RRGwrites

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Posts Tagged ‘Leadership and Feedback

A Leadership Crucible – Managing Below-Expectations Performance

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Almost everyday, we hear the phrase – ‘performance-improvement plan’ or PIP, as it is famously, or rather infamously, known as. This is a scary word, most of the times, for the employee in question. And if we are talking about an employee who is either new to the company or role, and is not found doing as well as it was envisaged, the phrase becomes all the more grave – again for the employee, i.e..

But what about the role that the supervisor need to play in making this employee successful? Aren’t her stakes as high as the employee himself? And more importantly, what is the role the senior leader(s) play in this entire episode? Because for them, the task is two-pronged – one, to ensure fair chance be given to the employee in question, and two, to make the supervisor and other seniors in the hierarchy learn to deal with this crucial leadership challenge, thereby in the process making them better leaders… and the team-leader has to tread this double-edged sword without losing the sight of organisational goals of result-orientation and productivity. Some challenge, this is!

I have faced this challenge many times in my career as a HR leader. And experience has taught me one thing – there is no shirking of responsibility that can happen, if the leader really wants to make his team successful, in all aspects.

Few years ago, one of my lieutenants came to see me with his subordinate, who was herself a young, promising people-manager. They were perplexed with a similar challenge, as I discussed above. Her predicament was – a newly inducted subordinate of hers, who showed a lot of promise at the outset, was struggling within 6 months of joining. Despite a lot of coaching and guidance by herself and even her own supervisor, this new team-mate’s performance wasn’t up to mark. And worse, the business had started to feel the heat…

A long discussion ensued in my office. For my readers, I am sharing a note that I wrote to this manager, outlining my thoughts and an action plan.

Let me share upfront; this is a rather long note, which I felt was required to cover my thoughts on managing performance and developing a high-performance team. To assist in your reading, I have made necessary modifications. Other than me, the other three characters in the case are:

  1. Ms.ABC – the young people manager;
  2. Mr.JKL – her manager, also my deputy;
  3. Mr.RST – the employee whose performance is being discussed.

Here goes the advise that I gave her:

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Dear ABC

Yesterday, we discussed at length the performance & aptitude challenge that we are currently managing with RST. I heard both you and JKL, and shared my thoughts too. I am writing my notes, as under, to encapsulate my thoughts on this critical leadership challenge that we have on hand.

I have always firmly believed in the gospel of ‘making everyone successful.’ Having said that, to do so is indeed a daunting task for a leader; for multifaceted as the team is, no one ever seems to behave & perform like the other! Out of the lot, the toughest ones to manage are those, who showed a lot of promise & capability while being inducted into the job, but have slipped off the performance charts somewhere.

Now, it requires meticulous thought and concerted action, to bring such team-mate back to where he belongs – road to success for self and team.

Firstly, let me thank both you and JKL for showing commitment towards your team-mate’s development. This is by no means a small act – requires a lot of honesty and courage to stand up and say, “Hey! My team needs to do better, and I am game to make them better, whatever it takes.” Thank you, for recognizing the need for improvement and showing the promise to do better.

Our first step with such a below-expectation performer is to figure out what went wrong. Something did go wrong. Nearly all employees start their new job with positivity, enthusiasm and are raring to go – we all know RST did start like that. Maybe, something along the way diminished his enthusiasm. Or, he killed his own enthusiasm; both are possible in the workplace. Ascertaining the primal cause of this poor performance is the key if you are committed to help teammates like him become, not a poor performer, but a contributing member of our team. No employee decides to have a miserable day at work and feel failure as he leaves the workplace daily. Even an otherwise incompetent or misfit employee wants to do well for himself!

Very importantly, you need to ascertain if RST has his intentions right; for, if he is really a work-shirker, there is little hope for improvement. However, you have all hope if he really wants to succeed. That said, whatever conclusion you arrive at about why he is a below-expectation performer, you must try your level best to turn him around. Start by assuring him that you have faith in his ability to succeed. Inspire through showing the big picture – help him see the what fruits his efforts shall bear – why should he strive to succeed and improve. Guide him and make him set several short-term, achievable goals; which should be time-bound, with clear outcomes about which you agree. Once the goals are set, track execution and progress. And don’t forget the power of daily engagement – make sure he gets an opportunity to record small daily wins; that should take care of the morale front.

We also discussed yesterday the need of a written performance monitoring document. For those who feel that the team-mate who needs a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) will never succeed, I have many success stories to offer – we have seen so many of them succeed. In fact, I have used this to my benefit many a times, in making my team successful. So, I am a believer in the power of a well-planned, measurable PIP that is reinforced by well-intentioned and demonstrated support and encouragement provided by the manager.

