, the recent football game, a family member’s accomplishment). Be respectful and get to the point. Acknowledge that it’s a serious conversation about performance.

Be specific: Give examples of where the employee fell short, what they did or didn’t do, how that impacted the result, and ultimately what you expected. If there are templates or samples of what you were hoping to see, provide them. Can you state clearly who your target demographic is? If not, the employee may be spinning their wheels running don’t leads nad prospects that are not a good fit for your firm.

Focus on results: The goal is not to blame the employee but to discover how they ended up with sub-standard results. Ask open-ended questions that illuminate their thought process (Can you walk me through your thinking on this?) Be upbeat about your desire to see them succeed and ask if there is a role you can play in insuring that.

Stop talking and listen: Giving direction to employees who are not providing you with outcomes you expected may not be about misunderstanding the goal but problems with the process they are using to attain the goal. Give them a chance to talk and tell you how they approached the work. They may be able to provide clues as to why the output didn’t match your expectations. Are they clear about the unique aspects of your industry and the business?

Post-Mortem Sessions: Is there a clear understanding of what when wrong? Understanding why a proposal was rejected is the first and best step to improving the outcome next time. Help the employee have a conversation about what a prospect wanted to see and didn’t – to get feedback.

Write it down: Be clear about what you want to talk about and what you want the employee to walk away with. It’s easy to misremember what is said and you want to insure there is no misunderstanding about expectations and next steps.  Do you use a CRM? There should be a vehicle to organize, track, follow up and follow through with the sales cycle. Use it together.

Smile and follow through: If you ask a failing employee to come to you for help, don’t be annoyed when they do exactly that. You want to stay in the loop MORE not less, until they have the skill and the confidence to be successful. In fact, modeling follow up is critical for an employee; it helps them see how critical a continuation of important conversations are. Building a relationship is as important as the transaction.  

Every manager has been in a situation where an employee is not producing the results they had hoped to see. This is a part of the job that is not as much fun as applauding great results. It requires thought, planning, and practice.

Rather than think about these conversations as an uncomfortable part of the job, try thinking of them instead as a great way to improve your relationship, further both your professional life and that of your employee’s and advance the happiness of everyone. Focusing on getting better at these kinds of conversations rather than avoiding makes it better for everyone. Have them sooner.

by Joni Daniels, Principal & Founder, Daniels & Associates