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6 Reasons Why Your Company Needs Real-Time Feedback

In the news today we’re constantly seeing major companies announce they’re dumping their old performance management systems for more agile solutions. Accenture, Adobe, Deloitte, Gap and Microsoft are just a few of the big names that have upgraded their people management processes based on real-time feedback. You may be asking yourself what the reasons are for this major shift in HR and how it will affect your company? Here we’ll share the six major reasons your company needs an HR revamp.

  1. Stack ranking is out

Stack ranking does not work. Despite its popularity during the 80s, 90s and early 2000s, companies began to realize that it actually works to tear down teamwork by pitting employees against each other and encouraging office politics. Though mounting evidence has been building against the system, it was when founding company GE decided to move away from stack ranking that the evidence became clear. According to the Institute for Corporate Productivity, the number of companies practicing stack ranking plummeted from 49% in 2009 to 14% in 2011.

  1. The Problem with Annual performance reviews

Similarly the annual performance review is already becoming a thing of the past. In today’s rapidly changing work environment employees need advice and training more than once a year. 95% of managers are unhappy with the way performance reviews are conducted in their companies. Furthermore, evidence has proven that the stress caused by annual performance reviews triggers our body’s natural ‘fight or flight’ reaction.

  1. The Need for Better Data and Greater Transparency

Basing assessments solely on annual performance reviews and stack ranking is not only ineffective, but also inaccurate. 90% of HR leaders question the accuracy of the information received. Research shows that two-thirds of performance management systems actually misidentify top performers regardless of forced rankings. The reason for this is that they’re highly subjective. When someone rates you the rating often says more about them than about you. Motivation for example is an abstract concept. If your manager rates you on how motivated you are at work it’s based on what they consider to be high and low amounts of motivation. Business consultant Marcus Buckingham calls this the idiosyncratic rater effect. Studies show this can also result in bias against women and minorities, resulting in low performance reviews and ultimately unequal promotions and pay.

  1. Modern Employees

The skills that companies are looking for in an employee have changed. In the fast pace changes of the modern business world, especially in the tech industry, professional skills have an average life of 2 ½ to 5 years. This means that employees must constantly be learning to keep up with new trends. Even more than technical ability, companies are looking for creative young talent that have a high learning capacity. However, even with the ability to learn quickly, these employees also need managers who will spend more time (more than once a year) on coaching in order to keep up to date with the latest trends.

  1. Millennials

The new generation of workers have the reputation of being disloyal and impatient. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Millennials are smart and tech savvy. This generation is more likely than others to have advanced degrees and, growing up in the social media age, they are always hungry for more information. However, they’re also used to getting answers instantly in real-time. What millennials want is more training and opportunities for development and they have no qualms about job hopping until they find it. In a survey by TriNet and Wakefield Research, 85% of millennials reported they would feel more confident if they could have more frequent performance conversations with their manager.

  1. What we know now about motivation

Employees want to be recognized for their efforts. Showing appreciation for a job well done goes a long way. In a survey 83% of employees found recognition for contributions to be more fulfilling than rewards or gifts. Furthermore, a number of HR experts are now finding that focusing on improving an employee’s strengths, rather than weaknesses, boosts motivation. However, to make strengths based training work managers must have more frequent discussions with employees to help them pinpoint and develop these skills. Managers who know their employees’ strengths are 71% more likely to have employees who are energized and engaged.

To find out more about the benefits of real-time feedback and the best ways to introduce it into your company download Impraise’s free white paper.

A version of this post was first published on the Impraise blog.

 

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3 Performance Indicators That Will Make Or Break Your Company

Want to find out how your business is performing? Setting and analyzing performance indicators for your company is the best way to forecast and get on track with your business goals. Creating KPIs or Key Performance Indicators will help you measure your company’s success. The question is what to focus on? How you measure performance says a lot about your company’s objectives.

Common Types of Indicators

There are two common types of performance indicators: financial and customer focused.

Financial indicators are the most commonly used metrics for performance including: revenue growth rate, net profit, return on investment, among others. In terms of employee performance these are often quantified using output related measurements. These can be useful for growing your company’s finances but companies that focus solely on profit related indicators often face an innovation problem.

A focus on financial goals can put pressure on managers to focus on short term profitability over creativity. Financial indicators also don’t provide a full picture of a company’s performance. Rather than taking risks on new ideas, these companies can become known for creating ‘one hit wonders’ that sell and repackaging past successes. Eventually, quality and customer satisfaction can become compromised and employee motivation drops.

Microsoft learned this lesson at the expense of its top spot in the tech world. Originally a leader in cutting edge technology, after 2000 it began slipping in the rankings against companies like Google and Apple with its inability to keep up with new trends. As these companies began producing paradigm shifting products like the iPhone and Google Maps, Microsoft continued to survive off of its updated versions of Windows Office. Financial indicators demonstrated the company’s shift in popularity but not the contributing factors.

Internally, Microsoft had taken a cut throat approach to performance management called stack ranking. In this system employees were ranked according to their performance, with the top being put in line for promotions and the bottom 5-10% being shown the door. Rather than boosting productivity, this system merely increased competition and discouraged teamwork. Ultimately, instead of being encouraged to collaborate on new ideas, employees had to focus on gaining favor to survive.

Customer success indicators are increasingly seen as the most important performance metric. Some of the main customer centered KPIs include: conversion rate, customer retention, Net Promoter Score (NPS), etc. Due to differing objectives, companies that focus on customer centered indicators focus more on gaining a loyal customer base by producing great quality products, utilizing different marketing techniques and emphasizing a strong customer support service.

An example of this is Riot Games’ ‘Free To Play’ games which helped them to gain a loyal customer base by allowing gamers to play some of their best games for free online. Zappos’ customer service is famous for providing unsatisfied customers with gifts and free shoes to improve their customer experience. Creating a customer service culture is an essential part of their business strategy and the focus of CEO Tony Hsieh’s book Delivering Happiness.

However, for companies that don’t take off straight away, the money and time put into each product can lead to slower profit generation and financial instability. Furthermore, while customer satisfaction is an extremely important key to success, what customers ultimately want are state-of-the-art products. Though customer focused indicators can help you build a loyal client base, they do not necessarily solve a company’s innovation problems.

Screen Shot 2016-03-07 at 8.44.55 PMCompanies should use a combination of both financial and customer focused indicators but there is a third key measurement which is essential to meeting your company’s goals.

Why employee centered indicators are so important

More and more companies are beginning to realize the importance of employee centered metrics. These types of indicators include: employee engagement, satisfaction and turnover.

Studies show that higher employee engagement is linked to higher customer satisfaction. When employees are happy at work and believe in their product/company this comes across to customers. Gallup revealed that companies with high employee engagement levels outperformed companies with lower levels of engagement in customer ratings by 10%.

Engaged employees take less sick days. A study by Workplace Research Foundation found that engaged employees take an average of 2.69 sick days annually compared to disengaged employees who take an average of 6.19 days. Most important, they’re motivated to achieve more. Gallup’s study also showed that engaged companies outperform others in productivity by 21% and profitability by 22%.

In fact, the treatment of employees is also an important factor for consumers. Deloittes 2015 study on millennials revealed that this generation considers the treatment of employees as the top characteristic of industry leaders, even over profit generation and impact on overall society. Furthermore, “While they believe the pursuit of profit is important, that pursuit needs to be accompanied by a sense of purpose, by efforts to create innovative products or services and, above all, by consideration of individuals as employees and members of society.”

