Stephanie Franco: Handling People and the Value of Difficulty

Stephanie Merida Franco is Managing Director of Fresenius Medical Care (Philippines), the world’s leading renal care company.  She has had extensive management experience in the pharmaceuticals, healthcare, and life sciences industry.

stephanie franco uk
Stephanie beside the tomb of an English monarch, Salisbury, UK.

Our class valedictorian and a dear, precious friend who has covered me in much prayer, Steph is my go-to person when I need a two-sentence primer on world news or things I don’t have time to Wikipedia about and need to understand Now Na.

This particular morning over Three-Cheese Tomato Puff Tart and Beef Salpicao, we talk about everything including Handling People.  (Here is an excerpt from our discussion…consisting of this grasshopper asking questions and Steph giving the answers.)

BUTTERFLYINTHESPRING (BITS): What do you do when you have some people on your team who don’t seem to have the drive for excellence that you hope for?
STEPHANIE M. FRANCO (SMF):  People really have varying degrees of committing to excellence. The underlying value is commitment. A person may not yet be excellent but if a person is committed, then that person can learn. Even if you delineate between technical skills and leadership (the soft skills) for the most part, the soft skills will win IF you have the right attitude.

[BITS: Please define “Soft skills”?
SMF : Leadership, disposition as a person, attitude. Leadership is how to influence. Your overall persona is the vehicle to influence. A situation requires different responses. A leader has to be very self-aware of that. So if you’re dealing with a subordinate who is new, maybe wet behind the ears, the leadership that is required is very directive… spend time with that person, tell him exactly, “This is how you do it.” You instruct them and then ask them to show you [what they understand of your instructions]. Over time, they learn. The more mature team members, on the other hand, must be challenged and given broader responsibilities to grow and develop.]

BITS: In your day-to-day, how do you lead and direct if they don’t seem to hear or deliver?
SMF: As a leader you have to be very aware and observant of the people who report to you…Try to document critical incidents. It’s always good to provide feedback and coaching. As a coach, you facilitate the learning.  If they have done a good job, feedback will encourage them. If they have not done a good job, you can discuss how else it could be improved and provide the support they need to succeed in their goals.  You have to set in place the Performance Management Process to help you clarify these things …through the Performance Improvement process, some people will have to go.

BITS: …because for the staff already there, you can not teach commitment?
SMF: Right; to me, commitment is not teachable… because it’s an inner disposition, an inner drive.  In my experience, a lot of people who are committed have already gone through a lot of challenges and difficulties and that is how the commitment is tested. So when you recruit, you have to be purposeful to recruit people with commitment. Always ask them, “Have you ever experienced difficulties in your life? Can you tell me the story behind certain life challenges? Explain to me how you overcame.” Then you can see how committed they were to overcome it. That’s the only way they can demonstrate that that commitment is there. But you can recruit people with good technical training. They went to the right schools, etc. Things may have been so smooth for them. I’m not saying that they will not be committed but you have to draw that out…early on before hiring. They must have experienced some difficulties in their lives not just in the professional realm, perhaps in the personal realm. You have to tease that out of the interviewee. More importantly, You ask the Lord for wisdom and clear directions to hire the right talent. 

BITS: How do you maximise the staff that do have potential and commitment?
SMF: In an organization, you will always have people that you will identify as your top talent. You think of these people as able to take your place in the near future or in the medium-term.  They have strengths as well as areas that they still need to develop in. You coach and mentor them through that (helping them to see and define for themselves what they will be).  Mentoring is sharing your journey of what you went through. Coaching can happen at any time for two or thirty minutes, regularly, giving feedback. You challenge them with increasing pressure and responsibilities and help facilitate their success and build their confidence. And most of all, you pray for them. For it is the Lord alone who confirms and establishes the works of their hands.

BITS: If a job was not done well, what’s the best time to bring it up, right after or after some time has elapsed?
SMF: It’s always good to give feedback in a timely manner. As a coach who facilitates learning, you can discuss negative results or outcomes in a way that encourages and builds up the person. People do learn from mistakes and failures and become more motivated to improve. 

BITS: The Sandwich Principle?
SMF: The Sandwich principle starts with positive, then negative, then end with positive. It has been found to be more effective to begin with the objective or the end-in-mind. Any feedback can be question-led. You ask the person questions and allow him to think critically and assess himself… for example, “What led you to have a gap in that area? What are you going to do the next time?”
That’s an investment of your time. In the beginning, the first time I used to manage people it was pataka lang (shoot from the hip). But in time, I learned it from training, from feedback. You learn it from your mentors, from observing leaders whom you appreciate and those you don’t appreciate as leaders. You get to see what are the things you don’t like done and therefore learn not to do those things. The ones who have helped me the most are the ones who inspired and challenged me to step up and get out of my comfort zone. 

BITS:  You’ve always been a leader, you’re responsible for attaining certain goals and standards. How do you balance getting results with being a good [Christian] testimony as a leader?
SMF:  The testimony as a believer, you need to pray for that every day. As a human being you will be subject to your episodes of impatience, irritation. It’s a fact that you may have a team of seven or eight people but you may not necessarily like all of them. But you need to set that aside and know that your responsibilty is to coach these people and to develop them. Preserving your testimony, if you are representing Christ in that leadership position, will take a lot of prayer. Think about Jesus as the head of The Twelve that He has chosen, that person in the Sermon of the Mount, teaching the crowd with all gentleness, in all humility. You think about that. Is that possible for a human being? That’s impossible. 

BITS: Hahaha (Oops, that laughter was too loud.  Ouch!)
SMF: That’s impossible because you’re pressured here and there and as human beings, we always succeed to get into each other’s throats. It’s just a reality that we are always subject to our weakness. So a lot of that is prayer for grace, patience, for the Holy Spirit to override your thoughts, your heart so that instead of reacting, you will respond and hopefully the response is like the response of Jesus. You will not succeed all the time but that’s good because then you will know that it’s not your own effort. It’s really the Lord. With a humble heart, you ask the Lord to hold on to you with His righteous right hand to direct your steps.

This topic really enhances the flavor of the Frozen Brazo Ubecado.


Dear Lord, Thank You for Stephanie’s authenticity, humility, and dependence on You despite her stature. Thank You for her heart to share her knowledge.  May You continue to prosper her in her work, in her family, and in her walk with You. For leaders reading this, may You give us wisdom, discernment, guidance, and godly love for our staff, seeking ways to edify them as unto You.  May You fill us with Your Spirit specially when we spend long hours at work.  May You make us the leaders You want us to be, keenly aware that there is no favouritism with You and You are the Master we all work for.  We pray for each of our staff for blessing upon their health, family, finances; may You enable them to come to know You intimately that they will make You the Boss of their lives, work to please You, be the best that they can be in You with sincerity of heart and reverence for You. May we all regard our tasks (the greatest and the smallest) as our true and proper worship of You, doing everything heartily as unto You in Jesus’s name amen.


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