When we think of strategic leaders, the image of a scientist – someone in a white lab coat with thick glasses holding a test tube – is not what comes to mind. Yet, surprisingly, strategic leaders are very much like scientists. Here’s how:
It’s the New Year. A fresh start. Rekindled ambition. It’s time to lead your organization to the Promised Land!
Inspiration for my weekly blog comes from many sources. Now, after more than 300 posts, I’m reaching out to another source … you.
The labor market is tight. Many would say brutal. As a result, numerous companies now realize that if they can’t hire people with the right skills, they’ve got to develop skills in the right people.
Conventional wisdom holds that managers should empower their people. That people who have the freedom to make decisions and act on their initiative are more fulfilled in their work and perform at a higher level. It makes good sense.
But there is a dark side to empowerment. It provides a ready-made excuse for managers who don't believe their job actually involves managing. Those who want to be a leader without the responsibilities of leadership.
Empowerment on its own is no panacea. It is just one element - yes, a very important one - in an environment designed for performance and results. Focusing on empowerment yet ignoring the other elements can be disastrous. For example, if you provide empowerment without direction, it leads to chaos. Empowerment without resources leads to frustration. Empowerment without knowledge leads to poor decisions. Empowerment without skills leads to well-intended failures. If all you do is empower your people, then you're likely setting them up to fail.
Empowered people flourish when they have a sense of purpose, when they understand the goals and what is expected of them in pursuit of those goals. When they have the knowledge to make good decisions and the skills and resources to effectively act on them. When they are recognized for taking action and encouraged to learn and grow.
Empowered people flourish when managers realize their role is to create an environment in which their people will be fulfilled and perform at a high level. When they don't use 'empowerment' as a poor excuse for abandonment.
Last week I outlined the Performance Excellence Process as a better alternative to the performance review. Better because it’s future-focused, results-oriented, and requires both the employee and the manager to take responsibility for the employee’s performance. Let’s take a look at the Performance Excellence Process in action.
Performance Excellence meetings are where the process comes to life. When should they occur? Structured Performance Excellence meetings should take place prior to the start of each fiscal year and then every 3 – 6 months. Informally, they should happen organically, in real time. The informal meetings shouldn’t feel like “meetings”, they should just happen. Such as when a manager recognizes an employee who just solved a problem that was frustrating a customer.
The themes of the structured Performance Excellence meetings are: continuous improvement, employee development, and employee support.
1) What outcomes were achieved since the last meeting and why?
The goal here is context. How well did the employee perform and what helped or hindered achievement of the desired outcomes? The primary purpose is to understand what and why; the secondary purpose is to judge.
2) What improvement outcomes is the employee expected to achieve in the future?
It’s critical that the manager takes into account the organization’s needs, the support required by the employee, the organization’s ability to provide it, and the employee’s level of development and past performance. (More might be expected of a seasoned employee than a new employee, for example.)
3) What actions will the manager and/or employee take to help the employee develop and improve?
Does the employee need training? Coaching? More real-time performance feedback? The goal here is to identify the most time-and-cost-effective actions.
4) What support will the manager provide?
The limiting factor may have nothing to do with the employee. It may simply be a matter of support – having sufficient resources or well-designed processes, for example. Providing the necessary support rests squarely on the shoulders of management.
Each structured Performance Excellence meeting should be documented in no more than 1 – 2 pages, noting answers to the questions outlined above.
Unsurprisingly, the tone of the Performance Excellence meeting is very different from that of the performance review meeting. And for good reason. Because at the end of the day the goal isn’t merely to review performance, it’s to deliver performance excellence.
Last week I wrote about the failings of the typical Performance Review Process. So is there a more effective, efficient, and likeable alternative? There is. It’s called the Performance Excellence Process. Here’s how it’s better:
Who likes to have their performance reviewed? Almost no one. The goal isn’t to review performance, it’s to deliver excellent performance. The Performance Excellence Process is results-oriented, not ratings-oriented. And Performance Excellence conveys something more desirable than Performance Review.
Results-oriented means future-focused. The Performance Excellence Process is concerned with three things: continuous improvement, employee development, and employee support. Understanding past performance provides a context for what the manager and employee each need to do to drive success in the future. It’s a means to an end, not the end in itself.
3. Joint Responsibility
A core premise of Performance Excellence is that both the employee and the manager are responsible for the employee’s performance. The manager is responsible for creating an environment in which the employee can succeed (i.e., to meet expectations). The employee is responsible for performing – doing what it takes to succeed. It’s a collaborative process that requires the commitment of both parties.
4. The Right Environment
There are five things a manager must do to create the right environment:
Direct: Conveying the organization’s purpose, goals and expectations, and what those mean for the employee. Aligning the organization’s “why” with what’s important to the employee.