Companies that have employee centered strategies are also more likely to foster innovative environments that promote autonomy and employee ownership. Atlassian became famous for its ‘Shipit days during which it actually encourages employees to drop their work and spend twenty-four hours on a creative project of their choice. Allowing employees the freedom to try out new ideas sounds like a great financial risk but it turned out to have great returns. The projects developed during these sessions have resulted in some of the company’s most profit generating products. Atlassian not only dominates Australia’s tech industry, it has also been named the best company to work for the past two years in a row.

More and more companies have started focusing on an employee first strategy:

In an interview with Inc. Virgin Atlantic CEO Richard Branson disclosed that the company puts staff first, customers second and stakeholders third. He explains, “If the person who works at your company is not appreciated, they are not going to do things with a smile.” Southwest Airlines, the company consistently reaching the top 10 in employee and customer satisfaction surveys, follows the same ideology. The company does this by motivating employees through its company values and creating an environment that regularly recognizes employees for going above and beyond.

Southwest Airlines follows the same strategy. Founder Herb Kelleher posited, “A motivated employee treats the customer well. A customer is happy so they’ll keep coming back, which pleases the shareholder. It’s just the way it works… They can buy all the physical things. The things you can’t buy are dedication, devotion, loyalty—the feeling that you are participating in a crusade.”

A version of this post was first published on the impraise.com blog.

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Performance Reviews – Don’t Throw Out the Baby with the Bathwater

The demise of annual performance reviews is a hot topic today—thankfully so.

There is a groundswell throughout the HR community and ongoing discussion, even in the mainstream media, about companies throwing out annual performance reviews or performance reviews altogether. They have been recognized as outdated, ineffective, and not providing real value to the ultimate goal of improving organizational workforce performance.

By now, the rationale has been spelled out often. HR leaders and thoughtful professionals understand the problems—feedback is too late, highlights (and lowlights) are forgotten, categories, such as strengths and weaknesses, can be nebulous.

Performance Management—Formal Reviews Out, Technology In

It might seem a dichotomy that formal performance reviews are falling out of favor at the same time that “performance management” software and technology to help organizations improve workforce performance are gaining in popularity. Looking at the situation more closely, however, helps clarify the situation.

The concept of the two-way dialog is gaining favor and this is great news. Rather than a one-way conversation, with the supervisor relaying his or her ratings and observations gained over the course of several months or a year and the employee either agreeing or supplying a rebuttal, a balanced, two-way discussion leads to a more beneficial exercise.

A conversation will hopefully lead to more open and honest communication. Real value to the employee as well as the manager can be realized with a back-and-forth exchange that results in improvements to employee and manager performance. All for the better of the organization. There is still a lot more necessary to improve performance than merely having a conversation, for example, training, coaching, and leadership development, but these new conversations are an important step.

Where’s the incongruity?

The Valuable Pieces

Despite the above-mentioned benefits, it does not make sense to throw out all aspects of  performance reviews. Certainly, it does not mean that managers and employees only need to have conversations, however frequently, and think that will fix everything.

Consider:

  • Conversations can be forgotten or misinterpreted by one or both parties. For this reason, key elements of conversations need to be recorded and agreed upon by the employee and the manager. This is especially true as the amount of time between interaction increases, even if it is more frequently than once or twice a year.
  • Without documentation of conversations, the opportunity for disagreement is high. This will result in frustration at best, but more likely continued or worsening behavior that never gets corrected. And, that can lead to an unfortunate and perhaps unnecessary separation down the road.
  • Without some formality or uniformity to the process, unfairness can easily seep into the overall review of any conversation. See the above point for the depressing consequences.

Technology: The Performance Enabler

While not a cure or substitute for the above potential pitfalls, technology is an enabler of the improved performance management process in this new era of valuable two-way conversations. Indeed, the larger the organization, the larger the teams and the more direct reports, the more important and valuable technology becomes. At a minimum, it becomes a point of record. But more importantly, it leads to a wealth of information and insight that leads to continued employee, team, and organizational improvement.

Through the insight gained through data available via improved performance management and with the ongoing conversations as a foundation, organizations will realize numerous benefits:

  • improved communication and alignment between employee and supervisor
  • goal alignment between employees and organization and between teams and organization
  • improved trust among employees and leadership
  • improved employee retention
  • better succession planning
  • identification of training needs and opportunities
  • better resource allocation
  • reduced legal exposure

Keep the Good

But none of this will be accomplished if an organization simply ends the practice of performance reviews. Embedded within that dreaded practice is a wealth of valuable information, which can be obtained in a not-so-disheartening manner.

While it may be time for you to throw out annual performance reviews, don’t throw out the valuable insight that you can still obtain through new, ongoing conversations.

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How GE Renews Performance Management: From Stack Ranking To Continuous Feedback

These days, not another day passes without an industry leader announcing that they are done with their inefficient performance review processes. AdobeAccenture and Deloitte all announced that they are changing their performance reviews by getting rid of rankings and implementing frequent performance conversations to enable employee growth. Amazon was chastised because of its suspicious people management practices.

It is of course great news that innovative companies are trailblazing performance management, but the biggest milestone is probably the announcement that General Electric (GE) is reinventing its performance management. Given that GE is the company that made stack ranking popular in the 80’s and 90’s, the commotion this move has created is no big surprise.

Having Thomas Edison as one of its founders, General Electric is an American multinational conglomerate that was founded in 1892. Currently, the company operates in several industries ranging from energy to finance and has 300,000 employees. GE’s size and constant success makes it an important game changer in many areas of business, including company culture and management. Its business practices even made it into popular culture: The industry giant was often mocked by the popular NBC (also owned by GE) show 30 Rock for its ruthless management practices.

Jack Welch, a 20-year chairman and CEO of GE, made stack ranking a widespread people management policy. During this time, several other companies followed suit and applied similar systems within their organizations. However, 30 years into its inception, GE admits that the old system is not functioning very well anymore. With the move, GE is dumping annual performance reviews and performance management system over the next couple of years. It will implement more frequent feedback via an app, and an experimental group will pilot feedback without any numerical rankings.

What does the research say?

In the late 80’s under Welch’s influence, stack ranking became popular as a solution to the performance management system that preceded it. Previously, managers would set goals for their employees, provide feedback about a six or twelve month performance and then rate employees on whether these goals are met or not. Managers would rate employees from 1 to 5.

As managers would have to justify any rating that indicates outstanding or bad performance, they soon developed a habit of giving most of their employees a 3, which indicates average performance. The “rank and yank”“stack ranking” or“vitality curve” was invented in hopes of measuring performance better. With the new system, managers were forced to define their top and bottom performers annually. Compensation decisions were tied to the ranking and bottom performers would have to be fired each year to improve performance.

Recently, HR professionals and influencers realized that this decades-old solution actually creates frustrated employees who dread performance review cycles. One of the main reasons is our human reaction to rankings. Research indicates that our brain is evolutionarily wired to have a “fight or flight” response to physical attacks. The response our brains give to criticism of any kind is the same type of neural response when we are confronted with physical danger.

