Browsing the archives for the Managing people category.

Coaching: Making the vague more specific

Geek 5, Managing people

Last week I gave some advice to a less experienced manager.  She and I are friends and have worked on projects together in the past.  About a year ago she was promoted into her first role in which she manages people.  Unfortunately she inherited a tough team.  Early on she had to manage a long-time employee out of the business.

Last week, she had to coach someone on performance issues.  She was stressed out from the conversation.    So we talked that through and I think she felt better.  She just needed a friendly ear.

Then we talked about the action plan she was setting up for her direct report.  He was struggling with some tough issues.  They were more about “will” versus “skill”.  Skill issues are easier to fix – they usually require teaching and time.  Will issues are about someone not wanting to do something or not being willing to change.

This direct report, let’s call him Charlie, has solid skills and does his job reasonably well.  However, he is difficult to work with.  He can also be argumentative and closed to other perspectives.  His body language screams when he was unhappy.  Maybe he even has a bit of the cringe factor.  One key problem is that he often ignores input from internal clients about his project work.  He will not incorporate changes if he does not agree with them.

The manager did all of the right things – she had the difficult conversation and and used specific examples.  However, she wasn’t sure how to turn that information into an action plan for fixing the problems.   Similar to advice given about performance reviews, there are some basics about writing good action plans.

In this case it was about being more specific and behavioral.  Originally the plan stated that he needed to be more open to input from internal clients and incoporate their feedback into his work.  The problem was captured but this description was not specific enough to help him understand what he needs to do.

So we worked together until the manager had an idea of what to tell him to do.  In this case the action plan was modified to say that he needed to send an email after content meetings with internal clients.  In the email he will specify what he had heard in the meeting and what changes and work he will do as a result.  He will copy the manager, so she can follow up on progress.

I don’t know how this story will end.  But the manager handled it well with a few tweaks to the action plan.  Charlie has a chance to turn things around and the manager has grown as a leader of people.

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Don’t do team building to fix one person

Geek 5, Leadership, Managing people, Uncategorized

As a leader, one of your jobs is to build a strong team.  You need to hire the right people, train them, motivate them and keep them productive and happy.  As stated in the Geek 5, managing people is one of the toughest task that a leader faces.

So what do you do when someone is not performing well?

One poor suggestion is to do team building.  As an Industrial/ Organizational Psychologist working in the Organizational Development area, part of my job is to run team building sessions.  There are a lot of good reasons to do team building such as helping a new team get to know each other, working out process and communication challenges, building trust or getting focused on a big goal. 

When someone comes to me with a request to do team building in their area, I start by asking questions.  What are they hoping to accomplish? What behaviors should change after the session?  What would a successful session look like?

All too often, I get an answer such as “…let me tell you about Joe.”

The story about Joe is that he is not doing a good job.  His performance is poor or he annoys everyone or his behavior is out of control.   The manager and the rest of the team all know Joe is a problem.    The manager does not want to have a tough conversation with Joe, so she suggests team building.

She thinks that after team building Joe will see the error of his ways and shape up.  She wants to use team building to set expectations for the right behavior.

It is a cop out by the manager.  And it won’t work.

Most teams are savvy enough to know when the exercise is really about trying to straighten out Joe.  Plus, team building can’t be successful with a seriously dysfunctional team member.  It will just fragment the team more and cause morale problems with the other employees.

Joe’s manager need to do some good old-fashioned, tough-love feedback and deal with the problem directly.  Once Joe is fixed, the team will probably need a team building session to regain trust.

Don’t cop out.  Find the right solution to the problem.

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Are you a porpoise or a sunspot?

Geek 5, Managing people, Org savvy, Uncategorized

Are you a porpoise or a sunspot?

Hopefully you are not either one.  Hopefully, if you are a manager, your direct reports are not either.

In previous posts, I’ve described some clever phrases that have emerged from succession planning meetings such as the slime factor and the cringe factor.  Here are two more phrases coined by non-HR folks.:

The porpoise– an employee whose performance goes up and down.  He does not sustain performance improvements after coaching ends.  Once he thinks he isn’t being watched any more, he goes back to bad habits until a new problem re-starts the coaching cycle.

