Thursday, February 16, 2017

The Development Planning Process

Our topic this week is development plans, which is timely for the start of a new year but also very appropriate when employees are asked to do more with fewer resources.

When times are lean, you need everyone working at peak performance and learning new skills. This is the perfect chance to encourage folks to flex and consider their development opportunities: an opportunity good for them and good for the company.

In the year ahead, I believe we will all be tested and challenged. Providing your employees with an ongoing development plan gives them the tool they need to take responsibility for their own professional growth. 

The development planning process can be just another HR initiative that usurps precious time from your "business" activities. However, when you calculate the impact your employees have on the bottom line - both as an expense and a source of potential revenue - you can see the benefit of more strategically managing your one of your largest investments.

Consider this: A downturn in business presents an opportunity to retool and refocus your talent pool because when the market turns around you will be poised for dominance. Those who squander this chance to look inward risk lost revenue and market share as your competitors with better qualified talent surpass you. Therefore, as a part of your business planning process, you create a road map to refine your strengths, develop new skills or reach new markets, and mitigate your weaknesses.

Since company performance ultimately depends on the performance of each individual employee, you cannot afford for employee performance to remain stagnant year over year either.  This is where your development planning process plays an important role: the development plan is the business road map translated down to the employee level.

So how do you get started?

1) As a starting point, take your company and/or your team goals and have each employee identify 3-5 main objectives that align with those initiatives.
  •          Does the employee need to learn new skills to help them reach their objectives?       Add that to the training plan. 
  •          Does at least one of those objectives stretch and/or challenge the employee? If not, refine the list to include one.
  •          How will you know when the objective has been reached? Be sure to be specific enough that you can follow up on progress.

2) Additionally, choose at least one strength and evaluate how you, as a supervisor, can leverage that strength, while giving the employee more opportunities to stretch, grow, and refine.

3) Also, choose one development area and plan out how can the employee can improve. Think out of the box: shadowing, on the job training, formal training, research, mentoring, special project assignments.

4) Choose a time to discuss the plan with your employees. Remember this is a development discussion (proactive) not a corrective action discussion (reactive).

5) Write everything down. This ensures you have a visible reminder of your conversation.

6) Set a time to follow up. You might need to have formal monthly check-ins with the employee or informal conversations. Either is fine, but just don’t forget to track progress and provide feedback regularly.

Remember, if you don't know where you're going, you'll never get there. Using a development road map helps ensure your employees and your company reach their maximum potential.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Month in a Minute

In the Sandbox with the fabulous HR team at SNHU
Meagan Flint and me at the CASE District1
Conference in Boston
Since this our Month in a Minute for January, I am going to say happy new year! Last year flew by and it seems this year is possibly going even faster, how is it February already?

There has been much talk about leadership these last few weeks, what it looks like, who it should serve, and what is bad. When I was younger in my career I was certified in a number of leadership programs and read all the business book best sellers. I thought I had a good understanding of what a “good leader” was. Then I went to grad school and got a degree in Organizational Leadership, and was sure then that I knew exactly what it took to be a good leader.

Since then, I have done a ton of executive coaching, led my own team of people, and written a book. I am realizing that I don’t really know as much as I thought I did. I have seen some terrible leaders who I thought were guaranteed to fail, who instead build amazing companies. I have seen some great leaders I was certain would succeed, drive their company into bankruptcy. I wish it was a simple correlation, but instead, leadership takes many forms, and different styles of leadership are needed at different times. One client of ours has just completed a huge merger, another has been in a battle to not be acquired. One has been downsized by 70%, and another is planning for 500% growth over the next two years. Each of those companies and each of the employees in those companies have different needs of their senior leaders. It would never work to have the same style person at the helm and make all of those companies successful. While I am sure having EQ is a critical skill for all leaders, I don’t believe that there is one definition of a “good leader." Do you?

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Creating New Habits

We are one month in to those wonderful New Year's Resolutions . . . you know the ones that we are lucky to see, well, March 1st.

The idea of a fresh start is alluring, which is why so many people choose January 1st to make self-promises of improvement. Of course, it doesn't have to be January. One of my colleagues chooses to do a life audit every birthday, reviewing his past year for success and failure, and setting new resolutions then. I, on the other hand, tend to bumble it. My moods of reflection and resolution hit on my  milestone birthday years - an already sensitive time for me - but the results do stick, and resolutions made in those years firmly take root. It is painful, creates bedlam, but effective.     

