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Backwards and Forwards

Pocketblog comes out on Tuesdays, which means that this year, it coincides with both Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.  Which means that there will be a short hiatus before the next edition.

But never fear – I shall be busy.  I will be preparing for next year’s exciting new project.  More about that later.  But first…

The Best of 2012

As before, here is a selection of my own favourite Pocketblogs from 2012.

Early in the year, we did two blogs about Emotional Intelligence: ‘There’s more to Emotional Intelligence than Daniel Goleman’ and then offered practical tips to ‘Boost your EQ’.

Emotional Intelligence

In this Jubilee year, we let you into The Management Secrets of Queen Elizabeth II.  Sadly, advance orders for the Modern Monarch’s Pocketbook have been disappointing (we just received our third, with the same address as the last) and we are holding back on publication until orders pick up.

The Modern Monarch's Pocketbook

Another big event for us was the launch of our Management Pocketblog 100 Day Challenge.  We know (from orders) that some of you took it up.  Please do tell us (on the blog page comments) about your experiences.  If you have not yet, it is not too late to take up the challenge.

The Management Pocketblog 100 Day Challenge

We were able to offer readers insightful business and management tips from to impeccable sources this year.  In ‘What matters today, in Business and Management?’ we extracted tips from Time Magazine’s 2012 100 Most Influential People in the World.  In ‘The Oracle of Omaha’, we took guidance from some of Warren Buffet’s top CEOs.

Our three-part series: ‘The New Manager’s Guide to Interviewing’ will be a helpful resource if you are new to this role.  It covered:

  1. Preparing the Ground
    Increase your chances of success well before the interview
  2. Getting it Right
    Hints and advice for conducting and effective interviews
  3. Polishing your Process
    Tips and tricks of the trade

And, for people on the receiving end, we wrote ‘Seven Ways to Interview Well’ just for you.  If you want to stick with your current job, but spice it up a little bit and renew your motivation, try ‘Same Job: New Job’.

Edward de Bono's Six Thinking Hats

Closest to my own heart were:

Our three-part series about dealing with poor performance in staff, ‘Let’s sort out poor performance’, parts:

          1. Infrastructure
          2. Turnaround
          3. The Alternative

These followed on from two blogs, ‘What is Performance Management?’, and ‘The Root of the Issue: Dealing with Poor Performance’.

Bruce Tuckman: Group Development model...  forming - storming - norming - performing - adjourningOur blogs about Bruce Tuckman’s model of Group Development (Forming-Storming-Norming-Performing) continue to be the most heavily read.  In February, we provided a link to all four of them.

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And finally…  Pocketblog honoured two sad losses this year: Neil Armstrong, the astonishingly humble all-American/all-global hero; and Stephen Covey, who wrote one of the very best of the best personal effectiveness book: The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.

Neil ArmstrongStephen Covey


Coming Next Year

Pocketblog is nearly 3 years old (we started on 23 February 2010) and has chalked up over 150 posts to date.  It’s time for a little refresh.  So 2013 will see a new style of Pocketblog.  Not a radical departure: more of a shift in emphasis.

Next year, we’ll be presenting our Management Pocket-Correspondence Course.  Over the course of the year, we’ll be blogging about the full range of management skills in a structured way.  Why not Subscribe to the Blog by email (towards the top of the column to the right of this) to receive them all in your inbox.

Until then…

From everyone at Management Pocketbooks…

Have a very merry Christmas,
and a happy and healthy New Year.

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Let’s sort out poor performance, Part 3: The Alternative

In the last two weeks, we have been looking at managing poor performance:

  1. The infrastructure you will need
  2. The techniques to turn poor performance around

This week, we are going to look at what to do if you cannot turn the poor performance around.

Poor Performance

First, however, I should say two things

  1. In many regions of the world, you will have laws which mean you need to do this properly, to avoid unwanted complications and problems.  I am not a lawyer and know the laws in precisely none of the legal jurisdictions of the world.
  2. The above does not absolve you of the responsibility to deal properly with poor performance and neither, if you take proper advice and act with care, need it stop you.

