Browsing the archives for the Managing people category.

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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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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Doctors getting MBAs

Broader role, Geek 5, Leadership, Managing people

Jane Porter at the Wall Street Journalwrote an interesting article about doctors getting MBAs.  Most doctors fall into our definition of a geek.  They certainly have the deep technical expertise.  Most of them have also focused on their specialty instead of general management skills – hence the later need for an MBA.  Not all of them would self-identify as a geek, but if it looks like a geek and smells like a geek…

The article, Doctors Seek Aid from Business Schools, touches on many of the issues covered by the Geek 5.  The article covers the need for basic management skills,  leadership skills and financial/ business acumen.  She cited a statistic that the University of Pennsylvania health system now spends $1 million on leadership training. 

This is a great example of geeks gone pro.  The doctors rise in their careers due to the technical stuff.  But at a certain point, the professional skills become just as important and help determine career advancement and success.  If they can do it, so can you!

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New Year Resolutions

Geek 5, Leadership, Managing people

It is that wonderful time when the year is just starting and everything seems possible.  Since 2009 was a rough year, 2010 is bound to be better.  Along with weight-loss goals and planning to be more organized, it is a good time to sit down and think about your career goals and work-related resolutions. 

What do you want to accomplish in 2010?  Do you want to go from good to great in your current job?  Do you want a promotion or a raise?  Do you want a new job with a new company?  Are you unemployed and searching for a job?

Spend some time thinking about this.  Set some realistic goals.  Write them down and share them with a spouse or significant other or friend.  Look at them every couple of weeks and write down what you’re doing to accomplish them.

 That will help you set your own career goals and direction.  But remember, to be successful at a leadership level, you also need to consider concerns beyond your personal success.  That can include contributing more to your company, supporting your co-workers or providing improved leadership to your direct reports.

Gayle Lantz wrote a guest post at Smart Blog on Workforce called “Replace Those Resolutions with Questions“.  She sets out a nice series of questions to consider for the new year.  They focus on strategy and leadership and making a difference.  Check it out!

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Managing People: Don’t be a Friend

Geek 5, Managing people

In the last few weeks, we’ve talked about how managers should not become therapists for their direct reports and provided some responses to serious issues and less serious issues.

Another unwritten rule is similar to that one – managers should not try to be friends with their direct reports.  I’m not saying that you should not be friendly.  As a matter of fact, it is usually beneficial to create a collegial, comfortable workplace.  People are social creatures and we bring those needs into the workplace.  It’s okay to have non-work conversations, tell appropriate jokes and have fun while working.

But there is another one of those invisible lines that can be easy to cross.  As a manager, you cross the line if you go from being friendly to being friends.  Some people can pull it off, but most of the time it ends poorly.  It’s hard to be friends with your direct reports because:

  • You are the boss and have power over his/ her career and future
  • It can look like and lead to favoritism
  • It’s hard to manage a friend objectively – you’ll tend to be too easy or too hard
  • It’s hard to draw the line between on-the-record work conversations and off-the-record friend conversations
  • You might become privy to information or gossip in after-hours conversations that you are required to act on (such as reporting harassment)
  • You have to watch what you say to the associate – you have access to confidential and sensitive information

I witnessed an example of this recently in my office.  There was a group of five people who all did the same job.  They created a very tight-knit group and spent a lot of time together outside work.  Due to some re-organization, a new leader position was created and several of them competed for it.  The one who got the promotion (we’ll call her Jill) went from being a peer and friend to a boss who was trying to still be a friend.  It was a tough situation – especially with one former peer (we’ll call her Mary).  Mary was disppointed to not get the promotion herself and took some of her frustration out on Jill, her friend and former peer.  Jill was struggling to define a new role and learn to work at a higher level job – on top of it, she had Mary being difficult and disgruntled.  Jill tried to balance being a boss and a friend.  She found that she was frequently harder on Mary than the others, because she was worried about being unfair.  Finally, Mary left the company.  When she left, everyone on the team sighed in relief.  The whole team had been impacted by the dynamic between Jill and Mary.  Their friendship did not survive either.

