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Promises, Promises

Leadership is a risky proposition at the best of times. Those that “sign up” to be in leadership roles have agreed to take a lot on their backs and shoulders. Being a leader isn’t for everyone but if you have accepted the leadership challenge, then it is incumbent on you to embrace the role and be the best leader that you can be. Because I believe whole heartedly in developing and supporting leaders, a significant chunk of my blog is devoted to helping leaders become better at what they do. Often what I share is based on lessons learned in my job, my career, my experiences and discussions with others.

Broken Promises

One of the big pitfalls I have seen leaders fall into (often newer leaders, but not always) is that in their exuberance to want to “make a difference” they often over promise and under deliver. Now, my experience has been that that is done with the best of intentions. Meaning, in their role as a leader, they want to effect change, make their imprint on things and do things better for their team/department/organization. Often when they are new to their environment, their excitement and enthusiasm to “improve things” gets the better of them as they try and change everything in the near term.

The danger here is that these leaders bring a sense of great hope with them. For example, a department has been run for years by someone with a micromanaging style with no vision for the future and no focus on developing talent. This person is then replaced with a new leader, one who brings an exciting vision for the future and a renewed employee focus. The employees get excited, energized and (re) engaged. There is optimism and hope abound. The leader asks for their trust and faith to be placed in him/her as they change the way things were. Promises are made and expectations are set. Then…the bubble bursts.

Often these new team/departmental/organizational leaders do not have the actual autonomy and authority to make the promises (changes) that they have articulated to their staff. They had the best of intentions but ran into some form of bureaucracy, or senior management control. Worse yet, they have run into the oversight of a Board of Directors that refuses to take a hit (read: investment) to their near term cash flow in order to make the company even better longer term. The end result – the new leader is now compromised in their role after having rolled out a platform of hope.

Now, the struggle is that the employees are told formally or informally that all those promises that were made now need to be tempered. The danger is that this often results in cynicism at best, disengagement at worst. You can almost feel and hear the collective “here we go again” emanate from the staff.

So, my advice for new leaders in that type of situation is to make sure you have a clear understanding of your operating boundaries and parameters before you make promises to employees. Better yet, the old adage of control the controllable’s best applies when first starting out with a new team. That is, promises of things like, better communication, regular coaching, more rigor around quality control, etc. will get you more traction. Employees aren’t looking for the sun, the moon and the stars from you when you first come out of the gate as a new leader. BUT, if you promise that to them, you better be able to deliver. As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Picture courtesy of vimeo.com

 

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Leadership Secret #9

I don’t know why I picked this as secret #9.  It was a completely arbitrary number but it is my blog so I can pick whatever number I want I guess!  As well, this really isn’t even a secret but more like a tip.  Stay tuned, but first a bit of preamble.

SecretIn my experience and role as an HR Pro I have been fortunate to have worked with some great leaders and managers and some not so great leaders and managers.  The great ones help you drive your organization forward and grow. The not so great ones, well, let’s just say I have learned a ton from them as I have built my experience as an HR Pro.

Often I am asked by managers and leaders (both within and external to organizations I have worked for) to provide tips, tricks, secrets on how to be a better manager or leader.  When I reflect on the good and not so good advice I have given over the years, one thing stands out.  That is, one of the key secrets to being a better manager is to TALK TO YOUR PEOPLE.  Yup, that is where it all starts.  There is no magic, no secret sauce.  It all starts with dialogue.  If you simply make time in your day to talk to your people – in the beginning it doesn’t even matter about what – you will be in the top 5% of all managers.  (In the spirit of Tim Sackett quantitative data science, I simply made that up).

It is UNBELIEVEABLE the number of managers who go day in and day out without talking to their employees.  They are too busy being in meetings, on the phone, or “producing ” something.  The other one I hear all the time is the concept of a “working manager.”  That is, when the manager is responsible for a threshold of billable hours – usually north of 50%.  Which means, at most, they spend half their time on their people…and we all know how that story ends.

