Anamcgary's Blog

Leadership thoughts from PeopleFirst HR

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Don’t compare employees

We work with adults, well I know it doesn’t seem like that all the time and it doesn’t matter what position you hold.  But one mistake I see managers make is comparing one employee to another, like teachers may have compared you and your sibling when you were younger. 

It goes like this “When Amy was in your job, she always contacted the sales managers to get the monthly updates.  I think that was a better way than how it’s being done now.”  These kinds of remarks don’t prompt positive changes or win over employees.  If it truly worked more effectively when Amy did it, then why wasn’t this employee trained the same way. OK that’s too easy.  But you can say something like “How do you think we can get the sales managers to provide us with the monthly updates more effectively.  At one point we called them to get the updates, but I am open to whatever process you develop to get it done.”  This method still addresses the way it worked but allows the new employee to look at other options, while understanding this is important to accomplish.

So the next time you get that feeling to compare one person’s work with another, simply stop and think about one or more of these:

  1. Compare performance and behavior against the goal or expectation
  2. Compare performance against the standards set to earn a bonus or reward
  3. Compare performance against some desired goal that your employee has expressed

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Picking the right meeting approach

Decision Making Chart

Image by West Virginia Blue via Flickr

Effective meetings are so important.  But what’s the best meeting approach for your situation. Answers to certain questions will help you create better and more open decision-making processes,while also helping you create more effective and productive meetings.

An important reminder, if you have already decided which direction to go, or which course of action to take, do NOT ask for input.

It damages trust, wastes people’s time and is a dangerous manipulation.  The questions below assume your decision-making intentions are genuine and without thought of manipulation of other people.

How fast must this decision be made?

If the building is on fire, you don’t need to call a meeting or get people’s input into the best way to leave. It’s an extreme example; however, some decisions don’t require input or a meeting. In these cases, make a unilateral decision, communicate it effectively and get on with it!

Who has the information needed to make the best decision?

The people with the information are the people who should be consulted, inside or outside of a meeting. This helps you determine not only how to make your decision, but who to invite to the meeting. If their input can be received independently, then a meeting may not be needed.

Who needs to be engaged in the conversation?

The more engagement, input and ownership that is required, the more likely that a decision with greater collaboration is required. Again, your answer to this question informs you on who to invite to the meeting and what to communicate to them about their role in the meeting. If you want their thoughts, help them come to the meeting prepared to give them.

How important is the buy-in or commitment of others to the success of the decision?

This is similar to the previous question, but goes beyond it in an important way. How big of a decision is this? How will people’s work and lives be impacted? The larger the impact, the longer the repercussions and overall the bigger the decision, the more input you may want people to have. People will buy into decisions when they have had more true input into them – even if the final decision isn’t the one they would have made independently. Yes, more time will be involved; the balance between time and the importance of the input is the big consideration here. Important note – remember before deciding to gain lots of input. If you have already decided . . . don’t go here.

What is the trust level amongst the team members and with the leader?

Simply put, if trust is high, more decisions can be made with less input (as long as the right information is considered). At the same time, if trust is low or non-existent engagement will be more difficult. When this is true, as a leader you have bigger concerns than just how you make decisions, yet how you make them will affect the future trust between you and your team.

These five questions will help you make more effective decisions by focusing first on how you will reach the decision, instead of only focusing on the decision itself.

Use these questions as a leader, and then once you are clear, let the team know how the decision will be made. Let them know if you want their input or not, and if so, how engaged in the decision-making process you need them to be. Taking these steps will help everyone be clearer and feel better about the decisions that get made.

Oh, and you will have more productive meetings too.


Where are Company decisions made?

I think everyone who has ever worked, especially in some type of corporate environment can tell you a story or two about terrible meetings they have attended.  There are also many, many examples of meetings that, while not awful, are far from productive. One of the reasons for these experiences is that meetings are not often a place where decisions are made effectively – or even made at all.

Meetings, of course, aren’t the only place where decisions can and should be made, but in the context of meetings is one way to talk about how decisions can be made.

That discussion must start with the leader. The leader must consciously (better) or unconsciously (far too often) determine how a decision for any specific situation will be reached. The basic choices are:

An independent decision – one made by the leader alone. These decisions may be announced at a meeting, but by definition they don’t require any input from others; a meeting isn’t required to make them.

  • A decision with input – the leader wants input from others before making the decision; a perfect reason for a meeting.
  • A collaborative decision – more than just a bit of input, in this approach the group deliberates on the facts and other factors before a decision is made.
  • A consensus decision – a decision where the leader themselves isn’t making the decision, but truly the full group comes to the decision collectively.

Each of these decision-making types, including all of the nuanced versions of them, are valid and valuable in the right situation.

Next week I am going to provide readers with the best meeting approach for your situation. Your answers to certain questions will help you create better and more open decision-making processes, and in the meantime help you create more effective and productive meetings.

