Tag Archives: Performance Management

Five Ways to Lose Good Employees

After parachuting in to hundreds of workplaces, I’ve come to see a number of ways that employers upset, alienate, and eventually lose good employees. They are, in no particular order:

1.  Fail to recognize good work when it happens. I’m not talking an Employee of the Month award, just a timely and sincere expression of appreciation for what the employee did. Consider using the “SAIL” method of recognition, which involves hitting on the following four points:

  • Situation: The problem or opportunity
  • Action: What was done, in specific terms
  • Impact: The result of the action
  • Link to organizational goals or values: how the action contributed to the organization.

And if you’re emailing the recognition, it never hurts to copy someone higher up the chain.

2. Let bad work or behavior go unpunished. When management takes no steps to address poor performance or negative behaviors, it affects the morale of other employees, particularly those who are doing their work faithfully and well. The good performers not only may have to pick up the slack for the poor ones, but they see management’s inaction as indicating that the organization doesn’t value good work and adult behavior. Even if management is taking corrective action of which other employees are unaware, the corrective action may not be very effective if other employees see no changes.

3. Change priorities frequently. Good employees tend to take organizational priorities seriously and work hard to achieve them. When the organization keeps changing those priorities, however, it’s like the boy who cried wolf: employees start to care less about particular projects because history shows that tomorrow, that project will be shelved and another put in its place. For good employees, this is not only frustrating, but it makes their work less rewarding and satisfying.

4. Abuse employees’ trust. Trust is about doing what you say you are going to do and being who you say you are. It’s about showing your staff that you are reliable, responsible and accountable, and that they can rely on you for consistency. It means never discussing one employee with another employee unless you are highlighting his or her accomplishments. Violate these rules at your peril: good employees may just leave.

5. Take credit but not blame. Aside from actual abuse, one of the worst things management can do is to take credit for the achievements of good performers and blame them when things go wrong. When things go well, management should give staff credit. When things don’t go well, it should assume responsibility and not scapegoat.

And a P.S.: Imposition of high expectations without a commitment to providing the necessary resources is another way that management can ensure that its best employees will soon start looking elsewhere.

Is there something else you would put in your top five? Interestingly, a recent Forbes magazine article had a completely different list!  ~Amy Stephson

Advertisements

The Praise Sandwich

I recently read a blog post noting that a recent study showed that the so-called “praise sandwich” performance management technique does not work.  (The praise sandwich is when you want to serve up some criticism but precede it and follow it with praise.)  Why? Because many employees won’t hear the criticism, but will hear only the praise.

That really struck me because if I were served a praise sandwich, I would hear only the criticism!

Be that as it may, I decided to look into the praise sandwich and found that it is quite a controversial issue.  At least in the employee management blogosphere.  Who knew?

First, a little more on how it works.  You want to tell an employee that her written work is sloppy: typos, poor grammar, disorganization.  So you go in and say something along the lines of, “ I really appreciate your willingness to dive in and get done what needs to be done in our department.  One area that could use some improvement, however, is your reports, which need some work. [more details].  Otherwise, I again want to tell you that you are a really valuable member of our team.”

What’s wrong – or right – with this approach? Here are some pros and cons.

Cons (in addition to the one noted above):

(1)   It’s dishonest and the employee sees right through it.

(2)   It’s disrespectful and manipulative because you are controlling the employee instead of being transparent;

(3)   The employee is more uncomfortable rather than less because they always know the boom is sure to follow;

(4)   It devalues the positive feedback because it’s not genuine and is just being used to soften the negative.

(5)   If the praise is more meaty than the criticism (which an uncomfortable manager might do), the criticism is lost in the shuffle.

And now the Pros:

(1)   If the praise is relevant and genuine, it allows the employee to save face and retain their self-esteem.

(2)   It immediately addresses the employee’s unspoken anxiety: “Am I about to be fired?”

(3)   There usually is something positive to say that’s relevant and it’s right to acknowledge it.

(4)   Focusing on the positive is a better way to help employees change their behaviors.

(5)   An open-faced sandwich is best: Praise – Criticism – Helpful Advice.

Ultimately, of course, the best approach will depend on the circumstances, the employee, and past events.  Whichever way you go, it requires honesty, helpfulness, and a positive attitude on the part of the manager dishing the feedback.

