05. Working One-One with People to Bring Them Up the Performance Curve (Conducting Feed-Forward Conversations)

ANKIT: Hello

REEMA: Hi Ankit reema here.

ANKIT: Hi reema

REEMA: Can you come over to Opal in 10 min.

ANKIT: Yes I’l be there.

REEMA: Thanks okay.

ANKIT: May I come in.

REEMA: “Come in.”

Ankit walks in slowly, looking quite serious, and closes the door behind him. Ankit does not say anything.
Reema stands to greet Ankit, makes eye contact with a welcoming smile, hand outstretched for a handshake.

REEMA: “Hi Ankit. How are you today? ”

Ankit returns the handshake. He does not return the smile and does not make eye contact

ANKIT: “I’m good, thanks.”

Both Ankit and Reema sit as Reema continues engaging Ankit with small talk

REEMA(Smiling and cordial as ever): “Glad to hear it. The rains are crazy, aren’t they? Did you have trouble getting to office these past few days?”

Ankit makes very brief eye contact and then looks down again

ANKIT: “No. No trouble. All good.”

REEMA(Smiling): “You’re lucky then. I wish I could say the same. It’s a battle of sorts trying to get to the office and back these days for me.”

Ankit nods slightly but maintains the sombre look. Reema nods understandingly, looks back at her sheets, straightens up a bit and looks at Ankit.

REEMA: “Anyway Ankit, I gather you’ve had a chance to look through the emails that I sent you on the EP against you. It’s what I want to discuss with you today. Are you okay to have this conversation with me now?”

Ankit takes a deep breath and sighs, folds his arms across his chest and looks at Reema.

ANKIT: “Yes.”

REEMA: “Good. Now Ankit, at the outset let’s get one thing straight. I haven’t asked to meet with you today to pick on you or yell at you. Rather, I have asked to meet with you to seek and explore solutions with you to help you do better.”

Ankit looks at Reema and offers a single nod. Reema maintains eye contact.

REEMA: “But I need your help with this, Ankit. For me to be able to help out in any way, I need you, to be frank and open with me on the issue at hand. Do you think you can do that?”

Ankit nods. Engages with eye contact and leans forward a bit.
ANKIT: “Okay.”

REEMA (Smiles): “Excellent! Let’s proceed then.”

Reema goes back to her documentation, and hands over a copy to Ankit.

EVIDENCE:

REEMA: “Now Ankit, let’s talk about what happened. This is the second breach against your name in this half year, isn’t it?”

ANKIT: “Yes, it is. This latest breach is also an erroneous payment like the last one.”

REEMA: “I looked at those details too. What do you currently know about the latest EP against your name?”

ANKIT: “I was supposed to process a payment of £958.50 to one Mr Chapman on the 5th of July. Instead, the amount I processed was £9585.0. We have made efforts to rectify the situation, but I understand we’re having problems retrieving the money from the customer. I’m aware that it is a reportable breach, and I understand this affects my performance rating as well, especially since this the second instance in 6 months for me. My Process Leader even spoke about a PIP being considered for me.”

REEMA: “Yes, that’s the gist of it. I’m glad that you’re aware of the details of the issue at hand.”

EXPLORATION:

REEMA: “Now let’s see if we can identify the reasons for this error. And remember, I’m only trying to help. So, could you shed some light on the incident for me? What happened really?

ANKIT: “Reema, there’s so much of pressure on us these days. I’m completely overwhelmed most of the time. The backlog of cases is killing us. Everyone hounds us on productivity all the time. I have to come in for extra time on my weekends too. It’s very stressful and tiring. Moreover, I have only just acquired these licences. And I seem to get all the toughest cases. How can I be expected to acquire complete mastery with new work types in the short time that I have worked them? Mistakes are bound to happen. And it was an honest mistake. I mean a decimal place misplaced…that could happen to anyone. I feel this should be given to me as feedback, not noted as an EP against my record. It’s too harsh that I get penalised in my appraisal for this.”

REEMA: “I hear what you’re saying, Ankit. Yes, it is an extremely busy time for people at work these days. And sure, everyone makes mistakes once in a while.
However, we work in an environment that is very highly regulated, and where mistakes can have massive financial repercussions, and hurt the company and all our employees too. It’s not going to change in a hurry, and you’ll agree, it’s bad for business if we keep making mistakes with customer finances, regulatory implications aside. And I will address the point on why we record these instances the way we do a little later.
So yeah, while everyone is prone to the odd mistake, for us, working in an environment like ours demands evolved knowledge, work practices and skills. What knowledge, skills or practices do you think might have helped you prevent such errors? If we could identify these, it would be a start.”