Consequently, the following is nothing more than some generic thoughts, which you need to test against local law and your organisation’s policies and procedures.

The Supremacy of Evidence

Rule 1: you can’t act effectively without evidence.  No manager can be effective unless you are constantly aware of your team members’ performance – and that means reviewing evidence of what they are doing and how it compares with the requirements of their roles.  Take into account also any external factors that are affecting their work.

Documentation and Record Keeping

You also need to keep records and document what happens.  Most procedures and, I am sure, most legal systems will require documentary records to provide solid evidence that can back up your judgements and so justify your decisions.  Some systems will require copious data gathering and recording, so be structured and methodical.  Also ensure that your records are kept under lock and key or in strong-password protected files.

Openness and Choice

Be open with the poor performer about what you are observing and the implications it has for their future.  Be clear about the choices they have and the implications of each choice for them.  You cannot make me perform to a specific standard, but you must let me know the implications of my choice not to.

Care and Compassion

Finally, you may want rid of me – for all the right reasons – but that is not a good reason to abandon all compassion for me as a human being and, more important organisationally – to disregard any duty of care that you have towards me during the process, while I am still employed.

Some Management Pocketbooks you might enjoy

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Let’s sort out poor performance, Part 2: Turnaround

Last week, we introduced the three components of managing poor performance and dealt with the first one:

  1. The infrastructure you will need
  2. The techniques to turn poor performance around
  3. What to do if you cannot turn the poor performance around

This week, it’s the turn of techniques to turn poor performance around.

Poor Performance

Performance Turnaround Toolbox

The toolbox analogy that Pam Jones describes in The Performance Management Pocketbook is a good one and some of the tools she details in her book are particularly relevant here: feedback, coaching and motivating, in particular.

Let’s list some of the tools in your performance turnaround toolbox.

Feedback

First and foremost, we need to provide open, honest, clear, and factual feedback to the under-performer, about the nature and level of their performance.  Do it early and the problem will be smaller.  Often an early intervention here can bring about swift changes or a genuine request for help, alerting you to causal conditions that you may be able to help with, or at least take account of.

Coaching

For my money, coaching is one of the most powerful ways to support poor performers – as it is to support average, good and excellent performers.  If you don’t have the skills, there are lots of sources of help – not least, the Coaching Pocketbook.  On a recent training course about Performance Coaching, the feedback I had was that this is, itself, a very powerful tool set for managers at all levels.

Goal-setting

Clearly a part of any coaching process, whether you coach or not, you must agree performance goals with the under-performer that are attainable and acceptable to the organisation.  I recommend tiered goals, incrementing in performance level month-by-month, until basic performance standards are achieved.  Why stop there?  If the process works, continue it until the performer reaches their maximum performance capacity.

Resource review

Look at the resources available to the under-performer in their workplace and ensure that they represent all that the performer needs, to succeed.  If not, take rapid remedial action.

Support

What support can you, other managers, and the performer’s colleagues offer them, to help them to tackle their poor performance?

Training/Re-training

Evaluate whether the poor performer needs further training or re-training to address their performance issues.  But do not accept a training course as a panacea: you must place it in the context of goals, support and a regular performance evaluation process, to help them to embed their learning into new practices.

Incentives

You may want to consider incentives – or even their flip-side, penalties.  You should not need to and, if you do, ensure that these will fall wholly within your organisation’s policies.

Job re-structuring

One option is always to re-structure the under-performer’s job either temporarily or permanently, to allow them to perform more effectively.

Re-deployment

Even more radical is the possibility of re-deploying the poor performer into a new role that they can thrive at.  Be careful though: don’t use this as a means to off-load trouble on other managers.  Also be aware that you cannot lawfully change someone’s contract without their consent in most jurisdictions (all?), so only do this after careful consultation with your HR experts and maybe even an HR lawyer.

