The Pulse of Performance

If you’ve read my blog before, you might get the sense that I am ready to scrap the traditional performance review. Your sense is correct.

My problem is not the “annual” part, it’s the entire foundation of the performance review. The traditional performance review process simply doesn’t fit our current work world, which lives in days, weeks and months, not years and where the traditional management hierarchy doesn’t exist and where teams get a hell of lot more done that a department, where employees work flex schedules and don’t meet face-to-face sometimes ever, and where our companies span time zones, countries and cultures.

Also, why are we doing performance reviews? Are we doing them because that’s what we’ve always done? Are we doing them because we believe people want feedback on their performance? Are we doing them to reward high performers? Are we doing them to tie compensation with merit?

I would argue that companies should still have some mechanism to provide feedback to employees; however, the whole traditional review process should be thrown in the garbage and replaced with something that actually aligns to the work world of the 21st century.

If I worked with an unlimited HR budget and a leadership team willing to give it a try, I would initiate a performance pulse check. This pulse check would be much like the pop-up you get on a website after you make a purchase or engage in a customer service exchange that asks you to rate your experience with emoticons and asks for comments. Something like this:

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Both Employees and Managers would have the ability to request feedback by sending a quick pulse check. Employees could request feedback from anyone including their manager, project manager, team lead, peers or customers at any time and get on-demand feedback. Managers could schedule routine pulse checks, for example, monthly, quarterly or at the conclusion of a major project. Further, the manager could submit requests for feedback from anyone that interacts with his or her employee from peers, to other managers to external clients.

The application could include required or optional prompts to provide commentary and not just a rating if someone chose a poor or exceptional rating. Or, lay a roadmap to provide further ratings on other specific criteria or core competencies such as results deliverability, communication, negotiation skills, responsiveness, etc…

With the ability to give feedback in a wink of an eye, the assumption here is that more people would be willing to do so. The instantaneous feedback also provides more relevant data to the employee to act upon- the employee will know almost immediately whether a course correction is needed or to keep up the great work.

Over time, this data paints a picture of the employee’s performance trends which his or her manager can take specific action on. From the collection of feedback from multiple sources, the managers can determine key talent ripe for succession plans and also where training needs are essential for improved performance.

This should be the current and  the future of performance evaluations.

 

 

Common Mistakes Managers Make on Performance Reviews

It is a rare phenomenon in HR to see a performance evaluation from a manager that even meets our expectations let alone exceeds them. Here are a sampling of a few common mistakes I see on the regular:

  1. The manager uses the annual performance review to rake an employee over the coals for his or her entire prior year’s performance. It is NOT okay to use the annual performance review to tell the employee they’ve sucked all year. As a manager, why would you endure that? Think of all of the lost productivity and pissed off coworkers. If you wait a year to tell someone they’ve not performed to your expectations, guess what, it’s not their fault, its yours for not having the spine to confront it sooner.
  2. Failure to clearly communicate expectations and objectives of the position. Granted, this discussion should be happening within the first week of a new hire’s onboarding with the company and should also be reiterated during ongoing performance discussions. This exact thing is the reason you see employee’s rating themselves as exceeds expectations, while the manager is left scratching his head wondering how the hell his employee could lack such self-awareness. In the absence of this information, an employee will always default to what they believe are the expectations and objectives and perform accordingly. Duh.
  3. Failure to keep any documentation from the review period to look back to. And thus rely on memory. An HR professional can always tell by a manager’s vague and sweeping statements in a performance review that he or she has no fucking clue what his or her employee accomplished all year. You know what also gets forgotten when only memory is relied upon? An employees’ weaknesses, fails,  and areas of opportunity. Fast forward to 3 months later when Mr. Manager is in HR’s office  complaining about his employee’s performance issues. HR pulls the performance review and lo and behold nothing has been indicated on the evaluation, but Mr. Manager insists this has been happening for months or years. Sorry, Mr. Manager, your documentation does not back up your accusation. Discipline and termination are going to be pretty difficult to justify.
  4. Never awarding an employee anything other than a “Meets Expectations” although his of her performance clearly goes above and beyond. This is a great way to actively disengage your employee, reduce his or her productivity and send your employee to the next job offer that is extended. If your employee is killin’ it at work- give them the props they deserve. An “Exceeds Expectations” should never be elusive but it should be reserved for the rare but deserving “A”-game employees.

