For some, feedback may seem a lot like going to the dentist.  It happens once a year and we dread it or avoid it as long as possible (despite espousing its benefits to others!).  

But then, there's others who embrace feedback, seek it out and seemingly thrive on it.  

The big difference between these two types of attitudes to feedback is in their mindset. Let's look at some prevalent mindsets around feedback that are holding people back from being the best they can be in the workplace (and beyond).

Despite so much talk about how ineffective and counter-productive performance management is in its current form, there's few organisations who seem to have nailed getting it right.  But why?

Organisations are tinkering around the edges of performance management (e.g. changing the forms, modifying a rating scale etc.) without really addressing the root cause of its lack of impact on performance and productivity.  But as we all know, doing the same thing over and over again will generally yield exactly the same results.  

Or, companies are abolishing their performance review process but without a clear plan on what or how they will do differently in its absence.

So what can you do now to make your performance management approach awesome?  

Onboarding is a hot topic in HR circles, and rightly so.  Clearly it's important to bring new employees into the organisation in a way that sets them up for success in their job and has them excited about the company that they work for.

There's many articles about how to get it right or how to not mess it up, much of which contains good advice.  

But ... the most obvious critical thing to get right in onboarding seems to be missing from this advice ...

It is well documented that there is a significant positive relationship between leadership and a range of organisational and employee performance measures.

Therefore it is not surprising that the majority of medium to large size organisations are focusing on and investing significantly in developing their leaders. 

But is the investment delivering bang for the buck?  Well, not always.  Let’s take a look at five common fatal flaws of the design and delivery of Leadership Development Programs – and most importantly, how to avoid them.

AuthorMichael Sleap

The word ‘agility’ is used frequently in discussions these days to describe desired characteristics of leaders, team members and organisations.  And that’s appropriate, as the environment in which organisations and their people now operate is increasingly dynamic, complex and volatile. 

Yet despite this acknowledged imperative for individual and organisational agility, so many HR processes are the antithesis of agile.

 Let’s focus on employee performance management.

Is there a more maligned piece of paperwork in the workplace than the performance management/appraisal form?

"The forms are too long and too complicated".  

"It takes too much time to complete the forms".

"The rating scale has too many/too few options". 

The list goes on and on.

Anecdotal evidence about the current state of performance management in Australia suggests that there is a significant proportion of employees without the fundamentals of good performance in place.  

So why then is it that managers in organisations don't treat the expenditure on salaries of employees with the same level of scrutiny that they do contractor or consultant fees?

Almost every company's Learning and Development team is grappling with reduced or tight training budgets on the one hand, and increasing demand for training on the other. In attempting to deal with this challenge, L&D teams should be asking "How effectively are we using our current training budget?", or more pointedly, "how much of our training spend is being burned?".

Outlined below are the main areas in which organisations' training investment is being wasted:

1. Misdiagnosis of development need The most obvious way to burn the training budget is to train a person in an area that isn't a development need.

This could happen by simply putting everyone in a team or department through a training program without any assessment of individual competency (the sheep dip) and therefore training need.

It can also come about due to a misdiagnosis of an apparent development need. For example, an employee is not completing their assigned work in a timely manner so their manager enlists them in a time management training course. However, if the main reason for not completing the work on time is something else such as a lack of understanding of the work itself, then they are being trained in the wrong area. This both burns the training budget and leaves the development need unaddressed.

Is there anything more uninspiring in large companies than their ‘vision’? Almost every major organisation has one. Do you even know what your employer’s vision is, let alone use it a means of motivation and to guide the decisions that you make on a daily basis? Here are a couple of examples that can be found on the website of large Australian businesses, and which are fairly typical of the ubiquitous company vision.

One large bank's vision is “To be one of the world’s great companies, helping our customers, communities and people to prosper and grow”.

A major oil and gas company's website states “Vision - Our aim is to be a global leader in upstream oil and gas”.

Do you find them inspiring? I am not trying to single out those two companies; the point is that most organisations’ visions are similar. They are typically written as a one sentence statement and are very generic, intangible and formal. It is difficult to see how this is benefiting the company or anyone associated with it.

AuthorMichael Sleap

One of the most satisfying jobs in my career was as a student when I stacked shelves in the dairy section of the local supermarket. No, seriously. I worked there for 7 years and I often felt a sense of achievement after a day of work having unpacked pallets of stock and seeing the fruits of my labour as I looked around at the full shelves. The work was highly tangible, fairly simple and repetitive, but enjoyable. But the work of a knowledge worker is quite different to that - it is often intangible, complex, ambiguous and varied, and carries pluses and minuses by way of comparison.

