Who is responsible for poor performance?

April 16, 2010

I was recently approached by a manager for help with an employee who ‘refused’ to change.  A twenty year veteran with the organisation, the employee had ‘seen off’ several managers.  A high performer when it was the way she wanted to work, the employee had successfully avoided all attempts to introduce new methods of working.  Managers, after a few forlorn attempts to introduce new ideas,  gave up and she was left to her own devices.

Who is at fault for this failure to change – the employee or the organisation?  In conversation with the manager, it became clear that previous manager’s had abdicated responsibility for the employee taking the line of least resistance.  While the employee does bear some responsibility for the pattern of behaviour, her resistant patterns have been rewarded by her various managers.  This way of working is what she knows best – ‘I like doing my job my way’.  Any new manager will be a brief nuisance and will soon see the light!

What is the answer?  As I have blogged previously, behaviour change requires consequences.  The current consequence for the employee of their refusal to change is to be allowed to continue as per usual.  For the manager to bring about change, there must be consequences – and these must outweigh the desire to continue the behaviour.  The most immediate consequence should be that the manager makes it clear that they will not be going away.

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Managing your top teams anxiety

April 9, 2010

All of us suffer from anxiety; it happens when we face into a new, difficult or challenging situation. Anxiety in itself should never be an issue but it can be a problem if it is not recognised and managed.  Organisations that are undergoing upheavals are likely have increased levels of anxiety. Leaders need to learn to recognise and manage the anxiety in their top teams to ensure that it does not affect performance at a time when the they need to rely on the tope team more than ever.

People Management list some of the steps that can be taken to manage anxiety. Aimed at L&D specialists, the article is equally valid for Leaders. Some of the steps for managing anxiety include:

Validate feelings
Get your top team to talk about how they experience the pressures they face. As we often feel weak if we acknowledge being less than confident, this normalising of emotions can be helpful.  A leader can start the process by admitting that they have anxieties.

Challenge behaviour
Empathy is important but honesty is vital.  Leaders need to understand the negative impact on their team – and the wider organisation – of the failure to manage anxiety. Direct criticism may evoke defensiveness; simply describe how the organisation experience the practical consequences of this behaviour.

Identify triggers
Having helped your team understand the impact of their behaviour, work to identify key situations, people or events that trigger anxiety. The more we are aware of our default position(s), the better we can resist them.

In the pressure cooker of modern organisations, it can be seen as weak to acknowledge the existence of anxiety.   It is the Leader’s responsibility to address this issue – failure to do so can increase the likelihood of a failure of performance.


Coaching V Mentoring V Consulting

March 11, 2010

I am spending an increasing amount of time coaching executives – reflective of the exciting business world. One challenge that I face is that the coachee wants a solution and, quite often, wants it now.  This can be based on a misunderstanding of the nature of coaching and mixing it up with mentoring – an experienced person sharing wisdom – or a consultant – an experienced person brought into to provide a solution. Coaching is about allowing the coachee to find their own solution.  Getting these distinctions across at the beginning of a coaching assignment is crucial.

I came across a great summary in Excellence in Coaching edited by Jonathon Passmore:

  • A therapist will explore what is stopping you driving the car
  • A counsellor will listen to your anxieties about the car
  • A mentor will share tips from their own experience of driving cars
  • A consultant will advise you on how to drive the car
  • A coach will encourage and support you in driving the car

Creativity and Thinking in the Workplace

February 27, 2010

I recently attended a Creative Thinking workshop facilitated by Aaron Downes of Creative Development. A very interesting workshop, it made me think about whether organisations allow or suppress thinking in the workplace.  Do we foster independent thinking amongst our employees or is creativity frowned upon?

The greater use of standardised systems – such as reward and performance management – the greater danger that creativity is stifled as employees work to those standards only.  Equally managers feel constrained to manage and reward employee’s performance within a narrow defined range of objectives.  The systems become an end in themselves rather than a means to a better organisation. Such systems can straightjacket creativity by taking risk out of the equation.  When your reward – be it money or recognition – depends on not making mistakes, employees have little incentive to do other than play it safe.

