Coach’em Hard and Hug’em Later


“He was tough and he was hard; as tough a man as I have ever known.”

“He kept pushing and pushing and pushing.’

“He drove you to exhaustion but was the most compassionate person I have known.”

“He suspended Joe Namath and Ken Stabler–two of his greatest quarterbacks–for breaking team rules.”

“He would tear you up on the field and then bring you into his office and ask how your Mom was doing.”

“He would find ways to help his players without letting them know that he was helping them.”

“He would jump in front of a bullet for his players.”

“He could pull people together, unify them and get them to commit to the mission.”

“His harsh, tongue lashings were not personal, he simply wanted to make you better.”

These are comments from players and coaches led by Paul “Bear” Bryant, the legendary football coach.

Today, a street, a museum and a stadium display Paul Bryant’s name.  And more than seven hundred children of his former players have received generous university scholarships from the Bryant Scholarship Fund.

Of course, there are critics of Bryant’s methods.  And many of his practices are surely not appropriate for most corporate cultures.  Still, I think the leadership philosophy of “Demand a lot and care for the person.” is a sound one.

Employees and Leaders Benefit From Unequivocal Confirmation


Helena explained to her friend, “I just talked with my boss.  She couldn’t say enough good things about how I handled an unhappy client.  She went on and on.  It makes me worry.”

“Why would that make you worry?”

“I think she may have an ulterior motive.”

“Like what?”

“You know we are opening a new location, and I’ve told her that I do not want to transfer.  She may be thinking about moving me to the new site.”

How is it that we have taken a concept like “sincere appreciation” and turned it into something suspicious?

Maybe it’s because we have introduced practices like balanced feedback—identify what is good and what needs improvement.  Maybe it’s because performance appraisal systems discourage unqualified high appraisals—try turning in an exceptionally-high appraisal with no suggestions for improvement.   Maybe the concept “you can always improve” pervades leader-employee relationships.

Unequivocal confirmation occurs when a leader tells an employee something the employee knows to be true without “if’s,” “and’s,” or “but’s.”  Leaders practice pure confirmation so rarely that employees become suspicious when they hear it.

Employees (people) need to be confirmed.  It is not a psychological need; it is a physiological need.  Unequivocal confirmation releases endorphins (chemicals that create a sense of well-being) in our brains.    Insightful leaders realize that unequivocal confirmation increases both employee engagement and satisfaction.

Can We Just Eliminate Annual Performance Appraisals?


“Over my career,” a manager confided, “I’ve done hundreds of annual performance reviews.  I can’t remember the last time that an employee made significant and lasting behavior changes as a result of one.”

Another manager reported, “We had so many complaints about our appraisals, we appointed a task team to develop a new form.  After many hours of deliberation, followed by training on the new process, we rolled out the program.  Everyone was excited at first; but after a year, complaints whelped up again.”

“I spent hours preparing data to support my ratings,” said another.  “I don’t think it helped at all.  Employees who disagreed still argued and whined about low ratings.”

No one pays attention to annual appraisals until they do.  When managers become unhappy with an employee, the appraisal emerges as documentation to justify termination.  Employees know this.  That is why many get defiantly defensive about low ratings.

For these reasons, Deloitte, Accenture, Gap, Lear, General Electric, and many others have dropped their annual appraisal process.

I think brief, monthly employee reviews are less stressful and much more meaningful than annual appraisal rituals.  Consider questions like, “What were your two most important achievements last month?  What are you planning to focus on next month?”

Confirm what you agree with.  Discuss your disagreements.  This approach is quicker, less stressful and more meaningful.

 

Termination May Sometimes Be a Disguised Blessing


“Do you remember me?” Mary asked her former boss in a phone call?

“Of course,” the boss responded.  “How long has it been?  Three years?  What are you doing now?”

“That’s why I called,” Mary said.  “When you told me that I was not a good fit for the job, I was devastated.  But I wanted to let you know that I eventually got a marketing position with another software company.  Last Quarter, I was recognized as the top performer in my region.”

