Thursday, June 30, 2011

Employee Performance - No Surprises

August is our annual performance review month.  I thought this would be a good time to share some of my thoughts on the process of reviewing performance.

I will start with a story....
A manager sits down with an employee for their annual performance review.  The two have met one-on-one every two to three weeks for 30 minutes throughout the year.  The recurring meeting was set up by the manager with all of her direct reports.  The conversations in the one-on-one meetings have been pretty benign with nothing significant resulting from them.  All appears good.

The review starts out as most do with sharing of pleasantry’s (how's the family, how was your weekend, etc.) and idle chit-chat.  After a few minutes they get around to the task at hand - the performance review.  If this were a movie, this is where the dramatic music starts and the dark storm clouds move in.  The hammer is about to come down and the employee has no idea it is coming.  It turns out that his performance has been poor and he is being terminated.  Total shock.  He is feeling ill as his manager goes through the list of is long.  As his manager rambles on, she starts to sound like Charlie Brown's teacher, the words no longer make sense and the shock has put his mind into some other place.  It is a surreal moment for the employee.

What's the problem?
If the story is not ringing any alarm bells for you, I hope you are not a manager.  No employee should walk into an annual review and be surprised, let alone terminated.  Those bi/tri-weekly meetings the manager had are re-calibration opportunities to keep performance on track before it becomes a problem.  Your job as a manager is to lead, motivate, coach, and address problems when they occur, to optimize employee performance, and to always have your team know where they stand.  Think about it this way - if you have a flat tire are you going to wait 6 months to fix it?  Of course not.  You might even go to to buy a new set of rubber for your vehicle.  Why should you operate differently at work?

The annual ritual
The annual ritual that companies go through to provide feedback is outdated and quite simply a waste of time in its current form.  The intentions are noble - make sure everyone knows where they stand, review accomplishments, talk about career development, alignment with business goals and values, etc.  The problem is that the results often times look more like a tee-ball tournament where everyone gets a trophy than a constructive session that provides real, honest feedback.  Why is that?

Nobody likes conflict.  (Ok, most of us don't like conflict.  There are a few of you who relish in it.)  It is much easier to put a positive spin on things than to provide negative feedback.  Give everyone a passing grade along with the blended merit increase.  C'mon, our employees deserve better than that.  Your company deserves better than that.  Honest feedback when negative can be hard to do, but necessary. 

Don't get me wrong, reviews are important.  But they have to be genuine and timely.  Waiting until the end of the year to tell someone they have made a mess of things is bad management and unfair to the employee.  What in the world can anyone do about an issue from six months ago?  More often than not, you forget and it is never addressed or corrected. 

When you sit down at the end of the year, nobody should ever be surprised when they hear that they are doing a good job or a bad job.  The only reason for surprise should be that they were not listening.

My recommendation:
- Provide regular, immediate feedback - both positive and negative.
- Be specific, constructive, tactful, and honest.
- Stick to the facts and leave out the emotion.
- Negative feedback is an opportunity to correct an issue.  Don't be afraid of it. 
- No surprises.  Everyone should know where they stand - always.

The annual performance review should be a summary of what both you and your employee already know.  It should be a very quick conversation about the past (the known) and focus more on the future (the unknown).

Remember:  Work is not like tee-ball.  People don't get a trophy just for showing up.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Leaders and Managers

As we were going through some organizational changes, it struck me as to how people were interchanging the term "leader" and "manager".  I think that mangers can be leaders but leaders don't have to be managers.  This subtle but important distinction is worth some further consideration. 
I found some good insight at regarding the characteristics of leaders and managers and added some of my own thoughts.  Ideally, your organizations managers are truely leaders.  The term "manager" below refers to the non-leader manager.

Leaders have followers, managers have subordinates - Ask yourself if people are willing to follow you or if they are doing so only because they fear for what you could do to their career.  People naturally follow leaders because they share a common goal, passion, or vision.  It is a matter of choice.  People work for managers because they have to.

Leaders don't require titles, managers do - Leadership is about your actions, not your title.  Leaders don't require authority; they must be armed with vision and passion.  Managers require a title because nobody would listen otherwise.

Leaders have a vision for the future, managers are short term thinkers - A leader takes actions for today and for tomorrow.  Leaders have a vision that others rally behind.  Teams are more engaged around a shared vision.  Managers tend to be just about the next task at hand.

Leaders are proactive, managers are reactive - Leaders see opportunities before others do and spend time sharing their line of sight with others.  Managers tend to be fire fighters, always running to put out the next blaze.

Leaders give credit, managers take credit - The leader recognizes the value of the team and gives them credit for the success of the team.  The manager tends to take the credit; after all, they are good fire fighters!

Leaders challenge the status quo, managers accept it - This comes back to vision.  Change is hard but often times necessary to stay ahead of the competition.  Leaders are driven crazy by those who explain that the reason they do something a certain way is because they always have.  Managers want you to keep doing it the same way because it worked in the past.  That may be true, but future success requires continual improvement.

Leaders are passionate, managers plan the detail - It is difficult to have followers if they do not see that you are passionate.  Have you seen the manager who is not fully behind or passionate about a project?  When that happens, does anyone on the team really get excited or put forth their best effort?  Nope.  True leaders have a passion and share it to the point that it infects the entire team.  When that happens, the team will succeed.

Leaders grow the team, managers control the team - A key element to leadership is setting your team up for success.  Leaders recognize and leverage the talent of the team.  Developing the team to achieve at levels they never imagined is the sign of a true leader. Managers give little thought to developing the team, and focus more on controlling the tasks than individual growth, development, and change.

Leaders set the direction, managers are controlling about the task - If you are passionate and set the vision, then the direction naturally follows.  The team can carry this through to execution.  This is empowerment.  Managers care more about controlling each little task and can lose track of the big picture. 

Leaders make the tough call, managers avoid it - It isn't always easy being a leader.  You have to make the tough call on occasion.  Your team will respect that.  Managers tend to avoid conflict.  They are the ones who invented the "everyone gets a trophy" syndrome.  They won't give negative feedback, deliver bad news, etc.  In their mind it is often easier to keep everyone happy.  Leaders deal with it.

Organizations must be filled with leaders.  Remember, leaders are not required to have a title to lead.  The must have a vision, be passionate, rally the team, and sometimes make the tough calls.  No matter what your title, you can be a leader.  Where do you fit?