So, if you want to get out of the blocks as a better manager, start to talk to your people.  Walk the shop floor at the beginning and end of the day.  Carve out 30 mins a day to spend 5-10 minutes with each of your folks.  Start by asking them what is happening that is impacting their ability to do their job effectively.  You would be amazed at what that little conversation starter can do!

Here is the thing – you need to be sincere.  You have to want to do this.  You need to care.  You need to want to help your employees be better and do better.  If you are not genuine in your approach, they will see right through this…and you probably shouldn’t be a manager to begin with. So, starting tomorrow, when you get to work, talk to your folks.  About anything.  Right away.  Right now.  No exceptions.  No excuses.  No pass throughs.  As well, this really isn’t a secret so feel free to pass this on to anyone.  Your employees will thank you for it.  As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Photo courtesy of Unsplash.com/London Scout

Focus on your SOB’s!

This title may be a bit misleading but it is great for marketing purposes! Traditional thinking is that, as a manager, you need to shift your focus and spend more of your time and energy focusing on your best people, so I can see why you would be confused if I am now telling you to focus on your SOB’s! I know what you are thinking – “but Scott, that isn’t what I call my poor performers! I can’t say that, I will get in trouble with HR!” I am sure you have other code names for them…but I digress.

Angry ManNo, in this case the SOB’s I want you to focus on are Specific, Observable, Behaviours. One of the biggest management challenges I see is the lack of feedback and performance based discussions that take place between a manager and their employees. Far too many managers and employees are quick to complain about their organization’s performance management system (justifiably so in most cases) as the source of all evil, when in fact, because the front end coaching and communication between manager and employee is so non-existent, the root cause lies there.

We tend to not equip our managers with the proper tools to actually communicate with and coach employees. They get bogged down in process, forms, compliance, complicated goals and objectives and pie in the sky metrics. The reality is that everything starts with having a conversation with your employees. Simply put, employees want and need feedback on their performance and the easiest way to do this is to focus on what you are observing (good or bad) as far as their behaviours and outcomes go. This generates conversation which leads to a coaching opportunity.

I am a firm believer in focusing on HOW work is done more so then so then WHAT work is done. I believe that if you have employees with the right approach to completing their work, you can always train them on skills gaps. Alternatively, you may have someone who delivers work of the highest quality; however, they are a complete a**hole to deal with and leave a trail of bodies behind them every day. This type of person is toxic and should not be in your organization – but that is a post for another day.

For most of us, we deal with folks who are somewhere in between these two ends of the spectrum. Most of the time they display the right approach to work and most of the time they deliver. Focusing on the specific behaviours you want to see is how you get your people going in the right direction – all of the time. Talk to them about HOW their work (goals) gets done (completed). Identify WHAT you want to see from them. Communicate and coach them on these behaviours. Coach up when they are demonstrating things you do not want to see. Coach for reinforcement when they display what you want to see.

When coaching, give examples – be SPECIFIC. Employees need to know EXACTLY what they are doing well and where they need to improve. The key to this is to identify, in advance, what successes looks like for that employee in that role. That is, as the manager, you need to identify what behaviours you want to see and outline what that looks like (success) – this way, the employee has a clear idea as to what the expected outcomes are and there won’t be any surprises when they receive feedback from you. Essentially, the pre-determined behavioural outcomes become your anchoring statements every time you coach. That is, you are always referring back to these as the game plan and deviations from the game plan are rooted in the coaching conversations you have with your staff.

So, if you are looking to simplify your coaching conversations with your staff, remember to focus on the SOB’s – Specific Observable Behaviours. With an acronym like that, you won’t ever forget! As always, I welcome your comments and feedback. Best of luck dealing with your SOB’s!

Photo courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net/imagerymajestic

The Art of the Skip Level – Redux

The #1 most read post on The Armchair HR Manager is “The Art of the Skip Level” from July 2014. It has had over 10,000 views on my website along with almost 18,000 views on LinkedIn. For little old me, those are some pretty good numbers!

