Easy Strategies for Effective Performance Reviews

Delivering bad news or pointing out maladaptive habits isn’t easy, even if you think the employee may have an idea of what’s coming. Assuming you’re both on the same side of the table sharing a common goal can make difficult conversations easier.

Your job is to ask good questions, to find ways to help your key employees identify what’s working well, where they want to go in their careers, which skills they might like to pursue, etc. Your questions are designed to facilitate buy in, give them an opportunity to critique their own performance and to offer information first. Your questions also give you better information to develop a strategic approach to the next phase of the conversation.

The questions below are worded for an annual review: (You can, of course, tweak the time line if it’s different). We recommend reviews much more often to keep tabs on how your team members are feeling and what they’re thinking.

Usually, you’d give these questions in advance so there’s time for them to think about them and write out answers.

1) What professional accomplishments of yours do we need to remember from last year?  Please include items that might not have been noticed.

2) Were there professional skills you were able to improve on last year?  Did you receive training or help from any member of the team?  Again, please be as specific as possible.  What skills do you want to work on this year?

3) Were there projects or tasks that you had the freedom and responsibility to do in the way you thought best?  Please think of both ongoing and one-time projects you did and describe how much independence, if any, that you had.

4) What do you do well professionally, enjoy doing, do easily, get compliments on, etc.?  I’d be particularly interested in things you do well that I don’t know about.

5) Are there things about your work that give you real pleasure or make you feel you’re making a difference?

6) What could I be asking that seems important for your success here?

The answers are important, but building a process of open, corrective conversations with your employees is just as important. And slowing down to listen to their struggles and goals is the only way to create effective plans for future growth.

Influence, the Wave of the Future

It seems clear to us that the next area of innovation is a return to one of the oldest of human endeavors—influencing valuable people to join you in pursuit of a common goal.

Yes, there are impressive technological advances still in the pipeline, let alone in the imagination of developers and entrepreneurs. Our relationship to healthcare and the wider world community will continue to change—although forward or backward can be debated. Cars will soon drive us, houses will stay one step ahead of our commands, and clothes will do more than warm and adorn us. Additional services that we hadn’t even imagined were necessary will become the norm.

But none of these potential advances, or other undreamed of ones, will proceed along their most effective paths unless you—the current and future leaders—are able to attract and nurture individuals and the teams they form. The brightest, most creative, most dedicated producers of value will only join your enterprise if you are genuinely able to step away from a self-centered approach to leadership and become a catalyst who assists them reach their goals and dreams. They will carry your dreams on their shoulders as they strive to achieve their own ambitions.

We see too many business leaders impatiently push instead of quietly influencing, value loyalty over creativity, or act like their vision is the only one that counts. Even leaders who are sensitive to the feelings of their employees seem to forget at times that their enterprises will only flourish if individuals are encouraged to thrive in their careers, lives, and dreams.

One of the biggest stumbling blocks for most leaders is an inflated sense of their own ability to master work relationships and influence important people. How are you doing? If you see no weaknesses in your approach to team members, a caution flag should go up. If you recognize an area that could use upgrading and you haven’t set aside time to work on improving it, then you are giving an advantage to your competitors every time you attempt to attract or keep a major contributor.

A first step is to ask yourself questions, and take time to consider the answers:

•How am I doing?
•What are other people doing better?
•What am I avoiding?
•What habit should I be mastering?
•What are my priorities?
•Who do I wish I could entice to work for me?

The next step is to make a plan for addressing your weakness. It’s difficult to recognize your own failings, because they will tend to sit in your blind spot. Even if you think you can see them, they may be resistive to change because of other habits or attitudes you have—which can hide behind more obvious  shortcomings.

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Professional athletes depend on feedback from their coaches to see their lapses and improve their game. The best presenters and salespeople seek new ideas and analysis from specialty coaches. Musicians, actors, writers and so many others regularly request input from an experienced masters. Are you getting the feedback you need to improve your game? Arrange a strategy session today to explore how coaching can improve your ability to attract and retain high performing employees.