After graduating from college, Mary eagerly joined a company as a software designer.  Mary’s manager remembered her as a very nice person; but after a year, it was apparent she was not going to be very successful as a designer.

“I was twenty-six years old,” Mary remembered, “and I had just been fired from my first real job.  After several days of mind-numbing depression, I got a temporary position in another software firm as an assistant to an account executive.

“Because of her ability to work with customers,” her new boss said, “We quickly promoted Mary to a marketing position.  She has succeeded beyond our expectations.”

When the job does not fit an employee’s talents, termination may be a disguised blessing.

Leaders May Sometimes Need to Temporarily “Burn” a Relationship


“I have a good relationship with Fred,” the manager commented.  “He is a good performer and team player, but he continues making excuses for not using our new scheduling system.”

“What are Fred’s reasons for not using the system?”

“I’m not sure Fred’s concerns are legitimate, but he says the new system requires too much documentation and takes too much time.”

“Does Fred’s failure to comply cause problems?”

“Oh yes!  We have to do time-consuming work-arounds.”

“Tell Fred that you will treat failure to comply as insubordination.”

“He would not like that.  It would surely dent our relationship.”

The manager is very conflicted.  Maintaining a good relationship means extra work and sets a bad example for others.  Requiring compliance burns a good relationship with a high performer.

Effective leaders are both demanding and friendly.  But sometimes they must require others (even friends) to do things they resist.  Such actions may cause the relationship needle to point south.

If fractured relationships reach critical mass, staff may in effect “fire” the leader.  Resisting staffers apply so much pressure that higher authorities decide they are better off with the leader being gone.

When leaders consciously sacrifice relationships in service to the mission, it is imperative that these leaders, in the following weeks, make every effort to restore their relationships.

 

When an Employee Gives You a Relationship Assignment, Don’t Take It


Askov, an employee, says to his manager, “I don’t work very well with Renfro.”

“What’s the problem?” the manager replied.

“He’s hard to communicate with.  He doesn’t listen.  Never makes eye contact.  When I ask him about something, he doesn’t give me a good answer.  It makes it hard for me to do my job.”

It appears that Askov is surfacing a problem between him and Renfro and asking the manager for help.  However, Askov is most likely setting a trap for the manager.

Should the manager investigate, he will likely discover that Renfro has a very different take if he has an opinion at all.  The manager may have the detective skills of a Scotland Yard lifer, but he will not likely be able to resolve the issue to Askov’s satisfaction.

However, Askov now has cover and does not have to be accountable for his behavior.  After all, if the manager could not fix Renfro, why should Askov be expected to do so?

When employees try to give you assignments, don’t take them.  The manager could have mirrored Askov’s communication, as in, “So you and Renfro are not working together so well?”   Likely the manager will get from Askov, “That’s right, Renfro can’t communicate.”

Then the manager can refuse Askov’s assignment with a, “How can you deal with that and still get your work done?”

 

 

 

To Get “Buy-In,” Ask People To Do What They Are Capable of Doing


Shortly after Julie Walsh assumed the role of plant manager, she discussed with her front-line supervisors the need to reduce rework.

“During the last three quarters,” Julie announced, “only about fifty percent of our product passes all inspections on the first effort.  I think we need to get this down to ten percent by the end of six months.”

“That’s too much,” responded a supervisor.  “We won’t get buy-in from our employees.”

“How do you suggest we get buy-in?”

“Well, I think we need to discuss these metrics with the employees and get their suggestions on what is realistic.”

“Based on my experiences, with the changes we are implementing, I believe this is realistic.”

“You may think the goal is realistic, but I’m not sure our employees think it is.”

Push back is common when leaders ask employees to step up their performances.  Many leaders respond by asking employees for their opinions.  This usually results in some haggling followed by an eventual compromise and grumbling on all sides.

Leaders, in my view, have a good idea of what their people are capable of achieving.  When leaders’ and employees’ perceptions differ, as they often do; I say leaders should stick with their opinions.

At the end of the period, we may hear from employees, “I didn’t think we could do it.”  From leaders, the winning comment is, “I knew you could.”