Skipping Businessman

The best part about the post is the amount of comments, interaction and engagement I have had with my readers. I truly enjoyed the exchange of questions and ideas. To that extent, I have had so many questions and comments that I figured a follow up post on the subject matter would be appropriate. So, what I am providing now are some other key points to consider before and after you conduct a skip level meeting:

  1. How do I get the manager who is being “skipped” onside with this? Conversation is critical here. It is important to set the proper tone and let the manager know in advance how information that is gleaned from the skip level will be shared (with them) and actioned (when/where appropriate.) Involve the manager in the process because if you alienate them, the trust will be eroded. This part is really tough – I am not going to lie! Be upfront with them about the “why’s” in terms of why you are doing the skip level. You need to talk to them well in advance of conducting the skip level meeting. Often you can position the skip levels with a continuous improvement and/or employee engagement approach in mind. As well, you need to let the manager know that the skip levels are NOT going to be performance impacting. They are to be used as information gathering that will help you as their manager do a better job of coaching, developing and supporting them.
  2. To share or not to share, that is the question: My readership has often asked me if they should share the questions in advance that they are going to ask at a skip level. There are several things to consider with this question, beginning with, should you share with the employees and should you share with the manager who is being “skipped.” First and foremost, if you do in fact have a planned series of questions you want to ask (always a good idea) you need to share these with the manager being skipped. This will help alleviate a lot of the stress and anxiety they will likely be feeling, especially the first time you conduct a skip level. As well, it will help build trust with them as they will clearly see that there is nothing being “hidden.” The next consideration is whether or not you should share in advance with the employees that will be attending. The answer, as with all things HR, is that “it depends.” If the questions are going to be time consuming to read/understand, then yes, give them time in advance to read and contemplate. If you want the session to be fairly formal, and typically larger groups need more structure and formality in order to keep on track, then you should share the questions in advance. However, if your group is smaller and will lend itself to be more conversational in nature, there really isn’t a need to share the questions in advance. What is most important is that you focus on the “pulse” of things and let the conversation be a bit fluid; remember, it is all about creating dialogue.
  3. What is the most important thing to consider with regards to the employees AFTER the skip level is done? The single most important consideration with the employees is that you need to follow up with them, in relatively short order, with regards to what you are going to do in response to the information you received during the skip level and/or follow up with what you are going to do differently as a result of the skip level. You can’t commit to responding to everything, but you have to follow up with something, otherwise they will feel they wasted their time talking to you. It could even be as simple as committing to providing the generalized feedback to the manager within 1 week of the skip level being completed and letting employees know you will use the information to work with the manager to help improve BLANK at the workplace. Get some quick, easy wins out of things first. This builds credibility.
  4. What is the most important thing to consider with regards to the manager being skipped after the skip level is done? With regards to the manager, you need to follow up with them re. how the meeting went. If you picked up on some general themes (positive or negative) you need to have a discussion with them soonest. You have to remember, all that your manager is going to be doing, until they hear from you about the meeting, is THINKING about what might have been said at the meeting. They will want to know what was said, discussed, committed to, etc. You owe it to the manager to NOT leave them hanging.
  5. How do I avoid having done a skip level meeting not look like a “witch hunt”? The easiest and most effective way to avoid this scenario is to make conducting skip levels a regular event. If you only do them when something appears to be wrong (i.e. complaint driven, bad employee survey, etc.) then the manager being skipped will always feel like you are out to get them and won’t trust the process. However, if you do them on a regular basis (and regular can be the last Friday of every 4th month), then employees and your manager(s) will come to expect them as part of your regular feedback and improvement process. In other words, it will just be part of a regular day at the office.

Armed with this information, along with the information from the original post, you should be in great shape, pre and post skip level meeting, to utilize skip levels as a communication and improvement tool . Be open, honest and candid with your manager(s) and their employees. If you aren’t, no one will trust you or the process. If they don’t trust, you are wasting your time. As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Image courtesy of ambro/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

LinkedIn Connection Requests – Don’t be THAT Guy!