Do you ever hear yourself say or think that you feel like you have achieved little in a work day and would like to just get some real work done? Perhaps what we are lamenting when we say that is the lack of a tangible output that day and therefore we feel like we are not contributing to the team in a meaningful way or earning our keep.

AuthorMichael Sleap

I had an epiphany of sorts a couple of years ago, courtesy of a good friend of mine.  I caught up with him after he had taken several weeks of holiday/vacation time, most of which was spent in a coastal town a few hours’ drive away. I asked how his break was and he replied “It was fantastic. I switched off my phone and left it at home and just enjoyed the time with my wife and kids”.

I was initially taken aback by what my friend told me. 

“You mean you had your mobile phone switched off for the whole two weeks?” I gasped.

“Yep” he replied in a very self satisfied manner.

“You didn’t even check your work emails just once or twice?”

“No, and it was the best decision I could have made.  I feel like I had a really good mental break”.

After pondering my friend’s approach for a few weeks, I vowed to do the same for my midyear break that year.  For some time I had been aware of some of the negative impact of being connected to work 24/7 and every day of the year – the intermittent distraction of my presence, focus and attention towards my wife and two young children when at home or on holiday. 

AuthorMichael Sleap

Over the years there is one aspect of organisations that I have come to view as having the greatest positive or negative impact on company performance – executive team alignment. A little while ago, someone I was talking with described their organisation as like a big family.  Not as in one big happy family; the implication was that people behave in some of the worst ways that sometimes only families do. The workplace was neither productive nor a pleasant place to be.

So to continue with the analogy, there are some basic elements which most well-functioning families* seem to have in common:

  • A sense of purpose and priorities;
  • A clear and shared set of values;
  • Good will towards each other;
  • Clear and direct communication; and
  • A good mix of focus on the present and the future.

Businesses across the world are experiencing some of the toughest operating conditions for many decades.  Currently it is difficult for many companies to maintain let alone grow their profits.  What might be overlooked in some organisations is the critical role that HR can play in boosting profitability.  In its simplest form: profit = revenue – expenses

The two main ways to grow profits are to increase revenue and/or decrease expenses.  Focusing on profit growth is often seen to be the sole domain of accountants and operational business leaders. However this should be an aspect of a business in which HR provides leadership and makes a tangible contribution.

Think about it.  Labour costs are usually the largest (or near largest) expense item for a business – and this is a cost that can be planned for and managed.  Every dollar of expense that is saved goes straight to the bottom line (profits).  On the revenue side of the ledger, the performance of people is a major determinant of business revenue generated.  So HR, often considered to be focusing on the ‘softer’ side of business, is critical to hard business outcomes.

AuthorMichael Sleap

So you want to become a better leader but you don't have access to an internal Leadership Development Program and you don't have the time or budget to utilise external programs or coaching?  Here are some simple steps that you can take to achieve similar outcomes in a short period of time and for no cost. 1. Self assess - undertake a self assessment of your leadership strengths and weaknesses.  Make a list of your top five to seven leadership strengths and list the three to five leadership aspects in which you need to improve.  Be brutally honest with yourself - this is where performance improvement really begins.

2. Seek feedback - ask your team members, manager and any other people whose opinion you value for feedback about your leadership strengths and development areas. The feedback can be provided in which ever way suits you, them and your organisation's culture - face to face, via email or anonymously if needed (however knowing who provided what feedback is preferable so that you can follow up to clarify any specific queries that you have).

3. Analyse and summarise the feedback - read and/or listen to each piece of feedback and try to take it in without judging or defending.  Look for common themes across your self assessment and the feedback as well as one off points or issues which really resonate with you.  Now make a list of your top strengths and development areas - it will likely be similar to your initial self assessment but should differ somewhat based upon feedback from others which triggered insights for you about your effectiveness as a leader.

AuthorMichael Sleap
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Clear performance expectations are the foundation for setting team members up to succeed.  It also often seems to be the case that when an employee is perceived to be underperforming there is a lack of shared understanding of what good or bad performance looks like.  This post provides a set of five questions for managers to work through with their people to assess just how clear and shared the performance expectations are and to resolve any ambiguity before it leads to problems. 

Both the manager and team member should come to the discussion prepared with a few brief notes for each question (leave behind position descriptions etc and focus on the conversation).  To be most effective, for each question the team member should first provide their views about their role and then the manager should respond by comparing and contrasting their expectations for the role.  Areas of alignment and differences will quickly become apparent and can be discussed and resolved as the conversation progresses.

