Thursday, June 10, 2010

Performance Feedback: How to Stick the Landing

Giving feedback is like giving a person a snapshot of himself.

The first thing you do when you look at a picture of yourself is to pick it apart. You want the picture to be a good one, accurate and flattering. You want a "good hair day". You want to improve the picture in any way you can. Sometimes you want the photographer to re-take the picture.

When you give feedback to others, think about the picture you are giving them of themselves. Help them to improve the picture and understand their resistance to seeing an ugly one. Help them form a more accurate and actionable picture of themselves by following the tips below:

1. Devote time to feedback.

Structured, planned feedback should be balanced with ad hoc feedback. Without a plan for feedback, the comments seem random, capricious, even mean-spirited, and will be ignored.

2. Be specific.

What action do you like/not like?
When did it occur?
What effects were created?
Avoid generalities like “Everyone thinks you are stubborn.” This is not actionable feedback.

3. Balance positive and negative feedback.

Consistently negative feedback turns people off and will close off communication.

4. Give good reasons.

If you want some behavior or attribute to change, explain to the person WHY it is vital to change this attribute.

5. Create a plan.

Many people would like to change but do not know HOW. Help the person see how subtle shifts can create different effects. Give short step-by-step ideas for changing the behavior.

Don’t bite off more than you can chew. The biggest mistake made in giving feedback is trying to tackle every problem or the whole picture in one meeting. This overwhelms and upsets the person. Better to make progress on one small part than no progress at all.

The following anecdote shows the cycle of accurate and actionable feedback.

Joe arrives for his weekly one-on-one with his manager. He is aware that the last 10 minutes of the meeting are devoted to development feedback.

His manager (Rita) reviews a recent team meeting where Joe withheld information from a peer, causing the peer to flounder on his presentation to the group.

Rita discusses what happened in the meeting, how the withholding of vital information caused the peer to be upset and look unprepared in front of the group. Rita explains that if the group works together they look better as a group and they have more influence across the company. Rita explains how this withholding behavior has generated a poor image of the group from the outside.

At this point, Joe defends himself and points out why his behavior was correct. Rita takes no issue with his defense and simply acknowledges it. Joe’s defensiveness is expected and his justifications are listened to and acknowledged with no special importance given. Defensiveness is a trait common to all human beings. After acknowledging only (NOT arguing) with his reasoning, she simply proceeds to work out with Joe a set of steps to avoid this problem in the future.

Rita suggests a few steps for Joe and lets Joe volunteer steps as well. Joe suggests he meet with his peers regularly and find out what information might be needed from him for presentations. Joe also suggests he proactively share information when he receives it. Rita agrees to any ideas she likes and suggests ideas of her own. The two of them agree to a short plan (three to five steps) and both sign off on it. At the next one-on-one, they both check in on progress. Any changes to the plan can be made at that time.

Good feedback should be a well-planned cycle that starts with noticing an issue, continues with scheduled and impromptu feedback, and finishes with improved performance reviews. With a thoughtful approach and patience, you can move the needle on changing behavior and developing better leaders.