If you enter a manager role with a new direct report – keep the relationship professional but friendly.  Don’t cross the invisible line.  If you get promoted over a peer, like Jill did, you need to have a very clear conversation to set expectations from the start.  You need to be a manager first and a friend second – otherwise you jeopardize your own career.

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Managing People: Don’t become a therapist (part 3)

Geek 5, Managing people

Last week, we discussed the importance of not becoming a therapist and covered common “therapy” scenarios of medical concerns and family drama.  Those are the heavy hitters.  But there are some other common scenarios that can also be therapy risks, time sucks and just plain annoying. 

3.  Personal disputes at work– Sometimes the workplace starts to feel like junior high.  Cliques get formed, disputes start, petty bickering ensues.  These disputes are usually based on personal conflicts and not work-related issues.  As the boss, you might get pulled in as a referee.  Whatever you do, stay out of it!  Set the expectation that the workplace is a professional environment and civility is expected.  If someone asks you to deal with someone else, send them back to deal with the issue face-to-face like a calm adult.  If it is bickering and not substantive (harassment, etc.) then it is not your problem.  Tell the juveniles to deal with it themselves and then hold them accountable for professional etiquette.

4.  Complaints about work environment– As innocuous as it seems, complaints about the work environment can be really tricky.  About a year ago, my company built some new buildings and everybody moved locations.  Some of the most contentious and complicated meetings I have ever attended revolved around seating arrangements.  Who was near who and who was near the window and which office was biggest?  Yikes!  Other common complaints involve noise, temperature, condition of equipment and location.  Sometimes these kind of disputes don’t have a good solution.  Sometimes you just have to say that it is what is is.  The work buzz has a funny article about power struggles over the thermostat.  It even provides strategies for dealing with it.  But as they remind us, no bathing suits at work!

5.  Just plain weird.  Sometimes as a manager you’ll get requests that are just plain weird.  Some involve drama and some don’t.   Ask Annie at Fortune covered some of these requests recently.  She discussed a CareerBuilders survey of 2,924 managers at U.S. companies that asked them to recall the most memorable perks employees have asked for lately.  Some of these involved tanning beds, jail time requests and clown variances.

 Above all, keep your sense of humor.  Focus your time on issues that will move the business the right direction.  Stay out of the petty dramas – your life will be easier if you do!

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Managing People: Don’t become a therapist (Part 2)

Geek 5, Managing people

In the last post, we looked at why it is important not to become a therapist for your direct reports.  Here are some common scenarios you could run into and recommended responses.

1.  Medical concerns

 Some people have legitimate medical concerns and others just like to gripe about every ache and pain.  For the first case, your associate should inform you about any medical concerns that could impact attendance or requires special arrangements.   Don’t ask too many questions unless the information is offered.  If the associate is asking for accommodation (ADA) or time off (FMLA or disability leave), it is time to get HR involved. 

If the associate confesses to a problem (like addiction) and needs help, you should refer them to your company’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP).  Even in the case of someone with a genuine medical concern, your conversations should not be too personal or get too frequent. 

The second case involves an associate who like to gripe and there is not a significant issue.  In these cases I recommend trying to redirect his or her attention to more positive, work-related subjects.  If that fails, then be more direct about stopping the griping.  It is not a good use of your time to listen to personal gripes.  You should also determine if the associate is burdening team members with the same information.  I’ve been amazed at some of the cubical conversations that I have heard – and that everyone around the area has heard!  I’ve heard details about afflictions, symptoms, operations and pus and sores – just plain gross!  Put a stop to it if it is happening.  A coaching conversation about professionalism in the office could be a big help.  You will be a hero to the burdened co-workers who have been distracted by the medical talk.

