A new perspective on staff appraisal?

We recently came across this very interesting 2014 paper by Richard Murphy and Felix Weinhardt, “Top of the class: the importance of ordinal rank”.  Murphy and Weinhardt looked at the long-term impact of ordinal ranking in junior schools, finding marked correlation with later scholastic achievement. They concluded the most likely mechanism leading to this effect was the improvement in associated non-cognitive skills, such as the development of confidence.

Executive Coach Exchange team appraisal
Can you improve productivity by tailoring ranking feedback? Photo: wocintechchat

Where this research becomes particularly interesting for us is the effect on adult workplace productivity and achievement in the context of staff appraisals. Classic staff appraisals often involve ranking against peers, sometimes within a smaller local team, sometimes against the organisation as a whole, or sometimes against other teams or geographies.

Murphy and Weinhardt posit that the increased confidence arising from a high ordinal ranking lowers the cost of effort, leading to increased productivity in the ranked tasks.

So, a team member who receives a high ordinal ranking receives a boost in non-cognitive skills, invests more time in the relevant tasks and becomes more skilled at them, becomes more productive, and has a headstart along the path to success.

What about a team member who receives a lower ordinal ranking?

Murphy and Weinhardt say: “To improve productivity it would be optimal for managers … to highlight an individual’s local rank position if that individual had a high local rank. If an individual is in a high-performing peer group and therefore may have a low local rank but a high global rank a manager should make the global rank more salient.

“For individuals who have low global and local ranks, managers should focus on absolute attainment, or focus on other tasks where the individual has higher ranks.”

Murphy and Weinhardt cite a study showing that the release of ranking information increases productivity as employees strive to achieve a high ranking; they suggest, however, that “This is explained by workers becoming concerned about their rank position, as the impact occurred after the feedback policy was announced but before the information was released.”

We find this a fascinating new perspective on staff appraisal. What do you think – should you tailor your team member’s feedback to emphasise their strengths, and would this increase productivity in your organisation?

Managing poor performance – identifying objectives

This is part 3 of a series of discussions with our HR expert coaches on managing poor performance.  We kicked off the series with a post from Marg Lennon on identifying the issues involved in poor performance. Last week Paula Liverani-Brooks spoke about setting expectations.  Paula continues her discussion this week:

Paula Liverani Brooks executive coach
Paula Liverani Brooks, executive coach

One trap inexperienced managers often fall into is making assumptions – i.e. this is how I like to be managed, hence that is how I will manage others. ALWAYS ask, do not make assumptions, keep that dialogue going and get honest feedback.

If you are using all these strategies and the person is still struggling, it is time to get help. Your own manager and your HR Business Partner are good starting places. You should be having conversations with them, just as you are doing with your team members. They will be able to guide you, ask you questions you may not have thought of and, when things are not working, help in setting up a formal performance review.

Always take notes during your meetings and KEEP THEM! You can send an email to yourself with the dates in which certain conversations were held, especially if they were difficult ones! If you are having performance issues with someone from your team you may need to start a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP). To do this, you will need to “re-tell” the story. If you have forgotten incidents and dates and have not kept emails from the time you have asked them to do something, it will be a difficult process to start.

Remember that you are doing this to help the individuals in your team grow and make sure you are improving their performance but also to use it as examples of the (great or average) jobs they are doing when give them feedback. Be fair – everyone needs encouragement!

PIPs are a way to make official the fact that someone’s performance needs improvement. Good PIPs are specific, great PIPs cover all areas of improvement, give examples (which should have been shared prior to the PIP – this is NOT a surprise party!) of the things that have happened, and be very specific in terms of what you would like to see from now on in terms of KPIs and behaviours. As I said at the beginning, behaviours are always more difficult to correct and it’s more difficult to put an improvement plan around them. Difficult, however, does not mean impossible – so get help from your HR BP to make sure you are covering all bases and that your expectations are crystal clear.

A PIP may of course lead to a formal warning and, if the objectives are not met, at the end may also lead to termination. The person needs to be informed of all of this as you go in – your HR BP can guide you through the legalities of the formal process. Remember that the person has a right to discuss your observations and may come back with observations that differ from your own. Hence the importance of keeping accurate notes and emails.

I have seen PIPs work and this is usually when there is a genuine understanding of what has not worked and a commitment on both sides to make it work. I received a phone call, just yesterday, from a manager who was telling me about someone we had taken through a PIP together and how he was still grateful of the effort we had made to make sure the person was placed in a position in which he could improve. Those are the win-wins you are trying to achieve.

Being a manager is hard work. As Jack Welch said, “My main job was developing talent. I was a gardener providing water and other nourishment to our top 750 people. Of course, I had to pull out some weeds, too.”

Contributor: Paula Liverani-Brooks is an executive coach based in Sydney and is available Australia-wide by arrangement. Paula is a Human Resources leader who has extensive experience in multinational organisations ranging from Bio-Tech to Consumer Goods and Financial institutions.

