Browsing the blog archives for March, 2010.

Rating the Slime Factor

Favorite posts, Geek 5, Leadership, Org savvy, Uncategorized

Part of leadership (Geek 5 risk) is developing talent in future leaders.  One key part of this process is succession planning.  I sat in a succession planning meeting the other day that introduced a whole new element of talent management – the slime factor. I’ve facilitated a lot of succession planning meetings. Generally we discuss the behaviors of the employee – with a focus on current performance and future potential. If performance is good and potential is strong, that employee is rated a being “high-potential”. That label can lead to special development opportunities and assignments and usually leads to a promotion.

Our conversation was moving along well. The group I was working with is composed of seasoned executives. We’ve been doing succession planning meetings for a few years and have got the rhythm down. Then we got stuck. We were discussing an employee who was a very strong performer – let’s call him Ted. Ted works out in the field – in an operational, metric-driven role. Operationally and metrically, he was strong. Even so, when his name was brought up, there was silence around the table.

Hmmmm…. As a facilitator, this is when the warning flag is raised. I asked the group to describe Ted’s working style. Was he using the right behaviors to get his strong results? It is a common scenario that some employees get strong results by destroying everyone and everything around them. In our company that behavior is not tolerated. We have a leadership competency model that requires employees to get results through collaboration and critical thinking and good judgment.  Everyone in the room shook their heads – Ted wasn’t mean or difficult or cutting corners or sabotaging others. The group just couldn’t explain it.

Finally one of the few female leaders in the room blurted out – “He’s just slimy!” That broke the spell – everyone started talking and laughing – and agreeing. He is slimy. Slimy is hard to quantify, but there was strong agreement in the room about it.

Here is what slimy meant:

  • Ted made people feel uncomfortable – even if they could not explain why.
  • One leader described Ted as someone who would “check out all the women in the room”, but he never crossed the line into sexual harassment.
  • Ted always seemed close to crossing a line – in his jokes or attitude or touching.
  • In social situations he often seemed awkward and not part of the group.

Most of these descriptions are intangible.  I always try to push groups to focus on specific behaviors.  However, in this case, slimy seemed to fit. It was enough reason for the group to label him as “Correctly Placed” and plan to keep an eye on is behavior.

Slimy trumps strong performance.  Do you have Slimy Ted’s in your company?

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Blogger foul: 10 yard penalty on Fistful of Talent

Random

I’m going to deviate a bit from my common topics today.  I feel compelled to discuss a post from over at Fistful of Talent.  FOT is a blog that I read regularly.  Generally I enjoy it.  The bloggers tend to take extreme views of things and often show some Gen-Y angst, but it is usually thought-provoking.

However, in one recent post, the blogger stated an opinion, like it was fact, about selection testing.  The post is called “I’m not sure I need a test to assess attitude + motivation”. It was very obvious that she threw out her thoughts without having any expertise in the area.  She claimed that selection testing was a waste of time, energy and money, because any good interviewer could tell who was a good candidate and who was not.  She also claimed that she could fake her way to a good score on any test.

Here was my response (similar to responses of several others):

Wow! This post mostly reflects Jessica’s lack of knowledge about proven and validated selection testing. I encourage her and others to do some additional research on selection testing from reputable sources. There is an entire field of study called Industrial-Organizational Psychology that has used scientific methods and data to prove that selection tests work. And they are more accurate than interviews and gut feelings.

The caveat is that the tests must be properly developed, validated and applied in order to be effective.

I also agree with Steve Deighton. I use selection tests extensively in my work as an I/O Psychologist working in a Fortune 500 company. It is hard to fake your results. We catch faking all of the time. One of our tests is specifically designed to search for a profile that has some highs and some lows. If you assume that “more” of a trait is always better, you will do poorly on the assessment.

BTW – most good assessments include many other factors besides personality such as cognitive ability and work style fit.

