5 Ways to Improve Your Productivity

Do you ever leave work wondering what the hell you just accomplished in the last 8 hours? Between non-stop emails, phone calls, drive-by interruptions and meetings, our days feel wasted. And that’s a problem, since most of us want to walk away from work with the feeling we have actually completed something or at least made some mere progress from the day before.

Here are some things that I have found that improve my productivity and ultimately reduce my stress level at work. The trick for me, though, is that I have to mindfully and consistently practice them.

  1. At the beginning of each workday, I print my day’s calendar from Outlook. Most of my day is paperless, but printing this and keeping it within eyesight all day keeps me on track. As things are completed, I highlight them or put a checkmark next to them. At the end of the day, this becomes my visual reminder that I have accomplished something(s).
  2. As voicemails come in, or small requests are made from my customers, I jot these down on my printed day calendar so that I don’t forget about them. Periodically, i review these items for priority and time-commitment and ultimately decide if I can squeeze them into my day or if they have to move to another day’s schedule or task list. A lot of my stress comes from the fear of forgetting something, so having one place and one place only that my “reminders” are written reduces both the chance that I will forget something and eases the mental effort of constantly trying to remember all of the little things.
  3. I actually schedule email review and projects on my Outlook calendar. For example, from 9-10am and 3-4pm daily I open Outlook, review email, prioritize it, get the easy ones out of the way and figure out what to do with the big ones. By carving out time to review email, I’m setting a limit to how much time I dedicate to it and am giving myself permission to shut it down so that I can begin work on something more meaningful to my job. By scheduling time to work on projects, I’m also giving myself permission to tell others that I can’t meet or do not have time for their impromptu sit-down sessions.
  4. Setting boundaries and expectations for my time and efforts- this may be the hardest to do but pays off in dividends. When I receive a meeting request, before I accept, I require an agenda or a reason why the meeting is necessary from the meeting organizer. If the agenda is something that seems like it can be accomplished in a phone call or email, I decline the meeting with a reason why. I decline meetings that conflict with my task or project schedule or do not require my attendance. Since HR should be accessible, I do not like shutting my door. If an employee has a important matter to talk about, I will, of course, invite them in to talk. However, sometimes an open door policy works against you. In those moments, set boundaries with those people by asking if their question, or visit, requires an immediate response and if not, ask if you can schedule 10-15 minutes another time that is mutually convenient.
  5. Get up and walk around. This accomplishes a couple of things. One, it gets you away from your computer, gets you up and walking, gets the blood flowing, the brain can take a break and you can reset your eyes. Two,  if your peers see you up around the office, they can take these moments to ask you the little questions that they would have otherwise clogged up your email with yet another message.

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.

9 Do’s and Don’ts to Completing Your Self-Evaluation

Once or twice a year many companies undergo a formal performance review process. On average, most companies ask for their employees feedback by way of a self-evaluation. Most employees exude an audible groan, give it a cursory overview and write down the same garbage year after year.

As much as I don’t totally agree with the standard annual review process or the 360 review process on principle, I totally support the notion that an employee is his or her own best advocate. And if you are given the opportunity to speak for yourself, absolutely take it seriously and follow these do’s and don’ts.

Do keep a  running diary or file  ALL YEAR ROUND of all of your work accomplishments, projects completed, client accolades, awards, educational achievements and peer praise. Also, keep notes on areas you made mistakes, encountered the issue again and improved.

Don’t blow off the process by not writing anything or digging up last year’s review and re-writing the same things. This is a signal to your boss that you are not taking the process seriously. Why would your manager bother with putting any effort into your review or development, if you do not bother yourself.

Do provide concrete and clear examples of the competencies you have demonstrated over the course of the review period. For example, if your company prizes efficiency, provide an example of the time you identified a redundant process inside a workflow, brought it to the attention of management, and how the elimination of that process resulted in less time taken to complete the process.

Don’t sell yourself short. Provide any and all examples of your work accomplishments, do not make judgement calls on the level of impact to the business or department. Your role and your performance have a purpose to the company, otherwise the job wouldn’t exist.

Do provide areas that you may have failed in or areas of improvement. You should be the first one to bring this up, not your manager. It shows you have self-awareness and that’s important.

Don’t rate yourself as a “Meets Expectations” or “Average” on all rating categories. This is called Central Tendency Bias and highlights our human propensity for avoiding extreme categories. But this is just lazy, don’t do that.

Do review your performance reviews from prior years so that you can identify areas that you have improved upon over time. If you don’t have copies, ask your manager or HR.

Don’t forget to address your work goals. The review process is about the past but should also provide some direction for the future. Be the first to write down a few goals that you would like to address with your manager during the performance discussion.

Do proof-read your self-evaluation for grammar, spelling and content before you turn it into your manager.

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.

Three Steps to Earning A Promotion

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Wondering how you get promoted? Tired of being looked over for advancement opportunities? Restless and bored in your current job? Want to earn more money?

Here’s 3 Steps to Earning a Promotion:

  1. Take stock of your individual performance- not against your own expectations, but the expectations of your manager, the expectations of leadership and against the company’s mission, vision and values. Self-awareness is the name of this game. Outside of the annual performance review, I doubt most of you work for an organization where your manager is engaged in active performance management. If this is the case for you, make sure you are asking your manager for performance feedback often. The next time you see him or her, ask for 10 minutes of their time to review your current job performance, areas that you are exceeding his or her expectations and areas you should be working on. Ask your manager straight up what they think you need to work on to improve your performance. This is your career, your life, stop waiting passively for someone to share what they think about your performance, go out and get the information. Ask your peers,  team members and other colleagues to give you real and honest feedback on your performance. Listen to what they have to say and take some action steps. Becoming self-aware to our own strengths and weaknesses is a difficult experience but also elevates us to a better more genuine place.
  2. Get outside of your comfort zone. Employees who stay in their safe zone and never stick their neck out to take on a challenge, even if they nail their current job to a “T”, do not get promoted. Individuals that lean into the discomfort and fear of the unknown, who take the bet with uncertainty of the outcome, get recognized as having unique qualities worthy of promotion and advancement within the organization. These folks are generally the ones chosen for individual development plans, leadership programs and succession plans- they are given first crack at new training and development opportunities. Not sure where to start? Again, sit down with your manager and ask if you can co-lead or partner up on a challenging new project. Or, identify an area of the business that is ripe for process efficiency, cost reduction or innovation. Write up a business case and present it to your manager. As an employee on the front lines you are best equipped to identify these opportunities. Any manager worth a damn will be pleased as punch to hear your idea that solves a bonafide business problem and will have no problem advocating for your cause with leadership.
  3. Finally, ask for the promotion. I’m a firm believer that an employee is ready for a promotion when they have mastered the role they are in and beginning to show aptitude and prowess for the next level up. Managers with a solid grip on his or her employees should be able to put their finger on just the right time; however, you, the employee, as your own best advocate, need to find your adult voice and ask your manager for the promotion. Be prepared to outline your position- what you have accomplished thus far, what you are ready to take on and the value that your promotion will bring to the business. If your manager is unable or unwilling to consider your promotion at that time, do not give up, ask for a training and development plan to get you to the next level. Remember, your manager owes you two things- to remove obstacles that get in the way of you being able to effectively perform your job and to provide the opportunities and resources to help you prove your worth. But YOU and you alone are responsible for earning that promotion.

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.