Missing Their Targets

dartboard with darts that missed the mark
By Michael Neill, CSE

5 minutes

How managers can respond to employee performance problems.

Do you have a burning sales, coaching, employee performance or service question? In our new column, Michael Neill, CSE, will take your questions and offer his best advice. Neill is president of Michael Neill & Associates, Franklin, Tenn., and a CUES strategic partner in offering ServiStar

Question: I’m challenged by staff who constantly have excuses about not meeting cross-selling and referral goals. How do we hold staff accountable for reaching their goals?

Thank you for your question. You are not alone. I hear this from many institutions. The first thing you need to do is identify whether the employees are unwilling or unable to meet these goals.

Has the employee been trained? Are other employees selling and referring? Has the employee ever sold or referred to a member? If the answer is “yes” to these questions, then it is very likely the employee is unwilling, not unable, to sell.  If that is the case, you need to meet with the employee to discuss the problem and ask: “What are you going to do differently to ensure you are meeting your goals?”

What you don’t want to do is get caught up in responding to employee excuses. For example, I hear these objections over and over again. Do they sound familiar?

“Everybody already has everything.”

“The members get angry with me.”

“Our products aren’t good.”

“Our rates aren’t good.”

“All of our members are broke … or too old … or too young.”

I see too many managers get distracted by trying to respond to the employees’ objections and not confronting the employee’s ineffective behavior.

Deflect, Deflect, Deflect

As a manager, you need to become adept at the art of deflection.

Try this the next time an employee says, “Lots of our members are old.” Instead of showing the employee why he is wrong, agree and say, “That’s true. We have many members who are older. Given the fact some of our members are older, what are you going to do to make sure you meet your expectations?”

You see what I’m getting at? Sure some members are old. Some are broke. Some are … you fill in the blank. There are limited, but unique, opportunities with these members.

So, you need to address the concern, but only briefly, and then put it back on the employee to solve the problem. First, agree about the reality of the concern expressed, then ask: “What are you going to do about it?” (And by the way, this also works very well for parents!)

We spend too much time trying to argue reality with employees. The truth is we all have different disadvantages in our life. One of us is shorter. One has a lower IQ. One went to a great college, and another took night classes. But people who are successful overcome obstacles. Period. And that’s the way we need to look at it.

As a manager, do your work goals include the caveat “meet this expectation, unless it’s really hard”? Would your credit union’s board and the CEO set a goal that return on assets should be 1.1 this year “unless it’s really hard”? What happens if the economy takes a turn for the worse? The credit union needs to figure out a new course of action that will allow it to meet its goals.

I implore you to learn the art of deflecting excuses. I call it being a coaching ninja: Block each objection.

Here’s another deflection technique: Disagree quickly with the employee but don’t argue the point.

For example, if you hear “Our sales goals are too high,” you might respond: “That is not true. We have several people who are meeting or exceeding their goals.” Then follow up with “What are you going to do differently to be effective next month?”

The excuses are just fog, and deflection helps you cut through that fog.

When to Stop Coaching

At some point, you may need to quit coaching an employee who always has excuses for not meeting his goals. That point will come when the employee repeatedly refuses to receive your coaching, demonstrates unwillingness to change and repeatedly tells you what he’ll do to be more effective in the future but doesn’t act on it.

If that is where you are now, you need to have this conversation:

“Here’s what’s obvious to me. I care more about you being successful—and in improving our members’ financial lives—than you do. And I can tell that because this is the fourth time we’ve met, and each time you tell me what you’re going to do differently. Each time you tell me all the reasons why you can’t meet your goals and you continue to not implement the changes that you say you’re going to make. So, it doesn’t make sense for me to coach you anymore. I’m simply going to hold you accountable for your results.”

In my experience, making this statement to that employee usually shocks them into action, and in about eight out of 10 cases, he or she turns around.

For the other two, even if there isn’t any further accountability that you can apply—even if you’re not going to fire the employee—at least you’re not wasting your time on them anymore. You’re getting two hours of your life back that you can spend meeting your goals.

Send me some of your performance challenges, and let’s make this a regular article!

Michael Neill, CSE, is president of Michael Neill & Associates, Franklin, Tenn., and a CUES strategic partner in offering ServiStar. Contact him at

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