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MENTOR - IF I WERE YOU

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Oliver wanted more from Sheila's performance. Jenny Rogers looks at where he went wrong...
Oliver wanted more from Sheila's performance. Jenny Rogers looks at where he went wrong

Oliver, like many of my executive coaching clients, is a successful performer. Recently promoted to head of environment services, his self-declared task is to galvanise his pleasant but sleepy department.

Oliver inherited Sheila from his predecessor. She is just three months into her job. A pattern is emerging of frequent absences, explained as 'flu' or 'food poisoning'. Three of Sheila's colleagues have independently reported she often smells of alcohol in the mornings. She has a major project to run but little activity is visible.

What is at stake for Oliver? A high-profile project is heading for failure. Less obviously, Sheila's poor performance will be the subject of speculation among her colleagues. All will be watching Oliver. If he does nothing, then he will be implying mediocre performance is tolerable. If he over-responds, then he could be heading for an employment tribunal.

We looked hard at Oliver's own responsibility for letting the situation develop. He admitted to having been 'a bit fuzzy about what I expected from her'. I also asked him whether he had been as candid with Sheila about her performance as he had been in the conversation with me. The answer was: 'No - I keep hoping that somehow she will improve.' First we worked on how he could make his expectations unequivocally clear. Then at how to give proper, carefully crafted feedback based on description and fact, not anger and disappointment.

Sheila has now left the organisation. She denied any problems with health or alcohol and her departure was framed around those performance issues that could be monitored. Oliver's learning? Take infinite care with the appointments process and investigate thoroughly any doubts. Invest time and energy on mutual expectations with a new team member; give proper, skilled feedback sooner rather than later.

Jenny Rogers, management coach and director of Management Futures

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