Check out www.siop.org for more information about selection testing.

geekcoach
www.geeksgonepro.com

 Now, I get the fact that blogging is a more casual form of writing than academic or professional journals.  Even so, I expect that someone writing as an expert in a field like HR would take the time to understand a topic that she is discussing.

Not all bloggers are experts in the topics on their blogs.  I stay intentionally focused on an area in which I can claim expertise.  Maybe we’ll even take a look at selection testing one of these days. 

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Geeks Gone Pro registered on Technorati

Random

Geeks Gone Pro is officially registered on Technorati.  Hopefully this will provide an additional channel for people to find the blog.  Right now, GGP is ranked #44029 on Technorati.

GGP continues to be part of Career Alltop.  We’re not even last on the page anymore!

At this time, the blog has a rank of #14,126,290 on Alexa.

Geekcoach has some work to do to get things moving!

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Business Acumen: Become a Financial Whiz!

Business Acumen, Geek 5

One of the Geek 5 risks is about lacking business acumen.   By definition, geeks have deep expertise in their fields.  Learning and developing deep expertise usually requires laser-like focus.   Engineers focus on math, science and technology; doctors focus on medicine; computer programmers focus on coding and systems, etc. 

As recent research has shown, it is believed to take approximately 10000 hours of practice to get good at something.  Geeks focus their 10000 hours (give or take) on their specialty.   As a result, most geeks don’t learn general business and financial skills.   

There are a lot of available resources to help geeks learn general business skills.  We’ll explore some of them in this blog.  Some of the resources are free and some cost to use.  The one common theme will be that you can learn from them on your own while you are working.  You don’t need to quit work and get an MBA to find success in your career. 

You already have a technical expertise that sets you apart.  What you need is to have enough business and financial acumen to understand the broader picture at your company.  You also need to understand the business issues facing your senior leaders and be able to discuss the issues.  To be a leader, even in your specialty area, you need to take a broader view of the business and financials of your company.

One resource to explore is Harvard Business Review (HBR).  HBR has many terrific resources – including articles, books, blogs and more.  I use HBR resources in many leadership programs and in executive coaching.  Recently I received an email about some new e-learning offerings from HBR.  I have not taken these course, but I trust content from HBR.  Sometimes HBRs web-based materials are not slick and flashy, but the content is always superior.

These e-learning courses cost $70-$130 for an individual license.  The topics include:

So if you are looking for some good business or financial course, check these out!

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Advice from the Top: Escape your Office?

Advice from the Top, Leadership

You’ll start seeing a new topic here at Geeks Gone Pro called “Advice from the Top”.  This will be advice and thoughts from leaders who have already achieved success and moved to the top of their organizations.  Some of these leaders are ones I know personally, and others will be well-known business folks.  Their advice ties to the Geek 5 as related to leadership.

Today’s “Advice from the Top” comes from a senior leader at my current company.  He is a dynamic leader who tells stories to teach leadership.  Gracious with his time, he often speaks during our leadership training sessions. 

One phrase he uses is “Treat your office like a prison and escape it as often as you can!”

By this, he means that you cannot lead people from behind a desk.  You do tasks behind a desk, you practice leadership with other people.  The work you do in an office on a computer is not as important as the work you do when you are out interacting with direct reports, peers, bosses, customers, etc.  Here are some takeaways from this idea:

1.  Stay connected to your team – There used to be a popular management technique called “Management by Walking Around”.  This is the same concept.  Try to take a daily stroll around your workplace.  Check in with your direct reports.  It might be as simple as saying hello and briefly chatting – this builds ongoing rapport and trust.  Or you might ask about the status of projects or meetings.  If you are present and available, you’re more likely to hear of troubles before they escalate.  Be present as a leader. 

2.  Find out what is happening in the company – Visiting other groups and areas can keep you connected into the organization.  You will have casual opportunities to discuss the work you are doing, and you can hear what others are doing.  People love to talk about themselves.  If you drop in and ask a few questions, it is a great way to start a conversation.  A good listener is always appreciated – and you might pick up interesting infrormation.   If nothing else, you are building relationships and your network.