Managing poor performance – identifying the issues

At some point in their careers, every manager will have to tackle the issue of poor performance. This is a challenging issue, particularly for people in their first managerial role, so we asked 3 of our HR expert coaches to give us their views.

Marg Lennon has a strong Senior Executive Human Resources background in the Pharmaceutical and Medical Device industries, having spent many years in Australian, Asia Pacific and Global roles.

Trish Kelly was the General Manager Human Resources for 8 years in the NSW Department of Education and Communities, then the largest organisation in the southern hemisphere.

Paula Liverani-Brooks is a Human Resources leader in multinational organisations ranging from Bio-Tech to Consumer Goods and Financial institutions.

We asked them:

  • how managers can identify poor performance and its causes
  • where the responsibility lies
  • how managers can address poor performance and where to start
  • whether there are any traps to look out for.

Over the next weeks, we will share their answers and reflections. We begin our series with Marg Lennon, who says:

Marg Lennon, Executive Coach
Marg Lennon, Executive Coach

Every manager will experience the need to improve an employee’s performance at some stage in their managerial life. Every employee deserves effective feedback on how they are doing with a view to improving their performance, and it is the manager’s job to provide that feedback. Sometimes the person is shocked to find out they are not doing as well as they thought, as no one had told them previously.

The first question to ask is just what exactly is poor performance. Are you talking about the employee’s specialist and technical skills as described in their job description? Or do you really mean that their behaviour and attitude do not align with that of the organisation?

Once you’re clear about what type of performance issue you’re addressing, it’s useful to take a step back and consider other factors that may be affecting the employee in their work environment. Some questions to ponder:

  • How long has this been going on?
  • Is the employee really clear on their tasks, timelines, quality of work and your expectations? (Often managers think they have communicated in a concise fashion, but the employee can hear and act differently from expectations).
  • Have you delegated the tasks well and not micromanaged the situation?
  • Are the timelines realistic?
  • Have you noticed any change recently?

The next step, when you feel you may have grasped the broader picture, is to have a discussion with the employee to discover what the cause of this situation might be. Initially this discussion is a discovery one: you want to know what’s going on for this person that may be affecting their work.

Responding to the issues you have uncovered, you could find solutions in technical or skills training or mentoring from another more skilled employee on a specific task. You still need to restate your expectations and standards and this could include providing examples of similar work, if possible. It’s important the employee knows exactly what you require from them, so they can understand the performance standards required and you can look for further improvements.

If the performance relates to a behavioural issue, then it’s important to give clear examples of the poor behaviour and the improvements you expect to see. The employee needs to know specifically in which areas you are looking for improvement.

Conclude the meeting with a summary of what outcomes is required and the timelines, along with a scheduled follow up meeting. Ensure the employee shows they have understood your expectations by being able to verbally express what they think you said and the areas in which you are expecting to see an improvement.

It is essential to monitor the ongoing performance and to meet with your employee again after a short period. They need a chance to improve, so don’t expect miracles overnight.

Contributor: Marg Lennon provides coaching, mentoring and leadership development consultancy services to clients across a variety of industries. Marg is available in Sydney, Canberra and by Facetime anywhere.

Delegating effectively – part 3

In previous posts we looked at how to set up successful delegation and how to follow up to ensure your delegation is successful.

This week we look in more detail at one of the more complex issues that can arise from delegating relationship and negotiation responsibilities.

There is potential for delegates to become so comfortable working with ‘the other side’ that they are at risk of “capture”, forgetting which organisation they represent.

An organisation we’ve worked with provided a clear example of this issue. Account executives were expressly instructed by their management that it was their responsibility to be an advocate for their client. This is not uncommon – account executives will push hard to achieve the best deal for their client, and that can be consistent with building strong relationships with a client and achieving sales goals.

However, the important caveat, that they should advocate for their client when facing inwards to their employer, but still represent their own employer when facing outwards to the client, was glossed over. The account executives found it understandably difficult to change hats. Ultimately, this approach created significant compliance difficulties, and client disputes, when the account executives tried to work around internal protocols and overpromised to their accounts.

An Australian Government department we dealt with was well-known for regularly rotating its delegates.

Executive Coach Exchange colleagues rawpixel pixabayThis was an interesting arrangement. On one hand, it effectively avoided what the department called “provider capture”, where their staff became advocates for external organisations instead of representing their own. On the other hand, external bodies constantly had to provide information which they had already provided, because they were always dealing with someone new. This was not efficient and other organisations often felt the new representative lacked expertise and knowledge.

Our view is that there might be a limit to the effectiveness of this kind of rotation. Nevertheless, we believe you should regularly review your delegation arrangements, at least once a year. By this, we mean looking at the responsibilities each of your staff members has been given and asking:

  • Are the delegation arrangements still delivering the outcomes you need?
  • Has your staff member been successful in delivering these outcomes?
  • Are they still engaged and interested in the area?
  • Are your staff still effectively representing the interests of your organisation?
  • Are you confident they have not been captured by their stakeholders or their opponents in negotiations?