Sunspots – Similar to porpoises, sunspots do best when being watched, but for different reasons.  Sunspots like attention and are constantly seeking positive feedback.  They shine brightly when their work is getting attention.  They grow dim and performance slides backwards when the light is not shining on them.

Managers have to bring porpoises from poor to good and they have to bring sunspots from good to great.  Both porpoises and sunspots require too much energy from the manager – they are high maintenance.  The focus should be on getting them to perform well whether or not they are being watched. 

Descriptions of Gen Y employees indicates that this group will tend toward being sunspots who want accolades for performing normal job responsibilities.  As a manager, focus on delegation and independence to get them working independently.  Otherwise they’ll suck their energy needs out of you.

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Beating the Talent Statistics

Geek 5, Managing people

In a previous post, we discussed an article written by Jean Martin and Conrad Schmidt called “How to Keep Your Top Talent” from the May 2010 HBR.  They presented some frightening statistics about the risks of losing high potential employees.   Continuing the conversation, we’ll cover some of the mistakes they discuss in the article. 

Don’t assume engagement

One mistake is to assume that HiPos are highly engaged.  The statistics indicate that many of them are considering leaving and don’t give full effort.  HiPos tend to have out-sized expectations and realize they have lots of employment alternatives.  This can make them edgy and restless.  HiPos are often the first people to be disappointed when the company’s struggles impact compensation and opportunities.  They don’t want to tough it out.  They want to be rewarded and recognized for their contributions.  In these cases, managers and companies need to be creative in offering developmental opportunities and visibility to HiPos to keep them engaged.

HiPos are corporate assets

Another mistake is delegating the development of HiPos to line managers.  Martin and Schmidt argue that HiPos should be managed more centrally.  This allows the HiPos to be developed without a negative financial impact to the department.  It also prevents a line manager from “hoarding” or hiding good talent.   For the most part I agree with this advice.  HiPos should be treated as corporate assets.  However, they also have an operational, line role that needs to be managed by the line manager.  In my view it needs to be a partnership between the line manager and the larger organization.

Check out the article for details on other common mistakes made in dealing with HiPos.

Don’t forget the needs of the organization

It is a good article, but I do take issue with one aspect.  The article gives all of the power to the HiPo and only focuses on what the company can do to satisfy and retain them.  I believe that it needs to be a balance.  There are times when the needs of the organization must trump the needs and desires of the HiPo.  They might need to stay longer in a critical role and not advance as fast as they would like.  They might need to take a pay freeze along with everyone else.    HiPos are usually worth a special development focus.  But don’t lose sight of the bigger picture.  Don’t reward one person to the detriment of others.  Keep a balance between retaining HiPos and running the business and treating all employees well.  HiPos alone cannot run a successful company.  If you balance too far in their favor, you could damage your business.

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Scary Talent Statistics

Business Acumen, Geek 5, Managing people

We’ve talked about succession planning and how it impacts you and your direct reports.  The latest Harvard Business Review has a great article about the retention of top talent.

HBR is a terrific resource for geeks and anyone else looking to move ahead in a broader management role.  HBR hits the Geek 5 in several ways.  One way is that it is a solid source of business acumen.  You’ll learn a lot about business and finance and strategy.  The articles are well-written, based on solid research and often presented in a case study format.  HBR also hits the Geek 5 in terms of having research-based articles about leadership and managing people.  This article is one of those.

The article written by Jean Martin and Conrad Schmidt is called “How to Keep Your Top Talent”, and it appeared in the May 2010 HBR.  It can also be read or downloaded online.

The article is based on solid research from both the Corporate Executive Board (focused on general business) and the Corporate Leadership Council (focused on leadership and HR).  These are expensive organizations to join, but they offer a wealth of information and research and support in areas like Talent Management.  If your company has a membership – you should check them out!

