Miriam, the manager of a small sales team, attended a training meeting about the development of the organization’s employees using a new program. The instructor taught the managers how to help each professional identify strengths and set goals to improve. Miriam became excited about how her team could increase their performance if she worked with each member on furthering their skills.
However, as Miriam held one-on-one meetings with her team members and explained the concept, she met with very different reactions.
The first employee, Randy, came into Miriam’s office. She considered her words as he sat down and slouched in his chair, his arms folded and his chin down so he was looking at his manager with a bit of a challenge. Randy had some bad habits that made his coworkers uncomfortable, so Miriam thought his goals could relate to his behaviors while in the office. She explained the professional development program that the organization was adopting. “I have some training in mind for you that would help you increase your professionalism,” she said. “What do you think?”
“I don’t think I need it,” Randy said with a twist of his lips. “I’m plenty professional. I have great rapport with the clients I’m working with, and I get referrals all the time. What else do we need? We’re a sales team. Nah, I’m good.” His left leg started bouncing rapidly as if he were thinking of getting up and leaving right then.
“Well … there are some things about your interactions with the other members of the team that cause them to be uneasy. For example, your choice of language and the stories and jokes you tell sometimes.”
“That’s just me being authentic—you know, it’s who I am. They’re just being overly sensitive. Our clients love it. You want me to be someone else? No, thanks. I’d rather keep being myself.”
Miriam didn’t make any progress with Randy over the next few minutes and ended the meeting.
Next, she met with Nora, who seemed to be struggling to fulfill her primary job function adequately. Miriam was getting to the point of needing to address it when this new program was announced. When Miriam explained the need for the program, Nora replied, “It’s about time. Randy and Kevin really need a program like this—have for a long time.” She leaned forward and lowered her voice slightly. “Between you and me, I’m the most competent member of the team.”
Sitting back, she added, “Thanks for telling me about this program. I’ll be sure to give Randy and Kevin some encouragement. They’ll need it. What else do you want to talk about?”
Miriam tried to convey the need for Nora to participate in the program using pretty direct language, but Nora kept comparing herself to her team members, with herself always on the positive end of the comparisons.
Last, in came Kevin. Miriam had had a more difficult time deciding how to frame the conversation because Kevin was in pretty much every way a model employee. Once again, Miriam reviewed the new program, and before she could offer any suggestions for things Kevin could work on, he jumped in. “Whew,” he said. “This is so great. I have so many things to get better at that I don’t even know where to start. So many things to be learning.”
“Well, I have a couple of suggestions for some pretty small things,” Miriam said.
After she had given her ideas, Kevin, shook his head. “I have way bigger fish to fry than that.” Miriam tried to express how good of an employee he was, but Kevin interrupted her. “That’s nice of you, but you don’t need to try to minimize the need for my improvement. We both know I have a lot to work on. I’ll put some goals together and send them to you. Thank you for this.” With that, he stood and left Miriam’s office.
Miriam sat still for several moments, contemplating the conversations she had just had. Puzzled, she sat back in her chair and scratched her head.
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