Comfort Isn’t All It’s Cracked Up To Be

Most likely your natural tendency is to sidestep uncomfortable emotions, painful physical sensations, cognitive challenges and/or social exertion. But those discomforts are often signals that you’re pushing yourself into areas of positive growth with a level of intensity that will lead to actual progress.

In endurance sports this discomfort is called suffering. Some of that suffering comes from the physical pain that your body generates as you approach the limits of your current capability. As you strain, your muscles generate waste and collect minor tears. After your effort is completed, the tears will signal the healing forces to rebuild with additional capacity to avoid future tears.

We now understand that some—or perhaps much—of the pain sensation is also generated by the fail-safe concerns of our brain. It senses that, if we continue to do what we’re doing, we risk exceeding our body’s abilities to intake oxygen, deliver fuel, and clear out waste materials. The pain sensation is an alert that we should shut off our effort to preserve crucial blood flow to our brains. The problem is that this warning comes earlier than necessary and, if we heed it too soon, it inhibits us from our highest level of effort and eventually diminishes our maximum performance.

In non-physical areas, your brain also protects you from danger with early and overblown warnings about threats. It flashes discomfort and pain signals when there are opportunities for growth. For instance, when there is a possibility that you will need to give up an established pattern of behavior in order to make a change or challenge your comfort zone.
Each time you strive to stop an old habit or start a new one, you will likely come face to face with some level of discomfort—some minor “tear” in your routine. In order to change you will need to ignore the easy path of following your old habit and push against your discomfort. You may need to welcome the experience of social embarrassment and confront someone, push against the call of a sweet treat in order to change your eating habits, get to a gym class when you’re feeling hollow and lethargic, or resist the pull of something more entertaining when you should be exercising or working on a project.
How much discomfort are you willing to push through? If the answer is none, then you aren’t likely to change. Just a little bit? You may make a bit of progress. A few brave souls will answer in the affirmative when they ask themselves, “Am I willing to suffer for a significant increase in my performance?”
Choosing to suffer isn’t complex or difficult, but it also isn’t easy. And we are not suggesting that there is any significant value in suffering for suffering sake. Given that you will face feelings of discomfort many times a day, and will on occasion suffer, you should know that you will suffer less if you welcome discomfort as a necessary ingredient in improving your performance.
There is suffering that leads to no valuable end. There is suffering that we might wish to avoid, but which leads to healing. And there is suffering that is simply the best pathway to enhanced performance. Avoid that discomfort and you will keep doing what you have always done. Embrace it and you will dare to push yourself enough to cause your body, emotions or mind to gain increased capacity.
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In growing your business, a healthier life, or deeper relationships you will benefit from having effective strategies to help you deal with discomfort and gain the maximum value from any investment you make in suffering. Don’t suffer needlessly. But also don’t avoid opportunities to grow and feel significant satisfaction and benefits from your efforts. We can help you invest your energy wisely.

Surprising Problems with Praise

Despite the common advice of many business coaches, praise can demotivate your team and make them skeptical. Praise, like sweeteners, needs to come in measured amounts and not taste artificial.

People do experience meaning and satisfaction when they hear those they respect value their contributions. But it doesn’t it follow that we should therefore lavish praise on members of our teams.

Research points out that too much or insincere praise creates less than desirable results. This appears to be true both at work and with our families. Overdone or generalized praise is quickly dismissed as worth little. If everything is “great”, then you’re not believable. Overusing expressions like “Amazing!” “Wow Experience!” “Great Job!” all lead other people to feel that your praise is worth less.

Do you understand what I’m saying? Great job! You’re an amazing reader! Something certainly smells rotten in my praise.

To make praise effective it needs to be sincere, specific and address the actual work or effort. And it needs to come in believable doses.

One clear way to avoid hyperbole and misunderstandings is to share acknowledgements instead of praise. They’re similar, but acknowledgements make a specific statement about the results of a person’s actions. They don’t give a label of good or great. They don’t base an evaluation on your judgment of the person. Acknowledgements speak about the effect of a person’s activities.

