Diminishing Returns… when things go downhill

by Tina on January 7, 2011

in Build Your Team

I heard the same complaint a couple of times from business owners last month re: their virtual team members… and you know me, when I sense a pattern like this I need to dig in and find out what’s going on.

What they shared with me was:

“Things started out great with [NAME], but over time things have been slowly falling  apart – I’m not getting what I need anymore and I’m not sure what’s going on.”

When I hear something like this I can’t help but wonder what is going on to cause this? And – more importantly – how can we fix it? (As per my problem solving nature.)

In my experience, it’s important first to understand the *why* before trying to fix it – to really get to the root of what is going on. This isn’t about playing a blame game at all, it’s about understanding the bigger picture of what is going on for both the business owner and the virtual team member.

If you are feeling like things have been “going down hill” here are a few possible reasons (and suggested ways to fix things):

  • Growth in Your Business – As your business grows, the workload of your team grows as well. I think sometimes we forget this, and keep expecting our team members to be able to keep up the pace regardless. If there has been a lot of growth in your business, it may be time to get some additional help in place and expand your team.
  • Growth in Their Business – Many virtual support professionals have multiple clients and it can be hard to “juggle” everything. Every virtual support professional goes through something I call the bursting point – where things are growing, they are getting lots of work and are super busy… to the point where it almost becomes unmanageable. Even with the best of intentions, they start to drop the ball, causing frustration for you (and them!). If you suspect this is the case, have a good talk with your team member and ask them what they would like to do to fix the situation. If their business growth is the issue, they need to be able to come up with a solution. (And if they can’t it might be time to part ways.)
  • Boredom – If someone has been working with you awhile they may simply be getting bored. We all crave challenges and growth. I remember back in my corporate recruiting days when we would interview people and ask them “why do you want to leave your job?” You would think money would be the top reason, but it was actually that they were bored and needed something more challenging. If your team members are getting bored, talk to them about taking on new challenges in your biz, and bring on someone else to take the “boring” stuff off their plates.
  • Anger – In my experience most virtual support professionals will bend over backwards to help their clients – it’s part of what makes them great at what they do! This also means that many virtual support professionals aren’t good at setting boundaries and saying no, even when they want to. And so they may be holding some “hidden grudges” for things that we’ve been asking them to do, last minute projects, etc… and we may not even know that there is an issue. Over time this kind of resentment can start to leak out and may affect the quality of work. It’s not a spiteful thing per se, it’s just that they may be feeling tired of the way things are going and powerless to change it. Having a conversation to clear the air can be helpful here, but depending on how deep the issue runs it may not always be enough to fix things.
  • Personal Stuff – Sometimes it has nothing to do with work at all. There could be personal challenges/issues that are going on in someone’s life that can be affecting their work. There’s usually not much we can do to fix these situations, but an honest conversation can really bring the truth out so that it can be dealt with.

Regardless of the issue, the solution is quite simple – have a conversation. Ask your team member/s what they feel is the problem. See what they would like to do to fix it… and if it ultimately can’t be fixed (as per my 3 strikes rule), then it may be time to part ways.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Ben Thole January 7, 2011 at 11:37 am

Great post Tina! You did a great job of identifying the potential root causes for this. I’ve experienced the same things in my business, both in providing service/support to clients and also with the virtual assistants working for me.

Communication really is the key … I would recommend to any Virtual Assistants / Online Business Managers that when they sense this imbalance starting to form — and let’s be honest … usually we intuitively know there is a problem but we’re hoping the client doesn’t notice before we get a chance to fix! — it’s a great time to take the initiative and reach out to the client and say “Hey, I just wanted to let you know I’ve been feeling a little overwhelmed lately and I’m aware that could be affecting my productivity, and here is what I’m doing to correct it moving forward …”

As long as there is good communication about these issues, I think that reasonable people will work with you to find good solutions.

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Tina January 7, 2011 at 11:59 am

I so agree Ben re: taking initiative… it is very annoying to me (and other biz owners) when someone doesn’t share what is really going on with them. On one hand I get it and have been there myself – we think we *should* be able to handle it all and/or don’t like having tough conversations. But nothing can be fixed or changed without being real with the situation and have a conversation.

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