04 May 2023 |

Bracing for impact

By Gabrielle "GB" Blackwell

How to anticipate and diffuse conflict with your reps.

You and your reps are not always going to see eye to eye on things. Especially when it comes to your assessment of their performance. In fact, according to statistics, it’s pretty likely there’ll be a mismatch.

According to a study by The Beacon Group, “managers ranked their employees’ performance lower than employees ranked themselves 50% of the time” and found that “it’s common for employees to overrate their abilities”. 

So when, not if, you find your assessment at odds with your rep’s self-assessment, you’ll need to know the proper way to get you and your rep back on the same page as quickly as possible — with minimal fallout. 

To help bridge the proficiency alignment gap, you’ll need to make sure you have:

  • Clearly communicated expectations
  • Rubric for assessing proficiency
  • A way to share feedback effectively
  • The skill set to resolve conflict

Crystal clear expectations

TLDR; for your own sake and your rep’s, remove any opportunity for “I didn’t know that was the expectation.”

Can’t stress this enough – the clearer the expectations are, the better.

If a rep isn’t aware of what’s expected of them to be considered “proficient” in a competency, you’ll want to close that clarity gap ASAP.

There’s no “well they should have known” or “isn’t it obvious?” when it comes to how you assess proficiency.

Make it as black and white as possible. 

Communicate expectations early and often. 

Document as much as you can. 

A rubric for assess proficiency 

In my recent newsletter focused on development plans, I shared a note on using a 3-point grading scale to assess proficiency within a specific competency. 

Once you have that three-point grading scale, you’ll want to identify what constitutes a “1,” what constitutes a “2,” and what constitutes a “3.” 

Even better is if you can show examples of what a “1,” “2” and “3” look like, respectively. That way your reps know what it takes to achieve a higher proficiency level (and you know how to coach them to get better).

Assist: Create repositories of what ‘good’ looks like for your different competencies. For example, if you’re using call recording software for prospect calls, consider creating a library for cold calls, discovery calls and demo calls that constitute a “3”. 

Delivering feedback effectively

Real life footage of a rep trying to understand what their manager needs from them to improve.

The time comes for you and your rep to review their competency assessment. They share their self-assessment first, marking mostly “3s” across the different competencies. 

You, on the other hand, have ranked their proficiency as mostly “2s” and you’re bracing for when you’ll need to bust their “3” bubble and recalibrate how they’re looking at their proficiency.

What happens next?

If you only tell your reps that you’ve given them a “2” and end the conversation there and nothing else, you’re in for a world of trouble:

  • Frustration from your rep
  • Potential disengagement
  • Unproductive confusion, etc

However, if you’re able to share why you’re giving them a “2”, how you came to that assessment, and what your rep can do to close the gap, you’ll have an opportunity to drive greater trust and alignment with your rep…and we love that!

Assist: Anytime you’re giving feedback, you’ll want to make sure the feedback is as specific and actionable as possible. “You are really struggling with keeping people’s attention on the phone” is neither specific nor actionable. Compare this to “in the beginning of the call, you’re missing a relevance statement that lets your prospect know they’re exactly who you want to talk to…moving forward, make sure to include the research you’ve done at the beginning of your calls”. 

The skill set to resolve conflict

In a perfect world you and your rep are going to agree 100% of the time. But, we don’t live in a perfect world. Reps aren’t going to agree with you all the time, especially when it comes to assessing how they’re doing in their roles.

In situations where you and your rep aren’t seeing eye to eye, you’ll need to know how to resolve the conflict. Below are some helpful hints when looking to diffuse a disagreement.

Be intentional about letting the other person know that you hear them. This means embracing what they’re saying from a non-defensive perspective. An example of how to do this includes repeating back what they’ve shared with you.

Keep an open mind. Rather than making assumptions about what your rep is thinking or feeling, stay curious. For example, if a rep says “I don’t agree with your assessment”, one way to respond is asking them to tell you more about that.

Be okay with conflict. Disagreeing isn’t a bad thing in and of itself.  The most important thing is that you focus on finding a way forward that you both can feel confident in

Find the way forward. If you’ve:

  • Been crystal clear in your expectations
  • Shared out how proficiency is assessed
  • Provided feedback effectively

…and your rep is still not all that happy, that’s okay.

Remain firm on your assessment and clearly articulate how you’re invested in getting your rep to the level of proficiency they want to see themselves at. 

This can sound simple as “I can tell that we are not in agreement and that’s okay. The most important part of this is how we move forward. I can tell that you want to see yourself at a higher level of proficiency and I am here 100% to support you in that. Would you be open to us partnering to create a path that closes the gap between where you’re at today and where you want to see yourself?”

No one said it’d be easy, they said it’d be worth it

At the end of the day, you never want your rep to feel like it’s you versus them or for you to feel like you’re at war with any of your reps. Sometimes it’s enough to remind your reps your performance is a roll-up of theirs. Other times, we’re going to have to work a little harder to resolve conflict with our reps. 

By going through the steps outlined here, you’ll put yourself in position to avoid a lot of conflict that appears when expectations aren’t clear to reps or feedback isn’t provided effectively. But, on the off chance you run into situations where there’s friction due to manager and rep assessments not matching, you’ll know exactly what to do to resolve the situation! 

That’s a win!