For good work that is a tad above a person’s normal performance levels or when a team member finally shows continuity over a period of time try something like:

“I noticed your effort today produced results.”
“I notice your quality is staying higher.”
“I noticed you are trying that approach we talked about.”
“You put some real effort into getting that job done on time. Thank you.”
“Having the reports on time has been helpful.”

Save praise for exceptional situations—and still consider using an acknowledgement instead. If you’re going to fall back on praise, keep it  believable and use it only for above average work. Stick with simple acknowledgements for basic work done well.

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Developing new leadership and managerial habits takes specific understanding and practice. We can help you:

Learn how to acknowledge and praise wisely
Ask curious questions
Listen effectively
Reward for effort, strategy and progress

And, as a bonus, a healthy dose of acknowledgements and praise from a coach will help you implement habits that will increase your and your team’s performance and satisfaction. Call or email today if you want to set up a time to consider what habits will bring the most leverage to changing your business and your life.

Is Your Life Working Well?

We think about Return on Investment (ROI) only in the context of money and profit, but I want to encourage you to consider investing time to assure your future will generate the happiness you want.  Is your life working for you?  Could it use a small tweak to work optimally, or does it need more? I want to touch on some things to think about when you are considering a transition. Read on!

I’ve discussed transitions, one of my favorite topics, in previous posts. The question of what you’re going to do in the next phase of your life trips many people up. We often assume we know what will make us happy, but discover almost too late that happiness is still elusive.

Research and experience show that happiness comes to each of us in a number of flavors, some of which melt rather quickly. It may help to consider what flavor or level of happiness you want to put your effort into pursuing. You have options whether you’re looking at a career change, thinking of adding an avocation or hobby, or searching for a complete makeover.

Positive psychologists—those professionals who look at strengths and successes—talk about three phases of happiness: pleasure, engagement (or flow), and meaning.

Pleasure

This is the simply feeling good part of happiness—going to the beach, taking a trip, trying a new restaurant, buying a new piece of clothing or car, watching the sunset, and so on. If you are working really hard now and contemplating cutting back, time for more of those pleasure moments may be enough— a chance to relax and take a break from any responsibilities.

Engagement

To many people’s surprise, even really great pleasure of the first kind gets old after a while. Boredom, restlessness, or loneliness usually begins to creep in. That’s when you may realize you need the second level of happiness, engagement—something you can sink your teeth into a bit. Maybe study the piano, plan a garden, join a Makers group, start playing golf again, pick up a hobby, study a language—i.e. engagement with other people or activities that are personally interesting, or that matter to you.

Meaning

Some of us will get hungry for something even bigger—creating a legacy or just wanting to give back. This can happen throughout our lives; for some of us, the need increases as we cut back our money making activities. We want to give back—to offer our talents, services, energy to those who can use it. We seek meaning— a feeling of having a larger purpose and contributing something to others and to society.

Any transition is likely to be more satisfying if you’ve set your sights on the level of happiness that will give you the type of pleasure you’re looking for. Here are a few steps to play with to get you started:

Think about how to create possibilities for yourself

If you know what you want, think about ways to get support to begin creating it.

If you’re feeling restless to make a change, but don’t know what direction to go in, try something. Try and then adjust as you learn. It’s better than standing still in frustration or confusion.

Research is one form of action—get online, interview people who are doing “it,” read books about transition or happiness, ask a coach.

Plan a goal and some details

Whether you’re still working, working part time or almost retired, plan! We often can’t wait to get “there.” But once we reach our goal, we face a blank slate and a “What now?” vacuum that is very uncomfortable. Begin to plan some of the details now.

Think about how to make your life richer and more resilient with a diversified life portfolio—different areas of happiness so that one or more will continue to be viable and interesting. What would a satisfying day to day life look like? Would it have social connections, exercise, learning opportunities, giving to the community and family? What else?

Either way, please take the time to make the changes that will make a big difference in your life—at work and at home.

Lately so many clients have been looking for assistance with a transition in their lives that I want to announce that I will be facilitating a group on making a transition in your life. My “What’s Next” group will help you think more clearly about the what, when and how of making a major transition in your work or personal life.