We discussed at length yesterday the key ingredients of such a PIP. Some points that I wish to reiterate:

  • Clearly outline parameters of expected improved performance. Please be objective in setting these parameters and explain clearly, leaving no room for ambiguity.
  • State the minimum expectation level of performance. Ensure there is an appreciation of consistency of this improved performance. This is crucial as sporadic spurts of improvement aren’t really sustainable.
  • Discuss and agree the upon feedback mechanism. Specify the time and periodicity of performance reviews. Set the documentation mechanism of each review stage.
  • Ensure he understands measurements of improvement evaluation.
  • Specify what role you shall play in order to make him successful.
  • Explain upfront if he needs to make any changes in behaviour or attitude towards work. Share examples.
  • Focus on ‘what if’ – clearly outline what is the road ahead if expected performance levels aren’t achieved on every parameter, at various review-stages.

With above seven parameters considered, you’d have a robust PIP document ready. With this, ensure you provide any other support, resource, training, et al, which will help him expedite his improvement.

Let me say, I’ve always regarded problems as opportunities to do better, gain experience, and learn more, just to be a little bit smarter and perhaps wiser on how to handle life issues and situations. After all, as they say, we learn best, not by being taught and not by studying or reading, but by experiencing and then reflecting on what we did and what happened and then drawing conclusions and experimenting.

As a coach, I’ve practiced this method with considerable success; it helped me build and develop stronger teams. I am quite inspired by this leadership nugget that I read long ago – ‘the tactics espoused by great managers of people are very simple, they select people based on talent; when setting expectations for the team, they establish the right outcomes; when motivating an individual, they focus on strengths; and, to develop an individual, find the right job fit for the person.’ As we speak, you are currently managing the second and the third aspect, and what will make you successful is the willingness to make your team successful. I am sure; you have it in you do so.

Please do reach out, should you need any support from me.

Happy leading!

RRG

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A rather long note, wasn’t it? However, it helped me manage the challenge at hand. Let me tell you, this worked for all the characters in the story above, it helped each one of us become better. This helped the struggling employee receive a fair chance to demonstrate improved performance, guided and backed by her supervisor’s encouragement and intention to make her team successful. It helped her supervisor learn the leadership lesson in managing poor performance; and helped my lieutenant resolve a crucial team-managing issue and not miss out on either productivity or morale of his team. Given the fact that both these managers were young professionals, they learnt the invaluable lesson on people leadership and taking responsibility for their teammates in an utmost well-intentioned manner, unlike a lot of managers who consider PIP only as route for creating documentation and exiting the employee. What did I get? Well, I got three super-engaged team-mates in return! What more should have I asked for 🙂

Do you agree with my approach? Have you too experienced or observed a similar approach to managing below-expectation performance? Or have you witnessed poor leadership doing the irreparable damage? Do share your thoughts…

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Image-credit: whatisonthetable.wordpress.com

10 Mean Things You Shouldn’t Say To Your Star Performers…

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Angry BossWell, you are the boss. And like to believe that you are a good one.  You lead a bunch of smart, hardworking and well-intentioned subordinates or, as I call, teammates.

These subordinates are real stars; they are result-oriented, ownership-driven and work with high passion & commitment. They have a reputation of delivering consistent results.

And then, there are those rare few occasions, when these smart, hardworking and well-intentioned teammates make mistakes; sometimes, really silly ones.

Well, since you are the boss, the said mistake of your teammate makes you suffer poor results, undue embarrassment and/or undesired pressure from seniors, you get to hear not-so-nice words from your own boss, and what not.

And with all the right and might of being the boss, you would like to reprimand the one who erred.

Oho! That could be really tricky.

Many of otherwise well-meaning, well-respected and admired managers make an uncalled for error on such occasions. They end up saying undermentioned ten sentences whilst engulfed in the fist of fury, or shall I say, in a weak moment of lapse of good judgement. These 10 sentences, once uttered, can be the real deal-breakers for the motivation of your star subordinates.

Let’s see what they are:

  1. “Well, you are really turning casual in your approach these days.”
  2. “You let me down, terribly. How could you?”
  3. “I should not have trusted you with this big responsibility.”
  4. “I trusted you, and you broke it.”
  5. “Henceforth, don’t even try this. Let ABC do it.”
  6. “Can’t you do just one simple thing right?”
  7. “I knew it. You are just not up to the mark.”
  8. “You failed all of us.”
  9. “It is because of your stupidity that the entire team suffered embarrassment.”
  10. “You will not be able to successfully complete this. Let me take it back from you.” 

Well, well, well… there you go. Above cut-&-dry sentiments, once verbalized whether using same words or similar, leave a casting negative impact on the recipient. Worst, it affects their personal sense of dignity and hurts their self-pride. Remember, the very fact that these are your star performers also makes them feel a higher sense of pride in themselves and their achievements as a professional. As a result, such criticism hits them even harder.

One such sentence, uttered in one such momentary lapse of good sense, ends up alienating your star teammate from you, most of the times. And that is where the entire disengagement at work begins.

Dangerous, isn’t it? Then think of it, do you too say similar things when your star performer goofs up?