3.  Be visible – You are more likely to get noticed out of your office than sitting at your desk.  Visibility is critical to building your credibility and to make you seem like a broader leader.  You have to be visible to be considered for bigger opportunities.  Remember the posts about organizational savvy?

Getting out of your office can mean walking around to talk to folks, having lunch in the company cafeteria, seeking others out to congratulate them on successes, visiting branch offices or stores or other outlets, etc.  The point is that you learn more by getting out, asking questions and listening than you do by reading and writing reports. 

Remember, you always need to get your work done – and that usually involves sitting in your office.  If you don’t perform well, your leadership skills won’t matter.  Just make sure that you build in time to practice your leadership skills by getting out of your office when you can.  Good leaders lead in person, not through email.

How can you escape your office?

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Friday Fun: Muppet Madness Tournament

Geek Fun

Calling all geeks!  For those not interested in March Madness basketball there is a site offering Muppet Madness

It is a knock down, drag out fight between the Muppet Show characters and Sesame Street muppets.  The second bracket is between The Rock and other muppets. 

I don’t know much about the Fraggle Rock team or the “others”.  But the Muppet Show versus Sesame Street showdown is intense.  Cast your vote to see if the Grouch beats Big Bird or if Ernie and Bert can take down The Count.  We’ll report back with the Final Four.

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Should geeks turn down promotions?

Broader role, Geek 5

One of the Geek 5 risks is about resistance to taking on a role beyond a geek’s technical specialty.  It often moves a geek out of the comfort zone and demands new skills such as those around managing people.

Over at Businessweek.com, John Baldoni wrote an article called “Sure you want to move up the ladder?”  He covers the same topic and poses some interesting questions that you should ask yourself.

He encourages you to think about what type of leader you would be and what new skills you might need to be successful.  He also mentions the sacrifices that often come along with the perks of a promotion.

Check out his article for more details.

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5 Tips for Effective Performance Reviews

Geek 5, Managing people, Uncategorized

In previous posts, we discussed some of the ins and outs of delivering effective performance reviews as a manager.  One of the Geek 5 risks is around managing people – and managers often fail at doing effective reviews.  Here are five tips that can help you be successful:

1.  Prepare – If done well, reviews can be very impactful.  They wrap up the previous year and set expectations for the future year.  To have an impact, you as the manager need to prepare – and that means doing more than filling out the forms.  You should: 

  • look back over the whole year for successes and opportunities
  • seek feedback from co-workers who interact with your direct report
  • consider “what” got done but also “how” the work got done
  • compare your direct report to expectations for his or her level and job description
  • think about the value or pain that the person brings to the team dynamics
  • come up with concrete examples of good and bad behavior
  • fill out the paperwork so it reflects the message you want to send

2.  Build off coaching in the moment – Remember, if you are coaching in the moment all year long, you should be continuing those conversations.  That means that there should not be any surprises in the final review.  If you haven’t been coaching all year, then this is the place to start.  Set firm expectations for the year and continue the conversation all year long.

3.  Have the difficult conversation – Remember, having the honesty to help someone improve areas of opportunity is kinder in the long-run than pretending everything is okay.  Have mercy by being tough but honest.  To prepare for a tough conversation: 

  • have concrete examples of behavior (instead of saying “you are not a team player” you can say “you were asked to assist Sally with a critical deadline last month, but you refused to help because it was not a normal part of your job”)
  • think about how you will phrase the feedback – having a script makes it easier if you are nervous
  • anticipate emotion – your direct report might get angry or cry – you should give them time to calm down and then continue
  • work with your HR Manager if you need some coaching on how to give tough feedback

4.  Remember the positive – These posts have focused a lot on having difficult conversations.  Many geek managers struggle with giving direct, negative feedback.  With that said, don’t forget the positive.  Reinforce the behaviors he or she does well.  Re-state your confidence that he/she will continue to improve and be a valuable member of the team.   Unless someone is in serious trouble, try to leave all reviews on a positive, future-focused note.

