We’ve all seen it so often it may not even register. After a difficult series, a quarterback has a few words with his coach. We attend a school open house and both the teacher and assistant are there. A carpenter on a job site gets input from his supervisor. What we’re witnessing is called rapport. But how often does this scenario happen in our business: the Route Rep arrives at work, sends any problems or issues to the manager to handle, loads up and heads out the door. An opportunity, missed.
Whether you call it a check-in, cash-out, or end-of-day debrief, touching base with Route Reps will become one of two things: another meaningless ritual or a daily opportunity for both of you to get what you need. For you, this is the chance to continually improve your people’s level of success. For your Route Rep, it’s the chance to have daily recognition of their effort as your “boots on the ground,” the all-important agent of interaction with your customers, and to download both the successes and the challenges of their routes.
Give your check-in a check-up.
Even as business becomes more reliant on technology, checking in face-to-face on daily business is a manager’s best shot at having their finger on the pulse of what is happening at street level. The current status of this vital interface at your organization could range from no meeting at all to a simple cash audit or an all-too-brief passing where no essential information gets exchanged.
On the other hand, the check-in should provide the Route Reps the affirmation they desire along with coaching, guidance and feedback. The recognition offered by a dedicated daily check-in can instantly and repeatedly elevate the value that employees bring. The content of your check-ins should be evaluated and possibly even restructured to derive the utmost benefit.
Quick. What do you need to cover?
Relax. This isn’t rocket science. Content of daily check-ins should be based on customer interaction, feedback and key performance indicators (KPIs). Of course, KPIs may vary by company but should obey some basic principles. To provide meaningful guidance, KPIs should be measurable and agreed upon in advance. Selecting three to five is ideal; in this case, more is not better. KPIs typically reflect long-term considerations and should relate directly to the success factors deemed critically important to your organization.
Focusing your daily de-brief in this manner keeps your people in sync with your success factors. For instance, let’s assume you have identified account retention as a critical objective. Ask your route reps how many and what renewals they have worked on that day as well as what their plan is for renewal strategy for the next day. Continue to coach them on ways to execute their retention strategy and how it will benefit them in the long run. Managers should also focus on the highlights of what went well during that day and the challenges or opportunities for each Route Rep.
In fact, daily check-ins with employees are all about coaching. The focus should be on teachable moments, not telling. The first step in teaching — and providing strong leadership — is being a good listener. Sounds easy, but letting your Route Rep speak fully without interruption can be harder than it seems. A good rule of thumb is that 80% of the talking should be done by the Route Rep and only 20% by the Manager.
The word “listen” contains the same letters as the word “silent”. Think about it.
The Route Rep should lead the meeting with a presentation about their day. This should not turn into a download session with a litany of problems for the manager to solve. Instead, Route Reps should be prepared to talk not only about the obstacles they are facing but also to present their self-generated solutions. Route Reps need to be coached that at any time they have an issue to present to their manager, they should come prepared with potential recommendations for how to solve the issue.
If the rep is struggling with how to deal with a conflict, the manager’s role is to guide the Route Rep to a solution without telling him or her exactly what to do. This process trains your Route Reps to problem-solve while constantly striving to improve their customer relationships. About 10% of your team is probably already doing a great job, and the bulk of their daily check-in time will be spent on affirmation or discussing how they can provide leadership to other reps.
Most likely, about 80% of your Route Reps need more guidance on how to solve problems on their own and motivate themselves to think on their feet. The 80/20 rule applies here: 80% of your time should be spent on these people so they will go from doing a good job to doing a great job.
On average, about 10% of Route Reps who tend to be weak and can be divided into two groups. Some weaker reps have the will but lack the skill and only require additional time and attention. The other group may have the skills but lack the will. Don’t waste time on the reps that aren’t making the effort. Instead, spend that energy searching for new replacements for them. Your organization should adjust from being a “push” organization to a “pull” organization. Pull employees where you want them to go and spend time on those who have real potential and desire to perform at a higher level.
Private moments. Public progress.
For a check-in to be most beneficial, it should be held in a private office or enclosed area. When a daily check-in begins, the Route Rep should start by talking about key interactions with customers that occurred that day – positive conversations, new products, changes, etc. Then the conversation should turn to any prospective obstacles and the recommendations on resolutions. Once the rep has presented this information, the manager should coach and provide feedback on his or her performance.
The last portion of the daily check-in should focus on KPIs. As a manager, you should have a list of important metrics that are broken down by month, week and day so that you can easily track the progress of your employees and notice any problems that are impeding the results. We recommend posting these in a visible place such as on a white board where everyone in the department can see them. This will encourage Route Reps, who should be identified by name and not just route number, to make continuous improvements.
Real rapport. It’s worth the risk.
Having a daily check-in is an important aspect of managing your service department. Route Reps should lead the meeting and present solutions, allowing the Manager to focus on coaching and leadership. KPIs should be tracked and noted for all to see. Do not make the mistake of being an auditor and just run through a checklist. A check-in should be engaging and collaborative and leave the Route Rep feeling empowered and motivated to improve customer relationships that will help secure your company as an integral component of your clients’ businesses.
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