February 2019

The Invisible Right Arm

I get a lot of emails every day, and I suspect those who read my letter each month also receive a lot of email. And I also believe many of my readers do as I do; which is to scan them, identify the ones you feel you can devote time to, and also rely on your assistant to tell you which ones you need to read. The rest you delete.

It is the inevitable consequence of our internet driven world. Your assistant is your right arm and gives you an additional level of assurance that 1) you are not going to miss something important, and 2) allows you to save the time spent trying to figure out what so many messages might contain.

Each month as I climb to my dusty garret, light my lamp, grab my pen and ink well, and begin my monthly message, my goal is to discover that magic title that will cause you to pause long enough to, perhaps, open this month’s letter.

It’s all in the title; so I have been told, and so I have read. If the title does not catch your attention, my message is lost, and your world is poorer for it. (Well, what can I say, my nuggets of wisdom have great value).

Finding the right title for the article is like a professional baseball player searching for a way to hit a slider with greater consistency. It’s damn difficult to hit a ball going more than 85 miles an hour three times out of ten; especially if the ball doesn’t travel a straight line. A ballplayer who consistently hits the baseball three times out of ten can pretty much write his ticket.

Unless you follow baseball, you don’t realize that hitting more than three out of ten consistently put a player in very rare company; the kind of company that finds its way into the history books.

Finding the right title is like that elusive slider. A lot of times it’s right there at the edge of my mind, on the tip of my tongue, and when I think I’ve found it, I take the swing. And like the ballplayer, I find that I have missed.

Like the ballplayer my goal is to reach 30 percent. I emphasize it’s my goal because I have yet to achieve it. My readers open my letters on average 22 to 27 percent of the time, and while that is more than the 17% national average, I want to “play” in the majors, and that means getting more of my readers to open the darn letter and read it. Three times last year I hit an open rate greater than 28%, and I said Wow, I am getting close. Alas, alas before I could do a victory lap, it was back within my average.

This year I am determined to do better, and that is where your assistant comes in. Each time my letter pops up on your screen, and you are one of the 22 to 27 percent, make sure your assistant gets a copy, and ask him/her to read it as well. That way, if there is a month when you can’t read it, your assistant can do the honors and let you know if this month has something you need to know. He/she might want to read it as well, and that helps spread the message.

Another way to help me get to 30 percent and beyond is to forward it to your peers and invite them to write a comment or two. I do get comments and am greatly appreciative when I get them because it helps me to provide better content.

And now it’s time for this month’s nugget.

I was recently approached to give a talk on “Having the Difficult Conversation,” and I am still working out the details so more on that later. When asked, my immediate thought was on what topic? If you’ve been to my company website, you know that handling difficult conversations is what we do.

After that initial reaction, I realized I was being asked to talk about the difficult conversation; the one where someone has to pack up his desk and hit the road. If you’ve been a manager for any length of time, chances are, you’ve had to face this situation. If you have encountered this situation, and you haven’t figured it out yet, allow me to clue you in. You the manager, the supervisor, got there because you boxed yourself into the corner.

What makes these conversations so challenging, is that managers and supervisors do everything in their power not to have the conversations. They avoid and avoid until along comes that piece of straw; you know the one; “that’s it! That’s the last straw….fire his…..!

Only you can’t. Why, because you’ve been trying to solve the performance problem rather than documenting it. The employee owns the performance problem or the behavioral problem, and managers and supervisors who look for ways to help the employee through the difficulty fundamentally misunderstand their role. They fail to realize it’s not their job to save the employee from himself or herself.

If it’s an employee-needs-assistance issue, those are mostly straight forward, and HR is brought in to help address those issues. Beyond that, the manager or supervisor’s job is to lead/direct those reporting to him/her in getting the job done by making sure everyone does what they are supposed to when they are supposed to with all that goes with it.

When someone falls short, for whatever reason, the manager/supervisor needs to document it, and discuss it with the person who is not measuring up. This is the point where the difficult conversation begins – not when the last straw lands. You discuss the issue when the first failure occurs, and you document it.

Almost all managers/supervisors recognize communication things is a challenge under the best of circumstances, and sometimes, when something goes wrong, it is a lack of understanding, a lack of clarity, or a failure by the supervisor to take enough time to make sure the employee has mastered the task. But there are those times it isn’t any of these, and the reason for the failure needs to be documented.

One last point. One of the hardest things a manager or supervisor must do is accept he/she hired the wrong person. Hiring someone new is always something of a gamble, and much is written about new employees needing time to learn how to do the job they are hired to do. But it does not take that long to determine if an employee is not meeting standards. Once you recognize this, what you do at that point determines how difficult that final conversation becomes.

Be Sociable, Share!