Manager's Tips and Tools

by Manager Development Services

What is a “Setting Fires Under Their Feet” Meeting?


This is a meeting in which performance has slumped and a “reality check” is in order.  This meeting is facilitated as a group session, which can even include an entire department.

The purpose of this type of meeting is to:

–  Recognize that an “obvious problem” exists,

–  Identify what the “core problem” is,

–  Identify consequences if problem is not resolved,

–  Uncover solution options, and

–  Initiate action.

Note:  Seldom is an “obvious problem” the “core problem.”  In effect, I sometimes need to peal a problem like I peal an onion if I am to discover the core (real) problem.  Sometimes, there may many steps between the obvious problem and the core problem.

This meeting is not a “bashing” or “threatening” meeting.  The object of this meeting is to demonstrate to staff that problems are addressed (not swept under the carpet), to allow everyone to have a voice and know that their voice will be heard, and to reinforce that management is serious about servicing their needs.   This is reassuring to staff.

One way to facilitate this meeting is to float a “doom balloon,” read body language, and then “peal the onion”.  This method is most effective when members of staff are already aware of their delinquent behavior (see example, chapter 16 in “Managing from the Heart – A Way of Life.”).

But there are times when everyone has no idea anything is wrong and believe they are doing well.  This is when I want to guide them through a process that will inspire them to participate in the solution.

Before I begin, I need to inspect what I expect.  Is what I expect realistic?  If I inspect it and still believe it is, then I proceed.

Step 1) First, I announce there is an “obvious problem,” and I ask if anyone has any idea what it is.  I sometimes find myself surprised that others have already noticed something as well.

–  I announce the obvious problem, “Sales are down.”

–  Then I ask, “Why are sales down?”

–  Sales are down because referrals are down.

–  I ask, “Why are referrals down?”

–  Referrals are down because “customer service” calls are not being made.

–  “Why are ‘customer service’ calls not being made?”

–  Because the people responsible for making the calls do not have enough time.

–  “Why don’t they have enough time?”

–  Because they are assisting inventory.

–  “Why are they assisting inventory?”

Step 2) Because two people from inventory are out on medical leave.  This is the core problem!

Step 3) I ask, “What consequences do you see our problem producing?”  Then I get feedback.  It turns out the consequences of two people in inventory being on medical leave are: sales are down, sales reps are stressed, staff in general are frustrated, and if this continues, there will be a possibility of layoffs.

Step 4) I ask, “What can we do to fix this problem?”  I get many ideas and opinions.  The more I get, the more I let them brainstorm.  I let them become proactive in problem solving, watching enthusiasm grow until they come up with a viable solution.  This process gives them ownership and inspires passion, which in turn, will…

Step 5)  …initiate action.  This process is also team building.

Bottom Line:

Two people in inventory on medical leave is our core (the real) problem.  If I were a traditional manager I might just rake the sales reps over the coals, create more stress, and alienate staff.  But by uncovering the core problem, we are able to discern solution options, which will effectively resolve the obvious problem, facilitate ownership, and inspire team building.

By including staff in this process, staff learning how to problem solve and be proactive.

NOTE: I always email each individual, summarizing the objective and outcome of the meeting and thanking them for their participation.  I then put a copy of the email in their personnel file for documentation and later reference.

NOTE: Always document, document, document.  I find that sending an email to the employee after any meeting is a simple and efficient way to record interaction with that employee.   There will be times when an employee, for whatever reasons, is no longer an asset for the company and must be terminated.  When this happens, copies of my emails documenting when we talked, what we talked about, and the outcome of the meeting were invaluable to 1) justify to upper management and HR why the individual should be terminated and 2) provide documentation in possible unlawful termination suits.

excerpt from “The Art of Counseling”


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August 14, 2011 - Posted by | Counseling Techniques, Employee Coaching, Leadership Skills, Manager Development Tools, Mentoring, Personal Development | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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