The second problem of stack ranking is the way it reinforces the wrong kind of mindset about human growth. A research conducted by Carol Dweck, a professor of psychology at Stanford University, revealed that people generally have two different approaches to human learning. The “fixed mindset” argues that people have an inherent capacity that remains the same throughout one’s life. The “growth mindset”, on the other hand, holds that people can learn new abilities and advance the one they already have.

Although few people are usually inclined to either the growth or the fixed mindset, popular performance management practices usually favor the fixed mindset. In a performance management environment where bottom performers are shown the door without providing an opportunity to learn, it is unavoidable that fixed mindset prevails.

One major difference of new performance management systems applied by GE and other companies is their emphasis on the growth mindset. By setting up short-term goals and having ongoing growth conversations that are not tied to compensation, modern workplaces reinforce the notion that anybody can rise to the occasion and learn to be successful professionals.

Reasons for the change

Led by the current CEO Jeff Immelt, one reason for the change at GE is the rise of mobile technology. Head of Human Resources at GE, Susan Peters stated that millennials influenced this decision. Peters admits that millennials are born into the age of technology, and they are used to getting continuous feedback. With social media becoming widespread, millennials’ need for feedback has become a fact of life.

CEB, an advisory services company specialized in business practices, states that the average number of direct reports for a manager has increased from four to seven, which has decreased the time spent on coaching and guiding each employee. Add to that the fast pace of change that has caused many companies to realize that annually set goals might not remain the same for the whole year.

Raghu Krishnamorthy, who is in charge of GE’s Crotonville management training center for a long time, tells that the center is currently focused on aiding GE’s culture change. The center is currently working on helping executives transition from a competitive process to one that is identified by its emphasis on growth. The new mission of Crotonville is to “inspire connection and develop people” instead of the “command and control” system Jack Welch was known for.

The new system

The new performance management at GE involves a mobile app to enable frequent feedback. Called PD@GE, the app provides a platform to define near-term goals for employees. Managers are expected to have frequent conversations, named“touchpoints”, with their employees on how far they are from their goals. The app can provide summaries of these touchpoints when desired. The main aim of the app is to unlock constant improvement.

First adopted by the HR group at GE, the app is currently used by around 25,000 to 30,000 people. Peters estimates 80,000 people will be using the app by the end of this year. While GE hopes to implement the new system throughout the organization by the end of 2016, a small fraction of around 8,000 people are already testing an alternative system with no rankings.

Krishnamoorthy states that the most important element of the new system is continuous conversation, not the mobile app. Feedback conversations are constructed to be positive, and annual salary decisions are much less linked to performance with the new system.

How could that work for your company?

Although GE transforming its legacy performance management system is big news, there are still several challenges down the road. One of these is “shadow rankings”, which means that companies still rate their employees, but more in the background. Since it is difficult to justify compensation decisions with new methods, managers are still resorting to conducting rankings informally. One of the ways to overcome this is to invest in training managers on how to get used to the new system of performance management. Adobe’s Head of Human Resources Donna Morris states they made big investments in training their leaders during their transition, which apparently yielded .

Apart from conglomerates developing their own tools and systems for performance management, there are also an impressive amount of companies opting for external solutions such as Impraise. Impraise is a mobile-first platform that enables continuous feedback conversations between coworkers and managers. Managers can initiate 360-degree review cycles to gain better insights into how well their teams are doing. Employees can also request feedback from their peers or managers to take ownership of their own development.

Whether or not the new system will turn into a success story at GE remains unknown, but at least the conversation around performance management is going in the right direction. People management practices are being criticized and enabling growth in the workplace is becoming a hot topic. The conversation around new and old practices in performance management going is vital to establishing the right mindset for new methods, so that they do not become a mere replacement for old systems.

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How To Give Constructive Feedback Your People Want To Hear

What is the most constructive way to give feedback? You praise, you criticise or you do both? Some say that the Americans prefer the feedback ‘sandwich’. It means 3-step feedback. You start with positive comments, then add one or two things that can be done better, and finish with more positive points. However, some leadership training experts advise that one should step away from this model. Their argument: couching criticism with positive comments can dilute the message and sound insincere.

So, how do you know that your feedback is constructive and has an impact? In an increasingly culturally diverse workplace, there is no simple formula for all feedback. Nevertheless, you can learn to give feedback constructively by starting with the right question. First ask yourself WHY instead of how.

Why do you want to give feedback? You want to help your colleague to work better, right? Keep a positive attitude and start any performance review conversation with it.

“Let’s look into how we can improve our performance in the next quarter.”

When you talk to people about WHY, your message goes to the part of the brain which controls feelings and drives behaviors. When people empathise with your motivation, they are more likely to accept your feedback and work on it.

Now, let’s move on to HOW

You have set up a positive mindset about giving meaningful feedback. Now you should know about the right time and space, and adopt the right behaviors to give feedback constructively.

The Right Time

It is better to give feedback sooner than later. How soon depends on the specific situation. When a teammate does a good job, you should pay her or him a compliment as soon as possible. Whenever other people are affected by a certain behavior, try to address the issues in time so further damage can be avoided. If strong emotion is involved, it is wise to wait till the heat has gone before giving any comments. Choose the right time for your feedback. Impraise’s mobile app can help you share feedback right when it matters the most.

The Right Space

Most people like to receive compliments in public. An Oscar is not really as good if you receive it in your front room instead of before an audience including your respectable peers, your family and friends. A public recognition of one’s achievement feeds their needs for respect and boosts their self-esteem, the second highest level in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. When a colleague achieves exceptional sales record, give your compliment in front of the whole sales team. It not only shows your appreciation of his or her contributions but also encourages others to perform better.

Regarding more critical feedback, the golden rule is to do it in private. No one wants to receive negative feedback in front of others. Find an empty conference room or go to the lunch room if it is vacant. Make sure that you choose a place where your colleague and you can relax and feel comfortable. If you want to give your feedback in a meeting room, make sure it is well lit and the temperature is not too hot or cold. Sit close to your colleague so you can have eye contact and do not have to shout. You want to make it like a casual conversation rather than a formal meeting. Alternatively you can take your teammate out for a walk, talk over a coffee and make it a natural and relaxing chat. You want to avoid extra pressure that might block your colleague from receiving the feedback well and ultimately accepting it. Allow enough time and space to discuss unclear points until you reach a common ground of understanding.

The Right Behaviors

Be Specific

Think about the specific behaviors that are important for your team to do an amazing job. For example, having integrity and paying attention to details are essential for a good auditor. An excellent communication skill and the ability to work under pressure are otherwise necessary for those who work in a PR agency. Considering your team, you need to define the ideal behaviors and communicate them up front to your people. Everyone should be aware of those and continuously receive personal feedback on them. Impraise makes this a simple and natural process.

If you notice room for improvement, share it with your colleague in break-down points. Say you receive a complaint from a client. Your colleague failed to help the client to fix a technical problem within the time requested by the client. Besides, he didn’t get back to the client afterwards with an explanation. You don’t just tell your colleague that the client is not happy with his service. Instead, break it down into behaviors that would create a good customer service experience: 1. Sticking to a client’s requirements. 2. Keeping good communication with a client: during and after providing a service. 3. Having a strong drive to exceed a client’s expectations. 4. Reaching out for help if appropriate and if necessary. Your feedback will help guide him away from inappropriate behaviors so that he can deliver a better experience to a client the next time.

