What do you want from me?

A short one from me. I’d like to know a few things from you good folk:

– why do you come to this blog?

– are there topics I could be writing about but you don’t see enough of?

– I write regularly – between one and three posts a week – does this work for you?

– what have I missed a trick with on this blog?

Be honest. Don’t worry about my feelings. Make me work.



Who manages poor performance – line managers or your organisation?

There’s a very interesting post from XpertHR today about the ability of managers in dealing with poor performance in their staff. Essentially a survey they carried out showed that employer’s doubt their line managers ability to do it.

I don’t find this finding surprising at all. The basic responsibility of any manager is to monitor performance of their team and ensure they are delivering work. Within that though, there’s a fair amount they have to deal with. If you think back to Situational Leadership, you have to identify the capability of your direct reports and respond to each one individually. If you think back to lean processes, you have to consider what processes and procedures you have in place and evaluate how effective they are. If you consider employee engagement, you have to consider how involved your team are on a variety of workplace initiatives. If you think about diversity, you have to be mindful of what practices you have in place and whether or not you are acting unfairly towards others.

And then you’re expected to give them feedback too? In another article pointed my way today, Peter Bregman, writing for HBR, talks about a situation where a CEO shys away from giving feedback because she is too ‘nice’. Feedback is difficult, especially if it’s dealing with performance management issues. I think, though, that the onus shouldn’t just be on the line manager.

Training is the first port of call to enable a line manager to do this well. And I’m pretty sure most companies will identify this is a basic piece of development any line manager should go through. And I’m pretty sure there’s various levels and complexities of what that development will look like > basics, middle manager, senior manager, coaching, executive coaching, yada yada. But, that’s only one piece of what needs to happen.

The organisation culture needs to be equally supportive of managing poor performance. And I don’t mean management needs to just support the training and development. Or the HR policy on performance management outlines how a disciplinary procedure needs to be started. Or you get put on an improvement plan of some sort. That’s all fine and dandy, but hardly supportive. More stick than carrot really.

The organisation culture needs to resemble something like the following. There needs to be some place (read someone) who you can talk to about poor performance in your team, and how you can address it. This isn’t restricted to HR or OD or L&D, but anyone in the organisation who has experience of and know how to deal with such issues. If you have an employee survey in some shape, or company temperature mechanism (huh?), this needs to be used actively. One of the best examples I saw of this was from Ford Motor Co. They would take their survey seriously and report back quarterly about what they were doing to respond to staff’s concerns. What this does is create a culture where you can say to your team “this isn’t good enough and it affects the business temperature in this way”. Your line managers need to have a forum where they can come together to discuss peer management issues. It should ideally be an Action Learning Set of some style. This helps focus line managers on actions and outcomes rather than bitching and whining.

There’s more that can be done, but I just wanted to highlight some thoughts around this topic from the organisation’s point of view.

>It’s been a year

>It’s been a year! Always keen to know what others think I’d like you to complete a survey on my blog. If you think the survey questions below don’t capture what you want to say effectively, then please contact me through Twitter or email me.

Thanks for the 1st year folks.

Create your free online surveys with SurveyMonkey, the world’s leading questionnaire tool.

>Sometimes being collegiate isn’t worth it

>I provoked an issue today. I saw something happen and I wasn’t happy about it. Normally I’m all about collaboration, effective feedback and generally being collegiate. I threw that book out the window.

It’s not often I get this wound up about something, but there’s certain things I don’t like to see, and today was a prime example. I have no idea how this will pan out. I was careful not to attack the person I provoked. At least I hope I didn’t attack them. I was certainly harsh and even rude. I didn’t swear or anything like that, but I equally was not kind in my message.

I’m anxious about the outcome. I won’t apologise for what I provoked as else I wouldn’t have provoked it. Equally though I am hoping that this is a good platform for open discussion.

>Presentation training

>I today completed a set of presentation skills training with a group of people at my workplace. I think presentation skills training is my most favourite training that I deliver. It covers a broad spectrum of topics. Much like leadership and management training. But I think for me, this is the best topic. In terms of soft skills, presentation skills training crosses so many necessary skills: assertiveness, facilitation, rapport building, active listening, effective questioning, information delivery, engagement, credibility building, making a personal impact, confidence building, and those are just the ones that come to mind.

What I like best is how conscious I have to be of everything happening in the room at that moment. It’s taken me a long time to understand what that means. It means initially that I have to create an environment that is safe and open for my delegates to say what they need to. They then have to feel that they have something to learn from my session. This is all a power trip for me. I have complete control of that learning environment. Conversely that means I have to ensure the delegates leave learning something of value. Now there’s my true challenge. I believe I’m a great trainer. It’s a strong belief residing in my gut. You know, where the core of a person lies. Anyway, I digress.

More importantly though this means that I have to build a picture of the needs of the delegates and really hone in on those. Now there’s the part I love. By the end of the training in most occasions I’ll have sussed out what the person needs. But that journey to find that out, that’s what I love. Why? Because I love understanding people. And watching a person do presentations tells you so much about their character.

