Workplace

three questions managers should ask
3 Questions to Increase Your Impact as a Manager
3 Questions to Increase Your Impact as a Manager 1080 720 Jason Lauritsen

One of the advantages of moving jobs frequently early in your career (like I did) is that you get to experience a lot of different workplaces and management styles.

A few of my first couple of jobs out of college were case studies in bad management.

I had the “I want you to be successful, just not more successful than me” manager.  And, the passive-aggressive manager who tells you one thing and but does another.  I also had the shrinking violet manager who could talk about managing but never actually do any of the real work with the people.

And, the thing I remember about all of them is how it felt to work for them.

Frustrated.

Confused.

Belittled.

Disappointed.

Angry.

Defeated.

Not the type of emotions that create a work experience where you can be your best.

This reminded me of the great Maya Angelou quote.

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Managing people is not an easy job.  And, if you think it’s easy, you probably aren’t doing right. Humans are complex creatures with an often confusing mix of needs and emotions. Managing that complexity to create an environment where the best work can happen is challenging.

There’s no shortage of management training programs out there that promise to help you succeed by giving you the right tools and approaches. But, I think most of them are missing a really vital step.

Declaring your intentions as a manager.  Can you answer this question?

  • How do I want the people I manage to feel at and about work?

Too often, the wake we create as managers is unintended.  We say something flippantly in a few seconds that our people will stew about for days. As a manager, we must be aware of the impact of our words and actions on others, particularly those who depend on us for leadership.

So, how do you want people to feel?  Safe? Motivated? Happy?  Put a stake in the ground. Make a commitment.

This leads to the next question.

  • What can I do to ensure my people feel this way?

Once you are clear on your intentions, you can start aligning your behavior to that intention. If you want your people to feel safe to make mistakes and to speak up when they disagree with you, it’s on you to take the actions to make it so.  What does that mean for you? How do you have to change your own behavior and decisions? It starts with you.

Pretty straightforward so far, right? Now we get to the complicated part.

Since we are trying to impact how people feel, it can be hard to know if we are succeeding. After all, humans don’t always project their emotions and particularly not at work. So this leads to a third question.

  • How will you know how your people are feeling about work?

The answer is obvious. You ask them. And yet, so few managers do this well and consistently. Creating meaningful conversations with your employees about their experiences at work is the most powerful tool you have as a manager. It is the most direct path you have towards creating an engaging work experience that unlocks great performance.

But, this is the hard work.  You have to ask scary questions of your people like:

  • How are you feeling about work?
  • How would you like to feel about work and what can we do to get you there?
  • What’s not working for you these days?
  • How can I be a better manager for you?

This is the work of management. It is not easy. It will be messy. It will be uncomfortable at times.

But, if you get clear on your intentions, align your actions to that intention, and then be in ongoing conversation with your people to get feedback, you might just create some magic with your team.

4x4 performance management process
4×4 Performance Management
4×4 Performance Management 1080 720 Jason Lauritsen

One of the things I am most proud of from my corporate HR tour of duty happened during my last stop as an HR executive about six years ago.

Before it was trendy to do so, we lead a process to kill the traditional annual performance management appraisal. I won’t spend time here explaining why we did it as I think it’s become pretty common knowledge that annual appraisals are fatally flawed.

The process we used to make the decision to kill the appraisal and what to replace it with involved stakeholders from across the organization. They concluded that the annual appraisal process was ineffective and painful.

However, it wasn’t because managers and employees lack a desire to have conversations about performance. It was a broken process.

So, we helped them arrive at a better process.

A Better Way Forward

What we developed was called the 4×4.

At its most basic, the 4×4 boils down to a conversation between employee and manager that happens four times a year and centers on four questions.

Every time I mention this process when I speak, there are always one or two people who approach me afterward to ask about this process. So, I thought perhaps it was time to outline the process and the design principles in a post.

4×4 Purpose and Intent

The idea of the 4×4 was to create a simple process structured around a few questions that would promote productive conversation between an employee and their manager about performance. These conversations would happen at least four times per year. We wanted the process to feel meaningful and engaging for both the manager and the employee. And, we wanted the employee to feel a strong sense of ownership for the process.

