Performance Review

What do you do about non-performing (or poor-performing) service providers?

Well, I hope that you have an agreement that will cover you in three ways: 1. Allow you to “reject” the service and refuse to pay for the bad service. 2. Allow you to keep what’s been done so far (say, software code that’s been written in the interim) and go elsewhere with it. and 3. Allow you to force the vendor to fix the poor performance at their cost.

But what if you don’t have these clauses in your contract… or what if you took over someone else’s project and now have to clean up a mess? What can you do to fix this problem?

Remember that the negotiation continues until the product/service is delivered/complete. As long as you are communicating with your provider, you’ve got a good chance of solving the problem. So find out who in their organization has the decision-making power and schedule a conference. It’s preferable to be face-to-face, but a conference call will work.

Next, using the Five Fundamental Skills, make sure that you’ve gathered all of the relevant information. There’s nothing I dislike more as a negotiator than to get blind-sided because I don’t have all of the facts. Collect your SMEs and discuss the issue in detail.

Were you at fault at all? This is a vital question and one that can usually lead to negotiation breakthroughs. Being able to admit partial fault is extraordinarily beneficial in a heated negotiation and usually is the tide-turner leading to success! Even if your SMEs don’t want to accept ANY responsibility… FIND something that you did wrong and be prepared to admit and atone for it.

Starting the conference, VERY CALMLY explain the non-contentious facts as they exist today, without bias and without emotion. Just bullet point them. When you’re done with the non-contentious facts, ask whether the other side agrees with what you’ve said so far. They should. And this type of buy-in is psychologically helpful.

Second, try to explain the difficulty the parties are having in a non-judgmental, fact-based manner. X did this, then Y did that. Stay away from blame or blame-based situations (“…so-and-so said they would, but didn’t…” “…he promised x and couldn’t finish the job…”). I know this is really hard, but it’s important.

Third, and key, is to take responsibility. Remember I said to look for where you did something wrong – or where you were to blame for a particular situation? It’s time to admit to it now and say what you did, how it was wrong … and apologize for the difficulty it caused and promise that you’ve corrected the cause and it won’t happen again. Oh, and you have to say it with honesty and without sarcasm (this can be hard to muster, too).

Fourth… now say: “Can you help us fix this problem?”

OK. Now STOP. Shut up. Be still and be silent. Listen to the chairs in the room creak. Listen to the sounds of breathing on the other side of the phone. Just be calm and cool… and 100% quiet. [You’ll probably need to tell anyone else on your team what you’re about to do and that they must NEVER, EVER break the silence. They are mere observers.]

What happens next is entirely psychological as well. You’ve been very calm to this point, almost soothing. You were gentle, you stated facts and you weren’t emotional. You then said that you had a problem… and you took responsibility for your part in the problem. Finally, you asked for their help. This is causing some significant issues in the psyches of your provider. They want to help you now. They really do. They’re admiring the fact that you were open, calm and honest. They’re stunned that you admitted some form of fault. And again, now you’re asking for their help. The silent treatment (until they speak) is used to reinforce that you’ve asked them for something and now you’re going to wait for their response.

Do you think they’re gonna’ say “No.”? Almost never.

Now, what you’ve really done is flat-out manipulation. It’s not wrong, per se, but you’re using several psychological ploys to get the provider to help you. You’re appealing to them on several levels … and you are, in essence, making them want to help you. Your silence actually encourages them to fill the silence (which is why you need to tell your own folks to be quiet – you can talk yourself out of success here if you’re not careful).

Go try it.

1 thought on “Performance Review

  1. cjwebster

    I have actually used this approach prior to reading this article. Although the vendor probably expended three times what we paid for product and services. In the end it was not a perfect outcome as I had to tyerminate the agreement. sometimes it benefits all and sometimes it doesn’t.


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