I am as big a fan of LinkedIn as the next guy. I have found it to be a valuable tool to build my network, enhance my professional brand and recruit for my company. I would say that for many people, myself included, LinkedIn has been become a virtual extension of their professional persona. In fact, in many ways and depending on who is looking at my profile on LinkedIn, it IS my professional brand – at least at that moment in time.

So, my advice to people who are either on LinkedIn (but not actively managing their account) or are thinking about joining LinkedIn is to make sure that what you (eventually) portray on LinkedIn is in line with the professional brand/image you want to be identified with. In fact, because LinkedIn forms such a vital part of anyone’s professional network and image, I have blogged many times about proper LinkedIn etiquette on a variety of topics that can be found here , here, here, here, here and here.

Linkedin Meme

However, today’s topic is focused on one particular area of etiquette violation that seems to be an increasing trend on LinkedIn and that is the “Connect and Sell” request. For those that have received these types of requests and emails you know exactly what I am talking about. You receive a connection request from someone that you don’t know, in the spirit and intent of LinkedIn you accept the request, only to have this person minutes (maybe hours) later send you a sales pitch to either buy their latest piece of software/technology, use their recruiting services or subscribe to their training services. Sorry to pick on these folks but in my world that is what I experience. Seriously!? Is this how we do business now? There is no way that anyone can tell me that this approach works! I know what I do when I receive those requests…nothing. Yup, nada. In fact, it makes we want to “disconnect” with that person right away.

So, if you are one of the spammy spammers doing this – please stop.   No one appreciates this approach and it reflects poorly on your professional brand and probably your company. You are the source of memes everywhere. Think about it – if you were selling a software package to someone that you NEVER had any contact with before, would you walk up to them on the street and say, “Hi, my name is Joe from ACME Software. We have never met but I would like to meet you. Thank you, would you like to buy my software product?” It truly is as INSANE as it is written there!

Going forward, do yourself a favour. Use LinkedIn to make connections and build relationships. It is NOT there for you to use as a cold calling (cold emailing?) tool. Take some pride in what you do and how you define your professional brand because this approach reflects poorly on you. As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Performance Reviews – Here to stay?

A lot is being written about the potential demise of performance reviews. A lot of experts, consultants and prognosticators feel that the traditional performance review is on its way out, or at the very least, it should be on its way out as it is an antiquated approach. I have been involved with performance management for the better part of 19+ years (yowzers that hurt to write that!) and feel somewhat qualified to weigh in on this issue.

Performance Words

Personally, I really don’t have a probably with performance reviews and I feel if done in the right context with properly trained managers they can be quite valuable. I am not a fan of lengthy forms that make managers write a small novel in order to have a proper performance review done.   My take/approach on performance reviews is that they provide a great baseline and are an essential roadmap that the manager and employee can refer to throughout the year that clearly outlines what is expected of the employee and how it aligns with broader departmental and organizational objectives. Simply put, an effective performance review (form) should include:

  • The identification of the organizational &/or departmental goals and objectives
  • The employee’s individual goals/objectives (with clear linkage to departmental level goals)
  • Measurements/KPI’s of these goals
  • Supported with coaching/feedback

So, if I were to design my own form, it would essentially be 1-2 pager tops, with a focus on these elements and supported with regular coaching. I believe all the discussions around development and career goals can and should be separate from the actual performance review itself as the review is to discuss just that, performance and not career planning. Now, I get it – if performance isn’t up to par, then the other discussion about future career goals can’t take place. But again, the performance discussion is the right time and place to talk about this performance gap and its (potential) impact.

Now, for those that advocate that you can get rid of performance reviews all together, I think that may be possible but a lot has to change organizationally and culturally speaking. At minimum, performance reviews provide a guaranteed annual check in between manager and employee. There is a measure of visibility and accountability with a performance review and I believe that is needed in most, if not all, organizations. If you are going to advocate to get rid of performance reviews, then you better make damn sure you have a coaching culture at your organization. Essentially, with no performance reviews, you need to make sure that your managers are TALKING to their employees on a regular basis and providing specific feedback to them. If not, at minimum, you still need a performance review to help guide these discussions.

