Don’t Be a One-Trick Pony


The president selected Johnathon–a no nonsense, high-performer– to lead a low-morale team that had consistently missed performance objectives.

Johnathon announced to his team, “Your performance disappoints me.  You can do better.  I will change what I need to and I expect you to meet all performance metrics.  I will inspect all activities closely and take quick, corrective actions where needed.”

Employees grumbled, griped and blamed failures on unrealistic expectations, vendor problems, a warehouse fire, and bad weather.

Johnathon, anchored like a rock in a sandstorm, continued pressing.  He made changes, terminated a couple of employees, some quit.  The performance needle began vibrating upward.

After a few months, the president said to the team, “You have performed a turnaround beyond my highest expectations.”

Jonathon impatiently asked for even more from the team.  Turnover became an issue again, excuses emerged, and performance stalled out.  Eventually, the president removed Jonathon.

Johnathon’s methods jerked a group of carless whiners into a high-performing team, but he could not sustain the success.  Effective leaders are not one-trick ponies, they adapt.  Structure often turns bad performance into good, but support and freedom is necessary to sustain high performance.

This May Not Work for You, but . . .


Felix said to his manager, “I have an upset customer who claims we should be responsible for repairing a product still under warranty.  However, I think the customer caused the damage by improperly servicing the equipment.”

After listening further, Felix’s manager gave him a specific checklist of actions to take with the customer.

Felix approached the customer and began working through his manager’s suggestions.  The customer remained disappointed and later wrote a nasty complaint on social media.

Later, the manager asked Felix, “Why didn’t you get that issue resolved the way that I told you to?”

Felix responded, “I did exactly what you said. He just wouldn’t listen.”

I recall asking a friend how to get a stubborn horse to take the bit.  My friend said, “Now, this may not work for you but this is how I do it.”  Then he successfully performed the feat while I watched.

Of course, the next day as I tried to execute my friend’s methods, the horse resumed his bad behaviors.  However, I knew that I still owned the issue and did not consider my friend accountable.

Felix’s manager, I believe, should have put qualifiers on his suggestions.  Felix would know that, although the manager offered advice, the customer issue was still his to resolve.

Leaders Set Expectations High–But How High?


Compare the philosophies of two leaders.

“I say the sky is the limit.  I ask my team to do more than what they are capable of doing because I want to get all that they have to give.”

“I try to be reasonable.  I don’t expect my staff to be super humans, but I do ask them to do what I know they can do.”

More than six in ten of my workshop participants think the first leader gets better results.  Considerable research and my personal experiences suggest the second leader accomplishes more.

Before employees commit to going all in for some leader’s high-flying vision, they must believe there is an eighty to ninety percent chance of success.   Unrealistic pipe dreams do not fuel sustained employee effort.

If a team historically performs in the bottom ten percent of an industry metric, I can assure you neither the team members nor the leader has a clue of how to become Number One. Figure out how to get into the top half.  When top-half performance becomes reality, the leader can adjust the expectation to “let’s take aim on the top one-third.”

While moving from a top one-third position to industry leader is hard, members are more likely to buy in because, from where they are, the expectation seems realistic.

 

 

How Appraisal Policies May Put Managers in a No-Win Situation


A very successful, but frustrated, manager reported to me, “During annual performance appraisals, we must have an improvement plan for low ratings.”   The manager further explained that he rated two employees low on the “quantity of work” scale.

“Did you develop a plan?” I asked.

“Yes, both had good attitudes.  I spent a lot of time with them and they did improve.”  The manager admitted the employees did not blossom into stars and probably never would.  Still, on the next appraisal, they earned “meets expectations.”

“Then what is your frustration?” I asked.

“When I submitted my appraisals, my manager said that my ratings were too high.  He said I needed at least some ratings that were “below expectations.”

“I think I see the cause of your frustration,” I responded.  “You are required to improve employees’ performances and, at the same time, your manager expects you to report lower ratings.  This seems like a no win situation.”

“That’s my point, exactly!”

Performance appraisal ratings create more frustration than a ref’s bad call you your star player in the final seconds of a game.  Why don’t we just do away with ratings?  Replace them with a brief listing of an employee’s achievements and areas of emphasis for the future.

 

Put Your Employees in a Place Where Their Fire Can Burn


After completing her engineering degree, Margie took a job in an aerospace firm.  Although Margie worked hard, she struggled to complete design assignments.

Margie’s manager lamented, “She is cooperative and smart but I don’t think Margie will be able to do what we need to do.  It breaks my heart but I think we may have to let her go.”

As managers discussed the “Margie issue,” the sales manager offered, “She has a great personality and a good work ethic.  I’d be willing to give her an opportunity with our sales team.”

When approached about the sales option, Margie was devastated.  “I’ve always wanted to be an engineer.  I know nothing about sales.”

However, facing a fork in the road—go sales or go home—Margie opted for the sales experiment.

After extensive training and a few months experience, Margie’s confidence grew.  She soon became a key member of the team.  “I never would have guessed it,” Margie said, “but I really like sales.  I awake every morning energized.”

Humans, like wood, have energy stored within them.  Under the right conditions, wood releases its energy—it burns.  Effective leaders put their employees in a place where their fire can burn.

Do You Create a Jekyll and Hyde Issue at Work?


Lucius said, “My new manager is very friendly.  He’s always asking about my kids and he likes to talk golf.  I thought we had a good relationship.”

Lucius continued, “Yesterday, the boss got upset because he thought I had not done enough to help to a younger employee.  I tried to help the new guy but he ignored my advice.”

To Lucius, the manager was unpredictable because he seemed to turn from “nice guy friend” to “jerk boss.”  Author Bruce Tulgan calls this the “Jekyll and Hyde” problem.

The Jekyll and Hyde issue emerges when managers build relationships based on sharing personal matters at work.  Eventually, a manager will need to have an awkward conversation about a work problem.  Employees are surprised because they see the relationship flipping from boss-friend to corrective-parent.

Managers, Tulgan believes, should save most of their personal talk for after work, social events and other encounters.  At work, the boss’s role is to keep people laser-focused on quality, deadlines, customers, safety.  This requires constant work talk.

Effective leaders strive to create trust and rapport with employees by mature discussions about what is going well and what needs improving.  For most, there would not even be a relationship were no for the work.

 

My Top Ten Idiotic, Motivation-Killing Statements


businessman rating

Here are my top ten idiotic, motivation-killing statements.

If I gave you a “five,” you wouldn’t have anything to strive for.

You haven’t been here long enough to get a “five.”

I don’t give “five’s.”

HR requires that I write a justification if I give you a “five.”

Our policy discourages high ratings.

If I gave you a high merit increase, you would think you had it made.

Never let them know you are satisfied with their work.

Others might be envious if I gave you a big increase.

Yes, you did a good job, but this was a team success.

I know your attendance is perfect but we can always do better.

Effective leaders delight in awarding their best producers with high appraisals and merit increases.  The result is:  high producers strive even harder.

While lesser performers may publicly whine and whimper about their modest increases, they will learn that to get more they have to produce more.

Withholding rewards from high performers based on fear of losing commitment or upsetting slackers makes about as much sense as the late Yogi Berra saying, “No one goes there nowadays; it’s too crowded.”