Encouraging Positive Behavior

People need people. This was brought to my attention again when Jay was reading Deep Survival a book about the attitudes and behaviors that survivors of accidents and natural disasters exhibit. Many lost adults don’t stay still so that they can be found during a grid search. They keep moving in an apparent attempt to reconnect with other people—anything but spending time alone. To be seen is to feel alive, safe and significant.

There is often a similar longing to be seen in the work environment. Team members want and need acknowledgments as much as lost hikers. It is necessary to pay employees, but that isn’t sufficient to motivate the best critical thinking or creativity. One of the techniques leaders need to develop is the ability to make a team member feel seen at a time that encourages them to repeat a positive action, attitude or effort.

Here are some ways to give a little acknowledgment in everyday situations:

Brighten just a bit each time a person looks at you and they will tend to look again. Jay and I use this technique to get people to focus on me when they’re talking to a group. And conversely you can look down or look away to encourage them to address someone else.

Say “Thank You!” when people give you tough feedback and they will tend to continue the behavior of daring to risk your displeasure.

Acknowledge a project or task that is completed on time and the positive attention will tend to nudge the employee toward getting the next one done on time.

Say a cheerful “Good Morning” right away when a chronically tardy employee shows up on time and you’re more likely to see a bit more on-time behavior.

If you work for someone, you might try completing a project early when it’s handed out early and holding it back until the last minute when it’s given to you late. This is different from the traditional “passive-aggressive” attitude because you’re working toward a solution that is intended to help both of you. You just need to be very clear that the goal is a smoother working relationship, not just one that satisfies you.

Say hi to team members as if they’re the one you’re pleased to see and they will more likely act like someone you want to see.

Positive feedback, smiles and noticing others’ constructive behaviors, all increase the odds of a repeat performance.

For more ways to increase your effectiveness and influence the outcomes you’re looking for, please call us at 978-446-9600 or email us.

Jay’s book Simple Steps to Change: Your Business, Your Life is a good resource, with lots of ideas, as well. You can read parts of it or purchase it on Amazon.

Successful Transitions

The transition from an old to a new process or system, from a previous manager or key employee to a new hire, or any other change is tough. Understanding more about how to manage the process will make it all go a bit easier. With the right information you can make a difference between a successful transition and one that just doesn’t work well. This post highlights some aspects of change based on “The Transition Model,” by change expert William Bridges, whom I had the pleasure and opportunity to study with. Besides reviewing this article, you might also find it helpful to watch Change expert Naomi Karten and me discuss change and transition.  Coping with Chaos: Change and Transition

Even a positive change like a new piece of equipment can make people feel uncomfortable. The most common reaction to change is to second-guess it, or even resist or oppose it. By understanding why your team is dragging their feet or expressing reluctance, you will be in a better position to help them accept and ultimately support the change that is coming.

William Bridges distinguishes between changes—something that happens to us by our own choice or is thrust on us—and transitions—the process that happens in our minds and feelings as we go through a change.

Change can occur quickly, in a moment in time—the day we got a promotion; signing the closing papers on a home; buying the business; hiring a new office manager. But the internal transition is usually slower. It simply takes time to get used to a change.

There is a tendency to go through three stages as we move through a transition:

1. The Ending—things as we know them have changed.
2. The Neutral Zone—an often messy time sort of muddling about before moving on.
3. A New Beginning—a new status quo develops as the change is consolidated.

People move through transitions at different paces. Entrepreneurs may jump from an old to new business adjustment much more quickly than their employees or team members. Some people will need to linger in the Neutral Zone while trying to understand or accept a difficult feeling change.

Here are some ideas about how to help make a transition more efficient and comfortable so your team can execute as quickly as possible:

Endings

•Slow down the process in order to speed up the process. Invest the time now to eliminate future problems.
•Be open and transparent about what’s going to happen.
•Emphasize what will stay the same—values, schedules or whatever.
•Accept that there will be resistance. Listen to peoples’ feelings. Listen to concerns. Listen to fears. There will be denial, anger, sadness, disorientation, loss of identity, frustration, and uncertainty. Listen well.
•Be clear about how you will help them adjust. Offer training and resources they may need, which you’ll discover because you were listening!