What can organisations do to encourage creativity?  Crucially, organisations need to begin to develop a culture that values creativity, risk and failure.  They also need to give staff the tools to think different – be it De Bono’s Lateral Thinking or Go Mad’s Thinking Framework.  Finally, they need to give manager’s the space to allow staff to make mistakes without the fear of short term consequences.


Are your employees informed?

February 1, 2010

I blogged recently about the need for managers to provide employees with a direct line of sight to the organisation’s goals. Without an understanding of what the organisation wants them to do and how this links to where the organisation is going, managers can hardly expect employees to be interested in changing.

The Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development (CIPD) recently released their Winter 2010 Employee Outlook survey.  It provides interesting reading on how employees are coping given the current economic climate.  In the section on Employee Attitudes to Management, 13 out of 14 items are rated lower than previous quarters. Just under half of employees (49%) feel fully/fairly well informed about what is happening in their organisation.  That is, over half of the workforce surveyed do not have full line of sight to the organisation’s goals, strategy or change plan; without full information, these employees are less likely to be engaged in where the organisation wishes to go. This is backed up by a 28% decline in the belief that senior managers consult them about important issues.

What lessons can we learn from this?  At the same time as a low level of information, there is a drop in the level of job satisfaction (down approximately 25% over the year).  With 37% of employees stating that the would ideally like to change jobs within the next year, managers need to realise that – even in a recession – they can lose their best and brightest. The top performers will always get another job and are more likely to leave an organisation they do not trust than one that they do.


Four Tools For Defeating Denial

December 9, 2009

Interesting post from Change Guru Rosabeth Moss Kanter on her Harvard Business Blog on Tools for Defeating Denial.  Whenever a change agent is involved in bringing about that change, confronting denial is essential. Some tools suggested in dealing with that denial.

  1. Unassailable facts. Change advocates must make sure the evidence they marshall is beyond reproach, which often means from multiple sources.  Small flaws discredit the case for change.
  2. Counter-arguments. Supporters watch how leaders handle skeptics and critics. Each counter-attack must be answered. Change advocates must know the other side as well as their own.
  3. Big Picture. Significant change rests on beliefs, not just facts; the future is inherently uncertain, facts only a starting point. Change leaders must cultivate fired-up stakeholders by identifying long-term benefits valuable to many. Leaders must inspire belief that they stand with and for stakeholders’ values and goals.
  4. Pressure and repetition. When pressure for change is in deniers’ faces every day, they often succumb.  Staying on message and communicating often can sometimes defeat denial.

Employee Engagement; improving the bottom line

September 29, 2009

A common (and often correct) criticism of the Human Resources (HR) function and HR initiatives is that they are not business minded.  Other functions (such as Finance or Operations) criticise that HR gets in the way of running the business.  While this is not always correct, HR needs to ensure that it presents these initiatives in a business manner with a view to how they will impact upon the ability of the organisation to achieve their strategic objectives.

There are opportunities for HR to improve organisational performance through focussing on systems and interventions that improve employee engagement.  Research by Gallup has shown that, in world-class companies, the ratio of engaged employees to disengaged employees is 8:1.  In average organisations, the ratio is only 1.5:1.  The research also shows that engaged organizations have 2.6 times the earnings per share (EPS) growth rate compared to organizations with lower engagement in their same industry. (Note 1)

Similar research shows from Watson Wyatt determined that companies with the most effective employee communications programs had an average total shareholder return of 29.5 percent while those with least effective programs had a negative 15 percent return. (Note 2)

Engagement programmes are not an end in themselves.  However, they are a starting point where HR can make a direct impact in the business.  Talking in the language of the rest of the business will improve how HR is viewed and will lead to an increase in support for other HR intiatives.

Note 1: Employee Engagement: What is your engagement ratio? Gallup Consulting, 2008

Note 2: Watson Wyatt, Effective Communication: A Leading Indicator of Financial Performance – 2005/2006 Communication ROI Study