But to the HR folk who see the above on a routine basis, I would ask what they are doing in their respective organizations to fix it. Rampant crap reviews are more indicative of poor training and unclear managerial expectations than they are any single manager’s fault. HR- get your shit together, and start whipping those managers into performance review ninjas.

Great Leaders Possess 7 Things.

Leaders are born, not made. That’s why there are so few.

Beyond the knowledge, beyond the education, beyond the certifications, great leaders exhibit what are known as soft skills. Soft skills, according to Wikipedia, are a, “combination of interpersonal people skills, social skills, communication skills, character traits, attitudes, career attributes and emotional intelligence quotient (EQ) among others”. I further argue that soft skills are more nature than nurture, either you have them or you don’t. In most circumstances, since humans are who we are, these particular soft skills can’t be trained, mentored or developed.

Soft Skill #1: They Listen More than They Speak. A higher power gave you two ears and one mouth for a reason. Great leaders practice active listening. They do not bring smart phones into the room, they do not multitask by attending meetings with their mobile device or laptop, they do not get caught up in distractions or side arguments. Great leaders focus with attention on the other party, they listen,  they filter the message, repeat the message and affirm it.

Soft Skill #2: They know in what ways they suck. And surround themselves with people who do not suck in those areas. In other words, great leaders know they are not perfect, they know what areas they excel in and work very hard to excel in them. They also know what their weaknesses are. And instead of exhausting precious time and energy on the futile task of turning weaknesses into strengths, great leaders befriend others with complimentary strengths and learn from them. Further, great leaders are okay with sharing power so they have no issue delegating authority.

Soft Skill #3: They inspire through the art of story telling. Great leaders have a vision, and instead of coldly outlining their plan in bullet points, outlining objectives in a Powerpoint presentation, great leaders craft a story. Stories are the vision of the leader come to life, with emotion and color. Leaders know that the audience will find a connection in that story that relates them to the vision inspiring their employees with a purpose.

Soft Skill #4: Leaders do not define conflict negatively. Great leaders are ok when another disagrees with them, great leaders invite dissent. Great leaders do not let the vein in their forehead protrude when challenged, they do not pound their fist on the table and they do not harbor resentment. Great leaders, knowing they aren’t always right, ask for others’ positions and arguments, great leaders, per the aforementioned Soft Skill #1 listen, and great leaders consider this information when carefully weighing decisions.

Soft Skill #5: Great leaders understand they work for the people they lead. Not the company’s bottom line, not the shareholders, not the Board of Directors and not for their own personal worth and glory. Leaders obviously have some accountability to all of these parties, which while a heavy burden indeed, is also why they get paid the big bucks. Great leaders inherently know that taking care of their people will take care of the rest.

Soft Skill #6: Are human barometers. They can tell when the vibe of the room just isn’t right. They know when their people are stressed, conflicted, overworked, etc… because great leaders feel it. And they do something about it.

Soft Skill #7: Are comfortable taking the unpopular position when he of she knows it’s the right position. Great leaders also possess a stubborn wilfulness to march through the stream of bullshit detractors even risking their very jobs and livelihood to do so.

 

 

 

 

Five Tips for New Managers

Congratulations on your promotion to manager! You’ve earned this!

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But now what? If you are like most managers you have inherited a team of direct reports and have received zero instruction on what to do. Funny how when it comes to the most important asset of any company, its employees, companies fail each and every time to set our managers up for success. I think it is only the minority of companies who can boast of some awesome management training program.