Offer Suggestions For Improvement

Give some practical examples about how to do things better. Practical examples are easy to remember so your colleague is more likely to take up your suggestions. Provide a sense of direction. For example, a colleague achieved a higher sales record in the last quarter. You are giving feedback to him or her. Besides a compliment on a good job, you can offer him or her a direction to move forward, like to get involved in training new sales staff.

Listen Actively

Always listen to what others have to say. Why do they choose design A instead of design B? Is it because of their personal preference? Do they know certain scientific research backing up option A? or Do more tested users give positive feedback on A than B? Ask clarifying questions and encourage them to give suggestions. When you listen actively, you know more about their field of interests and discover development solutions. The knowledge will help your feedback be more constructive.

Follow Up

Do not just throw an icy bucket of your opinions at someone and leave them with it. You need to follow up. Come back to the person after a week or a month, depending on the nature of the matter. After you suggest your accounting team to use a new tool to keep track of small expenses, check back with them after a month. Ask if they are comfortable with changing their way. You can sit down with them to see if the new tool saves them more time and helps them keep a more accurate report. Ask for their feedback.

The Final Word: Practice

It takes practice to give constructive feedback. People hold various perspectives, and respond to feedback in different ways. Giving feedback to a dominant character and to a timid person on a similar matter can be two different experiences. Practice gives you the flexibility and confidence in delivering feedback in the most constructive way. Practice giving feedback to your colleague today with

  • A mindset starting with WHY
  • Appropriate choice of TIME & SPACE
  • The right BEHAVIORS

Do you find these tips helpful? Are you struggling with a dilemma and you are not sure if your feedback would help? We would love to hear your stories.

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Performance Management: Going Beyond the Appraisal

Performance and performance management – it’s something every organization, be it a Fortune 500 or a non-profit or a public sector institution talks about. Odds are they talk about it a lot and despite all that talk it is still likely a topic that causes managers and leaders to want to pull out their hair and one that stirs feelings in employees ranging from dread to fear to mental eye-rolling. Some organizations tackle the challenging of reviewing and communicating performance via three-point scales or five-point or twenty-seven point; others embrace 360 degree reviews; some organizations have highly calibrated processes whereas others have “Oh, it’s that time of year again” approaches; then there are the organizations dropping the idea of formal performance appraisals in the goal of creating more dialogue and something better. The point: assessing, measuring and managing performance is complex and ever-evolving; but there are some core principles that regardless of where an organization falls on the spectrum of processes and approaches that hold true.

Performance Happens Every Day

Employees come to work every day, some do solid work and get done what they need to. Others may perform more marginally and there will inevitably be a contingent that builds a reputation for being “rockstars” or “role models” or “ninjas.” Every organization regardless of industry has employees doing good work and great work and work that falls somewhere on either side of that; they’re doing that work every day and every day serves as an opportunity to recognize the good and the bad, to praise and to coach. So whether your current system formally appraises employees annually or in some other fashion, remember that the role of leaders and managers goes beyond “addressing performance” but rests in keeping an ongoing “performance dialogue” going.

Great Performance Requires Clear Communication

As operational demands change and organizational strategies shift – it is important to make sure that the impact on performance expectations are made clear. From setting annual goals to clearly articulating key responsibilities to holding regular touchpoint and one-on-ones, the opportunity to ensure employees understand what is expected from them, how they are being measured, and the impact of those measurements on them, their team, and organization become more and more important. In making the leap from “meets expectations” to “exceeds expectations” there is as much onus of responsibility on the manager to be clear on what is required and expected – regularly, not just during an overly stuffy sit down once a year – as there is on the employee to meet those requirements and expectations (or to speak up when they are facing a hurdle in doing so). In this sense, communications becomes the two-way dialogue it is intended to be; leadership can better understand the nuanced challenges impacting employees across the organization, and employees understand how to rise to the level of “rockstar” or the like. Or as Jim Collins puts it in his book Good to Great, there is a difference between managing and leading, between telling and communicating: 

“The moment you feel the need to tightly manage someone, you’ve made a hiring mistake. The best people don’t need to be managed. Guided, taught, led–yes.”

High Performing Organizations Make Performance Investments

Recognizing that performance happens every day and that superior performance isn’t just a matter of an employee doing their job but also understanding what drives and defines performance in the organization are significant factors in facilitating performance and creating a performance culture, but then the question becomes, “what next?” In some organizations that may be intricate performance measurements layered over top of tools and forms and processes, in others it may be a matter of continuing the conversations that is already hopefully taking place – regardless, the acts of assessing, measuring, and managing performance should lead to a larger conversation about talent; where an organization is strong, where it has opportunities, and where it has the ability to create and mold talent on the cusp – this process as its most basic can look at employees as fitting into one of four categories (further illustrated in the tool/diagram below):

Invest – employees who are setting the paradigm, driving operational successes, impacting and informing strategy, those that see expectations and blow right on past them; these employees have a high level of actualized contribution to the organization with minimal to no distractionary consequence (negative impacts, distractions, derailments, etc.) to their colleagues, peers, projects, or teams. Dollars spent here, not just on salary and incentives but also on training, development, and talent fostering are almost guaranteed to create a strong return on investment for the organization and create stronger engagement with your best employees.

Assess – employees who make strong contributions but perhaps not always consistently, they may need help in seeing the big picture or understanding the impact of their work and contributions (let alone those of their colleagues and peers); these employees have a high level of actualized contribution to the organization with a middling to high level distractionary consequence to their colleagues, peers, projects, or teams. Dollars spent here are an investment in “what if,” this group of employees has the potential to become high performers but requires strong leaders, solid coaching, and often times greater organizational effort in order to achieve their best.

Push – employees who are middling or haven’t quite yet found their groove, they may show glimpses of high potentiality, or they may simply show up every day and do their job based on their understanding of the expectations upon them; these employees have a low to middling level of actualized contribution to the organization with a low to middling level distractionary consequence to their colleagues, peers, projects, or teams. Dollars spent here can be viewed as equal parts investment and analysis – the idea being to tap the full potential in this group or determine if perhaps this isn’t the right role or organization for them at this point in their career.

Exit – employees who aren’t meeting expectations, haven’t embraced the organizational culture, or more simply put are a bad fit for any number of reasons; these employees have a low level of actualized contribution to the organization with a high level distractionary consequence to their colleagues, peers, projects, or teams. Time rather than dollars should be spent here in helping this group understand their next steps, how to better utilize their unique set of KSAs with a future employer, and to prepare themselves to find the right role in the right organization that best meets their personal career value proposition.

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It’s Time To Ditch Annual Reviews

Most employees, managers and HR professionals have a strong opinion about the annual performance review. Overwhelmingly it seems that most of us would prefer that they go away. Yet, many employers still rely on this out-dated and often inaccurate tool to measure work performance.

The annual review is time consuming and rarely ends up being the performance management tool it is supposed to be. Here are some reasons why it is time to ditch the annual review and ideas for replacing it.

Inaccurate Reviews

I one time got a call from a manager who was ready to fire an employee on the spot. He claimed that the employee regularly underperformed, was often late and was disrespectful toward coworkers. I did what most HR people would do and grabbed the employee’s file in order to look through the history of warnings and reviews. There were no warnings and all the reviews told the story of an excellent employee who did not have any problems. When I questioned the manager, he said, “Well, I didn’t want to give the employee a negative review because that might have made him ineligible for an increase.”

