Browsing the blog archives for March, 2010.

No Surprises in Performance Reviews

Geek 5, Managing people

In my company, we are in the middle of performance review season. Part of my job is to run the process including developing procedures, creating forms, communicating steps and time lines and following up. Yes, I am THAT person from HR who keeps pestering you about your reviews. As such, I see reviews for people all over the company from senior leaders to hourly workers. I also hear a lot of feedback about what works and what doesn’t.

Folks in my company complain a lot about the process. We don’t have a system that runs the process, so everything is done manually. Our review forms are on Word documents and Excel spreadsheets. Documents are shared via email and the final forms have to be printed out and signed and kept in central storage – otherwise we would not have a historical record. So obviously not a perfect process. We’re working on that and hope to have something better in the future. Believe me, the manual process is harder on my team than it is on other folks in the company.

With all of that said, the process should not matter. Performance reviews are not about the process, they should be about having the right conversations. Good processes and an automated system will not make up for weak conversations.

One of the Geek 5 risks is about managing people. Geeks often struggle with people management. An important skill to develop is having difficult conversations and giving appropriate feedback. One formal opportunity for giving feedback is the annual performance review. However, more often than not, performance reviews become a check the box activity and don’t provide real value.

I am a firm believer that there should never be any surprises in performance reviews. One responsibility of a manager should be to give regular, ongoing feedback. This is referred to as coaching in the moment and should happen virtually every day. Coaching in the moment means giving feedback and praise immediately after the behavior is done. If you witness a direct report doing something great, tell him or her. Be specific about the behavior you saw and explain why you appreciate it. Verbal praise and recognition go a long way to keeping your team engaged and productive. You are also reinforcing the behavior you value and want to see more of.

Coaching in the moment also means immediately giving corrective feedback when you see a behavior that is not appropriate. Don’t wait six months to tell someone that they were rude and abrupt in a meeting or that their presentation was poorly written. Do it immediately. Give them specific feedback about what was wrong – explain the behavior – and set expectations for the behavior you want to see. By giving immediate feedback, you help them correct the problem faster and they can easily remember what happened.

As a manager if you are coaching in the moment, there should be no surprises in the performance review. You have been giving feedback and guidance about good and poor behavior all year long. At the annual review, you can re-cap the year and discuss progress and additional needed progress.

If your direct report is surprised in an annual review, it is a reflection on your management style. Constant feedback means no surprises.

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Going through hell

Geek Fun, Random

For some Friday perspective, we’re going country!

Times are still tough.  Some of us are slogging through jobs that we’d like to change, and some of us have the tougher slog to find a job.   If you find yourself in a tough job situation (or a tough life situation) it often helps to remember that this too shall pass. 

I’m a Texan by birth, and I admit that I still listen to country music.  One thing country music does well is to create a keep on fighting vibe.  So if you are going through hell and need a shot of courage, consider the song lyrics of the Rodney Atkins song, “If you’re going through hell”.   Don’t slow down, keep on going and you might get out before the devil even knows you’re there!

Check it out on YouTube if you haven’t heard the music before.

Well you know those times
When you feel like there’s a sign there on your back
Says I don’t mind if ya kick me
Seems like everybody has
Things go from bad to worse
You’d think they can’t get worse than that
And then they do

You step off the straight and narrow
And you don’t know where you are
Use the needle of your compass
To sew up your broken heart
Ask directions from a genie
In a bottle of Jim Beam
And she lies to you
That’s when you learn the truth

If you’re going through hell
Keep on going, don’t slow down
If you’re scared, don’t show it
You might get out
Before the devil even knows you’re there

Well I been deep down in that darkness
I been down to my last match
Felt a hundred different demons
Breathing fire down my back
And I knew that if I stumbled
I’d fall right into the trap that they were laying, yeah

But the good news
Is there’s angels everywhere out on the street
Holding out a hand to pull you back up on your feet
The one’s that you’ve been dragginig for so long
You’re on your knees
You might as well be praying
Guess what I’m saying

If you’re going through hell
Keep on going, don’t slow down
If you’re scared don’t show it
You might get out
Before the devil even knows you’re there

Yeah, if you’re going through hell
Keep on moving, face that fire
Walk right through it
You might get out
Before the devil even knows you’re there

If you’re going through hell
Keep on going, don’t slow down
If you’re scared don’t show it
You might get out
Before the devil even knows you’re there

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In-group versus Out-group

Geek 5, Org savvy

In previous posts, we discussed influence power. This occurs when an individual has more impact and influence than the person’s organizational chart position would grant. These folks are often the behind-the-scenes power network that make things happen and influence key decisions. Understanding power and influence is part of the Organizational Savvy component of the Geek 5.