ANKIT (Getting a little defensive. It’s the second time he’s in this spot this year, and he’s clearly uncomfortable. Shifts in his chair nervously.): “see I wouldn’t say its a skill or a knowledge issue. I mean, I do a good job with the hundreds of other cases which aren’t EPs, don’t I? It’s just that complex cases and time pressure together is a bad combination. and odd error is bound to slip through. And problem gets compounded when process leaders don’t have the time to answer queries because they’re tied up too.”

REEMA: “Um-hmm… You’re saying you feel this instance has nothing to do with skill or knowledge, and that you feel that the erroneous payment in question was simply an unfortunate occurrence.

ANKIT: “Yes.”

EMPATHISE

REEMA: “I can appreciate your point of view, Ankit. Yes, the bulk of your work is error-free. And that is good. I know it’s been hard for you having just acquired new licenses. I’m only too aware that we’re all under pressure to maintain productivity of late. And I hear what you say about getting complex cases.”

ANKIT (Nods in agreement)

REEMA: “There are elements here that cannot be controlled or influenced, such as call volumes and our contractual obligations on meeting productivity SLAs. But I believe there are other elements in play too, that we can control and influence to our advantage. Now, I have heard and acknowledged your point of view. Would it be fair to explore my point of view too?”

ANKIT: “Okay, sure.”

REEMA: “Lovely. Now, we established earlier that this was the second EP this half year. Do you recall that case?”

ANKIT (Winces. It’s an unpleasant memory): “Yes. I was given such intensive and repetitive feedback on it, I don’t think I’ll forget anytime soon.”

REEMA (smiles): “Good. Just out of curiosity, do you see any correlation between that EP case and this one?”

ANKIT (Thinks hard for a bit): “Yes, I guess. They are both complex cases.”

REEMA: “Complex? How?”

ANKIT: “Well, there are multiple enquiries on both cases. And they were new license work types.”

REEMA: “Interesting. Now Ankit, quick question for you. Generally speaking, what kind of cases do you find hardest to work with?”

ANKIT (Thinks for a bit. Leans forward again. He sees that Reema was serious about not picking on him): “Let’s see. The cases about my new licenses are obviously a bit of a stress factor. I dislike dealing with angry customer cases too.”

REEMA: “What about multiple enquiry cases? Are you comfortable with those?”

ANKIT(Shakes his head from side to side): “It’s not the easiest thing to deal with.”

REEMA (Referring to documents before her): “Hmm. You probably see where I’m going with this. And I’ll come back to this in a moment. What about your Product Knowledge Test, your PKT scores? The data here implies it’s been a bit of a struggle for you.”

ANKIT: “Yes. But where’s the time to prepare for PKTs properly? Even our breaks get sacrificed sometimes. And I’m not the only one doing badly.”

REEMA: “I understand, Ankit. Remember, I’m just looking for elements that we can control or influence to prevent EPs from recurring. I’m not trying to lay blame or single you out, I promise.”

ANKIT (nods): “Okay. Sorry.”

REEMA: “Let me bring it all together for you, Ankit.”

EFFECT

REEMA: “You see, the PKT scores are indicative of your product knowledge, of course. And the data here suggests a trend. As you may have guessed, this trend implies that you struggle with new license related cases as you mentioned yourself. And even though we have been through multiple coaching sessions with your process leaders, if you recall, the process leaders who work with you mention that you don’t apply information that you acquire through coaching, cascades and training. Instead, I notice that you insist on consulting them for every new license related case you come across, even if you’ve dealt with those types of cases several times before.”

ANKIT(Looking a little confused): “I’m not sure I follow.”

REEMA: “I’ll explain. I feel that because you aren’t fluent with your product basics, you’re not really confident with new-license related cases. The licenses you acquired were 8 months ago. To my mind, this is why you’re still on the learning curve. And as a result, this is why you seek out your PLs for every single query. And the problem gets significantly compounded when multiple enquiries come into the picture. This constant search for PLs and second-guessing yourself at every step of the case eat into your productivity, which then puts further stress on your time resulting in you having to put in extra time over the weekends. To avoid doing extra time, you then tend to rush through your cases, and this results in errors.”

ANKIT (realization strikes. Eyebrows raised in surprise. From this point on, Ankit starts becoming more agreeable gradually): “Oh. No one’s ever pointed it out like that to me before.”

REEMA: “Am I making sense to you though?”

ANKIT (a little embarrassed): “Yes”

REEMA: “Also Ankit, do you see how EPs affect our business?”

ANKIT: “Yes, we could get embroiled in legal cases, leading to revenue loss.”