Options Review

As a last resort, you need to work towards reviewing your poor performer’s wider options with them.  This is, of course, a euphemistic way of alluding to next week’s post about what to do if you cannot create a turnaround.

Management Pocketbooks you might enjoy

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Let’s sort out poor performance, Part 1: Infrastructure

Happily, few organisations retain the ‘forced ranking’ system that classifies a fixed proportion of the staff as poor performers at the end of each year and then, as Jack Welch advocated at General Electric, manages them out of the business – or just fires them  A business I once worked for did this and it was as brutal as it was stupid.

Poor Performance

This isn’t to make a naive suggestion that there are no poor performers, nor that we should tolerate poor performance.  We need to identify and handle under-performance at the first sign.  Of course, prevention is better than cure, as we looked at what the positive tools are for performance management a while ago (What is Performance Management?) and also at the reasons for poor performance (The root of the issue).

But what can you do to deal with the poor performance you discover?  In a series of three blogs, we will examine:

  1. The infrastructure you will need
  2. The techniques to turn poor performance around
  3. What to do if you cannot turn the poor performance around

The Infrastructure for dealing with poor performance

A good organisation – and a strong management team – will recognise the reality of poor performance and proactively develop the elements it needs to engage positively with poor performers and manage their performance to turn it around.  Here is my checklist of the assets your organisation will need.

A performance management policy
… so that everyone knows the answer to ‘what next?’

Up to date and clear job descriptions
… to measure performance against

Robust performance monitoring processes
… so that managers have early indications of under-performance and a strong evidence base that allow them to identify and tackle issues early and firmly

A recruitment process (and all that involves)
… to maximise your chances of recruiting the right people and minimising your need for managing poor performance

Training in performance management
… because tools, techniques, policies and procedures are no good unless managers know how to use them

Coaching skills among line managers
… because coaching is one of the best tools for dealing with poor performance

Support mechanisms
… for the managers conducting performance management, who are likely to find it mentally and emotionally challenging and stressful

A disciplinary policy
… in case performance management does not succeed

Management Pocketbooks you might enjoy

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The Root of the Issue: Dealing with Poor Performance

Last week, we looked at the meaning of Performance Management.  Many people perceive it as purely ‘dealing with poor performance’.  It isn’t.  Performance management focuses on creating good performance, but it must not shy away from dealing with situations where you or I under-perform in some way.

The solution must always start with the root of the problem: if you as a manager can work with me, as an under-performing staff member, to identify what is causing my poor performance, we have the basis to fix it in the most effective manner.

The Reasons for Poor Performance

CausesofUnderPerformance

In her Performance Management Pocketbook, Pam Jones gives six examples of common causes for poor performance:

  1. Personal ability
    Can I do the task you are measuring me on?
  2. Manager ability
    Have you, in some way, let me down?
  3. Process gap
    Are our internal systems at fault?
  4. Environmental forces
    Has our organisation put barriers in my way?
  5. Personal circumstances
    Has my private life got in the way?
  6. Motivation
    How confident and enthusiastic am I?

One of the most crucial skills a manager can have is that of diagnosing the cause of any under-performance.

Diagnosis

So here is my list of the six techniques you need to hone, to allow you to discern the reasons for my under-performance.

  1. Observation
    Being able to observe keenly what I am doing and how I interact with other people, equipment and processes
  2. Understanding
    Being able to understand the links between what people do and the results they get, within the processes for which you are responsible
  3. Questioning
    Being able to ask insightful questions that lead me and you to a deeper understanding
  4. Listening
    Being able to hear the answers I give and discern what I am trying to communicate
  5. Challenge
    Being able to challenge effectively my interpretation of events, to get at underlying truths
  6. Respect
    Being able to do all of this while demonstrating your respect for me, the organisation, and yourself, in equal measure.

Management Pocketbooks to help you acquire those techniques

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What is Performance Management?

‘Performance Management’ can sound scary to anyone who is new to organisational life.  Indeed, ‘I’m going to manage your performance’ can come across – even from the nicest of managers or supervisors – as just a little bit threatening.  But it shouldn’t be.