Oh and one very important reminder:

If you have already decided which direction to go, or which course of action to take, do NOT ask for input.

It damages trust, wastes people’s time and is a dangerous manipulation.  I have seen this far too many times.  You know who you are……

To be continued…..

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Not just once a year – Performance Coaching

A critical part of the manager/employee relationship is open communication between the two.  What is  expected from the employee and how well are they accomplishing their responsibilities.  How should they expect you to lead them. Most Companies have a formal Performance Management Program used to evaluate performance on an annual basis, but informal, on-going performance coaching is critically important.  Reviewing performance should not just be an annual event, but rather a continuous cycle.

More specifically, performance management:

  • is a shared responsibility between you and each individual who reports to you; some of us forget this
  • provides mutual understanding between the manager and employee regarding what is expected of the employee and how well the employee is meeting those performance standards;  Employees can’t meet expectations, if they don’t know what they are.
  • empowers the employee to perform a variety of tasks, and face new challenges for growth;
  • sets and monitors progress against clear goals;
  • includes regular documentation of performance;
  • includes timely feedback on performance between the manager and employee;
  • includes discussion on professional development;
  • recognizes hard work and success; not just areas for improvement!

An effective performance management program provides many benefits to the organization and to its managers and employees.  Good performance management results in:

  • focused movement towards organizational goals;
  • informed employees;
  • more successful and productive employees;
  • more meaningful work for employees;
  • better working relationships between managers and employees;  Mutual respect
  • increased communication;
  • legally defensible management decisions;
  • all around better quality of interaction.

Remember regular communication and feedback doesn’t need to be complicated or a long process, it just needs to be regular. Some simple steps and commitment is all you really need.

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It’s not compassionate, not to tell someone the truth.

If we don’t provide each other with feedback, we won’t become aware of our blind spots. This means that we will continue to do those things that may be detrimental or at least not helpful to our careers. 

I believe giving people feedback is an act of trust and confidence. It shows that you believe in their ability to change. That you believe they will use the information to become better. And that you have faith in their potential. It’s also a sign of commitment to the team and to the larger purpose and goals of the organization. Because, ultimately, we’re all responsible for our collective success.

I was at meeting recently where a senior analyst, let’s call him Steve, a really good analyst and hard worker was going to present to a team.  He paused for a minute as he sorted through the pages of numbers in front of him and then he began to present his case.  Even though Steve described himself as a numbers guy, he seemed to really enjoy this part of his job. He was meticulous in presenting his ideas and took pride in the depth of his analysis.

Twenty minutes later, as the meeting ended, Diane, the Chief Operating Officer of the organization, thanked him for his work, specifically remarking on his exhaustive research. He smiled and thanked her.  Everyone filed out except Diane and me. I asked her how she thought the meeting went.

“Oh my goodness,” she said, “What’s the best way to handle an analyst who drones on and on?”

“Who?” I asked. “Steve?”  “He’s a great analyst, and always provides the right solutions, plus he is a really nice guy. But he talks too much.” 

“But you told him he did a great job!” I Said, “His analysis was great. But his presentation …” She trailed off with a chuckle.

“Have you told him?”  “I’ve hinted to it, but no, not specifically.”

“Why not?”  “I know I probably should.”   But she hasn’t. And the reason is simple: Diane is also really nice.

In fact I’ve never seen her do anything that could be remotely construed as mean or rude. And to tell someone that they drone on feels both mean and rude.

But, is it?

Diane knows she should provide the feedback.  She is a good senior leader, but even for her, it’s hard to give someone critical feedback because it still feels aggressive and confrontational. Should you really tell people they talk too much? Or dress poorly? Or appear insincere? Or walk all over others?

Without question, YES

And not just if you’re the CEO. Everyone should offer feedback to everyone else, regardless of position. Because as long as what you say comes from your care and support for the other person — not your sympathy (which feels patronizing) or your power (which feels humiliating) or your anger (which feels abusive) — choosing to offer a critical insight to another is a deeply considerate act.

That doesn’t mean that accepting criticism is easy. But that’s another story.  Even though it may be difficult, letting someone know what everyone else already knows is the opposite of aggressive. Aggressive is not giving people feedback and then talking about them and their issues when they aren’t around. Aggressive is watching them fail and not helping.

Ironically, when we avoid sharing feedback, it usually comes out at some point anyway, as gossip or in a burst of anger or sarcasm or blame directed at the person. And that’s aggressive. Passive-aggressive.

To avoid that kind of ugliness, it’s critical not to delay.

On the other hand, if we all strutted around willy-nilly tossing criticisms at each other, things would deteriorate quickly. So how should we do this?

First, ask permission. As in: “I noticed something I’d like to share with you. Are you interested in hearing it?” Or simply, “Can I share some feedback with you?” Once they say “yes” — and who wouldn’t? — it evens out the power dynamic, makes it easier for you to speak, and prepares the other person to accept the feedback more openly.

