Counselling poor performers

Staff sometimes need a talking to, but their performance will not necessarily improve without a proper plan. Here are some guidelines.
I have had some upsetting and frustrating interactions with my telecommunications provider (guess who!) over their failures in service delivery and mistakes in billing. And what infuriated me the most was hearing “what part of what I have explained don’t you understand”. And when the woman that spoke to me finally realised that I was right – I got no apology.


The woman is a poor performer, and her manager needs to deal with her – after getting complaints from customers like me, or monitoring a call like that. So let’s look at how to counsel poor performers in general.


Supervisors and managers will often come across situations where they will have to counsel someone who is not performing as well as they should be. Counselling a poor performer can cause a lot of anxiety.


There is a distinction that must be made from the outset, between discipline and counselling. Discipline is where threats and punishments are made, which can ultimately lead to the staff member being fired. But counselling is not discipline.


As a manager or supervisor, counselling must be attempted before going down a disciplinary path.


Counselling is a two-way process, where the manager works with the staff member and tries to solve the problem of poor performance. The range of poor performance is as wide as there are jobs, but some typical examples are; absenteeism, lateness, accuracy, interpersonal behaviour, treatment of customers, and how well a person relates in a team – to name just a few.


The key to effective counselling is to focus on the person’s job behaviour or results, and not on their personality. Also, you need to know exactly what the problem is or what is undesirable – that is, you need to be specific.


A six-step model


The following is a model for conducting an effective and productive counselling session. It is most important that the steps are followed in sequence and all are covered.


1. Know your facts. This involves doing some homework before the session to become clear about what the problem is. What is it that the person is doing, or not doing and what are they expected to do?


2. The counselling session. Make sure you conduct the session in a place that is private and will be free of interruption.


Throughout the session, give lots of messages that you want to work with the person and that you are not blaming them, putting them down or wanting to punish or threaten them in any way. You want to work with them.


Give feedback… start with something positive about their work or behaviour and then begin talking about the problem.


Tips for giving feedback:


NEVER give feedback that includes the word “attitude”, or talk about the person’s personality. This leads to defensiveness as they will feel like they are being attacked.


Be specific, concrete, and give examples, such as:


“You have been recording notes on your calls quite well however a customer complained today that you told her ‘what part of what I have explained don’t you understand’ which is something we said in our training is perceived as very rude by most people. You also failed to apologise when the customer was in fact right.


“A lot of your paperwork is excellent, but there seems to be a bit of a problem with the way you deal with customers. I’ve noticed for example, that when customers have an unusual request, you seem to be unwilling to answer their questions, and even walk away. For example, last Tuesday…”.


These are concrete, specific, and you’re giving examples of the behaviour.


3. Gain agreement. Ask whether the person agrees that there is a problem. If they do agree, the tone of the discussion changes and you can both effectively work together to arrive at a solution. If the person disagrees, it may be that you need more evidence of the behaviour, or maybe they disagree with what is expected.


4. Find the cause or reason for the problem. Always allow for part of the problem to be the way in which you manage or supervise the staff member. You should put this up as a possibility when trying to find the reason behind the problem – for example, maybe you have not communicated your expectations effectively.


5. Find a solution, based on the step above. If the reason why the person is not dealing well with customers is due to a lack of training, the solution will be to implement some kind of training. If the reason is that paperwork is getting in the way, maybe procedures need to be looked at. Look at the reasons for the behaviour to find the best solution.


6. Make an action plan. This means, plan who is going to do what, by when, and then set a review date. For example, arrange a customer service course and then make a point of observing the staff member dealing with customers and give them feedback.


Set a review date to look at whether the problem has been solved. This may be a chance to give the staff member some positive feedback. However, if the problem has not been solved, you may need to go through the process again. The reality is that you may need to go through the process a few times before the problem is solved.


The best thing about this six-step process is that it separates out the problem, from the causes of the problem. This is important as it allows you to arrive at the best possible solution.


Next time I have a call centre complaint, I intend to begin my call with: “Before we start may I please have your name and ID and I need to advise I am recording this call for evidence of service”!


Play Click here to see the video Counselling Poor Performance




By Eve Ash, psychologist and Managing Director, Seven Dimensions, and co- producer with Peter Quarry of Ash.Quarry Productions best-selling DVD – Counselling Poor Performers (From the Take Away Training series)



Click here for more Eve Ash blogs



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