Learn more about Jonathan Lowenhar at ETWadvisors.com.
Randall joined your startup early. He’s been with you for years. He’s been dependable and effective. You would not have reached this point of success without him. But lately, Randall has not been quite himself. You know it. The team knows it. It’s unclear if Randal does. Something is off — he has been less reliable. He’s been irritable, and more than once, his frustration spilled into public view. Randall remains overall a positive member of the team, but the trendline is discouraging.
How do you talk to Randall? How do you present the conversation in such a way that he’s likely to hear you? Most of us have heard of the compliment sandwich. While historically an effective tactic, overuse has made it feel artificial and even cheesy to the sophisticated recipient. You want Randall to really hear your feedback. How to proceed?
When our founders present us with this all too common dilemma, we turn to a feedback tactic we’ve employed across our portfolio for years. It’s based on a fundamental belief of what drives human change. When a human is contemplating a real change in their circumstances, they are influenced by two types of stimuli — positive and negative leverage (shout out to Tony Robbins).
Positive Leverage — I will change because of something I want to have more of in my life.
Negative Leverage — I will change because of something I want less of in my life.
An example of positive leverage for Randall might be that modified behavior might produce a more enjoyable work day, better professional relationships, and upward career mobility.
Negative leverage, conversely, could involve the threat of missed promotions, lost bonuses, social isolation, or termination.
10 minutes ago, on the bio-evolutionary ladder, we were running from dinosaurs. We know the implication — to survive, our brains became far more wired for negative than positive influences. The challenge is that negative leverage alone likely won’t inspire Randall; it would only serve to scare him. As his manager, you want to provide Randall with something for which to aim as well as avoid. That’s when you deploy “A Tale of Two <Randalls>.”
During your next one-on-one, you share with Randall the following:
“Randall, I have to share that lately I feel like I’m experiencing two different versions of you. It’s almost like I work with two separate Randalls. The first Randall is amazing. I’ve worked with him for years. He gets his work done, he’s reliable, and he is a great teammate with whom the rest of the company loves to work and values his opinion. Without the first Randall, we would not have had much of the success we’ve enjoyed.
The second Randall, who I admit I see far less often, does not show up in the same way. He’s kind of angry and difficult to work with — frankly, his teammates struggle to connect and work with him.
(Positive Leverage) For me personally, I love the first Randall. I would work with him for as long as he would allow me. I would throw him into a multitude of projects, ask him to solve difficult riddles, and look to him to mentor new hires in the future.
(Negative Leverage) But at the same time, I have no desire to work with the second Randall. It’s just not enjoyable for either one of us, and none of us will be on this planet long enough to work with folks who don’t feel good.
So here is my question — how do I get a lot more of the first Randall and a lot less of the second one? If there is anything I can do to help, I’m game to try.”
If Randall is willing to be vulnerable, you may discover the source of his discontent. It might be a personal matter. Or a perceived professional slight. Or something else entirely. But whatever the answer, the conversation will serve as a mirror so Randall can see his two separate reflections and choose which image he prefers.