I encourage you to share your experiences when you were the recipient of such a bashing. I am sure our experiences will help many managers reflect and become better leaders…

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Image-credit: chrismower.com

True Feedback

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Over the last few days, the whole world heard a victorious Barack Obama thank his wife of 20 years profusely for the encouragement and support he received from her during the presidential elections he contested in the USA. While he proclaimed his much stronger love for the first lady, we observed a thunderous uproar, cheers and applause, not only from those who watched this incident unfold while being present at the ceremony, but billions who watched it glued at their television sets.

This is arguably the most powerful man on the earth speaking. And mind you, he is speaking in the full public view, acknowledging the role that only a spouse can play. This is not the first time we have heard Obama express his thankfulness towards Michelle – and don’t you mistake him – he is not only expressing gratitude for her being a wonderful wife or a mother or a homemaker alone. He recognizes the role of a strong person backing him; aiding him not only with reinforcement, but also with feedback and most probably, with much needed constructive criticism at times. Well, we all know how much we need that one in our lives and careers…

I am a big fan of one taking well-intended criticism in his or her own stride, and working upon bettering self. And trust me you, no one gives a better, sometimes harder-hitting feedback than a spouse. In the times we live , chances are that our spouses are far more educated and successful than us, and chances are even higher that they are wiser ones, specially in the moments when we choose to lose it!

And why to only speak about the need of feedback when one is at the wrong end of things and needs what is now most fashionably termed as ‘developmental feedback.’ Criticism, well meant one, is most crucial at the times when one is rather powerful, successful and flowing with the good times. That is when the chances of converting our 99% good-looking results into a solid, sustainable 100% performance gets overlooked. Along with support and care that a spouse extends, that moment of her pointing at a new way, guiding towards that blind side, hinting at newer risks to be taken and higher reward to be achieved, showing that under-achieved angle of personality, hitting on hard towards that one key area of focus that we may have been missing inadvertently… all these moments and feedbacks in turn become the seeds of our future success as a whole.

R Gopalakrishnan, the celebrated author of bestseller, ‘The Case of the Bonsai Manager’, in his latest marvel ‘When the Penny Drops – Learning What’s Not Taught’, lays considerable stress on the role a spouse plays in explicit feedback, much differently than all other people you give you feedback:

“It is often said that if you really care about somebody, you give them constructive feedback. If you do not care about somebody, you say only positive things. However, in reality, that is not the way the world works.

He explains:

“Very little is told to you by your boss or colleagues about the negative manifestations of your bonsai traps. Why should your peer do so when it is none of his business? And why should your senior do so lest he be regarded as a nagging senior? Why should your subordinate risk his career by doing so?

Gopalakrishnan asserts further:

“You can become aware of your dark spots by someone holding a mirror to your behavior and by looking deep into the mirror…

…Wives are known to render a unique service to their husbands by telling them what no one else dares to. The explicit feedback that a leader can get from the spouse can be harsh, but very valuable…”

Now, isn’t that so true? I am sure, deep inside our hearts, all spouses agree to this one. Think of it, who would in Obama’s staff, dare risk giving a critical feedback to THE President of THE US of A! The same feedback, I am sure, the first lady would render so easily to, what we now know, much willing ears…

I lead a pretty large team – women and men who are strong & competent individuals. To every one of them, when I interviewed, asked a question…

Have you gone back ever and asked your spouse this question – Hey mate, what are the two areas of mine that if I work upon and improve, I would become a much better professional?”

Every time I asked this question, I have observed amusement writ large over the face of the person. Nearly all of them don’t answer, as they have never asked this question to their spouses. And yet I can tell you, all well-meaning ones have gone back that day and asked this question for sure…

I am sure, they heard something really sound and useful that time…

I am leaving you with what R Gopalakrishnan calls the Clementine Mirror; he produced in his book a letter written by Clementine Churchill to her husband, Sir Winston Churchill – the Clementine Advice.

It is indeed a worthy read:

My Darling,

I hope you will forgive me if I tell you something I feel you ought to know.

One of the men in your entourage (a devoted friend) has been to me and told me that there is a danger of your being generally disliked by your colleagues and subordinates because of your rough, sarcastic and overbearing manner…if an idea is suggested, say at a conference, you are supposed to be so contemptuous that presently no ideas, good or bad, will be forthcoming. I was astonished and upset because in all these years I have been accustomed to all those who have worked with and under you, loving you – I said this, and I was told ‘No doubt it is the strain’.

My Darling Winston, I must confess that I have noticed deterioration in your manner; and you are not as kind as you used to be.

It is for you to give the Orders…with this terrific power you must combine urbanity, kindness, and if possible Olympic calm…I cannot bear that those who serve the Country and yourself should not love you as well as admire and respect you…

Besides you won’t get the best results by irascibility and rudeness…

Please forgive your loving devoted and watchful…

Clemmie

(June 27, 1940)

Now, isn’t that the most sound business advice a leader can get? Do think about it.

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Photo-credit 1: skillsconverged.com || Photo-credit 2: Flipkart.com || Photo-credit 3: Lettersofnote.com

PS: You can access the complete letter here.

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