What are your thoughts on the “praise sandwich”?  ~Amy Stephson

Improving One-on-One’s with Direct Reports

Many managers and supervisors either don’t have one-on-one meetings with their direct reports, frequently cancel those they do schedule, or fail to prepare for those they have.  To these managers, one-on-ones seem unnecessary and a waste of scarce time.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Regular, focused meetings with subordinates are a key way to help ensure that your team is productive and happy.  Done right, they also help with employee engagement and retention.

It is not necessary to have one-on-ones every week (though with new reports, this is recommended), but it is best to have them at least every other week.  A standing agenda along the following lines is helpful:

  1. Update on action items/commitments from last time
  2. What is going well?
  3. What are the obstacles and how can I (the manager) help?
  4. Ongoing performance feedback, pluses and minuses, if and as needed
  5. Action items going forward

One or more times a year, it’s a good idea to enlarge the scope of the meeting and and cover the following:

  1. Where is the organization going?
  2. Where are you going?
  3. What are you and your team doing well? What are you proud of?
  4. What are your suggestions for improvements for the future (for the organization, for your team, for yourself)?
  5. How can I (the manager) help?
  6. What suggestions for improvement do you have for me (the manager)?

Other tips for having good one-on-one meetings with direct reports are:

1. Schedule them out for 6-12 months for about an hour each. Don’t wait for them to happen, because they won’t.

2. Don’t cancel, reschedule.  If you’re always canceling them, you’re sending the message they aren’t important.

3. Shut the door, don’t answer phones or emails, turn cell phones off, and give 100% attention.

4.  View the meeting as a coaching conversation primarily driven by the direct report.  The manager should ask questions, listen, and provide guidance if needed, but not dominate the conversation.

5. Don’t accumulate a to-do list for each employee, and then use the meeting to unload your list. Don’t overload the employee with action items.

6. Save some time to just talk. It’s OK to spend a few moments just asking what’s new, how’s life, how’s the family, etc….

7. Always try to end on a positive note – let the employee know how well they are doing (if it’s genuine) and how much you appreciate their efforts. If the meeting was a difficult one, you can try to comment positively on how things are going to improve moving forward.

Anything else you would add about successful one-on-ones?  ~Amy Stephson

Attention Management

Recently, I was preparing for a management presentation I’m giving next month.  One of the topics is “time management.”  I’ve never taken a time management class myself, and I have to admit that the term fills me with a vague discomfort.  It also evokes images of fat notebook-like organizers filled with lists upon lists of meetings, tasks to do, tasks completed, priorities, calls to make, and so on.

I don’t want to go there. It’s not me and I don’t do it myself so how can I preach it?  Instead I’m going to share a general  coaching approach to time management. You can use it on yourself or when coaching others.

  • First, don’t conceptualize it as time management at all.  We can’t manage time – it’s a force outside our control.  However, we can manage our attention and our priorities.  So think of the issue as “where do I focus my attention” or “how do I manage my priorities.”
  • Second, be intentional.  Think through your roles and tasks, how you want and need to balance them, where you want to direct your attention, and what your destination and goals are.  With intention, you have a framework for making decisions on how to spend the time you have. Without intention or a goal, you end up being only reactive.  Most people are part of a larger organization, so external forces – your job description, the organization’s mission and values, and your leadership’s views will necessarily be part of this process.
  • Third, figure out where your attention is currently going and realign it to better meet your goals and priorities.  You can do this in any number of ways and in greater or lesser detail.  The important thing is to be conscious of what you’re doing so you can make the changes that are necessary.

Of course this sounds easier than it is, but as a macro approach, it works.  You might also want to look into the Stephen Covey “time management matrix,” which is an invaluable tool for focusing your attention on what is important, not just on what is urgent — or seems so.

As for the details, you can work those out yourself. Electronic PDA, paper and pencil, fat leather-bound organizer, post-its, color coding, whatever … it’s your choice. What matters is having a framework.

Let me know if this works for you!  ~Amy Stephson

Top Ten New Supervisor Skills

This began as the top five skills, but it just wasn’t possible, so I’m going for ten.  An interesting discussion on the LinkedIn HR Group listserv recently addressed this as did a speaker at a seminar I attended in August.  There are lots of books out there on this topic, but I’m aiming to keep it short and to the point. We’re talking about folks who have never supervised before, God bless them. 