Should you be contemplating your 2017 resolutions, I hope these tips help you make it to March 2nd.  

As you think about your New Year's Resolutions, consider these five pointers to help with sticking to your plan. 

1. Start Small
Just because a goal is small doesn't mean it isn't powerful. Dr. Steven Covey shared on a blog post, "There are a couple of things I have found that help people develop enough internal stamina and discipline to make great things happen. They start small-make and keep a promise, or set a small goal and accomplish it. They move from small things to slightly larger things-have small "wins" and then bigger and bigger "wins"-until they begin to experience a level of exhilaration and excitement that makes them feel like they can accomplish just about anything." 

2. Write It Down
Darby Checketts said, "Only goal setters who are goal writers are truly goal achievers" in his book, Leverage: How to Create Your Own "Tipping Points" in Business and in Life. Physically writing your goals helps you articulate specifically what you want to accomplish and how you will know if you are successful. Plus, for those of us who forget what we don't write down, you have a physical record of the goals you are trying to achieve.

3. Put a Time-Frame on It
Once you know how to measure your goal (answer the question: what does success look like?), give yourself a deadline. Goals without deadlines are easily set aside to accomplish "later," but as busy as our lives are, later rarely comes. Treat your goal as you do other business deadlines. In fact, aim to complete them early! 

4. Find Accountability
Tell someone else about your goal - your spouse, a friend or co-worker, your boss . . . Find a person who knows you well enough to provide the right balance between challenging you with the tough questions and being a cheerleader who encourages you to follow through. 

5. Celebrate Success 
Don't forget to celebrate your accomplishments! No goal is too small to celebrate. Too often we don't take the time to acknowledge our successes because we're already on to the next task. Pause for a moment to enjoy your achievement. 

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Orientation vs Onboarding

Consider this interesting law of nature. A newly hatched duck will bond maternally with the first moving object it sees. This relationship is solidified during the first day or so after hatching, a brief window known as the critical period for bonding. As you may have learned in school, this process is called Imprinting. Much like our fuzzy friends, we too have a narrow margin of time during which we engage or disengage from the organizations we join.

This critical imprinting period for new employees largely depends on the success of the first impression - the New-Hire Orientation.

45% of employees who decide to voluntarily terminate their employment make their decision during the first ninety days of employment. As awareness of this ‘failure to bond’ statistic grows, organizations today need to take a closer look at the first impression they are leaving with new employees.

What is typically a 2- hour paperwork dump, the traditional Orientation format does nothing to engage new employees. Once just a necessary evil, this welcoming experience is now being regarded as a tool to increase retention, jump-start productivity, and forge employee loyalty. This fresh take on Orientation is known as Onboarding.

Unlike typical Orientation meetings, Onboarding focuses on acclimating AND engaging new employees into a company. To engage someone is to become interlocked, or to bring something together; to attract and hold somebody’s attention. This describes a collaborative process spurred on by shared values, mutual goals, and a sense of trust and direction. Employee loyalty is the sign and symptom of employee engagement at work.

Consider the following differences between traditional Orientation programs and Onboarding.

Compliance vs. Commitment
Most companies have looked at Orientation programs as a task to be completed, resulting in a sea of compliance oriented paperwork. Also, as the pace of hiring sped up, so did the push to cut corners and get the new employee to their workstation as quickly as possible. The unfortunate focus is often on protecting the organization from liability.

By contrast, under the Onboarding method, the primary focus of the program is long-term integration; to connect the employee into the heart of the company, to align them with the organizational values, gain their commitment to the goals of the organization, and help them see how their role contributes to making those goals a reality.

One size fits all vs. Customized
Most traditional new-hire Orientation programs utilize a standard template updated periodically to reflect new information or policies. The majority are grandfathered, have no ownership, and are the same for every new employee regardless of their role, title, past experience or department.

Instead, the Onboarding and engagement process is well researched and designed thoughtfully, with the audience in mind. Check your content for meaning instead of volume. The best way to accomplish this is through employee surveys of recent new-hires. Ask them what information matters most when joining a new company. Ask them what areas they felt needed improvement in the current new-hire process.