Here are 5 Tips for setting yourself up as an outstanding manager of people:

  1. If you are a new manager, perhaps just recently promoted and now find yourself managing your peers this puts you in a tough spot. First thing, unfriend and dis-connect from your direct reports on social media including Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. The dynamics of your relationship have now changed. Believe me, you do not want to be privy to your team’s evening and weekend exploits. Knowing what your team members do “on the outside” will make it more difficult for you to manage and develop your staff members based on his or her performance, skills and abilities. You are only human,  and we are inherently biased to some degree and stuff you see on social media will impact your decision-making abilities. But don’t ignore those friendships either or pretend like you are too good now to take your team members to lunch and have some personal one-on-one time. An honest discussion between you and your direct report about how you both see the relationship changing will go a long way maintaining strong ties that also respect the manager-employee relationship.
  2. Do your homework. If HR or the Departmental Director does not provide you information on your employees, gather it and begin to create your own management files. As a new manager, you need to know your employee’s names, titles, previous supervisors, salary history and general job history with the company. Get their resume and any behavioral assessments that were completed. Obtain all available performance reviews and read them thoroughly, note any trends. If your employee has written performance goals or a training plan, know them forwards and backwards. Finally, speak with the former supervisors and/or HR to get a better understanding of the employee’s career history with the company. Your employees’ may be the technical subject matter experts of the department, but you need to be the subject matter of your team members.
  3. Build a relationship with your employee on DAY 1. Take your employees out for one-on-ones in a social setting with less pressure, such as lunch or coffee. Start a casual conversation, don’t jump in with questions like “So, where do you see yourself in a year from now?”, start with small talk. Get to know your employee, ask about their college experience, how they got into their industry or occupational field. Be careful not to ask questions that are considered discriminatory in nature. However, if your employee offers the information that’s okay. Actively listen by asking further questions that build upon their answers. In this way, you and your employee are creating the story of how your relationship started. You want that story to be a happy one.
  4. Create a plan for continuous feedback and communication with each of your team members. Most companies have the dusty “open-door” policy in their handbooks, usually for compliance reasons. As a manager, you have to  make yourself accessible to your employees when they need you, not when it’s convenient for you. That’s what you signed up for when you decided to become a manager. Start by greeting everyone in the morning with a warm hello and how are you. It’s these small but powerful actions that can make the difference between a talented employee who keeps something bottled up and decides to leave when they feel no one is listening or decides that all they need to do is come talk to you and work it out.
  5. Figure out what your management style is and communicate it. Your style will likely be determined in some part by the people you are managing, their career levels and what they do for a living. Also, relieve yourself now of the belief that you have to treat everyone the same. Managing fairly means determining each situation on a case-by-case basis. Managing consistently does not mean managing each person the exact same way. Do you want to be the manager who manages not only what your people do but how they do it? Are you comfortable delegating authority off the bat or do you need the employee to earn your trust first? Do you intend to give your employees lots of rope and to rein them back in when they start to get too close to the cliff? Or, are they on a short leash? Will you implement active development plans for all of your staff? Do you expect them to have goals and to achieve them? Whatever you decide, show your hand to your team members so they understand expectations from the jump.

If I did that, I’d get fired.

Can someone explain to me how some people get away with stuff that any regular Joe (can I call you Joe?) would get shit-canned for in a hot minute?

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Let’s take Roger Ailes for example. Prior to this tub of lard’s 20-year reign as CEO at Fox News, good ol’ Rog was a media consultant for the likes of Nixon, Reagan, Dubya and Rudy Guiliani. (No wonder he ended up at Fox, eh’?) After multiple allegations of sexual harassment by on-air talent Gretchen Carlson and other women, Rupert Murdoch and Co. allowed Ailes the opportunity to resign with $40million in his pocket. Any HR professional with classic training will tell you that one, ONE confirmed instance of quid pro quo (“this for that”) sexual harassment and the accused will be terminated. No, they will not be given severance. No, they will not receive unemployment. Yes, they will get escorted out by security. Yet this piece of shit got to negotiate the terms of his departure from the company and left without the need to be gainfully employed ever again. I sure hope he learns his lesson while sitting in his home theatre watching Knute Rockne, All American whilst eating an endless bucket of popcorn.

