On performance management….

I was recently asked to submit an article on the do’s and don’ts of performance management.  It doesn’t appear that article is going to be published, so I thought I’d put it up here for your reading pleasure.

Performance evaluation and its trappings can be a nasty little beast.  You have your top performers, who can hardly wait for the opportunity to get into a room with you to recount their accomplishments and hear your praise.  You have your under performers, who debate how to spin their shortcomings into a palatable yarn and dread the conversation.  Then you have the middle, many of whom will merely comply with the exercise and may find it stressful or useless.  This is also the group where self perception and manager evaluation are the most likely to be misaligned, producing further angst on both sides….

Some executive teams and HR thought leaders believe evaluations are going the way of the fax machine, but I believe they’re still relevant and useful if done properly.

Too often, the performance review process becomes a box-checking exercise for managers and employees alike.  A form is filled in, ratings are assigned, a conversation may or may not take place.  This is a missed opportunity for managers to create a narrative for each of their employees and to communicate an honest and holistic picture of how someone has performed and what the implications of that will be.

An annual evaluation process with a semi-annual “check in” works well. This means that an in-depth written evaluation happens annually, but every six months there is a conversation that sets expectations for what that evaluation will cover.  It ensures that bad news isn’t collected for 12 months before being shared.

My preferred process is to have employees fill in a self evaluation that includes examples and evidence to back up their assessment and provide this to their manager.  The manager then writes her evaluation, including feedback from other managers who interface directly with the employee.  The manager provides the whole document back to the employee a day or two before their review conversation is scheduled so the employee has a chance to process the information before the discussion.

The review discussion should be a dialogue that covers: past performance, areas for improvement, professional development goals for the employee, and upward feedback for the manager.  They should be in person where possible, but phone, Skype or video conference sometimes has to suffice.

Here’s a list of Do’s and Dont’s I put together a training I recently delivered.

Have a two way conversation, don’t lecture the employee
Be specific in your feedback, refer to prior conversations or issues
Focus on examples rather than conclusions
Prepare for the conversation – have an overarching theme that you want to get across
Consider your audience before the meeting and spend time thinking about your tone and messaging.  Is the employee sensitive? defensive? ambitious? angry?
Talk about behaviors, not just skills
Use the opportunity to tie together examples into a narrative
Inspire people to continue great performance, or to improve

Use adjectives like “be more proactive” “be less negative”.  Use real examples and specific ways you want the employee to act on the feedback.
Talk about money, vacation, or tangential issues.  Save that for a separate conversation – this is the employees’ time to talk about themselves, not about larger company issues.
Give critical feedback on things they can’t control, for example “new to role” “don’t know product” “client was slow or uncooperative” etc. This takes accountability away from the employee by blaming an external factor.  It also robs them of the ability to act on the feedback.
Bring new expectations into the conversation.  There should be no surprises in a performance review.
Allow comparisons – the bar is not set the same for everyone.
Give fifty pieces of feedback.  Prepare for the meeting and choose the key points that you want them to hear
Get into an argument.  If you and an employee disagree, listen to his side.  If you don’t believe that his perspective is correct, tell him why, and move on.

Its almost July, which means that now is the perfect time for a semi-annual check in conversation.  Go to it!

On performance management….

Can you hear me now?

Or should I say, are you listening now?

Have y’all noticed how much has been written lately about listening?

As our worlds become increasingly complex and we are more distracted by devices and information than we’ve been in history, is it a surprise that we find it difficult to focus on one to one dialogue? I’ve caught even the most zen among my peeps going elsewhere while I’m talking, surreptitiously checking their iDevice, or cold-spacing while we’re on the phone.

Most people would like to be considered good listeners.  And most people, in my experience, are not.  I’d estimate that in 85% of my interactions I find myself editing stories or rushing to finish for fear of being cut off or boring my audience.  I’d say, on average (husband excluded), I speak for 30% of the conversation and the other party for 70%.  Still, I feel pressure to self edit and minimize my air time.

