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You Can't Change a Poor Performer's Personality. Stop Trying.

When Travis hired Maggie to be his Director of Customer Success, he couldn’t be more thrilled. She was warm and funny, and that came through in her interactions with customers. She had good references from her previous job as a manager and was ready to step up the director level. Customer Success was a new department at the company, and Maggie was charged with writing new policies and procedures, hiring a team of ten and liaising with the product team, advising them on feature improvements suggested by customers.

Six months into the role, Maggie had hired only seven team members, who operated under a constant state of confusion and chaos due to a lack of policies and procedures, and the product team hadn’t heard from her in months. Where she excelled was on the phone with a disgruntled customer. All that warmth and wit saved many accounts from leaving the company. Unfortunately, she hadn’t been able to translate that skill and knowledge to her employees. As a result, they struggled. Many were talking about leaving.

Travis interpreted her poor performance as a “lack of urgency”. In a coaching session, he asked, “How can I get Maggie to care more about the policies and procedures and training her team? How can I increase her sense of urgency so she can succeed in the role?”

My answer was, “You probably can’t”.

The problem wasn’t urgency. Maggie felt great urgency on the phone while saving a customer from churning out. In fact, she loved it! She loved the long chats; she loved getting into a client’s head and solving their problems. Her approach to saving customers was organic, in the moment and instinctive. As far as she was concerned, there was no “method”. It was different every time. She had neither the interest nor the ability to codify it into a policy book that could be used to train others.

Maggie wasn’t a bad employee. She was just a bad fit.

Tracy thought she hit the jackpot when she hired Simon as her new Head of Business Development. He had been in the industry for two decades, had a huge network, and as a former client-side marketing executive, he had a deep understanding of what the company’s customers needed.

About three months in though, Tracy noticed a pattern. While Simon was quite good at developing key messaging and sales funnels, he wasn’t great at setting up sales calls. And when he did get in front of a client, he didn’t seem to know what to do.

Tracy learned the hard way that twenty years of marketing experience doesn’t equate to twenty years of sales expertise. So, she Simon away for a two-week intensive sales training course. Her intent was to educate and energize him, but instead, he returned to the office looking drained.

Undaunted, Tracy began accompanying Simon on his sales calls. She figured that watching her would help him gain confidence, but instead, it he sunk further into his shell, allowing her to take over.

In a coaching session, Tracy asked, “How can I get Simon to be more confident and assertive with clients?”

My answer was, “You probably can’t”.

Simon had been solid in his last job as a Marketing Director but had been laid-off when his company was acquired by a competitor. Now in his early fifties, having only ever worked for one company, he found it difficult to find a new marketing position. So, he thought he’d try sales. The problem was, as an introvert, Simon quickly discovered that he not only disliked sales, but found the whole process emotionally torturous.

Simon wasn’t a bad employee. He was just a bad fit.

Business consultant and author Marcus Buckingham once said, “In the minds of great managers, consistent poor performance is not primarily a matter of weakness, stupidity, disobedience, or disrespect. It’s a matter of miscasting”.

Both Maggie and Simon were miscast.

It happens. (In my experience, it happens a lot)

Now what?

How to support a miscast employee

1. Accept your part in the miscasting.

Did you ask the right questions during the interview? Did you ignore a gut feeling? Did you fully understand the job requirements? Were you impatient and hired the first person who was good enough?

2. Set your frustration aside.

Yes, they didn’t perform as expected. Yes, it’s costing you time and money you don’t have. But don’t forget, you had a part to play here too. They’re not a bad person. They’re just a bad fit.

3. Co-create a solution with them.

It didn’t work out, but this conversation isn’t about hard feelings. It’s about finding a solution. Can you shift them into a role where they will be a better fit, even if it means a reduction in pay or position? Can you provide them with counseling, outplacement, or additional training to help them succeed in their next job? Can you offer to provide a reference pertaining to the things they did do well on the job?

Give them options. Help them feel empowered.

4. Recast.

This time with the benefit of a little more wisdom.

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