This story demonstrates a big risk with the review process. Whether it is concern about affecting an employee’s pay increase or fear of having to tell an employee they have many areas that need improvement, managers often struggle with using the annual review as a performance management tool. There is also a problem with inconsistencies between managers and even with reviews for employees working under the same person. Even if a manager was not trying to be discriminatory, inconsistencies may appear to be so.

The Paperwork Problem

Managing annual reviews can be a paperwork nightmare for HR. There are the notices to managers about reviews due, reminders as the deadline approaches, sending back reviews that are not quite up to snuff, sending out more reminders for late reviews and finally getting the signed review back to store in the employee’s file for all eternity. Even if your review system is mostly electronic, there is still quite a bit of paperwork flying around either virtually or in print.

Reviews also try to capture 12 months worth of work in a single document. When work and projects do not always run a 12-month course, the period covered by a review seems arbitrary. Employees would be better served with regular feedback or perhaps even a critique at the conclusion of a big project.

Performance Management As An Ongoing Process

When we make the decision to ditch the annual review, we can put our energy into making performance management an ongoing process. For HR, this means training managers on how to give effective feedback and how to document performance throughout the year rather than on an annual basis. Encourage managers to have one-on-one meetings with employees on a regular basis to help facilitate on ongoing approach to performance management.

The best time to give someone feedback is in the moment. If you have an employee who goes above and beyond with a customer, let them know that day that they have done a good job, and then note it in their file. If an employee’s communication with coworkers could use some improvement, coach them as soon as you learn about the issue and then follow up regularly.

Work performance is not a static thing that should be limited to an annual snapshot. Focusing on performance management as an ongoing process encourages managers to make a regular habit of encouraging and coaching their employees.

Image: bigstock

5 Steps to Stellar Year-End Reviews

It’s mid-year review time and if you’re like many people, you haven’t thought about goals in 5.5 months. Not a great moment for manager or team member, but it’s a common one. Mid-year reviews are a painful reminder of how far apart work and goals can drift and how little traditional performance management helps people perform at their best. Just 7% of employees understand their goals and what they need to do to achieve them. The disconnect creates a lot of anxiety: “How could that have happened?” “Why wasn’t I just more disciplined?” and “How will I make up the lost time?”

Then when you do look at the goals, frustration: “This has nothing to do with what our team has been focused on the last 3 months.” “Why didn’t we revise these when we changed strategy?” “How can I possible be measured on these things when they don’t matter anymore?!” and “What’s the point of this whole process — it’s so far removed from our real work.”

While it’s tempting to forget the goals, that thought is quickly followed by a reminder message from HR that you need to go through the motions by end of the month. Then there is the self-realization that it’s more fulfilling to aspire to something larger and that your performance and compensation are fundamentally intertwined.

The performance process doesn’t support great performance.

We live in an always-on world, but the typical approach to goals is “mostly off”. Chances are your company’s performance approach provides you little value and plays little or no role in how you manage. According to Deloitte, only 8% of companies believe their process is high value. Process and people fail when:

  • Your business changes faster than your goals.
  • Operational or business goals are divorced from individual goals and you focus on the former at the expense of the latter.
  • Your corporate performance system is for goal data entry — enter once, forget promptly.
  • You’re not as effective as you could be centering your week and your team on goal achievement so the day to day rush overwhelms bigger intentions.
  • You don’t have goals and no metrics for success exist.

Don’t leave your performance to chance (or somebody else)

Don’t leave your performance to chance (or somebody else).

Instead of setting and forgetting goals or relying on out-dated process, take control of your own career trajectory and support your team’s. Use a continuous performance process that includes setting smart objectives and empowering you and your team to achieve them. These five steps will help you be more successful and get more recognition:

1. Recognize the power of goals.
Goals are a pre-requisite to success. A goal is how you define what you’re striving for and what success looks like. They are powerful drivers of personal growth, which accelerate success over time. Think of it this way: You and your goals must be present to win. In fact, people with goals out-earn people without them by more than 10x over 10 years according to a Harvard study.

2. Understand the ROI of demonstrating achievement.
In addition to greater focus on achievement, people with goals earn more because they define then demonstrate success. It’s impossible to achieve a goal you’ve forgotten and difficult to win a debate about what “success” is after the fact. Make it easy for your boss to advocate for you by providing continuous performance facts about progress on agreed-upon goals. Facts make a huge difference in employee ranking and the pay and promotion pipeline – but very few managers are really disciplined about cataloguing them for their direct reports.

3. Design goals into your work week.
Change your process – not the company’s — to make goals a true part of your work and week. Goal-driven teams use Workboard to take ownership of their performance. Workboard supplements HR systems used to centrally manage company-wide goal setting with a “local” app to enable goal achievement. It brings business and individual goals together with tools to manage real-time priorities, actions and tasks on Web and mobile. Goals and work are always connected, wherever you or your team are.

4. Refresh goals when they’re stale.
If a goal is no longer worth pursuing, change it! It’s a huge disservice to you, your team and the company to be assessed against an irrelevant goal. You can only refresh goals when you realize there’s a gap; they need to be integrated into your weekly work to see when execution priorities and goals are misaligned then determine whether the goal or execution needs to change. By resetting and re-communicating goals upline and downline when change is necessary, you get the motivational and professional benefits.

5. Measure success more frequently.
There’s nothing quite like the satisfaction of achievement, so set metrics and milestones in smaller increments to enjoy that satisfaction more often. If you’re a manager, driving toward goals will become habit much more quickly when they’re present in your work and you’re getting frequent satisfaction from progress. It’s just as powerful to recognize your team member’s progress and achievements every week – it’s a natural propellant. 83% of employees say recognition is more rewarding than cash!

You don’t go to work to fail, so get serious about success.

Define goals, objectives and metrics for success then bring them into focus in the work you do every week. You’ll enjoy more success, satisfaction and alignment, and you’ll enjoy the year-end review moment even more.

Want more info on setting inspiring goals and leading your team to great achievement? Check out this video and companion infographic.

 

Image: www.workboard.com

4 Steps to Drive Performance Management

Performance management can be tricky; company leadership has to find the right balance between what works for the organization and what helps guide employees to improve performance. Currently, 88% of companies have a performance management strategy, but 71% agree their performance management system needs improvement. Only 17% of organizations are satisfied with their current performance management? That’s a pretty disheartening number. Here are 4 steps to drive performance management in your organization:

1.     Raise Individual Performance

Even with the evolution of performance reviews, 26% of companies see heavy challenges in changing their current ideology behind the performance appraisal from purely evaluative to developmental. Allowing employees to see the input of the work they’re doing now and the value of their future work increases employee involvement during performance reviews.

Gallup estimates that at least 70% of the variance in employee engagement is due to poor management skills from their supervisors. So, if you dedicate some training to helping managers develop their leadership skills early on, your employee engagement will increase, and subsequently, so will your employee performance.

2.     Link Performance To Company Goals

Helping employees see the connection between their individual responsibilities and the company’s objectives isn’t only a key driver of performance. When managers link the work of employees to company goals, they also drive organizational success. Joel Trammell (@TheAmericanCEO), CEO of Khorus, said:

“Leaders are judged on ‘performance,’ meaning their ability to promote positive results for their organization. One way to promote performance is to connect a big-picture strategy with individual tasks that employees can carry out on a regular basis. If the management team fails to do this, then the organization will become highly inefficient. Each individual or department will begin to act according to its own instincts, detached from the direction the executive is trying to establish.”