Equip: Making sure the employee has the necessary knowledge, skills, resources and authority to succeed.
Coach: Providing performance-related feedback and guidance that is meaningful and actionable. Recognizing the employee for good decisions, actions and outcomes. And holding the employee constructively accountable when expectations aren’t met.
Support: Ensuring the organization’s processes, policies, structure and infrastructure allow the employee to succeed.
Value: Treating the employee as a person first, an employee second. That means respect, trust and caring.
These are the key differences between Performance Excellence and the Performance Review. The final component, where Performance Excellence comes to life, is the Performance Excellence Meeting. When does it happen and what happens? That’s the topic of next week’s blog.
Guess what percentage of office workers have cried after their performance review. Ten percent? Fifteen percent? No, a full 22%. And … you’re gonna love this … that number breaks down to 18% of women and 25% of men!
Almost two-thirds of employees and managers believe that performance reviews are an outdated way of managing performance. More than half of employees believe performance reviews have no impact on their performance and are a needless HR requirement. And an overwhelmingly majority (80%) want real-time feedback, not bundled feedback months later.
Did you know that managers spend, on average, well over a day preparing for each employee’s performance review?
All this comes from a recent study of 1500 office workers conducted by Adobe. *
The study may be new but the spirit of the findings is not. Colleague Gary Markle, author of Catalytic Coaching: The End of the Performance Review, has been making the case for close to 20 years that the downsides of performance reviews far outweigh the upsides.
Do you suspect the same might be true in your organization? If so, then go back and take a hard look at your performance review process. Is it effective in improving performance? Are the evaluation methods valid? Do managers and employees believe in the process? Do they like the process?
If from an impartial review of your current process you conclude that it’s time to bury it, great. But you’re going to need an alternative. Not managing performance is not the answer. Fortunately, there is a better alternative. The Performance Excellence Process. And that’s the topic of next week’s blog.
After five weeks of covering what to look for in potential team members, this week I’ll expand on how.
Here’s the bad news: we over-rely on interviews. And while interviews can be a valuable method for evaluating potential team members, they’re far from the only method that should be used. As I touched on last week, the more converging evidence you have that a candidate is a strong candidate, the more confident you can be that that person will be a successful hire. But what are the methods that allow you to gather converging evidence?
Take a look at the model below. Before you evaluate candidates for any position, ask yourself which methods would be most effective for assessing the traits, knowledge & skills, background, and values you need.
For example, if you want to know about job-related skills then consider having the person do a job simulation. Have a welder weld. Have a potential CFO assess mock financial statements.
If you want to know about the person’s traits, then a combination of behavioral-based interviewing, assessment profiles, and reference checks might be useful.
If you need someone whose background includes an advanced degree, it would help if they could verify they in fact have that degree.
Depending on the position you’re hiring for it might be useful to have candidates give a presentation to a group, compose a document about the most influential events in their lives, or role play dealing with a difficult customer.
Converging evidence is the key. And you can only get that if you employ various methods in the selection process. That’s how to evaluate potential team members.
Last week, as part of my 5-week review of what to look for when hiring, I wrote about background. This week, I’ll focus on values.
You’ve evaluated their traits, their knowledge and skills, and their background. There’s just one piece of the puzzle left. Their values.
Let me explain. One of the things I value deeply is positive energy. I believe in exuding positive energy, I think positive energy is infectious, and I find positive energy is far more likely to lead to positive results. Why do I value it so much? Because growing up I had the great fortune of experiencing the juxtaposition of people with positive energy and negative energy. It was crystal clear to me that positive energy was who I wanted to be (grammar intended).
So how does positive energy play out in my work? To start, it plays out simply in how I greet people. And it plays out in how I lead teams, facilitate meetings, and deliver workshops. People regularly comment about how much they like and appreciate my positive energy.
Well, you might think, isn’t that a trait, not a value? Yes, it is a trait, a trait grounded in a value. And traits grounded in values are more powerful and enduring than traits grounded in motives such as: if I act like this then the boss will think I’m a team player.
Values are reflected in traits. But not all traits are rooted in values. In hiring team members I’m looking for the former.
So how do you test for values? Ask potential team members about the values they hold dearest. Then ask: why? Ask for examples as to how their personal values have played out at work. And if there was ever a time they questioned one of their values or acted in conflict with one of their values. How did that play out? Knowing how and why values became values helps to validate them.
Over the past 5 weeks I’ve covered the four essential categories to consider when evaluating potential team members: traits, knowledge and skills, background, and values. One final point: The more converging evidence you have that a candidate is a strong candidate, the more confident you can be that that person will be a successful hire.
And making successful hires is a skill that every leader wants to have.