The Neutral Zone

•The way you help your team prepare for the coming change will determine how long people may muddle about before getting on with the new change.
•Expect some people to feel overloaded and uncertain or confused. Others will feel impatient. It takes time to adjust to a new management system or style.
•The leader who pays attention can often find ways to offer support that will keep the process moving.

The New Beginning
You know you’ve arrived at a stage of acceptance and renewed energy when people begin to embrace the change. They start to see their efforts pay off and to feel more comfortable. Don’t let down now. You need to help your team sustain their energy and enthusiasm.

•Help people see how their personal goals connect to your long-term vision and objectives.
•Be certain everyone hears how team members implement the change successfully.
•Acknowledge peoples’ grit and persistence.

This is the quick executive summary but implementing any piece will likely help make the transition go more smoothly.

If you are about to implement some change, anything from hiring a new key team member to changing some part of your system, let us help you strategize how to more effectively implement the change. We can even come in to help your team see their way through it. If you’ve currently stalled, call or email us and we’ll show you how to get moving again.

Better to Forgive than to Forget

Some recent research found that forgiveness affects perception of difficulty even during physical performance. Jay and I have been discussing how forgiveness might also affect the workplace.

The research found that just thinking about a time you didn’t forgive someone increased the perception of a hill’s steepness and decreased your ability to jump. At first glance neither seems related to any advantage for forgiveness in work or personal relationships. But let us suggest some possibilities.

Imagine your reaction if a team member, one more time, doesn’t follow through on an assignment or avoids thinking for themself and asks you a series of obvious and frustrating questions. You’ve been here before and your irritation level spikes. If you’re jumping ahead and thinking that we’re going to ask you to forgive the team member, well that may help, but actually the idea we’ve been thinking about may be even more important to you.

In the situation above, your response may not have been very measured and thus probably doesn’t decrease the odds you will do any better next time. Let’s face it, you blew it and now that you’ve calmed down you’re blaming yourself. Our question is, would it help to forgive yourself?

Many of our executive clients admonish themselves for “stupid” mistakes or misjudgments. They’ve read lots of advice to “put it behind you” or “let it go” but it’s possible that you might create better future solutions and stronger working relationships if you forgive rather than to try to forget. The perception of the magnitude of the effort it would take to train team members and build more effective management approaches—the hill you have to climb—might seem less daunting if you started with a bit more understanding i.e. forgiving yourself.

Once self-recrimination is tempered by or resolved with self-forgiveness, it seems reasonable to expect that we might free up our focus, creativity and energy. Tasks, including repairing our mentoring role with team members, may look less formidable.

Have you practiced a process that acknowledges, forgives and lets you get on with the task? This is where the mental game comes to the front. How quickly can you forgive your own missteps and begin to work on a different solution and repair the relationship you injured?

One hint is to focus forward with coaching prompts like :

“Well I won’t do that again!”
“That was a learning experience.”
“I lost my focus on that move.”
“What would I do differently next time?”

All of which lead to better future results than blaming and staying stuck regretting the experience.

Superior management skills and results come from practicing emotional control and getting more proficient at the basics of support and influence.

Incremental Changes Build to Success

Doing all or nothing often feels easier than making minor adjustments. An all or nothing approach takes fewer on-going decisions than a moderate approach. But the huge investment of time and energy can put enormous pressure on us, which may not be feasible given other responsibilities. Then the excuses come—“I’d do all if I only had more time, better employees, a bigger budget, but I don’t, so I’ll do nothing.”

Smaller steps are not as exciting and may not feel like they’re worth the effort. Try setting a goal that feels worth investing in, but only pushes your schedule and commitments a small amount—enough to notice an improvement but well within your realistic capabilities.

Here’s an example of a moderate approach to change the way you train your employees or regulate your work schedule. A client of ours was trying to prepare her team for a major restructuring that would require a number of current team members to begin working more independently. She came to us asking how she could get them to begin making the decisions that she currently did.

She understood that she needed to stop answering their questions and encourage them to find answers by themselves. But she was worried that they would think it strange and even hostile if she simply refused to answer their questions one day.

