Making a Connection Instead of Solving the Problem

March 6, 2016
Mary Jo Asmus

When an employee performance issue arises, think of it as a situation requiring a connection instead of a problem that needs solving.

Scott was a Director who managed an engineering organization in a large manufacturing company. He’d grown up there, and was at mid-career when we had a conversation about someone in his organization who wasn’t preforming as he felt they should.

As we talked, Scott became engaged in finding solutions to “solve the problem.” I asked if he had spoken to the individual about the performance issues.

Scott replied, “He’s pretty new to management and our business unit. I’d say he’s been here about four months, and we’ve been so busy that I haven’t had a chance yet to sit down with him at length to give him my ideas on how he can solve the problems in the way he manages his organization.”

I wondered out loud if Scott had talked to him at all about what he expected from him in the role. Scott shook his head that he hadn’t.

This situation happens all too often in fast paced companies where the workload is overwhelming and the expectations are high. People get left behind, trying to guess what is expected of them and faltering during the first months in a new position. When issues become noticed by others (often higher up in the organization), the person in charge of the underperforming employee steps in to “solve the problem.”

But people aren’t a problem to be solved; they require connection.

Scott’s connection should have been made earlier; the problems that are cropping up may be due to his inattention rather than the fault of the new manager. Scott’s desire to “solve the problem” with this manager could only make things worse. Scott now had an opportunity to connect with this person and:

Ask what they need in order to do their best work. Getting an early read on where the individual needs help and coaching them through tricky spots is a great way to build the connection that leads to good relationships.

Listen carefully and thoroughly before jumping to conclusions or solving their problems for them. If you maintain the connection on a regular basis and allow your team to sound off before you jump into your solutions, they may figure out ways to go get through rough patches simply with the power of your listening presence.

Guide them with a light touch while being vigilant enough to notice when they need your help. And remember your help often comes in the form of listening and asking questions that will help them to think through their issues and solutions on their own.

Assess them when it’s appropriate. Too often, we can jump to negative conclusions about someone’s abilities before we’ve had enough time (and made the effort) to see what they’re really capable of. That snap judgment can lead to human potential that is lost.

Make sure employees know your expectations, and then ask, listen and guide them. When you can make this shift in how you view the situation – as a connection to be made – they just might be able to shift their performance for the better.

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Mary Jo Asmus is an executive/leadership coach whose work spans decades of making a difference in the lives of hundreds of executives, leaders and teams in Fortune 500, mid- and small- sized business, governments and nonprofits. She focuses on facilitating individuals and teams from first-line supervisor to the C-suite to create, develop, and influence the relationships that can make them extraordinary.

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