2.  Family problems

 We all have lives outside of work and sometimes those lives creep into our workplace.  You’ve got your run-of-the-mill concerns with soccer games and doctor appointments and family emergencies.  The thing to watch out for are the situations that turn into epic family dramas.  We all know people who thrive on drama.  They seem to make a series of bad decisions and then despair when things go wrong.  They can never seem to get out of the destructive situation and get back on track.  These can range from unhealthy personal relationships to serious financial issues to trying to save someone else (kid, sibling, friend) from themselves.  These cases become a problem when the associate wants to to lean on you for emotional support or wants you to help or expects you to overlook absences, poor performance and distractions. 

You can listen in order to understand the situation.  But, ultimately, the associate needs to handle the personal drama while maintaining solid work performance.  If the problems are big and the associate wants help, your EAP is a good option.  EAPs usually offer counseling (personal, marital, financial, etc.) and emergency interventions.  If an associate is not getting work done. you need to set expectations very clearly and then hold him or her to the expectations.  Don’t feed the drama and become co-dependent.  Hold the associate accountable for work.

One quick note – especially related to family issues.  We live in troubled times and the level of workplace violence has escalated.  In many of these cases, a family member brings a gun to the workplace and causes havoc.  If you have any concerns about violence from the associate or from a family member, you must get HR and your security team involved.  That is one of your obligations as a leader.  Welcome to the big leagues.

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Managing People: Don’t Become a Therapist (part 1)

Geek 5, Managing people

There are a lot of rules you have to learn when you become a manager of people.  Some of them are legal rules like knowing the proper questions for interviews, the basics of EEOC and FMLA, etc.  If those acronyms don’t mean anything to you, you should sit down with an HR person and get a quick refresher of the basic legal stuff.   Some rules are guidelines or processes for tasks like how to have a difficult conversation or put someone on a corrective action plan.

There are also a lot of unwritten rules.  One of those rules is that you should never become a therapist for your direct reports.  Huh?  What does that mean?  It means that you need to know where the line is between helping a direct report with work-related issues and getting sucked into their personal dramas.  The complication is that the line is fuzzy and sometimes hard to see – you need to use your managerial judgment about this.   Why is this important?  Some reasons include:

  • It’s a time suck for you
  • It can be uncomfortable to know personal details about a direct report
  • It can cause you to be too lenient and not hold the person accountable
  • Your other direct reports could see it as favoritism
  • It is distracting for work during work hours
  • You might find yourself too involved in a personal situation

As a manager, you are responsible for helping associates with work-related issues.  One filter for you is to consider whether or not an issue impacts business performance or other associates.  With projects and tasks you might sometimes needs to run interference to get something back on track.  But if an issue is drama-based, you should coach the associate to deal with it or at least set the expectation that work performance needs to stay solid.

Drama can take many forms and is often spun to look like it is job-related.  Drama can be about family – such as an associate coming to you to unload about her divorce proceeding and about how the soon-to-be-ex spouse is evil incarnate.  Drama can be personal – such as the associate who comes to you to complain about his sciatica, corns and acid reflux.  Drama can also be tangentially work-related – such as the long-term associate who feel entitled to a cube by the window due to seniority.

Caring and listening does not have to translate into becoming someone’s therapist.  You can listen compassionately to drama-related issues when needed, but don’t let it become an ongoing role.  You have to draw the line.  As a manager your must also continue to hold them accountable for their work.  If you become a therapist, you might feel compelled to give them too much of a break when they are not performing well.  In today’s workplace, we’re all faced with too little people for too much work.  If you continually excuse one worker due to personal drama, the weight falls on everyone else.  You should expect solid work performance regardless of outside drama.

You need to be fair and balanced in your approach.  It is different to give some a day or two off to care for a parent who just had a heart attack versus dealing with weekly absences due to marital trouble.  As a manager, you are responsible for complaints that cross a legal line such as harassment, hostile workplace, violence, discrimination, etc.  When you encounter these, get HR help.  You are also responsible for the work of your team.  You are not responsible for solving someone’s personal problems.  It is okay to coach your associate about work performance, even if you know there are other issues.

In the next post, we’ll cover some common “therapist” traps and how to respond to them.

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