Based on my experience, there are very few organizations that can make the claim that they have such a strong corporate coaching culture that they have been able to scrap performances reviews alltogether. Such a fundamental shift requires strong leadership at the top, highly effective organizational communication and accountability and a desire for change. Those elements are extremely difficult to align at the best of times; therefore, I believe performance reviews are here to stay…at least for a while. As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Daily Management = Daily Investments

At the Armchair HR Manager, I blog a lot about management, leadership and all things human resources. I receive a lot of great comments and feedback from the awesome folks that take time to read my posts. One of the themes that has come back from my readership is that they are looking for a quick hit list of things that managers should or shouldn’t be doing. This request has come from both inexperienced and experienced managers as well as HR folks.

Daily Investments

Essentially, they want to know what the keys are to being a successful manager. While there is no secret sauce, there are things that managers should be doing DAILY if they want to be successful in their jobs. In fact, the bulk of this list is comprised from my own observations and experiences in dealing with folks that I would call the very best managers and leaders – across a variety of industries. The managers that do the things on the list below are the ones that don’t need to come to HR to deal with replacing people who have left via turnover, or they don’t have to deal with low employee survey scores or better yet, they are able to spend time leading and developing their people as opposed to constantly managing the bottom 20% of their department.

I recommend that if you want to be considered to be a “good” manager (I didn’t even say great), you need to start doing the following things – DAILY. The key is that all of these activities are an investment in your management portfolio. Over time, you will see the results of all these daily managerial investments pay off in the form of a higher performing team – one that has lower turnover, higher levels of engagement and increased levels of productivity/service performance.

  1. Talk to your employees – Yes, it seems obvious but it must be stated. Set aside time to talk to them every day about something, preferably not work related. Find out how their family is doing, what they did on the weekend, how their bowling team is doing, etc. Be genuine, be sincere, be interested and be present.
  2. Observe – be present and available. Watch how your team works and interacts together. Get a feel for the pulse of the group and how in synch they are or are not.
  3. Provide feedback to your employees – this is different than talking to them. This is about observing their performance on the job and then identifying areas that they are being successful in and areas they need to focus on improving. Bonus – this will make your performance review process a lot easier!
  4. Coach – because you have been providing feedback, you also need to coach. Coach on how to improve, coach on how to maintain/sustain and coach for future success – model the way. Keep in mind, good coaching always involves good listening. Make sure you keep that in mind when coaching.
  5. Recognize – find a way to recognize at least one employee every day. Know what works for each employee, but find a way to say “thanks” each day. It really isn’t that hard, but you have to make time to do it. Recognition and thank you’s are small investments that pay off BIG TIME down the road. No matter what they say, everyone likes to be recognized for what they do and everyone likes to hear a sincere “thank you.”
  6. Decide – another one that goes a long way. Most decisions that need to be made can be made without the formation of a standing committee or gathering together the Senate. Simple yes/no decisions can and should be made by the manager. Regardless of whether the answer is favourable to the employee or not, they will appreciate decisiveness. If you can’t make decisions, maybe shouldn’t be a manager? If you are not enabled to make decisions, then you have an organizational/sr. leadership issue.
  7. Provide clarity – make sure your staff understands their role, goals, objectives and measurements for success. If you need to reinforce this and/or tie it in with their daily work and outcomes as it pertains to these measurements then do so. Make the connection for your staff so that they understand your expectations and how they will be measured.
  8. Finally, make sure you spend more time doing all these things with your best performers. Nothing causes a manager to lose the respect of his/her team more than those that spend 80% of their time with the bottom 20% of the employees and believe me, your staff know who the bottom 20% are. Don’t reward poor performance with the gift of your time and attention.

What do you think? Is there anything missing off of this daily management list? As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Image courtesy of cooldesign/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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