One-time event vs. On-going experience
While 75% of companies say they have an orientation process in place, only 15% have strategies in place that sustain the process beyond the first month of employment. This is where Orientation and Onboarding differ the most. To engage someone requires the strategy extend beyond the “it’s now or never” philosophy of shoving a week’s worth of information into one day or less. Consider your own practices. Is it a tiered program designed to grow and expand as they do? Does it involve checking in with them periodically?

HR task vs. Direct leader’s relationship building
Has the responsibility for integrating new employees fallen through the cracks and into the hands of HR? Historically, the person who has the least day-to-day impact on the employee is the first face of the new employer. If the long term wellbeing of the relationship between the employee and the company hinges on the first day (as studies prove) what role should the direct supervisor be playing in shaping that initial experience? If your front line supervisors aren’t playing a key role in your program now, it’s time to train-the-trainer.

There’s some solid ROI for revamping a tired Orientation process. Engaged employees are happier, more creative, require less management time, are highly productive, and increase the morale of others. What have you got to lose? (besides them)

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Motivation Matching

How is it that a person who came highly recommended as a star performer in their previous company joins your team only to lose their spark and fizzle out? Why does someone who has been an average performer one place move positions or change bosses and reach surprising levels of success? This week’s blog offers some insight into this puzzling performance dynamic and how motivation matching can help you bring out the best in your employees....before someone else does.

Performance Factors

From years of working with clients on both sides of this story, we’ve found that the cause for this perplexing change in performance frequently boils down to an incompatibility between the values of the individual and the values of their leadership. For example, all salespeople are motivated by money - right? And everyone loves to be recognized in front of an audience - right? Tell that to the employee who would rather under-perform than risk having to endure public recognition again. Recognition that doesn't match the values of the person being recognized can backfire or have little to no effect at all. Leaders often overlook the importance of identifying the unique motivational needs of each employee in order to assess if their organization, as well as their personal leadership style, has what it takes to fulfill them – a process we call motivation matching.

How does one motivate someone else? In order to answer that question, you need to consider all of the factors that influence someone’s drive to achieve. Exceptional performance is the alignment of skills, passion, feedback, management style, measurement, rewards and culture. We each have a unique pass-code that unlocks our inspiration, potential, and desire to achieve. Before assuming your employee “just isn’t motivated”, consider these questions to determine if it may instead be a result of a motivation mismatch:
  • What skills do they possess that give THEM the most satisfaction?
  • How is their job drawing upon their strengths AND interests?
  • What rewards do they respond to best?
  • What kind of feedback (written, oral, public, private, broad, detailed) and at what frequency do they need?
  • What management style brings out the best in them?
  • What message does our company’s culture send about performance?

Start by making an educated guess and then test your knowledge by sitting down with your employees to ask them these questions. True motivation matching must include both observation and validation. Without it, it's merely assumption and leaves you with the burden of trying to hit a target you can't see. Let them tell you how to bring out the best in them.

Motivation matching requires a realistic assessment of the strengths and limitations of your organization and yourself, the insight to better understand your employee, the willingness to make adjustments that bring out the best in them, and the courage to admit when you can't offer what they need and releasing them to find it. As involved as that may sound, it is painless compared to the hours wasted struggling to solve performance problems or wondering who went wrong – you or them?

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Leadership and Delegation

A global survey conducted by the Association of Executive Search Consultants involving 1,311 senior executives found that 46% of respondents felt their work/life balance has changed over the last 5 years...for the worse.

Are you, and your leaders overworked?

It is no surprise that technology is a leading culprit in leadership exhaustion. Smart phones keep us on call 24/7 and email seems to multiply overnight. Leaders are asked to accomplish more in less uninterrupted time. So what to do? Delegation is key. Consider delegation as a win-win opportunity; you provide yourself some much needed time to concentrate on your primary objectives while offering someone else an opportunity to stretch into new areas.

Leaders can hand off more to direct reports but often do not because of the perceived time investment. How much time would be saved in the long run by having a well-rounded team ready to step up to the plate when you need them? The next time you're tempted to come in early or stay late, ask yourself, "who has the attitude and aptitude to take this on?" If you can't come up with an answer, you may want to take another look at our previous Performance Pointer on Interviewing and Selection. As leaders, we need the right players in the dugout.

Are you delegating enough?

Consider how much time you are spending on tactical, non-strategic tasks. How much time would you free up by not doing work that could be given to someone else to complete? Are you allowing your staff to delegate up?