  1. Understand your new role and maintain boundaries.  You now have some power (or at least your subordinates think you do) and can no longer be one of the gang.  You want to be friendly and empathetic but not get involved in solving personal problems.  You don’t want to go partying and drinking with your subordinates. And so on.
  2. Listen first, then speak, respectfully.
  3. Set clear and measurable expectations.
  4. Learn the fundamentals of delegation, directing and coaching.
  5. Understand the larger system in which you work so you can “manage up” and exercise your “followership” skills.  Your unit does not work in a vacuum — you can help your people only if you understand the universe, including the organizational values, around them.
  6. Develop basic conflict resolution skills.  
  7. Learn how to handle the routine stuff: timecards, leave slips, accident reports, etc.  Read the Employee Handbook, carefully.
  8. Find an experienced manager or supervisor to whom you can go with questions.
  9. Set up a regular but realistic system for meeting with your employees, both as a group and one-on-one.  No one likes a ton of meetings, but it’s absolutely necessary to have some regular meetings.
  10. Figure out how to reward those employees who do well and motivate those who are not engaged.

And what if we had to pick only five central skills?  First, I’d have to eliminate the practical, obvious ones such as learning how to handle the routine stuff, setting up regular meetings, and finding a more experienced person to be a mentor.  My top five then would be numbers 1 – 5 above.  I’d probably also want to figure out a way to squeeze in 6 (maybe by just adding it to #4!).

 What would you pick as the top five?  Did I miss anything?  ~Amy Stephson

The PIP: Part Two

Last week I discussed when a Performance Improvement Plan can be a valuable HR tool and the first few sections of a typical PIP.  Today, I discuss the second half of the PIP: the carrot and the stick.

So what’s the carrot? After the specific issues and expectations are set out, a PIP should include a section entitled something like, “Support for You.”  This section sets out how the employer is going to help the employee succeed.  Typical support mechanisms include regular 1:1 meetings with the employee’s supervisor, training, EAP counseling, and access to other resources.  These things may seem obvious, but it’s important that they be spelled out explicitly so that the employee cannot say the employer was just going through the motions and the PIP was a set-up. In addition, setting this out makes clear to the supervisor what his or her role is.

The stick?  This comes in a section entitled something like, “Consequences and Next Steps.” Here the employee is told

  1. His or her supervisor/manager will be monitoring his or her performance during a stated time period. Typically this is 2-5 months, but the length of time depends on the nature of the problem.  
  2. By a specified date at the end of this time period, the supervisor will meet with the employee to assess the degree to which he or she has been successful in meeting and maintaining the expectations set out in the plan.
  3.  At that time, the supervisor  will determine if the employee has made sufficient progress to either end the plan or extend it in specified respects. If the supervisor finds that the employee has not met and maintained the expectations at a sufficient level, the supervisor will consider additional steps, up to and including termination of employment.
  4. A sentence stating that the Employer retains the right to terminate employment earlier if immediate termination is warranted.

The wrap up.  The PIP can end with a thank you.  It is then signed and dated by the employee.

If desired, an acknowledgement paragraph can be put after the signature line in which the employee states that he or she has read and fully understand the contents of the PIP and understands that the PIP does not create a guarantee of continued employment or alter the at-will status of his or her employment. Your employment counsel may have other suggestions as well.

One additional note: You have to follow up if a PIP is to have any value. Without the monitoring and support, a PIP is just another piece of paper.

So what have your experiences been with PIPs?  ~Amy Stephson

Why Is Poor Performance Management Universal?

My colleague Daphne’s last post was about supervisors and managers who don’t keep up on their performance management, give good reviews for poor performance, and then wonder why they can’t fire the employee.  An interesting question is why managers behave this way.  It’s often not for lack of being told what they should do.

I have several ideas based on my experience in a wide range of workplaces. Perhaps if the causes for this behavior are understood, the behavior can be changed :

  • It’s tedious and unpleasant to have to stay on top of an employee’s poor performance.
  • Many managers and supervisors don’t like conflict.
  • Performance management is time consuming and many supervisors don’t have the time.
  • Employees whose problems are actively managed often complain about it to HR, upper management, or their union. If the supervisor and subordinate are in different protected classes, a hostile work environment allegation is sure to be part of the complaint.  Retaliation is often alleged as well.
  • Upper management does little to reward supervisors for effectively handling poor performers. Perhaps if the importance of performance management was recognized in the supervisor’s own performance ratings or pay, it would be done more often.
  • Raises may be tied to performance reviews. Who wants to deny a raise to the needy single parent or longtime beloved but incompetent employee?
  • Managers and supervisors often don’t even see performance management as a key part of their job. Why? Because upper managment doesn’t emphasize or reward it, except when there’s a problem.

I came up with all these reasons in about 15 minutes and I’m sure there are more. No wonder this is a problem. Can you think of other reasons?  ~Amy Stephson