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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Eight Simple Rules to Becoming a Better Leader

March 15, 2010

Melissa Raffoni has a post on the HBR website that all Leaders should read.  President of Raffoni CEO Consulting, she works with CEOs of major organisations.  In this short but important post, she outlines in clear terms what employees want from their Leadership.  None of this should surprise any good Leader; what is surprising is how often we don’t put it into practice.

1. Tell me my role, tell me what to do, and give me the rules. Be clear, be direct and let me get on with my job.

2. Discipline my coworker who is out of line. Fairness and equity for everyone – for good and bad performance.

3. Get me excited. Give me a reason to get engaged in what I do.  I don’t do boring!

4. Don’t forget to praise me. When I do something that deserves praise, not 12 months later at a review.

5. Don’t scare me. Tell me what I need to know but don’t dump all of your problems on me.

6. Impress me. Lead by example.

7. Give me some autonomy. Trust me – that’s why you hired me.

8. Set me up to win. Help me to win and you look good too.

All Leaders should print these out and ask themselves every day – am I following these rules?  If not, why not?


It is not enough to Manage by Wandering About

February 28, 2010

Management by Walking About (MBWA) is a management practice first proposed by Peters and Waterman in their seminal book In Search of Excellence. As  a technique, it aims to allow management to bypass the bureaucracy of the organisation and stay in contact with those that do the actual work.  It is communication at its best.

The Harvard Business School Working Knowledge discusses some research that shows that management visibility on its own is no guarantee of success.  Unless managers understand that MBWA is more than just walking about, they can cause more harm than good.  The research looked at a number of hospitals that engaged with front line workers on process improvements.  The result showed that improvements were achieved in most instances, leading to not just improvements in processes but in the overall organisation climate.

However, it is also possible to damage that climate.  The researchers found that it is not just important to engage with front line staff.  It is how you engage that will make the difference.  It is too easy for MBWA to be viewed as an audit that is trying to find errors or an attempt to catch employees making mistakes. If this is the perception of MBWA, trust will be quickly eroded, increasing hostility and suspicion – the exact opposite of what MBWA is attempting to achieve.

Some simple steps that managers can follow to ensure that MBWA is effective include:

o Do it solo – senior managers should MBWA alone and not hunt in packs

o Ask questions

o If you give a commitment to act on something, follow up

o Don’t undermine your supervisors – this is not an opportunity to whinge

o Do it often – it is not a fad and repetition will make it seem the norm


Earning Respect in the Workplace

February 12, 2010

Brett Simmons hosts a guest blog by Jim Taggart on how Leaders can earn respect in the workplace.  Jim has been a student of Leadership for over 15 years and writes a blog at Changing Winds.

Some of the steps that Leaders can take to gain respect include:

1. It’s okay to change your mind.  A failing of many Leaders is the fear that changing their mind will make them look weak.  As Jim points out, what is important is explaining the reason for the change.

2. Communicate clearly and regularly. While this sounds obvious, in practice it is the lack of regular communication that can isolate a Leader from the rest of the organisation.

3. Give regular feedback on performance. Honest feedback when staff are doing well – and not so well – is a key step in gaining respect.

4. Share the Leadership. Delegate and empower – but only when your team are ready. As Jim says, park your ego.

5. Admit when you screw up. This is a powerful way to demonstrate Leadership – especially when it is done publicly.

Go to Brent’s blog for the full list.


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.


You need both good and bad ideas to succeed

December 22, 2009

Seth Godin is a prolific author and blogger.  His works include Permission Marketing, Purple Cow (my favourite) and The Dip – all books worth reading on marketing, ideas and creating a buzz on what you do. Seth has an interesting and challenging post on ideas.  Good ideas bring change and people fear this. Bad ideas bring risk – people fear this even more. But you cannot have good ideas without the risk of bad ideas.  If you are willing to take the risk of failure, you will open yourself (or your business) up to the possibility of success.


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.