By Howard Shore, Executive and Business Coach
It is so easy to send mixed messages to an employee. The best way to discuss this is to share a real live example where a client hired me to coach a partner. Then my client unwittingly made several decisions that totally demotivated his employee.
In my initial meeting with the Managing Partner he indicated that he had a person leading one of his practices that used to produce double the revenue compared to today. He could not understand why, as she seemed to be working hard, had proven capable of producing, and he thought she could produce more. He assured me he was totally committed to helping her succeed, acknowledged some personal style issues he would like to see her change, but it was imperative she get back on track.
After meeting with the coaching candidate (“Sarah”) I concluded that she does have a lot of potential and desire, so I took the assignment. After 3 months, I found that I had a lot more than a partner to coach. In the first 30 days we made tremendous progress. As is usual with a willing, able and motivated person we see immediate results. The first thing we focus on is time management. We allocate specific time to business development, collections, billings and how to remove unproductive time. In the first month, billings for her and her staff were up, collections were amazing (it was year-end), and the pipeline for new business had started to form.
So just when I was thinking, “We are going to do great,” the “Firm” kicks in and begins to send the mixed messages. Strike one happened when they took away 1 of her staff of 2 without discussing it with her. When she tried to discuss this issue, the answer was that the firm needed to make cuts, and she was was overstaffed for what she was producing. The lesson here was not whether the personnel cut was wrong or right, but how the firm should have handled this decision relative to the partner’s sensibilities and what it did to motivation. Through her eyes, it made her look bad with her team because she did not know what was happening, showed a lack of confidence that her production would get to the needed levels, and did not make her feel like she was running her own practice. In the end, not including her in making the business decision knocked the motivation out of her.
Through my continued coaching, ”Sarah” realized there was no point to fighting futile battles, She moved away from the distraction management had thrown at her and worked on securing a quiet deal with another partner in the firm to have part-time access to the person she lost, should she need it. However, there was a lot of productivity lost while all of this was going on.
No sooner did we get done with this distraction when the Managing Partner made another move without talking to Sarah. He hired another partner to work in “her” practice. His thought process was that creating a little competition would “get her going.” The message from Sarah’s perspective was that the Managing Partner obviously had no confidence in her and that she was no longer running this practice. You can imagine the work it took for me to help her get motivated again, to get undistracted, and to get back to working at 100% again. It took 2 weeks before she calmed down, just in time for her to take her 10-day vacation.
At this point, 90 days had past since I was hired, and the Managing Partner was to review how we had done and whether we should continue coaching this person. His initial impression was that he was not sure that he was seeing enough results. By the way, despite all of this nonsense, we were still able to increase her billing run rate (with taking a 10-day vacation) by about 20%. The real question is what would the numbers have been without the distractions and real thoughtful commitment to this Partner’s motivation?
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