Second, don’t hedge. When we are uncomfortable criticizing, we try to reduce the impact by reducing the criticism. Sometimes we sandwich the criticism between two compliments. But hedging dilutes and confuses the message. Instead, be clear, be concise, use a simple example, make it about the behavior, not the person, and don’t be afraid of silence.

Third, do it often. That’s how you create a culture in which people are open and honest for each other’s benefit. If you only offer feedback once in a while, it feels out of character and more negative.

Of course, not all feedback needs to be critical. Positive feedback is excellent at reinforcing people’s productive behavior, encouraging them to use their strengths more effectively and abundantly. Offer it frequently. Just do so at a different time than you share the critical feedback.

Not telling Steve that he drones on is hurting him, Diane, and the business. Even though Diane feels badly sharing the criticism, choosing not to in this case is selfish behavior on her part.  Diane doesn’t want to feel uncomfortable.  But, Steve needs and deserves to know, don’t you think?

Well in this case it worked out.  After thinking about it Diane agreed and scheduled a meeting with Steve for later that day.

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Employee Satisfaction Survey, no surprise

It’s no surprise that in a recent MarketTools Inc. research study that salary is by far the leading cause of employee dissatisfaction among U.S. workers, with  47 percent of respondents citing salary. Other leading causes of dissatisfaction include workload (24 percent), lack of opportunities for advancement (21 percent) and the employee’s manager or supervisor (21 percent).

Understanding and responding to these leading “dissatisfiers” is important, as nearly half of all U.S. employees surveyed have considered leaving their current jobs and 21 percent had applied for another job in the prior six months.  The survey of U.S. adults age 21 and older who are employed full-time was conducted in February 2011.

So if your company cannot offer salary increases, it’s vital to make sure that the employee workload is balanced, that there are opportunities for employees to learn even if there isn’t a lot of advancement opportunities, such as in smaller employers.  But the key is to have great managers.  Employee survey’s for years have demonstrated that employees that feel appreciated and valuable to an organization are typically proud of their company and will go the extra mile to help the organization succeed, even if they think their pay isn’t on the high side.

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Manage company growth more effectively

It turns out the online promotion was not being honored at the store.  In talking to one of the sales people about my options he told me he could pull some strings and get me the same deal.  I took it home, plugged it in, and it worked great.  I was a happy customer.  That is until the bill came.  I noticed I was being charged an additional service fee for the store purchase.  What happened next was what really got me thinking about growing pains companies and their customers experience when they are not prepared for rapid growth or expansion.  I called customer service.

The support representative was nice enough, but after explaining the situation several times she could find only one solution.  I needed to take the device back to the store, return it. I would then need to go online, sign up for the deal and wait for exactly the same device to be mailed to me.  No way.  What an enormous waste of time and money for everyone involved.

I decided to prod a little so I could better understand the internal workings and maybe get a different resolution.  With a few questions, I found out she herself was frustrated with the sales person.  She was frustrated with the company software she was using as it physically wouldn’t let her apply the promotion to my account even if she wanted to.  She was even more frustrated that she had never heard of the online deal, before I called.  I sympathized with her and explained how I could definitely see how poor planning and communication, and not having the tools and autonomy needed to do her job could be stressful.

There are a few things I see here that are symptomatic of a company that has a widening gap between infrastructure and growth:

Poor communication – When companies grow quickly they undergo many changes in a short period of time.  Information becomes siloed and lines of communication between groups break down.

Poor planning – Strategic planning is a must in any change initiative and especially when dealing with plans for expansion.  It’s important to take a systematic approach and consider all of the aspect of the change (including customer experience) not just financial considerations.

Lack of clear job roles – As roles expand or are created, the situation turns to one in which people do what they want to do and say that the remaining tasks are “not my job.”  This was very evident in my encounter.  The support person said a number of times that “this is a store issue” or “I can’t help with store related problems.”  To me, the customer, the company has one face.  Internally that didn’t appear to be the case.

Lack of resources – Employees need to have the tools that will be required to support growth.  In this case the support person felt her “hands were tied.”

I wonder if senior leadership of this company are truly aware of the issues their employees and customers are facing.  In a press release, they describe their growth last year as “phenomenal,” reporting sales doubled in Q3.  They anticipated by the end of 2011 they would see double what they expected in terms of a customer base.  Surely, they have a lot on their plates.  How much better would the situation be if they were armed with feedback from their employees?

If I had to make one recommendation to this company, it would be to pay attention to what is happening on the front lines.  It’s so important to give employees a voice and support them in supporting your customers.  Employees have an understanding what is and is not working in day-to-day activities.  They want to know their opinions count and can shed light on things leaders can’t see.  In order to truly leverage employees’ experiences, leaders must listen, let employees know what they are hearing, and show employees how their feedback has created real and meaningful change.

By the way, in case you are wondering, I did get the support person to find a work-around to remove the fee, but the company could have had this one employee handle about 5 more calls in the hour she spent trying to find a solution for me without much support.