I have seen some God awful presentations delivered well. And some really difficult topics delivered effortlessly. And that’s no mean feat. Imagine having to tell a group of people that your department is receiving negative feedback from other departments and you have to collectively work to change this perception. That’s bloody hard. But when my old manager did this, he didn’t beat us up about it. We felt we had a mission, a purpose, something to prove.

So what’s my point here? Presentations are key in helping you to make decisions about a person. The training I do helps to ensure the message is delivered genuinely. That looks different for each person and that’s how it should be. Next time you see a presentation, give the person feedback. Let them know what impact they made, how they handled questions/challenges, how they built rapport with the group, if the content was appropriate. It has such an impact on the presenter. And you will also learn to have those development conversations so much better.

>Sack the self deluded manager

>I have been reminded today of the importance of being clear and direct in how you communicate with your staff. But more importantly I have been reminded of how a self deluded manager can be such a bad thing for any business. You know who I mean. The manager that thinks they’re shit hot when they’re just shit. Oh Lord, give me strength.

So the situation goes something like this:
Manager “I don’t think Bob is working out.”
Me “What feedback has he had?”
Manager “Oh I’ve spoken with him and he understands he needs to improve his performance”
Me “Are you confident he is clear about exactly what he has to do to improve?”
Manager “Absolutely”

4 weeks later.

Manager “Bob definitely isn’t working out.”
Me “Ok let me talk to Bob.”

Me “Bob did you know that you’re not performing according to your manager’s expectations?”
Bob “Kind of.”
Me “Are you clear about what you need to do to improve?”
Bob “No.”

Who would I fire of the two? No surprises for guessing it would be the manager. Why though? Because the manager was self deluded. He thought that he was being clear by giving Bob messages like “we’ve had feedback that you aren’t being enough of a leader” but not giving Bob any further information about how to be a leader. Or messages like “we need to put you on a development plan” with little explanation of why and even less explanation of how to improve. Or messages like “You have great technical skills but you need to work on your people skills” with zero guidance on how to develop those all important people skills.

As a manager one of the key responsibilities you have is to be clear in no uncertain terms about your expectations of your team. If they’re not performing and you have clear evidence to support your judgement the conversation needs to be as pointed as saying “Bob I’ve had feedback you aren’t being enough of a leader. And here’s how I’m going to help. Here’s a plan we will work on together to help you improve. It is important you are able to do this otherwise I will have to consider putting you on a development plan or worse disciplining you.”

You have to have those conversations. You’re not a manager to make friends. You’re a manager to (drum roll) manage. You have to manage workloads, staff, departments, budgets, plans, deliverables, blah, blah, blah. And if you’re not having those conversations because you’re self deluded you deserve to be let go sooner than Bob or any other member of your team you think aren’t performing.

>I’m self-aware. Am I?

>Oh that elusive ideal of self-realisation. What is that meant to achieve? Why do I need to be self-aware? Who does it benefit? How does it change anything in the future? Surely we should just respect that we each have different points of view and that’s all we need to do? And how do I become self-aware?

Consider this. You are learning how to ride a bike. Your dad tells you how to improve. What you’re doing wrong, how to balance, hold the handlebars and press the brakes. At school you’re learning how to do addition. The teacher helps you understand why you’re not getting the right answer. You try again and wait for a response. At university you hand in the first draft of your dissertation. You’re waiting to find out if you’re on the right path. Each of these situations has one thing in common. You are seeking and waiting for someone to give you feedback.

Why is it then that once you enter adult life and the world of work that you stop to solicit feedback? Not in terms of being able to do the job. Of course you want to know if you are producing work which is of the required standard. But just as important why are you not trying to understand if you are behaving in the desired fashion? Is this an aspect of the job role which is not important?

Some companies insist on 360 feedback surveys for their staff. But that’s not the same. You can dismiss them easily as not being truthful or the respondents not being the right people. But if you manage someone you have the responsibility of making them aware of how they are behaving.

But why do it? Because in life if you want to succeed you have to know how you are perceived, and thereby how you have to improve. I firmly believe in positive psychology and the benefits it can bring. Keeping in mind some prinicples from that school of thought you can achieve amazing things:
– Reverse the focus from negative to positive
– Develop a language of strength
– Balance the positive and negative
– Build strategies that foster hope

If you want this to be a successful strategy you have to be soliciting feedback from the right people. People who are not willing to be nice because of misplaced politics. People who are genuinely interested in seeing you develop and mature. In that respect I’m lucky I have Mrs P, Jim and Joe. Those 3 individuals are my harshest critics and best friends. I can guarantee if I’m doing something wrong I will feel the force of their venom and it will be true. I can’t escape from that. It forces me to act. It forces me to evaluate what I am doing and why I am doing it. I am forced to raise my self-awareness or risk remaining unaware.

Question yourself viciously. Seek feedback from those not afraid to give it. Be adult enough to deal with it. And be bold enough to admit you may not be self aware enough.