It may be time to give up or give back duties that consume your valuable time and leave you further from your goals. Prioritize your work week to spend the most time on activities that produce the greatest impact and leverage your special strengths. Approach delegation as a development opportunity for both parties; you will learn to let go and improve your ability to prioritize and they will get to take on new challenges and acquire new skills. In the end, were you really hired for quantity of work or quality of work? It may be time to rethink that to-do list.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Are You Listening?

Great leaders are great communicators, and great communicators are great listeners. 

Are You Listening?

"I know that you believe you understand what you think I said, but I'm not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant."
- Robert McCloskey

If you've ever found yourself shaking your head and saying "They just don't get it." and "I may as well be talking to a wall." Then it might be time to take a look at your own listening skills.

"Listening?" you respond, "THEY'RE the ones not LISTENING." Really? If you're the boss or if you have a specific agenda that you want understood, who should be the better listener? 

Miscommunication is often the product of the unconscious assumption that others have the same experience and understanding as you do. In most cases, that's just not true. Each of us has unique experience, cultural background, education, motivation, desires and needs. You and your partner may both speak English (which, as a second language, presents another layer of challenge), but each word is colored by your specific work and life contexts.

Leaders, managers and anyone who needs to influence (especially without authority) has a coaching role, and coaching requires deep listening skills, often called "committed listening" skills. Committed listening is listening to understand others' needs and desires with the goal of putting yourself into their frame of reference. Listening should make others feel that someone understands them - a deep human need and one of the foundations of trust.

Most of us have average listening skills. We have our preoccupations and agendas and we get caught up in our own feelings and - yes - we take things personally. Why, then, should you ASSUME a common language, let alone common motivations and goals?

There are plenty of barriers to committed listening:

  • Preparing to respond instead of listening without judging
  • Zoning out when others speak, one-on- one and in meetings
  • Interrupting others when they speak
  • "Knowing" what you want to hear
  • "Knowing" what you're going to hear
  • Assuming what is meant without asking or confirming
  • Listening for confirmation rather than information

By listening closely to others you'll discover that beliefs and assumptions are present in everything we humans say and do. If you can hear them, you can address them. For example, how would you interpret the following statement in a team meeting?

"The problem is that we can't move forward until leadership makes a decision about our next step."

Some possible translations are:

  • The team has no power to move forward.
  • If management doesn't see what we're doing as urgent, then why should I?
  • It is not our job to set direction.

There are many other interpretations, and every one needs confirmation, but there is much more information here than is evident from the words alone. How would you react? Here are some suggestions:

1) Ask questions without challenging, for example:

  • What can we act on right now?
  • What's the best decision that we can make? 

2) Ask questions that illicit governing values, such as:

  • What if we went with the best information we have now? Could we be effective?
  • What's the worst that could happen if we get it wrong?

3) Suspend judgment, without agreeing or disagreeing:

  • What is the team's decision-making role?
  • How would you handle it?
  • What information does the leadership have that we don't?

Notice, you're not giving advice or direction. By asking questions you coach others to think clearly through unresolved issues and to discover the solutions they have inside of them already. You also encourage accountability. Giving advice removes accountability and places it on the adviser.

How can you be a better listener?

  • Commit to improve your listening skills and to take responsibility for full and clear communication in every interaction from now on.
  • "Voice echo" to yourself what you hear as you hear it without judging.
  • At the end of each conversation, take a moment to tell your partner you appreciate what they said and then reflect it back, with the goal that the partner corrects your report until they agree that you understand.
  • Don't be offended or discouraged by feedback that says "You just don't get it." Most people don't communicate well. Allow for that and ask clarifying questions until you DO get it.
  • Keep a listening journal, noting when you do a good job of listening, and when it goes wrong, why and what you'll do differently next time.
  • Look for patterns that derail you, like particular people or topics that don't interest you.

  • Enlist someone you trust to offer support. Call on them if you find yourself stuck or unable to overcome distractions or break inattentive patterns.
Answer the questions:

1) When did I listen attentively? How can I tell?
2) When did I stop listening to the meeting or conversation?
3) What distracted me from listening to the conversation or meeting?

As Stephen Covey said in the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, "Seek first to understand, then to be understood." Be the one who opens the truly collaborative dialog and watch your influence grow with your effectiveness.