In this post, I’m going to share with you some frightening statistics from the article.  In a future post, we’ll cover the recommendations from Martin and Schmidt on how to tackle the problem.

We’ve defined high-potentials (HiPos) and talked about identifying them in succession planning.  Martin and Schmidt indicate that identification alone is not enough.  HiPos require special attention.  The research indicates:

  • Almost 40% of the internal job moves made by HiPos end in failure
  • One-fourth of your HiPos intends to leave your company in the next year
  • One third of HiPos admit that they don’t put their full effort into the job
  • Employee engagement overall has dropped.  In the first half of 2007 only 8% of employees were “highly disengaged” but by the end of 2009 21% were.

What does this mean for you? 

As a manager, it means that you should be concerned and should start paying attention to your start employees.  As an employee yourself, you should think about your status as a HiPo or not and the impact on your career advancement.

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Five thoughts about succession planning

Geek 5, Managing people, Talent Management

We’ve talked about what succession planning is, what succession ratings mean, and the difference between performance and potential.  Here are some key points to consider:

1.  Succession planning is about identifying key talent and developing employees for bigger roles.

2.  This planning is a form of risk management for the company.  It ensures that key roles have back up, so the business will not be significantly impacted if someone leaves.

3.  Performance and potential are not the same thing.  The best sales representative is not necessarily the best manager of the sales group.

4.  As a manager of people, you have a dual role in succession planning.  You must consider the potential and development of your direct reports and you, as an employee, are discussed in the process.

5.  You can improve your standing in succession planning by:

  • doing an outstanding job in your current role
  • showing a willingness to take on bigger responsibilities
  • living the values and competencies developed by your company
  • letting your boss and other key leaders know about your career goals
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Good Now Doesn’t Mean Great Later

Geek 5, Managing people, Talent Management

If you are a manager, or aspire to be a manager, you will probably be required at some point to evaluate the potential of your direct reports for a succession planning process.  It is part of the “Managing People” risk of the Geek 5.

One common point of confusion for managers is the difference between performance and potential.  Many managers assume that is an employee is a superstar at her job then she will be great for bigger roles and promotions.  Sometimes that is true, but just as often it is not true.

Performance and potential are not the same concept. 

Performance looks at the quality and quantity of what was done in the past.  It measures behaviors and actions and accomplishment of goals.  Performance is measured during performance reviews.

Potential looks at what an associate is capable of doing in the future.  Employees with high potential are also generally good performers.  They are good at their current job, but they also have the ability and drive and skills to take on bigger roles and to be successful at higher levels.

Some employees do outstanding work in their current jobs, but are best suited for staying in that role.  They are high performers in performance reviews but correctly placed for succession planning. 

Here are some possible scenarios with different performance and potential.

PAT:  Pat does well in the current job.  Pat’s does not exhibit any of the skills or competencies needed for future roles.  Pat is like a “Professional in Position”. Pat earns a good performance review rating and gets a bonus and a merit increase. In succession planning, Pat is rated as Correctly Placed.  He is best suited for his current role.

CHRIS:  Chris does well in the current job.  Chris also shows some of the skills and competencies needed to work at a higher level.  For example, Chris shows the ability to learn new information and is often seen as a “go-to” person.  Chris earns a good performance review rating and gets a bonus and a merit increase. Chris shows long-term potential for promotion and is rated as Promotable in succession planning.  With development, Chris is expected to be ready in 1-3 years to move to a bigger role.

SAM: Sam was rated as Highly Promotable in previous succession planning.  Having strong potential and strong performance, Sam just got an exciting promotion into a challenging new role.  Sam earns a great performance review rating and gets a bonus and a merit increase. Sam is learning the new position and working to adapt key skills to the new role.  Although all signs indicate success in the future, Sam is rated in the current succession planning as Correctly Placed.  In the new role, Sam has some growth and learning to do.

In all of these scenarios, the employees were strong performers and they were rewarded during performance reviews.  However, they were rated differently in succession planning.