The 4×4 Process

While the four questions are what most people first ask about (I’ll get to that in a minute), the design of the process is equally important.

  1. The employee schedules a meeting with their manager for their 4×4 conversation. Note that it is the employee who schedules the meeting. This creates accountability on the employee to ensure they are having this conversation. But, that doesn’t mean that the manager shouldn’t also be held accountable for the meetings taking place.  If your employees aren’t requesting the meeting, that’s an issue that needs to be addressed because they should want to have this conversation.
  2. Employee and manager both prepare independently by answering the four questions (details coming below). Ideally, the manager and employee share their notes in advance of their conversation.  This allows the conversation to feel less like an update meeting and more like a conversation focused on what is most important.
  3. Meet to discuss the questions, calibrate expectations and make decisions.  The design of the four questions was to focus the conversation on elements critical to performance.  As issues are identified, they are discussed and agreements/decisions can be made.
  4. Employee documents the key discussion points and decisions made from the conversation and shares with the manager.  Again, this puts the employee in a position of ownership and accountability to ensure value comes from the conversation.  Plus, committing information to writing creates a level of clarity that is too often lacking in performance management.
  5. Manager reviews the employee’s notes to ensure agreement and alignment.  This is one of the most important steps in the process. If the employee’s documentation does not reflect the conversation accurately (for example, he misunderstood some feedback), that’s a communication failure that the manager can address immediately. This loop in the process also provides a manager with real-time feedback to fuel their own development of critical management skills.
  6. Employee finalizes or closes the cycle. The employee gets the final word to reinforce that feeling of ownership of the process.

The Four Questions

The goal of these questions is to focus the conversation on the key elements of performance management: clarity of expectations, goals, feedback, support, and resources.

  1. What are your most significant accomplishments since we last met?  This question creates accountability for the employee to articulate progress and impact. This allows the employee to highlight things they are most proud of and own areas where they have been less successful. The manager can provide praise, appreciation, and constructive feedback here. It also gives managers a signal of where they should be providing more recognition based on what the employee is most proud of.
  2. What are the most important things you will focus on before we meet next?  This question is about alignment.  It prompts a discussion about goals and expectations. It allows the manager to see what the employee believes is most critical and where they are planning to focus their energy. This enables the manager to ensure the focus is in the right places.
  3. What obstacles are you encountering right now? This is an opportunity for the employee to identify any challenges they are facing. Maybe they are struggling with a colleague or they are lacking a tool they need to do their job effectively. Either way, it signals the manager where coaching might be needed or support is required. On the manager’s side, this is an opportunity to share observations and offer suggestions for how the employee could have more impact.
  4. What can I do better or differently as your manager to support you? This creates a regular feedback loop for the employee to help the manager get more in tune with their individual needs and style. As a manager, if you remain open to this feedback, it provides the fuel and reinforcement needed to continually improve your skills and effectiveness.

Role of Technology in Performance Management

While this process can be executed using email and word docs, there are numerous tools available that can automate this process (or a version of it). The advantages of using a performance management platform to automate are many.

For one, you can use the system to trigger conversation cycles four times a year. This means the employee gets a notification reminding them it’s time to start the process and providing them a link to do so.

Also, when you use a system, all of the notes that the employees and managers entered are stored in the same place and create a narrative of performance over time. This narrative is visible to upline leaders and HR.

Systems also make the sharing and documentation steps in the process much simpler and create a single place where the “official” conversation notes live.

While there are many advantages to using technology to automate this process, don’t stop if you can’t get the funding for it. The goal is the conversation, not the technology. So, use the tools you have to make those conversations happen.

Other Performance Management Considerations

  • Frequency: In my opinion, four conversations a year is not nearly enough. However, you should always pursue progress over perfection. If you struggle today to get managers to have one performance management meeting a year with each employee (which was the case where we designed the 4×4), then moving to four conversations a year is big progress. In my experience, a conversation once per month has worked ideally. But, the frequency should be determined based on your organization’s needs and business.
  • Questions: The questions outlined above are a solid foundation that I think could work in nearly any business context. But, they aren’t magic. Again, you should adjust these items to be culturally relevant to your organization and objectives. You may decide you want to add a question or two. The key is to be clear on the intention of the item (as I have outlined above for each). Over the past year, I’ve found it helpful to add an additional first question, “What is the most important thing we need to discuss?” I find this ensures that we spend ample time on the issues that are deemed most critical.