One way to look at influence power is to consider the basic social psychology principle of in-group and out-group dynamics.  Way back in my undergraduate days, I wrote a research paper on in-group and out-group dynamics. This boils down to the fact that we give preference to people who are like us and who are part of our circle. Your in-group can be defined broadly as people of the same race as you or as all of the citizens of your country or as people in the same company or in the same department or in your trusted network of colleagues.   Your current point of reference determines who is in your in-group.  Immediate family is almost always part of your in-group.  Collegues in another department at work may or may not be part of your in-group regarding a specific work issue.

If you are part of an in-group (however broad it is) you are seen as more valuable and trustworthy, and you are given more opportunities. If you aren’t part of the in-group, then your are part of the out-group. Out-group folks have to work harder to be heard and have a positive impact. So the question becomes, who is part of the in-group surrounding the power players in your company?

A common in-group/ out-group scenario that I have witnessed centers around who the boss considers to be his or her “people”. Consider a leader who is taking over a new team. She takes time to understand the strengths and opportunities of the team members and eventually makes some changes to the group. She re-organizes the team, lets some folks go and brings in people that she has worked with elsewhere. Suddenly there is an in-group of employees who have a long history and trusted relationship with the boss. There is also an out-group of people that she “inherited”. The in-group has significant informal influence power with the boss. It can create an us (long-term employees) versus them (boss’s newly brought in folks) mentality.

If you are one of the longer-term, out-group employees, it is important to your future success that you recognize what has happened and position yourself properly.  The out-group folks have to recognize the shift in power, get along with the new in-group, show loyalty to the new boss and continue to be a strong, contributing member of the team. Hopefully over time, the out-group members become part of the in-group and the barriers will break down.

If you find yourself as part of an out-group, it is a waste of time and energy to fuss about “how it used to be” or “how it should be”.  Focus on the positive behaviors described above and work to get yourself seen as an insider with the power players.

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Reading power dynamics part 2

Favorite posts, Geek 5, Org savvy

In a previous post, we talked about how to identify the power players in your organization.  Once you have identified the official and unofficial power players, you need to continue to pay attention to them and what they are doing.  Paying attention allows you to react appropriately and protect your own interests and the interests of your team and organization.  In addition, you have to pay attention to the priorities and conflicts in the group. 

Here are some suggestions for reading power dynamics:

1. Watch and learn about the power players in your company.  Learn to read their agendas (public and hidden). To do this, you can:

  • Determine their priorities. Where do they give their attention and spend their time?
  • Watch body language and voice tone for signals of approval and irritation.
  • Ask people who know them about their management style and preferences.
  • Find out the leader’s personal preferences, passions and concerns. These can give you insight into the person.  It might also identify a common interest.  One warning – never try to fake an interest in an activity just to connect with someone else.  If you do, you’ll just seem insincere and fake.  Remember, you can be savvy and successful at organizational politics without sacrificing your integrity or values.

2. Pay attention to unwritten rules, so you don’t get tripped up by them.  

3. Don’t just listen to what is said. You also need to pay attention to how it is said and who says it and how other people react to it.  Be aware – watch these interactions.

4. Listen to your gut. If you are listening and watching, you’ll start to determine when something smells like bad politics, a power play or manipulation. Learn to trust your instincts.

5. When you detect problems, don’t react in the moment. Take your time to collect more information, make sure you know the scope of the issue and proceed with a plan.

Following these guidelines will help youto  survive the hidden risks in your organization.  More importantly, you can use your increased savvy to turn negative politics into positive politics that help you succeed and build credibility. 

This wraps up our discussion on Brandon and Seldman’s book, Survival of the Savvy.   We’ve discussed topics such as defining organizational politics, being under-political, overcoming fatal flaws, fighting sabotage and reading power dynamics.   This book is a resource that I use frequently and recommend to the executives that I coach – especially those with deep technical expertise.   We’ll come back to the topic of organizational savvy over time, since it is an important part of the Geek 5.

If you only take away three ideas from this series of posts, they should be:

1.  Organizational politics exist everywhere.  Even choosing not to play is a form of playing.

2.  Organizational savvy is about building relationships that can help you be more effective at your job. 

3.  You can become savvy at politics and relationships without sacrificing your integrity.

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