Below we use a fast food restaurant scenario to illustrate use of the questions.

Q1.  The top three focus areas of our organisation at the moment are ... This should be kept high level and should help bring some context to the discussion, as every role should be contributing to executing the organisation’s strategy. 

Example:  1. Reducing operating expenses.  2. Increasing sales of high margin items.  3. Expanding aggressively in to emerging markets.

Ask a group of managers for their tips on providing effective feedback, and the ‘sandwich’ method is often put forward as a winning approach. The premise of this technique is that if a person needs to deliver some "negative" feedback to somebody else they should sandwich it between two pieces of positive feedback, to cushion the impact.

I asked several groups of managers why they advocate the use of the feedback sandwich.  The most common responses included:

“Some people won’t be able to handle the negative feedback so it is easier for them if you start and end with the positives”.

“If you are delivering negative feedback you want to finish on a positive note so that the person leaves the conversation feeling motivated”.

The intention behind people’s use of the sandwich feedback method is admirable – maintaining the esteem of team members is important.  Very few people perform at their best when demoralised or anxious.

AuthorMichael Sleap
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Managers are accountable for leading, engaging and developing the most important assets in any organisation - people. But despite the criticality of their work, in many instances there is not enough being done to set up new managers for success - and it is costing businesses plenty. Onboarding of new hires is a high priority in most organisations but there doesn't seem to be the same focus in relation to people who are new to manager roles (either existing employees or external recruits moving into leadership positions).

It is commonplace that people are promoted into leadership roles primarily on the basis of their technical rather than people skills. Often new managers are thrust into a people management role with no prior leadership experience and little or no management training or education.

An organisation wouldn't put a person without relevant experience or qualifications straight into an important role such as an engineer, accountant or IT professional, yet there seems to be an assumption that anyone can be an effective manager and simply pick it up as they go along.

AuthorMichael Sleap

Compared with twenty to fifty years ago we now have a much more highly educated workforce as well as more complex and less rigidly defined jobs.  The days of command and control style leadership are all but gone and organisations are now trying to encourage the role of manager as coach working in partnership with their team members. Here are some tips for managers on how to be an effective coach for your team members:

Ignore the fluff and keep it practical A lot of training and information relating to manager as coach is just too complex and often irrelevant to a manager’s role.  Whilst there is some overlap, we need to keep separate the capability requirements of an external executive coach and the role of a manager as coach.  The role of a manager as coach is simply to help their team members to perform their job to the best possible standard and to develop their capability - using coaching.  So ignore the fluff and jargon and focus on the basics.

Be confident – you already coach Many managers do not recognise that they already coach and have most of the skills and knowledge required to coach well.  You already coach – you do it on a day to day basis with your team members and even your kids or partner.  You just may not recognise it as coaching due to the mystique and lack of clarity about what coaching is (or isn't).

AuthorMichael Sleap

Last Saturday the Geelong Cats crushed reigning AFL premiers Collingwood to win their third premiership in the past six years and stake their claim as one of the best sides in AFL/VFL history.  Geelong’s dominance in recent years is remarkable of itself given that the AFL is designed to share success around through mechanisms of equalisation such as the player draft and salary cap.  Yet it must be remembered that Geelong is no ordinary football club - their 2007 premiership win came on the back of finishing tenth in 2006, broke a 44 season premiership drought, and as recently as the late 1990s the club was on the brink of bankruptcy.  By the club’s own admission, Geelong was very good at being average.

The turnaround at the Geelong Football Club was led by Chief Executive Officer Brian Cook and President Frank Costa.  Costa and Cook applied organisational development (OD) models and techniques, many of which had rarely been seen in the football industry, in a bid to improve the flagging fortunes of the club.

Being a manager is a tough job.  Not only are they accountable for their own work but also for the outputs of their team.  Sure, such accountability is part and parcel of a manager’s role; however a commonly expressed concern of managers is that while they are held accountable for the results of their team they feel that they don’t have the commensurate managerial authorities.  For some managers this leads to frustration, disengagement and even despair at being able to perform their job competently.  Let’s explore this in more detail.

Scenario 1 - “I have employees appointed to my team without having any input in to it”.

Does this scenario ring true in any organisations for which you have worked?

The manager’s manager:  “Hey I just wanted a quick word with you. Our General Manager has a niece who has just completed her master’s degree in philosophy and he asked me if she could join your team and learn the ropes”.

Manager:  “Well I don’t have any vacancies in my team right now and I am not sure how someone’s philosophy qualifications are really the right fit for an IT team – it’s very specialised work you know”.

AuthorMichael Sleap
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