3.     Train Managers To Coach Their Teams

We’ve all had the performance appraisal that told us everything we did right. Fluff employee feathers enough, however, and when they make mistakes on the job, they will question their performance as a whole. This is not how managers should monitor or regulate employee performance.

Of course, even the best performance management system can’t help a poor manager effectively guide their team. In this sense, it’s not changing or removing the performance management system that’s in place that will help the team. Unfortunately, there are occasions when there just needs to be a change in management to better the performance management system.

One of the biggest challenges in performance management is training supervisors in the art of performance management. Developing managers to become successful performance coaches proves to be a top issue for 64% of companies.

4.     Ask Good Questions

You can’t expect to understand your employees enough to drive performance if you don’t ask the right questions from the beginning. Precise questions can help managers analyze cultural and employee missteps so they can solve them in the future. When you begin to change your performance management system, ask yourself these questions:

      Why do employees stay with or leave the company?

      Are there firm retention plans to keep HiPo talent?

      Is there a solid succession plan ready?

      Are managers ready to coach their employees?

If you ask questions that give you true insight into the performance workings of your organization, you’ll find ways to help managers become better performance coaches. The balance between organizational and individual goals relies on finding the link between the two, as well as the training managers to help employees see this. So, if you train your managers to be better coaches, ask the right workforce questions, link company objectives with employee goals, you’ll see a rise in individual employee performance and reinvent your performance management system.

Managing Underperformers

Underperformers can be some of the most frustrating employees. At some point in the employment relationship, you saw potential in the underperformer. That’s probably a big reason why you hired them. But for some reason they are no longer meeting your expectations. You have already invested a lot in this employee, so firing is not always the best solution. Turning to performance management can sometimes help turn a problem employee around. Here are some tips for managing your underperformers into being good employees.

Meet with the Employee

As soon as you notice a problem, address it. One of the worst ways to manage an underperformer is to ignore their performance issues. After a while, the performance issues become habit, and it is harder to justify suddenly firing an employee for an issue they have gotten away with for years without consequence.

Plan to meet with the employee in a private place that will be free of interruption. Gather your thoughts before the meeting, and be prepared to provide specific examples of the issues. For example, do not just say, “You are bad with customers.” Instead, tell the employee about a specific time their customer service skills were lacking, such as, “Earlier today a customer asked for help finding an item, and you told her you were too busy to help her find it.”

Set Clear Goals

After you explain the specific issues, discuss your expectations for improvement and how quickly you expect to see improvement. Document your conversation with the employee as well as the expectations for improvement and goals. In the case of the employee with bad customer service skills, the expectation would be that they make assisting customers top priority, and they would need to show improvement as soon as they are back on the floor interacting with customers. Most performance problems should have the expectation that change happens as soon as the employee leaves your office.

The exception to an immediate change in behavior would be an issue that requires some form of training in order for improvement to happen. For example, if you have an employee who is struggling with a computer system, the expectation may be that they attend a class for additional training. Your goals for the employee should specify the timeframe for completing the class.

Be Aware of Possible Causes of Performance Problems

Sometimes an issue may go beyond setting goals and communicating expectations. One time I got a call from a frustrated retail manager who had an employee who was regularly late to work despite repeated counseling and warnings. When I met with the employee and manager, the employee admitted that she was recently diagnosed with ADD, which was contributing to her inability to get to work on time. The employee stating that she had a disability was enough to trigger the interactive process.

Through the interactive process, we were able to determine that giving the employee a flexible start time would help her with the tardiness issue. If you ever find yourself in this situation, the Job Accommodation Network is an excellent resource on how to accommodate a variety of disabilities in the workplace.

Follow Up

Do not forget to follow up with the employee after the meeting to see if they are improving. This may mean observing an employee, closely monitoring an employee’s attendance and meeting with the employee to discuss how they are doing. If the problems persist, then you may want to proceed with a written warning; however, if an employee is doing well, give them positive feedback to reinforce the good behavior. Document your follow up.

About the Author

Stephanie Hammerwold, PHR, is the owner of Hammerwold & Pershing Consulting and specializes in small business HR support. Stephanie is a regular contributor at Blogging4Jobs and The HR Gazette, and she gives presentations on a variety of job search and workplace topics. She specializes in training, employee relations, women’s issues and writing employment policy. Connect with Stephanie on Twitter.

Three Steps To Better Staff Development

Staff development is vital to a healthy business. Yet the way we approach it is still rooted in the models of fifty years ago. Despite a world of rapid change we expect objectives to be relevant for a year, when many will be out of date within months. Millenials used to swift, relevant feedback from a communications-obsessed world instead find appraisals occasional and slow. Few organizations take account of the growing number of emergent cross-department teams.

While every modern organization has a performance management system to support staff development, only 14% are happy with those systems.

How can we do better?

Focus on relationships

The old world was built on hierarchies. The new one, filled with social media, contingent workers and flattened organizational structures, is built on relationships. Building good relationships, and encouraging staff to do so, is therefore a vital part of development.

Managers should work on knowing and understanding those working for them, not just their peers. Get out into the workplace. Listen to the concerns of the people you manage. Spread your values and aims directly through these conversations – in the era of Twitter, when even the most famous are a key tap away, people expect this informal communication, and will take more away from it.

Work together with employees on challenges to show how they can tackle them, and to show that you understand their work. Take the opportunity to provide instant feedback.

But make sure that these exercises aren’t about showing yourself off. Humility inspires loyalty and improves teamwork, so apply it yourself in conversations and make sure that it appears in your leadership training program – it will lead to better relationships all around.

Keep things simple

The world is increasingly complex and we are overwhelmed with choices. This applies in work as well as beyond it. Which task to tackle first? Which email to answer next? What questions to raise in the short time available for a meeting?

You can make things simpler. Have a clear set of values that are simple and enduring, timeless goals that will remain relevant in a changing market. Build development plans around them, and remind staff that, when in doubt, they can always turn back to those values. Rather than cluttering everyone’s thinking with a dozen different directives, give everyone a direction and trust them to steer the right path in their own work.

Performance manage your performance management

With your values and purpose firmly in place, evaluate your performance management system to see how well it achieves those goals. Too many companies keep using the same old approach they always have, just adding another objective here and there, tweaking rather than fixing, adding to the complexity you’re now trying to avoid.

Compare every part of the performance management system with the values you are building staff development around. Does each part support those goals? Do any contradict them?

Don’t just trust to instincts – that’s how these systems got to be such a mess. Get feedback from staff on how they use the system and what difference it makes for them. Collect data on actual behavior. Has customer feedback improved since you added those objectives about better telephone manners, or has it just become another box to tick?

A good system is about more than just looking at individuals; it should help you to identify patterns. Is unnoticed and unintentional gender bias holding your female employees back? Are you failing to develop middle managers for promotion? Turn your performance management system into a way to develop your organization.

Staff development has fallen behind the times, tinkered with rather than fully reformed. Take the bull by the horns and see your organization improve.

photo credit: kevinspencer via photopin cc

#TChat Preview: People, Performance And Building Legendary Teams

The TalentCulture #TChat Show is back live on Wednesday, September 3, 2014, from 7-8 pm ET (4-5 pm PT). The #TChat radio portion runs the first 30 minutes from 7-7:30 pm ET, followed by the #TChat Twitter chat from 7:30-8 pm ET.