In the end, the thing to remember is that the goal of the process is to create an engaging conversation between an employee and their manager that has a positive impact on their performance. The rest is just details.

 

 

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performance appraisals must die
Performance Appraisals Must Die
Performance Appraisals Must Die 1080 846 Jason Lauritsen

As every other HR department has done before and will likely do again, my team is working on answering the question, “What should we do about our performance appraisals?” So, I’ve been thinking a lot about the topic lately.

As a result, I’ve had my radar up for information and solutions about performance management.

It seems to me that the performance appraisal is a perfect example of how Paul Hebert once explained that HR is caught in the monkey trap. Letting go would set us free, but we just can’t seem to do it.

I think failing to let go is a mistake. And here’s why:

  1. Managers hate writing them. Even the best managers hate them, regardless of the form you use. They’re too much work for what managers get out of them.
  2. Employees hate receiving them.  Regardless of how great of a manager you have, the process of the once-a-year sit-down is riddled with anxiety and angst.
  3. HR hates administering them.  It’s an enormous black hole of time and energy, and no one loves you for doing it.
  4. There’s no evidence that traditional performance appraisals have any impact on performance, good or bad.
  5. Despite what some HR folks may argue, having annual performance appraisals usually makes it harder to terminate a low performer, because most managers generally resist addressing performance issues within the appraisal itself.

If these five things are true, it would seem that the solution would be to stop the insanity and pull the plug on performance appraisals.

Here’s what should happen if you do: managers and employees will both love you more. Your HR team will get back some time that can be invested in work that matters. Organizational performance won’t change and you’ll be better able to swiftly address employee performance issues.

Where’s the downside?

 

 

Illusion of Reality
Illusion of Reality 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

I’m a fan of reality TV.  Think of me what you will, but I find many reality shows entertaining and fascinating for a variety of reasons.  So, I tend to sample a lot of different shows to see what they are about.  Recently I stumbled upon “The Bachelor Pad” on ABC.  The show is the sort of sordid stuff that makes reality TV interesting to peek in on.

This particular show is a spin off of the popular show “The Bachelor” and, as you would expect, an element of this show is matchmaking and romance.  In the particular episode I watched, one of the female contestants had won a dream date on which she could bring one of the male contestants of her choice.  After selecting her partner, they are whisked off to experience a zip line course and helicoptor ride over some  beautiful countryside.  This was followed by a private candlelit gourmet dinner at an exotic resort.  As this date is unfolding, each of the two people on the date are commenting on camera about how amazing it was to be with this other person and how it just feels great to be with them.  They both become convinced that they have an “real connection” to one another.  

I’m always struck on these shows by how easily people become influenced by their conditions.  A tenant of designing a great reality TV show is to isolate a group of people in a controlled situation or environment so that they will behave in dramatic or unpredictable ways.  They begin to accept their surroundings as “normal” versus recognizing them as part of a game, which leads them to make interesting decisions.  As in the example above, do these two people really have a connection or are they just overcome by the romantic situation they’ve been place in?  Might they just be caught up in a manufactured for TV moment?  It’s for this reason, that I think that most romances that start on these shows break up so quickly after the show ends. Turns out real-life romance requires work and isn’t only about yachts and helicopter rides.  Regardless of how fast these relationships break up, these couples are always convinced that their relationship is real and that it will sustain when they return to real life.

Thinking about this made me wonder how much of an effect our workplaces have on the judgement and decisions of the employees who work in them.  Several questions came to mind for me:

  • As in reality shows, to what extent are we creating conditions that cause people to make decisions in ways they wouldn’t outside of work?
  • Do our work environment lead to artificial relationships that won’t sustain beyond the job? 
  • How can we design our workplaces so that the actions and interactions are more authentic to who each person truly is and not who they become when stepping into the work environment?
  • Do I watch too much reality TV?
Not sure I know the answer to these questions, but I think that they are interesting to think about if we are interested in pursuing high performance, innovative workplaces.
Jason Lauritsen