“How do I explain the change?”

“How often do you answer their questions now?” Jay asked.

“They really aren’t required to think about all the ramifications of most questions so it’s faster if I just answer them and they can get back to work.”

“You need to consider potential future responsibilities when you’re training and working with current line-level team members. Start ongoing, incremental training by challenging them to think in order to prepare them for future responsibilities. In addition, you will have a system to recognize potential leaders. Be transparent about your training intent and regularly ask for suggested answers, which you can then evaluate with the team member.  Now, in your current situation, be transparent about your intent to encourage them to quickly develop answers on their own, but don’t leave them frustrated with no answer.

How about telling them, ‘I want you to begin to come to me with both questions and your best answers. We will spend a minute talking about your thinking. Most of the time I will then expect you to go ahead and implement the answer you think works the best.  I know you will make some mistakes, but I trust you to push questions back to me, if you think it might cause serious harm to a client or the business. There may well be an increase in your stress at the beginning, but I’ll stand with you and we will take this a step at a time.’”

She tried it and reported that one team member was flying solo within three days—a competence she would have recognized, if she had been asking for answers all along. Another team member experienced a great deal of anxiety about shouldering the responsibility even though her answers were solid. Again, even though this person rose to the challenge, the transition would have gone more smoothly with a longer ramp-up time. The third team member was great at follow through but poor at strategically thinking through the ramifications of complex answers. An incremental approach over time would have also identified this fundamental weakness and not wasted precious transition time trying to train-up a poor management candidate.

Transitions and change don’t tend to happen in one fell swoop. The first step is most often a small one—a trial, an experiment, a taste of something different. Trying things in small steps also allows lots of room for innovation and for learning what is effective. Small steps leave room for corrective action.

Don’t expect to implement a change with maximum effect and minimum time investment by simply flying into it whole hog. We can help you plan how to integrate change into your team interactions with the least disruption to your work flow and the most benefit. Contact us for more information and a strategic planning session.

Change with Almost No Effort

Self-discipline is an important component of change, but in certain circumstances you can alter your behavior without using much of your precious discipline-energy at all.

You can institute changes, often with very little effort or even awareness, if you simply adjust the way you arrange your organization system, office, or car.

Change the Physical Environment

Try to physically position things so that the habit you’re trying to develop has no roadblocks. When you feel an urge, you want to be able to follow through with next to no effort, no thought, no decisions, and very little chance of a detour.

Goal: Keep a to-do list

Physical Change: Keep your to-do list within the “easy-reach” zone on top of your desk, in your pocket, or on your phone. Have the most current items visible so you don’t have pages to turn or screens to click through. If you plan to use paper, always keep a pen where you never have to reach for it. If your list is electronic, keep it open and waiting, certainly no more than one click away.

Goal: Exercise regularly

Physical Change: Keep your workout clothes out and visible, your socks with your shoes, the shirt with the shorts or pants. If the weather is getting cool, keep your shell with the rest of your clothes.

Goal: Pay bills on time

Physical Change: Put bills to be paid in a prominent place with a large label where it will be visible to you from a regular route you use in your office or home. The best place is often right next to the place you’re going to pay them.

Goal: Start online work you’ve resisted doing

Physical Change: Put a prominent link on your computer or smartphone for any online task you might resist doing.

Use the opposite approach when you’re trying to break a current habit.

Goal: Change your snack habits

Physical Change:  Don’t place snack items where they’re visible or reachable (think obvious, handy, convenient, efficient); you’re more likely to eat more. Place them at the back of the office fridge, in a closed cabinet or drawer that isn’t in reach of your desk.

Goal: Ignore email when concentrating

Physical Change: Turn off email reminders. This is equivalent to making them less visible.

Goal: Don’t get caught by the Internet

Physical Change: Delete any “favorites,” desktop links, or other saved links that lead to entertaining or distracting web addresses. The little extra effort of having to type the address will slow down your impulse to visit the site.

Jay is an expert at helping clients come up with simple ideas and small useable steps to implement the changes they want to make. If there are things you’d like to change in your work or personal life, call or email us.