One Conversation Isn't Enough to Alter Behavior

A client asks, "Recently I had a discussion with one of my salespeople about a habit of theirs that was impacting productivity and making others in the office uncomfortable. After our talk, which went very well, there was a noticeable improvement in their behavior. In the past several weeks, much to my surprise, they are back to their old ways. I was very prepared for this discussion. Why did this happen? What did I do wrong? What can I do about it?"

When they notice a problem with a salesperson, many managers spend considerable time thinking about the situation, documenting offenses, discussing the issue with others, receiving counsel from Human Resources, and maybe even doing a little role playing before speaking with the offending employee. They are often pleasantly surprised at how well the discussion goes, and based on this result alone feel the matter is closed. After some time has passed, they are discouraged to discover that the matter is right back on their to do list.

Let's look at that initial conversation as well as some strategies that will ensure a better result the next time around.

Be realistic

Naturally the discussion with the salesperson went well. You are their boss, you were thoroughly prepared for the meeting, and you were armed with the facts. Of course they agreed to stop doing whatever it is you asked them to stop doing; what choice did they have?

Be practical

They have probably been spoken to about this issue before by other employers or colleagues. They might be practiced in agreeing that this is something that cannot continue.

Be sensible

This is a bad habit so it's unlikely that they will stop it completely. Look to significantly curtail or decrease the incidents.

Be specific

Let them know how frequently they do this and when it is the most annoying. Talk about patterns of behavior and brainstorm with them to come up with solutions to mitigate this issue.

Be proactive

Schedule a weekly meeting with them for the next six weeks in a row to talk about the progress they are making. This will signal to them that you are serious about solving this problem.

Be honest

Tell them what might happen if they cannot keep this issue under control.

By setting the expectation, during the meeting, that this will be an ongoing conversation until the matter is resolved, you will increase your chances for success. It is more work, but you will not be lulled into a false sense of security that this problem has been solved after the first conversation.