In fact; quite the opposite.  When you understand what performance management is, whether you are a staff member or a manager/supervisor, you will also understand just how valuable it is.  As Pam Jones describes it in The Performance Management Pocketbook:

‘Performance management is about getting results.
It is concerned with getting the best from people
and helping them to achieve their potential.’

What could be more benign than that?  Of course, these are excellent words, but how does it all happen?

Get out your Toolbox

Toolbox

I rather agree with Pam that the basis of any performance management approach is the skills of the manager.  I also really like her toolbox analogy, so nicely drawn in the book by Phil Hailstone.  Pam identifies and describes a lot of tools:

Delegating *
Coaching *
Feedback *
Dealing with poor performance
Motivating *
Empowering *
Team-building *
Performance reviews

This is such a core set of managerial skills that it is no surprise to find most of them (starred) addressed by their own Management Pocketbook.  What Pam does is bring them all together into a consistent framework.

Let’s take a look in a little more detail at the remaining two.  This week, at Performance Reviews, and next week, we’ll focus on dealing with poor performance.

Performance Reviews

To be at their most effective, performance reviews need to be a part of everyday management, rather than set piece events once a month or – heavens forfend – once a year.

However, you will need milestone performance reviews at key career points and stages in the business cycle, like annually or semi-annually.  The formal reviews, at these key points, need to be carried out with greater preparation and formality, but the process remains the same, for anything from a quick five-minute ‘catch-up’ review to a formally documented annual review.

Pam’s Performance Review Process is Simple,
yet Comprehensive.

Performance Review

  1. Preparation
    Do your research.  Observe performance carefully, gather data and evidence, review against performance objectives from the last review.  Schedule the review meeting and set aside enough time, in a suitable place.
  2. The Interview
    … or, less formally, the meeting, or even the chat.  Discuss performance  since the last meeting and agree performance requirements and support process to follow.  Pam sets out a lot of good tips – especially around objective-setting and the use of balanced scorecards to get  a good mix of objectives.
  3. Ongoing Review
    This is where Pam builds in a lot of the skills I listed above, like feedback, motivation and coaching.  It is the step where Performance Management can get a bad name, if, as a manager, all I do is tell you you need to do better at step 2, then abandon you without the right support and ongoing review.  Then, all I am doing, is setting you up to fail when the next cycle reaches the interview.

So, here’s the deal

Pretty simple, yes: but not necessarily easy.  Good performance management requires a partnership and hard work from both parties.  But the rewards are great.

Some Management Pocketbooks to help you with your Performance Management

The Performance Management Pocketbook, by Pam Jones

The Performance Management Pocketbook is supported by:

More Pocketblogs about Performance Management.

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Predicting Behaviour

Kurt LewinKurt Lewin is a favourite thinker of Pocketblog’s.  He was an audacious theoretician and a pioneering social psychologist.

He generated many original  and important ideas, but none was as ambitious as what has come to be known as Lewin’s Equation.

Lewin’s equation describes behaviour and was seen, when it was published in 1936, as highly controversial.

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Lewin’s Equation

It is well-known that whenever a writer includes an equation in her or his text, readers melt away, but HOLD ON: this one is easy!

Here it is:

B = f(P,E)

Now, I know that this looks scary to anyone who hated maths at GCSE, CSE or O level.  So let me explain.  In words, what it says is that behaviour is a function of a person and of the environment in which they find themselves.

Of course, the devil in the detail.  Even if the equation is correct, it does not tell us what measure of the person to take, what aspects of the environment are salient, nor how they combine to affect behaviour.

It doesn’t sound that contentious, but what Lewin was saying was revolutionary in its time.  It is why, in 1936, this was not a trite statement of the obvious.  What Lewin said that was new, is that we behave differently according to the environment we find ourselves in.