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The Mysteries of Succession Planning

Leadership, Managing people, Org savvy, Talent Management

I find that succession planning is often perceived in organizations as a mysterious and unknowable and threatening process. Employees know that it impacts promotions and career decisions, but they are not sure exactly how. What magic happens in succession planning?

Over the next few posts, I’m going to pull back the curtain and reveal some truths about succession planning – what it is, how it typically works, what you might be expected to do as a leader of people and how you can position yourself positively for the process. This relates to the Geek 5 in terms of actions you may need to take as a leader and a manager. It also relates to your own organizational savvy and career growth.

Succession planning is a key talent management process – especially at larger organization. Each company executes it differently, but it usually follow some basic assumptions and goals.

Succession planning is intended to:

  • identify a pipeline of talent for key positions and create a bench chart
  • discuss the identification of high potentials, with a focus on development needs and possible actions
  • discuss the career potential, performance, and development needs of targeted individuals

Succession planning is about getting people ready for bigger and more critical roles in the organization. It is about risk management. The company needs to make sure that there are employees ready to fill in if a key person leaves or if there is growth and new roles open up. The company wants to have a group of employees who are well-trained and ready to take on expanded roles. Succession planning is about finding those people, setting plans to work on skills gaps, tracking them and getting them ready for when they are needed.

A pipeline of talent refers to the need to think about talent at all levels in the company. For instance, you can’t just focus on successors for one key role. Because if you move a successor into that role, then you need to backfill the old role. You need to know which employees are ready for that.

A bench chart is a document that actually lists positions and indicates who would be considered a successor for that role. Sometimes positions have multiple people listed on the bench chart as potential successors. Some of them might be “Ready Now” for the role and some might be ready in 1 or 2 or 3 years.

If a position comes open, the leadership team can use succession planning information like the bench chart and determine if there is a good internal candidate ready for the role. If so, it is a much easier and cheaper transition than hiring someone from the outside.

In the next post, we’ll talk about succession planning ratings (such as high potential) and explain the difference between performance and potential.

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Advice from the Top: 3 easy steps for building relationships

Advice from the Top, Broader role, Managing people

I attended a meeting of my company’s PhD club the other day. That is not nearly as pretentious or high-brow as it sounds. Actually it is not even a club – after all, there are only two of us in the whole company. My fellow PhD, I’ll call him Sam, and I are friends and just go out to lunch every few months. We share the common bond of being PhDs in a business that does not really value PhDs or scientific thinking.

Sam and I don’t work directly together. I’m a psychologist in HR, and Sam is a technical expert who works in another area of the business. Sam is very specialized. His PhD is highly unique – only a handful of people in the country do what he does.

Sam and I both manage groups of people in addition to our technical, geek work. Like many geeks, Sam is naturally introverted and had to learn new skills to manage people. The Geek 5 risks include resistance to a broader role (often due to discomfort of being a leader) and also trouble managing people.

I asked Sam how he managed to be successful at being both a geek and a leader. He talked about how critical it is to overcome introverted tendencies and focus on building relationships in order to be perceived as a leader. He simplified that even further into three steps he does every day to build relationships:

1. Be intentional about your presence at work

2. Smile

3. Say hello to everyone

First, he clicks into an intentional, extrovert mindset every morning as he walks into the building. He is conscious of the fact that he needs to be “on” when he is at work and that everything he does is being watched. He’s careful about how he looks, what he does and general demeanor.

Second and third, he makes a point to smile and acknowledge everyone he meets in the building. He uses every opportunity outside his office to build relationships. People love being acknowledged and being greeted by the sweet sound of their own name. He even makes a point to greet people he does not know.

This seems like good advice and some actions that I need to start practicing. I’m a strong introvert. When I walk down the hall, I am often caught up in my own thoughts – making plans and solving problems. As a result, I’m more likely to be looking at the floor than the people.

Sam acknowledges that this is not easy to do. He psyches himself up for it every morning and it often has him exhausted by evening. But it is an effective way to build relationships and increase his visibility and credibility as a leader.

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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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