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Talking to Subordinates

As a manager from time to time you have to counsel subordinates about some area in which you’d like to see an improvement.

I’ve learned a wrong way to do this. “Sit down, Chris, I need to talk to you about how you interact with customers. You often interrupt them when they’re talking, and that’s rude. And you’re not following up with them to see if they’re happy with their product. You need to start being better. Thank you.” That kind of dressing down results in defensiveness, resentment, and low morale.

Amazon might not have the best managers (although the best boss I’ve ever had was on Amazon Prime Air), it does have the best management training of any company that I’ve had the privilege to work for. In one of those training classes, they taught me a technique I will never forget, and that has worked wonders for me.

When talking with the employee, ask them, “On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate yourself in,” and give the name of the area in which you would like to see their performance improve. The actual number they give is not important. And I’ve never heard of someone giving themselves a 10, but that’s also okay.

After the employee responds with a value of X, then ask, “What do you think you can do to raise that to (X+1)?” By phrasing it in that manner, you haven’t criticized their performance. You haven’t accused them of being lacking in an area. You also haven’t told them how much they need to improve. You’ve simply asked for improvement.

Furthermore, you’ve asked them for the solution – and since they are responding with ways they can improve, they feel ownership for the solution. If they don’t suggest the means or actions in which they can improve, you can always offer it as a suggestion.

Then a few weeks or months later, you can follow up with them and ask if they’ve gotten to X + 1. If not, you can brainstorm other ways to get there. If they have, then ask how they think they can get to X + 2.

This technique doesn’t work for every situation of course, but it’s great for getting people to buy into incremental improvement.

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