5. Follow-up – Remember to extend your conversations throughout the year.  This is especially important if someone is on an improvement plan.  One common mistake is that managers put a direct report on a plan and then never follow-up.  The performance does not improve or is not sustained, but the manager is not paying attention anymore.  Put a note on your calendar for check-in points.  If you don’t hold your direct reports accountable, you lose credibility as a leader.

Managing people is not always fun, but it can be rewarding as you help your direct reports develop and improve.  In any case, performance reviews and giving feedback are key parts of your role as a manager.  Do it well!

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Friday articles: Hedge Fund Manager & When to fire

Business Acumen, Geek 5, Leadership, Managing people

For this Friday, I’m going to link you to two interesting articles at the New York Times.  BTW – the NYT is a great resource for improving your business acumen which is one of the Geek 5 risks.

The first article is a Corner Office interview called “An Office? She’ll Pass on That”by Adam Bryant about hedge fund manager Meridee A. Moore.  She has some interesting things to say about her management style (she micro-manages) and some of the coaching she has received about her style.  She also talks about using 360 feedback and an executive coach to make sure she stays on track as a leader.

The second article, in the small business blog: You’re the Boss, is titled  “The Secret to Having Happy Employees”by Jay Goltz.  I like his straight-forward take on happiness in the workplace.  He describes two things to do to keep workers happy.  One thing is the obvious answer – treat them well.  The second thing is less obvious – fire people when you need to.  Read the article to learn more.

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As a manager, lack of coaching can take you down

Geek 5, Leadership, Managing people

In this last post, we covered how a lack of “coaching in the moment” can cause employees to be surprised by a bad performance review. One of the Geek 5 risks is about managing people. When you are in a leadership role, managing people is one of your most important and most visible responsibilities.

Another common problem I see with managers during performance reviews involves giving an employee a solid performance review score in order to avoid a difficult conversation. My company uses a 1-5 rating scale. You almost never see ones or fives, and most ratings cluster around 3.5. When we look at a distribution of the ratings, we see a big spike at 3.5 but we also see another spike at 3.0.

This second spike has a simple explanation. Any employee who gets an overall performance review score below 3.0 is not eligible for a bonus or merit increase. As a result, many managers with poor performers give the lowest possible score that they can give without having to have a “no bonus” conversation.

So, you might be thinking, what’s so wrong with that?

What’s wrong is that a needed conversation never happens. The employee gets the impression that everything is good or at least good enough. One of our senior leaders refers to a 3.0 as the coward’s review score. The manager is not acting as a manager and a leader. This avoids a short-term conversation, but usually leads to trouble down the road.

The employee keeps on doing what he or she has always done – after all, the review was okay. As poor performance continues (since it has never been addressed) the manager and company are usually growing more and more frustrated. At some point, an issue will tip the performance from poor to unacceptable.  The manager has had enough. He generally storms down to Human Resources saying that he wants to fire the poor performing employee right away.

As HR probes into the situation, it becomes obvious that there has never been a conversation about the problems and that there is no written documentation. In our company, that puts a hard stop to the conversation. Unless there is a serious policy violation, the manager is asked to go back, give feedback, do coaching in the moment and give the employee a chance to get back on track.

If the manager continues to avoid the conversation, the company starts seeing the manager as a performance problem. The manager’s boss starts giving feedback about poor management skills, and the manager is suddenly at risk. When you are a leader, you must act like a leader. Avoiding tough conversations shows a lack of leadership courage. Part of leadership and management is having tough conversations when you need to. Otherwise, it becomes your failure. And believe me, those failures get noticed. Next thing you know, you’ll get called in to your manager’s office to get some coaching about your poor performance as a leader.

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