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How about that asshole derp, John Stumpf, now, former CEO of Wells Fargo? If I presided over the theft of at least one customer, my ass would’ve been tossed on the streets and I would never work in this town again. Who wants to take bets that Stumpf has a high-ranking job at another financial institution within the next two years? As you may have already heard, Wells Fargo fired 5,300 employees and was fined $185 million for fake accounts opened by employees since 2011 as a response to the high-pressure sales tactics required and rewarded by an incentive-laced bonus program. Fingers were pointed by Wells Fargo higher-ups at the lowly Wells Fargo associates. When grilled in front of a congressional committee, Stumpf, insisted the culture of the company did not contribute to the unethical practices of management and employees while also testifying that he “did not know that level of detail” when the Committee outlined Wells Fargo’s various public sales tactics. Oh yeah, and also Stumpf dumped a shitload of company stock sometime after he found out about about the accounts. It was the largest stock sale he made to date. If I did that, I’d get fired and I would probably be in jail.

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And the mother of all “Chief Predatory Officers” Dov Charney. Sexual harassment was so ingrained in the culture at American Apparel that the employee handbook actually warned that the company was a “sexually charged” environment. As the name of the company suggests, this was not a company filming porns, this was an apparel design and manufacturing company. Indeed, Dov did his best to create said culture- it has been a matter of fact that Mr. Charney masturbated while being interviewing by a magazine editor, walked around his offices in his underwear and stored videos on company computers of he and company employees and models engaged in sexual acts. Charney also stands accused of misusing company funds. American Apparel finally ousted Charney but now finds itself in bankruptcy proceedings. But don’t you worry, Dov is back on the fashion scene. In August 2016, Dov reported he received a $10 million dollar loan for a new t-shirt venture.

Now excuse me while I take a shower to wash off the sleaze.

Setting Up Employees to Fail

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Implicit within the employment agreement are certain things that the employer owes to the employee to set him or her up for success. If the employer neglects their end of the bargain, the employer ensures the employees’ failure. This is very basic. And I think almost every reasonable person would agree on what the role of the employer is. Yet time and time again, employers fail on this fundamental level. The way this usually plays out is when a manager is sitting in my office complaining about an employee who has barely worked 6 months and all of the shiny luster has worn off because reality has set in. It’s almost like the manager really wants to say (and in some cases does) “well, we hired the employee, now you’re saying we have to something with him:?!?!?!?!”.

Employers owe the following things to their employees as part of the employment agreement. These should be nonnegotiables and HR should be doing everything in their authority to make sure the employer is holding up their end.

The tools to do their jobs. Oh my god. This is so damn obvious. But we have all heard the stories of employees starting work and on Day 1, they do not have a computer, a login, a security badge to get in the door let alone an orientation, a resource to ask questions or a written training plan. Employees know they are hired to do a job. But without the proper tools and training, you, the employer, are making this impossible.

Decent compensation. All companies should have a compensation philosophy, at the end of the day it provides purpose for whether the employer decides to lead, lag or meet the market. This philosophy should be transparent and communicated to candidates and employees. So when the inevitable conversation arises about pay dissatisfaction, the company and the manager are prepared and feel comfortable reiterating the legitimate reasons behind an employee’s compensation.

Expectations. At every position I have been at I attempt to train managers on defining and setting their expectations from Day 1 with their new employee. This is also one of my greatest pain points. How does an employee know what is expected of them if you do not say it? Did you hire a mind reader?

Purpose. Employees need to understand how their individual contributions help achieve the goals of the company. Employees need to understand the purpose of their jobs. Employers who have business plans that flow top down and bottom up, should have no problem defining this line of sight for each employee.

Trust in Management and Leadership. The individuals that represent the leaders of the company must be approachable, they must be honest , they must be transparent and do what they say they are gonna do. Employees who do not trust their management and leadership will do just enough to fly under the radar and will be focused on when the next shoe will drop and not the success of the company.