Friday, May 28, 2010

The REAL purpose of HR

The Real Purpose of HR
At a recent offsite with a group of highly skilled Human Resources executives, I asked the toughest question of the day: “What is the purpose of HR in a company?”
The silence was deafening.
Then, slowly, as the stunned crowd came back to life, a few muffled answers surfaced. “To hire and fire.” Decent, but shortsighted. “To ensure compliance with employment law.” Not quite. “To recruit top talent.” A partial answer.
None of these executives fully knew what Human Resources departments were designed to do. Why was HR created? What value does it add in an organization? How could we know if the HR department was a good one or a bad one?
This problem is all too common. Some companies choose to outsource HR entirely and just hire contractors until they have to pull HR in-house. Because HR has lost sight of its purpose in modern companies, it becomes ill-defined, often lackadaisical and sometimes ridiculed.
The answer to this malady is to restate and re-instill the purpose of the HR function: To hire, train, motivate and support productive employees. This means that various tasks fall to HR which can be measured. It is not the wishy-washy, touchy-feely area it might seem to be.
HR departments should:
1. Hire good people. Qualified people hired and working can be measured.
2. Train people to do their jobs correctly. People in their roles who are fully trained to do them can also be measured, as can various training modules on the way to full competency.
3. Motivate employees. This means removing barriers to productivity. This can be measured by tracking each employee’s productivity.
4. Support productive employees. This can be measured by compliance with policy and law and by retention.
Most HR departments cover #1 nicely. #2 is often sketchy and only sometimes effective. #3 and #4 are fertile ground for further discussion.
How does one motivate employees? Motivation can be defined as a willingness to do something. Willingness is the greatest tool any person has to accomplish goals. What gets in the way of willingness is too many barriers and too many failed purposes. An effective Human Resources department can remove these barriers for the majority of the company and watch as productivity rises.
Barriers can be conflicts in the workplace, employee relations issues, pay problems, and a host of other possible topics. Human Resources professionals have to be highly trained in handling conflicts and bureaucracy to accomplish this step. If HR isn’t able to track each employee’s productivity, it will be difficult to assess whether barriers have been removed.
Imagine this utopian example. Joe is a Director of Marketing for a major division of a large retail chain. He has been working on a project to increase customer engagement through targeted marketing and has been successful at doing so. Customer engagement in his target market is up 6% over last quarter. His boss, the VP of Marketing, then tells him he is ineffective and that he should stop the project and work on a social media marketing campaign.
In a perfect world, Joe goes to HR and explains the situation. HR sets up a conference with Joe and his boss, bringing the graph showing Joe’s recent success. The confusions are resolved and Joe is returned to his prior project and someone else is put on the social media campaign.
A few key points come from this example. 1. The VP of Marketing should have known Joe was successful. Since he didn’t, it is HR’s job to let them know he is a good employee who should be protected. 2. HR should be skilled in negotiating difficult human interactions, as this one could potentially have been, especially if pressure to do a social media campaign was coming from further up the org chart. 3. No stop or stall in production should result from this problem. HR should act swiftly and accurately to keep production moving. 4. If the VP of Marketing himself is having trouble, HR should note this and help him to remove barriers to his production as well without pushing confusion downward to his team.
The key point here is that Human Resources is the backbone of a productive, happy organization. Why? Because nothing in a company is accomplished without its people. Skilled management of the people and support of their productivity is a vital foundation for the rest of the company. So get your HR department functioning correctly now and reap the rewards down the line.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Don't Take That Message!

I arrived in the office yesterday morning to the following message on my desk: “Company X cancelled Project B. Thanks.” What a bad way to start the day. Turns out, it was not even true. Company X had simply called to move the start date of Project B and wanted some information about how to change the contract. Now, I could say no one is to blame for this poor communication or for Company X wanting to change something. Or I could assume it was a simple mistake. I am a bit more demanding. I prefer to look at the bigger picture on what types of communication I should accept and, in fact, demand, of those who communicate with me.

Executives and business owners are juggling many balls every day. In truth, we do not have time for mistaken or upsetting communication. It drags down our morale and wastes precious time to clarify the situation. Stacked up over many instances, it cripples our businesses. What if we only accepted certain types of communication? What if we demanded people communicate with us in better, more concise, more positive ways? It’s a new view on time management.

Here’s the idea. Only accept communications that provide a) valid information, b) requests for authorization of well thought-out proposals, c) confirmation that something got done, or d) great news.

Next, go even further and reject communications that a) demand you make a decision about some issue that you know very little about, b) give reasons why something cannot be accomplished, or c) relay bad news.

Try to imagine your day free of those negative communications. Sound idyllic? While it might take a little work and a little re-training of your contacts, it can be done.

Here are the four simple steps to implement this plan in your office:

1. Inform those with whom you communicate most frequently of your new “Good News and Information Only” Policy. Use the paragraph above to show them the types of communications you expect and give them short examples.

2. If you get an illegal communication like the one in my example at the beginning of the article, send it back with a short, polite note to the writer. Example, “Sue, thank you for this note. I am unclear what happened here. Please rewrite this message explaining exactly what happened and a possible solution. I appreciate it!”

3. Watch your mood improve. You are in control and your office is already more positive.

4. Share this plan with other executives and business owners who can also improve their situations.

I look forward to hearing your good news as you implement this time-saving, mood-saving plan.