I’ll acknowledge the possibility that its the content of my stories creating the issue.  But, regardless of how boring a story or poor its telling, we should learn to shut our chat holes and give people time to properly express their thoughts.  This is harder to do than to write about, but I can’t show you my mad listening skills, so…..

A few tips to grease the ear drums:

  • Pay attention to your subconscious body language.  If you notice you’re covering your mouth with your hand, physically restraining yourself from interrupting, you aren’t actively listening.  Stop it.
  • If you hear something you want to respond to, make a mental (or physical) note to come back to it.  When the other person has finished.  Seriously, when they’re all the way done.
  • Allow a couple of beats of silence for someone’s words to sink in before you respond.  You might find your comments are more insightful/relevant/funny if you’ve actually processed the information before spewing something back.
  • When you do interrupt and realize you have, apologize and ask the speaker to continue.  Nothing feels worse than being interrupted or talked over by someone who hasn’t even noticed you were speaking.
  • Make active listening gestures and sounds.  You can trick your body into listening by acting like you are.
  • If you notice your mind wandering, pull it back to the present.  If it doesn’t want to stay there, silently repeat the words and phrases you’re hearing.  Or, re-frame what you’ve heard and repeat it back to the speaker.  If your time out from the discussion has caused a lapse in your understanding, you have a chance to right the situation.
  • Admit when you’ve lost it.  I listen hard to people every day and sometimes I flake.  When I do, I stop the speaker, apologize, and prompt him to repeat himself from where I checked out.  Its likely that your conversation partner knew you weren’t paying attention.  He’ll feel better that you cared enough to ask than just stayed on brain vaykay until he was finished.

As you coach your ears to excellent listenership, think about what the rest of you is doing.  At a party or networking event are your eyes darting around the room? Are you reaching for your blackberry compulsively like a cowboy with his pistol? If so, it might be time for some open ears, eye contact, and a holster.

Can you hear me now?

In Defense of Landlines…

I will readily admit that I have generally clung to the tail end of the technological curve in life.  I was the last of my friends to have a cell phone and will admit here to having had only four different phones in the thirteen years since I first adapted.  As you can imagine, this drives my cellular service provider batty, and ensures that I never pay for hardware.

Ironically, throughout my career, most of my clients have been in the Tech space or highly tech oriented.  And while I’ve generally stayed current in my understanding and knowledge of what was cutting edge, I never felt the need to be there myself.  At home, my husband heads our IT department and ensures we’re well equipped with the latest gadgets, ignoring my resistance to replacing functioning and, in my mind, more than adequate equipment.

At a basic level, I’m not a believer that new is necessarily better.  This supposition is best illustrated by the replacement of home and office phones with cell phones.  Like all of you, I love my smart phone.  Its an appendage more than a telecommunication device, and I rely on it as my administrative assistant, personal trainer, and social filter.  Until this past weekend, it was also my office phone number and the line I used for dialing into conference calls and coaching CEOs.

But over the last nine months, I’ve become increasingly frustrated with communicating via mobile device.  Between poor sound quality, dropped calls, and a micro-second delay on the line, conversations don’t flow the way they should.  I believe many of us have adapted to these expected pitfalls and have learned to speak one at a time.  Its like passing a “talking stick” rather than engaging in real banter or dialogue.  This “everyone takes turns” approach to phone conversations substantially degrades the quality of the interaction.  Its more akin to reading emails or texts back and forth than to an in-person dialogue, which, to me, is what phone conversations aim to replace.

So, over the weekend, I tested and then purchased a calling plan on Skype.  Its a baby step back toward the 90s, but I’m not quite ready to install a wall mounted rotary telephone in my house just yet.  Today I attended my first two conference calls using this number rather than my mobile and it made a marked difference.

I don’t anticipate this blog to have “call to action” tone.  But in this instance, I posit that considering a good old fashioned landline (or Skype number) to avoid your conversations having an oversees-tin-can-two-second-delay quality is worth looking into.  Try it out and see whether you, too, find an elevated and interactive discourse results.

In Defense of Landlines…