Before Lewin

Before this, ideas of behaviour assumed that who we are and our formative experiences would inevitably condition our behaviour.  If this were true, then if I can know enough about you – perhaps having seen how you behaved in the past – then I can predict your behaviour.

Now, Lewin has told us that this is, in principle, not possible.  Because every situation is different and the new environment that you find yourself in will change your behaviour.

People are not predictable

Not only that, but the big shift in social science and in economic theory in the last couple of decades has been a steady recognition that neither is our behaviour rational.

Much economic modelling assumes markets are operated by rational agents.  But our behaviour is anything but rational – making our responses to market forces not only unpredictable, but crazy.  Couple that with the speed at which transactions happen, and we have the conditions for rapid and enormous swings in markets.

Environment is everything

Increasingly, the factor that we have greatest control over is not the people, but the environment.  If you want to influence behaviour, rather than try and influence people, change the environment.

It is time for greater emphasis on environmental factors in human performance.  Advertisers, marketers and store designers have known this for years.  They have studied the science of light, colour, smell and sound in a quest to influence our buying behaviours.

Yet the success of a business is linked not just to customers’ behaviours, but to those of staff.

So here is the deal

How much are you doing to influence the behaviour of your team members, by optimising their environment?  I am going to risk compounding my equation  error, by loading one more equation into the Pocketblog environment:

E = g(N,F,A)

In words, the environment is a function of Neutral background factors, plus Frustrating factors that constrain performance, plus Advancing factors that promote performance.  Who knows what the function is, or how much each term contributes to it.  But you can always play around with your environment to find how to adjust the balance of factors.  It’s time to try.

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Flow and Performance Management

Management Pocketbooks was at the CIPD’s HRD exhibition in full force last week.  It’s always a good opportunity to see what’s new in the worlds of training, coaching and management development.

Thank you, by the way, to the hundred and forty or so people who sat or stood for the forty five minutes of my talk about Handling Resistance, and to everyone who visited the stand.  More on the talk in a future blog.

Is it a trend?

One thing stood out for me at the exhibition.  Maybe it represents a trend – it did catch my interest.

Positive Psychology

"Psi plus" symbol: Positive PsychologyAt least two businesses exhibiting had deep expertise in Positive Psychology, which I’ve covered in one form in an earlier post, and applying it to the workplace.

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I remain convinced that this is a field whose time is coming – I’d put it about where Emotional Intelligence was in the early 1990s.  Who will be the Dan Goleman of this field?

I picked up a copy of the new Positive Psychology at Work by Sarah Lewis and my wife (who nabbed it on the train) tells me it’s really good!

Another Aspect of Positive Psychology is Flow

Have you ever found yourself so immersed in something that time disappears from under you and so, when you finish – or are stopped – you have hardly an inkling of how much time has passed?  You may only then realise how cold, how hungry or even how desperate you are for the loo.  That was flow.

Flow experiences happen when we are in a directed task with clear goals, plenty of sense of how we are doing and, crucially, just the right amount of challenge.

The typical flow state diagram looks like this.

Flow state diagram

High Performance at Work

Flow states are the key to high levels of motivation and performance.  We need to get ourselves, or the people we manage, into a flow state by making demands of them with just the right amount of challenge.  This way, what we are doing always tests us to our limit of competence but not so far beyond, that we feel stressed by it and not so far below that we get comfortable, complacent and bored.

How can we increase the challenge further?

There are two ways to increase the challenge we place on a team member and still maintain the possibility of a high performance flow state:

  1. we can either provide suitable training, coaching, practice or other intervention, or
  2. we can offer our support, leaving them feeling safe from potential failure and able to ask for help, thus extending the range over which they can operate before feeling stressed.

So here’s the deal

Good management is about matching the challenge to the person – and positive psychology shows us why this is.

Some Management Pocketbooks you might enjoy

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A little note…

I have been using the “Psi plus” symbol for about three years now as a shorthand in my notes for positive psychology.  I’ve never seen it anywhere else, but it seems such an obvious shorthand.  Anyone seen it elsewhere?

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