Safety and security. I’m not just talking about guns or violence in the workplace. I’m talking about workplaces where there is respect for the individual. Employers that allow mockery, drama, off-color jokes, bullying are creating a hostile work environment for their employees. The only thing the employee will be focused on is how long they have to wait for another job to come along to leave their current one. They won’t be focused on helping the company meet its goals.

If an employer does not actively ensure these basic tenets are being met via partnership with HR, they are setting themselves and their employees up for failure.

Got What It Takes to Hack It in HR?

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HR isn’t for everyone. And truth be told, that’s just the way I want it. I believe there a lot of HR peeps who have what it takes to elevate this profession into a more respected business partner to the corporate world. These folks have a special and rare combination of knowledge and soft skills. These are the HR professionals that can not only hack it in HR but are leading the radical HR movement.

Here are the must-have competencies of a kick-ass HR professional:

  1. The ability to forego quick wins. As in life, in HR, nothing worth having comes easy. HR Professionals must possess the ability to delay gratification and work and toil towards the accomplishments that are hard-fought by winning over every layer of bureaucracy, decision-maker and stakeholder before seeing their ideas bear fruit.
  2. Emotional Intelligence (EI). This one is a non-negotiable. HR Professionals must possess a high EI factor. EI is said to be the ability to identify and manage your own emotions and the emotions of others, while harnessing those emotions and applying them to tasks such as problem solving. HR may be the only side of the business that gives permission to bring emotion into the workplace. A good HR professional has to be self-aware before they can counsel and advise others.
  3. The ability to stand-up for oneself and to push back when necessary. History’s most significant accomplishments were at inception some of the most radical and rejected ideas. HR professionals must be willing to stand up for their core beliefs, own their arguments, disagree when needed and fight for what they know is best for the business, even when it’s exhausting and would be easier and safer to relent.
  4. A somewhat obnoxious ability to interject oneself in business situations . So, no one invites you to the party. Invite yourself. Crash that party. Instead of nodding and going on your merry way when your manager says “We’ll keep you posted”, take yourself out of that reactive position and get all up in that grill. Ask questions, get a better understanding of the situation and offer solutions right then and there. Make your participation in employee relations issues and business problems a requirement. Instead of your  managers waiting until something escalates, they should be seeking you out at the onset.
  5. Super strong customer service skills. The world is your customer. Everyone in the world looking for their next best job. Your peers, your managers, your employees, your pain-in-the-ass IT team. They are all your customers. Even when the situation is negative and you have to deliver a negative message, leave that customer with a “wow” experience.
  6. Business acumen. HR professionals can no longer afford not to know what line of business they are in. HR professionals need to know their businesses’ services and products. An HR professional worth their salt should be able to perform a SWOT analysis of their business without breaking a sweat.
  7. A mastery of HR knowledge. During an interview for my first real HR job, the Director of HR asked me to recite to her several tenets of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Totally legit question for an HR Coordinator job, right. HR professionals need to know not only all of the directly and indirectly applicable Federal and State labor and employment laws but also how to apply them in any situation especially on the fly.
  8. Must question the old-timey HR ways of doing things. When the nature of work was as simple as you do your job and the company pays you and the balance is equalized, Personnel Administration did a really good job at the tactical work of HR payroll processing and hiring people. If we are indeed undergoing what some people call the new Industrial Revolution, HR Professionals must get off their ass and revolutionize the profession or the profession will die.
  9. Ability to live and operate in the gray. Humans are messy. And human situations are messy. Even though laws and regulations in the past may have dictated that we treat everyone the same, consistent, equal or whatever, there is simply no way to create one-size fits all solutions. HR professionals must be able to creatively solve issues while operating within the confines of the law.

In several weeks, DisruptHR will be holding an event in Raleigh, NC. I’m super excited to network with and learn from  some of these radical HR leaders who hopefully possess some or all of the competencies above.