Last week we talked about why HR pros need to support each other and help each other thrive, and this week we’re going to talk about people, performance and building legendary teams.

In two months’ time, we’ll be cheering for our favorite players and teams during the baseball Fall Classic, these will be legendary teams that have been performance focused to drive winning outcomes.

In business, the same is true. Focusing on people and their performance is what drives better outcomes for business.

When your people win, they feel more capable and confident, translating into happy people. They are then more likely to be candid in communicating and advancing the business and driving innovation.

Businesses have three primary customers, but leading companies always focus on their employee-customer first. Allowing employees to reach their potential as they drive results for any and all shareholders, and of course, their paying customers.

Join TalentCulture #TChat Shows co-creators and co-hosts Meghan M. Biro and Kevin W. Grossman as we learn more about people, performance and building legendary teams with this week’s guest: Patrick Antrim, an author, speaker, entrepreneur, leadership coach and CEO. Patrick is also a pro baseball mentor and a former New York Yankee, and his leadership & coaching firm, LegendaryTeams.com, is focused on winning in life and business.

Sneak Peak

 

We hope you’ll join the #TChat conversation this week and share your questions, opinions and ideas with our guests and the TalentCulture Community.

#TChat Events: People, Performance And Building Legendary Teams

TChatRadio_logo_020813#TChat Radio — Wed, September 3 — 7 pm ET / 4 pm PT Tune-in to the #TChat Radio show with our hosts, Meghan M. Biro and Kevin W. Grossman, as they talk with our guests 

Tune-in LIVE online this Wednesday!

#TChat Twitter Chat — Wed, September 3 — 7:30 pm ET / 4:30 pm PT Immediately following the radio show, Meghan, Kevin and our guests will move to the #TChat Twitter stream, where we’ll continue the discussion with the entire TalentCulture community. Everyone with a Twitter account is invited to participate, as we gather for a dynamic live chat, focused on these related questions:

Q1: What does it mean to have a “legendary team” in the world of work? #TChat (Tweet this Question)

Q2: Who are the most important business “customers” today and why? #TChat (Tweet this Question)

Q3: What three things should business leadership do to improve their people potential? #TChat (Tweet this Question)

Throughout the week, we’ll keep the discussion going on the #TChat Twitter feed, and in our new TalentCulture G+ community. So feel free to drop by anytime and share your questions, ideas and opinions. See you there!!

photo credit: 드림포유 via photopin cc

How To Skip The Negative Feedback “Sandwich”

I’ve never fully understood the logic behind the “sandwich” method of delivering performance feedback. (I’m sure you’re familiar with this concept: Open a discussion on a positive note, then insert a negative piece of news, followed by another positive.) We like to think that we’re softening the blow by offering several of bits of positive feedback around a central negative message. However, we’re doing no such thing.

Actually, this approach may be a disservice to both categories of information — each of which plays a unique and highly valuable role in shaping performance. Overall, we need to pay close attention to the “cascade” of emotions and behavior that we initiate when delivering feedback, but also be careful to retain the value of the message.

Performance Feedback: Open Dialogue

Processing negative performance feedback is quite challenging for most of us — even though on a very basic level, we realize that accepting “where to improve” is critical to our careers. While positive feedback serves to motivate and energize our work lives (we all need this on a regular basis), the “negatives” can also provide useful information about where we should direct our attention. To remain competitive, we certainly require both categories of information — and I am not debating the value of either. Rather, I’d like to open a discussion about how negative information can be presented and approached, to afford the most progress possible.

When considering negative feedback, we must acknowledge core human characteristics; including self-efficacy (the belief that individuals can actually impact their situation) and goal orientation (some individuals focus on learning, others focus on demonstrating competence, and others focus upon avoiding negative judgement). To properly deliver negative feedback, we should carefully consider and frame the delivery, so potential damage to an individual’s psyche is minimized and progress is emphasized.

Developing A Constructive Approach

There’s truly an art to presenting information about performance deficits of any kind. When managers practice the sandwich method, I fear that once the “meat” of the sandwich is delivered — the “downside” of performance — we really don’t remember much of anything that follows. (Attempting to “hide” the information doesn’t address the issues.) We can certainly do a better job of moving the conversation to more neutral ground, where performance improvement can follow. But how? Here are some ideas:

3 Behavioral Considerations

1) How humans are “wired” to perceive bad news. We are likely predisposed to pay more attention to negative information, possibly a leftover evolutionary survival mechanism. As a result, we’re likely to become hyper-focused on the negatives. This clouds our “lens.”
2) We sorely need the positives. We should all be allowed to absorb what we are doing well at work. That’s not possible when information about our successes is delivered in conjunction with information about shortcomings.
3) We “digest” slowly. It takes time to process negative information properly. Initially, when you hear information you might not not want to hear, negative thoughts can spiral, leading to responses such as panic and denial. There are stages in this process that cannot be skipped.

5 Ways To Avoid “The Sandwich”

1) Build resiliency. Performance management should never be a once a year, “live or die” event. Ultimately, it’s a continuous process. Provide positive feedback concerning small successes along the way to provide balance. This helps difficult information become easier to absorb.
2) Address self-efficacy. Some individuals have the tendency to believe they cannot impact their performance or build a needed skill set. Explore this predisposition, to encourage a more hopeful perspective.
3) Focus on learning. Research has shown that in contrast to performance goals, learning goals can increase problem solving in relation to performance problems, possibly limiting the “sting” of negative feedback. Setting the tone to “learn from failure” can prove more effective in motivating and directing behavior.
4) Never “drop a bomb.” It’s wise to address negative feedback when it is delivered. Allow enough time to help control anxiety, and at least begin to discuss a plan for improvement.
5) Support the digestion process. After sharing negative feedback, be sure to provide plenty of support. Be highly accessible as an employee works through the information and begins to take logical steps forward.

How do you present negative performance feedback? What are your “best practice” strategies? How have these strategies helped you develop others in the workplace? Share your thoughts in the comments area below.

(Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared as a LinkedIn Influencer post. It is republished with permission.)

Image Credit: Kitsa Sakurako/Flickr

How To Skip The Negative Feedback "Sandwich"

I’ve never fully understood the logic behind the “sandwich” method of delivering performance feedback. (I’m sure you’re familiar with this concept: Open a discussion on a positive note, then insert a negative piece of news, followed by another positive.) We like to think that we’re softening the blow by offering several of bits of positive feedback around a central negative message. However, we’re doing no such thing.

Actually, this approach may be a disservice to both categories of information — each of which plays a unique and highly valuable role in shaping performance. Overall, we need to pay close attention to the “cascade” of emotions and behavior that we initiate when delivering feedback, but also be careful to retain the value of the message.

Performance Feedback: Open Dialogue

Processing negative performance feedback is quite challenging for most of us — even though on a very basic level, we realize that accepting “where to improve” is critical to our careers. While positive feedback serves to motivate and energize our work lives (we all need this on a regular basis), the “negatives” can also provide useful information about where we should direct our attention. To remain competitive, we certainly require both categories of information — and I am not debating the value of either. Rather, I’d like to open a discussion about how negative information can be presented and approached, to afford the most progress possible.