REEMA: “In extreme cases, yes. But even with the less severe EPs, a considerable amount of money is spent rectifying the situation. Sometimes it takes the form of compensation, and at other times it results in the loss of a customer. But it always results in our brand taking the hit. Customers hate dealing with hassles like these, especially if it wasn’t their fault, to begin with. It is why we have to be honest with ourselves here and call a spade a spade. If the customer is hassled because of our follies and is materially inconvenienced, it cannot be treated as ‘feedback’. It must be logged as an EP, for everyone, without exception, every time. Plus it is a regulatory requirement. Otherwise, how can we as a brand be absolutely transparent and objective about this? That’s fair, isn’t it?

ANKIT (nods in agreement): “Yes. I understand.”

COUNSEL

REEMA: “Good. If this is clear to you, do you now have any ideas on how to improve your performance and reduce errors?”

ANKIT: “I guess I’ll have to focus a lot more on brushing up product knowledge on work types associated with my new acquired licenses.”

REEMA: “Fair enough. What will you do differently to prepare for PKTs?”

ANKIT (thinks for a few seconds): “I could look at setting aside ten minutes before the shift to review product basics with my PLs if they’ll help me.”

REEMA (makes notes): “Good. Look, I’ll make a note that you agreed on that. How will you know you’re making progress?”

ANKIT (hands clasped together. He wants to convince Reema): “My PKT scores should show a clear upwards trend. I’ll aim to clear every single test from now on.”

REEMA: “We should also be able to see a gradual reduction in your dependency on PLs for new-license related cases, wouldn’t you agree?”

ANKIT (nods): “Yes, that sounds logical.”

REEMA: “And that should manifest itself in terms of gradual improvement in your productivity scores too. How much of an improvement would you say is fair to expect?”

ANKIT:“About 5% to begin with.”

REEMA: “Duly noted. By when could we expect to see some results here?”

ANKIT: “Could we review my PKT scores in my monthly review?”

REEMA
“Yes, we sure can! All noted. Any other ideas on improving your performance?”

ANKIT (thinks for a bit): “No. Can’t think of anything else.”

REEMA: “Fine. Here are my recommendations for you. While I think focusing on your product knowledge will help immensely, we also need to look at some quick wins to stem the errors immediately. You mentioned having difficulty with multiple enquiry cases. How do you feel about using a cheat/sheet or a checklist for these cases?

ANKIT (nods): “Yes. Makes sense.”

REEMA: “You’re still finding your feet with your new licenses. You’ll have better ideas in time, I’m sure. But for now, I can vouch for the effectiveness of checklists, even though they might seem cumbersome to begin with. I used to use them all the time in my role as an SME and when I was with the complaints team. I’ll note down that we’ve agreed to use checklists. I’ll get one of our PLs, Deepak, to work with you on this the day after tomorrow. It’ll be hard with all the work pressure, but there’s a chance it helps, I’ll make it happen. Would you consider staying back for a bit after work?”

ANKIT (Smiles): “Yes, sure. Thank you.”

REEMA: “And I’ll get Shankar, our PL to sit with you and speak with you about tackling multiple enquiry cases. He’s worked out a very efficient way of handling these cases. Lots of other team members have benefitted from his experience. I’ll arrange a meeting between the two of you this week. I need you to make a lot of notes for yourself when you meet him. Come back and report your findings and action points to me after your meeting with him. Say Monday, next week? And I’ll request him or Deepak to support you for ten-fifteen minutes every morning as you asked for

ANKIT (nods): “Okay.”

REEMA (Closes the file and puts documents to the side): “Good. I’ll send you a meeting request for Monday. I’ll speak to Shankar right now to let him know to get in touch with you.”

ANKIT (straightens up and smiles. The conversation went well, and he senses they’re near the end of it): “Okay. Thanks, Reema”

CONSEQUENCES

REEMA: “That’s okay Ankit. Just one more thing. Now while our conversations will always be positive and forward looking, I’d like for you to remember how poor performance impacts us all. And I feel you need to understand beyond all doubt what will happen if poor performance continues.”

ANKIT (nods understandingly. Neutral look, no smile): “I know, Reema. I mean…I know that the organisation and leadership team believe in investing in people’s development. However, after multiple efforts, if there is still no improvement, then but naturally, the organisation will not hesitate to performance manage the individual out of the system. And I know that the next step for me if I fail to show any improvement is a PIP.”

REEMA (Smiles): “That is correct, But we’ll work together to ensure it never comes to that, won’t we?

ANKIT (Returns the smile): “Absolutely.”

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