When considering negative feedback, we must acknowledge core human characteristics; including self-efficacy (the belief that individuals can actually impact their situation) and goal orientation (some individuals focus on learning, others focus on demonstrating competence, and others focus upon avoiding negative judgement). To properly deliver negative feedback, we should carefully consider and frame the delivery, so potential damage to an individual’s psyche is minimized and progress is emphasized.

Developing A Constructive Approach

There’s truly an art to presenting information about performance deficits of any kind. When managers practice the sandwich method, I fear that once the “meat” of the sandwich is delivered — the “downside” of performance — we really don’t remember much of anything that follows. (Attempting to “hide” the information doesn’t address the issues.) We can certainly do a better job of moving the conversation to more neutral ground, where performance improvement can follow. But how? Here are some ideas:

3 Behavioral Considerations

1) How humans are “wired” to perceive bad news. We are likely predisposed to pay more attention to negative information, possibly a leftover evolutionary survival mechanism. As a result, we’re likely to become hyper-focused on the negatives. This clouds our “lens.”
2) We sorely need the positives. We should all be allowed to absorb what we are doing well at work. That’s not possible when information about our successes is delivered in conjunction with information about shortcomings.
3) We “digest” slowly. It takes time to process negative information properly. Initially, when you hear information you might not not want to hear, negative thoughts can spiral, leading to responses such as panic and denial. There are stages in this process that cannot be skipped.

5 Ways To Avoid “The Sandwich”

1) Build resiliency. Performance management should never be a once a year, “live or die” event. Ultimately, it’s a continuous process. Provide positive feedback concerning small successes along the way to provide balance. This helps difficult information become easier to absorb.
2) Address self-efficacy. Some individuals have the tendency to believe they cannot impact their performance or build a needed skill set. Explore this predisposition, to encourage a more hopeful perspective.
3) Focus on learning. Research has shown that in contrast to performance goals, learning goals can increase problem solving in relation to performance problems, possibly limiting the “sting” of negative feedback. Setting the tone to “learn from failure” can prove more effective in motivating and directing behavior.
4) Never “drop a bomb.” It’s wise to address negative feedback when it is delivered. Allow enough time to help control anxiety, and at least begin to discuss a plan for improvement.
5) Support the digestion process. After sharing negative feedback, be sure to provide plenty of support. Be highly accessible as an employee works through the information and begins to take logical steps forward.

How do you present negative performance feedback? What are your “best practice” strategies? How have these strategies helped you develop others in the workplace? Share your thoughts in the comments area below.

(Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared as a LinkedIn Influencer post. It is republished with permission.)

Image Credit: Kitsa Sakurako/Flickr

Brain Surgery, Corporate Culture & Leadership Consistency

My husband, the love of my life, had brain surgery a few weeks ago.

The anticipation, wondering if it was benign or cancerous (it was benign), praying that the neurosurgeon would not suddenly get the shakes, being in a hospital away from home and having no family nearby all added up to make this one of the most stressful experiences I’ve gone through in a long time.

And while we were in the hospital, waiting for Marco to be admitted, something occurred to me.  This was a great opportunity to observe corporate culture.

  • First, I would experience it from the perspective of a customer (instead of as an corporate leader or HR pro or business coach).
  • Second, we would be exposed to all levels of employees: janitors, nurse’s assistants, charge nurses (responsible for all the activities in their unit during their shift), staff supervisors and doctors.
  • Third, we were going to be there for three nights and four days, 24/7.

It was the perfect incubator for observation. Would the corporate culture the hospital spent thousands of dollars and many man hours to create, translate into a consistent experience?

Megan

In the ICU unit, we had a nurse named Megan who explained everything to us. I’m not overstating this. From how each medication was going to help Marco heal, to showing me how to unfold the sleeper chair and set the locks on it so it wouldn’t roll away and everything in between. She made sure we were as knowledgeable about Marco’s situation as she was.

When she met us, she wrote her name and hospital cell phone number on the wipe-board so we would know who she was and how to get in touch with her.

She apologized for having to wake Marco up every hour.

When I asked her where the soda machine was, she asked me what I wanted, left the room and brought a Diet Coke back to me so I wouldn’t have to pay.

She lovingly patted my husband’s head when he was in pain and couldn’t have more pain killers.

She made sure we both understood that he was not to blow his nose for a month.

She brought extra blankets and pillows without us asking for them.

Watching Megan attend to my husband left me feeling comforted, safe and reassured. That was because of two things: She knew what she was doing and she genuinely cared about my soul mate.

Toni & Company

Toni was our nurse when we transferred from ICU to a regular floor.

In her first introduction to us, she wrote her name on the wipe board while explaining this was not her regular floor and that she was on loan from another floor. She didn’t write down her phone number.

We were transferred right around lunch time and my husband was ravenous. I asked Toni when we could expect lunch and her answer was “soon.” 45 minutes later, lunch had not arrived. I went to find her at the nurse’s station and inquired again. Her answer was, “It’s probably up on the ICU floor.” Another 30 minutes later, I left my husband to find her again and asked when his lunch was going to arrive. She sighed at me, asked all the other nurses where my husband’s lunch was and finally said, “I suppose I’ll have to go to ICU to get his lunch.” More time passed before we finally got his cold lunch.

Megan from ICU told us that if Marco got thirsty, extremely thirsty, we needed to call the neurosurgeon right away; it meant danger. The thirst happened during Toni’s shift. We told her five times over three hours what was happening, we told her the neurosurgeon wanted to be paged immediately if it happened. Each time I went to look for her (she didn’t come to us) she said, “Oh. Okay. I’ll call the doctor.” Finally, after 3.5 hours I went to the ICU floor, looked for Megan and told her what was happening. She immediately broke all protocol by leaving her floor to see Marco. She asked him a bunch of questions, her face got red and she said she was going to page the doctor right then. Five minutes later a sheepish Toni walked into the room ready to take care of him. She also told us that the neurosurgeon yelled at her on the phone.

It wasn’t just Toni either. None of the nurses on that floor wrote down their hospital cell phone numbers. When Marco got extremely thirsty he asked for Gatorade and another nurse said, “I’m sorry we don’t have any on this floor.” We weren’t asking for champagne for Pete’s sake! I asked several people if I could have a sleeper chair and the consistent answer was an apathetic, “I’ll try.”

Being on the ICU floor was like being at a Ritz Carlton. The last three days of his stay was like being at a charge-by-the-hour motel.

Organizational Consistency

What happened?  It was the same hospital system.  Each floor had the same motivational employee bulletin boards which reinforced the “competency of the month.”  The processes for responding to patients was the same on each floor.  And I’m sure they were operating from the same employee handbook.

Shouldn’t every employee take patient care seriously?

Obviously, the answer is yes. Yet I think one of the hardest things for organizations to nail down is consistency across their enterprise.  What happened last week reinforced three things every leader needs to understand and do something about:

  • An organization can have all the technical tools in place to create an incredible customer experience, but that is no guarantee that employees will use them.
  • Leaders, Recruiters and HR pros need to continue to focus their recruiting efforts on the technical and behavioral skills candidates present. One without the other is disastrous.
  • Great tools and employees with phenomenal technical/behavioral skills are lost without front line supervisors who know how and have the courage to hold their employees accountable.

It’s a three legged stool. Or is it? What other factors should be considered in creating a consistent experience? Why do you think there was such a stark contrast between ICU and the regular floor?