If the answer to any of these questions is “No”, then it’s time for a refresh. While your staff should have sufficient time to learn how to undertake their new responsibilities, no delegation arrangement should be a job for life.

In conclusion, here is an excellent tip from Mind Tools. “When you first start to delegate to someone, you may notice that he or she takes longer than you do to complete tasks. This is because you are an expert in the field and the person you have delegated to is still learning. Be patient: if you have chosen the right person to delegate to, and you are delegating correctly, you will find that he or she quickly becomes competent and reliable.”

Delegating effectively – part 2

Last week we looked at setting the stage for effective delegation.  This week we’re considering how to follow up to ensure that your delegation is successful.

Executive Coach Exchange colleagues starflames pixabayEffective delegation does not mean things will never go wrong. If a task is not on-track, avoid the temptation to take the work back and complete it yourself. Your staff member cannot learn how to do a task properly if they know you will take it back at the first sign of a problem. You should also give a clear message that your staff should come to you when they encounter problems. Your staff should feel confident that they can come to you with a problem and you will help them solve it. You might like to try talking to them in these terms:

  • If something goes wrong, I want to hear about it from you and not from someone else;
  • If something goes wrong, we will work together to find a solution and fix it;

and, as they develop their skills,

  • If something goes wrong, come and tell me about it and propose a solution for us to fix the problem together.

Patience and calmness are essential. If your staff are frightened of your response, they won’t tell you when things go wrong until they become crises. Small, solvable problems can quickly become serious if they are not dealt with early. If you calmly work with your staff member to find a solution, they will build their problem-solving skills. They will be more likely to be able to propose a solution when they tell you about a problem and will learn to solve problems for themselves.

Finally, as you contemplate delegating, reflect on times when your managers delegated to you effectively. Recall how you felt when you were first asked to take responsibility for a significant piece of work. Probably you felt happy, proud and more than a little nervous. What did your manager do to help you get started? How did you know what was expected of you? How did they check back in with you? How did they react when things went wrong? Be mindful of your own experience as you delegate to your staff.

Next week, we’ll look at the interesting issue of capture, and when delegation arrangements need to be refreshed.

Delegating effectively – part 1

Every manager needs to learn how to delegate effectively to be successful. Martin Zwilling comments that while some people find delegating easy, most of us struggle to get this important management skill right.

He refers to Jan Yager’s time management self-improvement program, Work Less, Do More, discussing ways to improve your delegation skills, including:

  • Choosing what tasks you are willing to delegate and the right person to delegate each one to;
  • Giving clear instructions, including a definite completion date;
  • Delegating responsibility and authority, not just the task;
  • Trusting those to whom you delegate; and
  • Giving public credit when your staff succeed.

Zwilling also suggests you delegate tasks you are not suited to, for example those which require particular technical expertise. Yager writes, “Delegating the right task to the right person at the right time is key to growing your business and increasing your productivity.”

Executive Coach Exchange colleagues rawpixel pixabay

Mind Tools has a terrific article about delegation. They ask, since “Delegation is a win-win when done appropriately…”, why don’t people delegate? They suggest people don’t delegate because it takes a lot of up-front effort. However, “Delegation allows you to make the best use of your time and skills, and it helps other people in the team grow and develop to reach their full potential in the organization.”

They provide a checklist to help you decide when to delegate:

  • Is this a task that someone else can do, or is it critical that you do it yourself?
  • Does the task provide an opportunity to grow and develop another person’s skills?
  • Is this a task that will recur, in a similar form, in the future?
  • Do you have enough time to delegate the job effectively? Time must be available for adequate training, for questions and answers, for opportunities to check progress, and for rework if that is necessary.
  • Is this a task that I should delegate? Tasks critical for long-term success, such as recruiting the right people for your team, genuinely do need your attention.

Once you decide the conditions are right for you to delegate, you need to help your staff member to be successful. For this to happen, your staff member must understand the objectives of the tasks they have been given and be allocated sufficient authority and responsibility to carry them out.

Trust is important but this does not mean ‘set and forget’. As manager, your role should be to undertake regular check-ups to ensure delegated tasks are on track. We recommend setting specific milestones for this, with both times and required outcomes.

Next week we will discuss how to follow up on effective delegation.

Making 360° reports more meaningful, useful and real

How meaningful are 360° reports? Let’s try to interpret the following comment:

“‘He’s successful in interfacing with clients we already have, but as for new clients, it’s low-hanging fruit. He takes a high-altitude view, but he doesn’t drill down to that level of granularity where we might actionize new opportunities.’” (Page 277 of the award-winning novel Station Eleven.)

In this fictional account, an executive coach who has been interviewing people for 360° reports for many years comes to the realisation that the people undergoing the 360° process are targets. He decides, “…it’s an awful thing to appear in someone else’s report…it’s an awful thing to be the target.”

Executive Coach Exchange view unsplash pixabayThe trigger for this realisation is that he has just interviewed someone who has been completely honest in her appraisal of her manager. She says, “…the corporate world is full of ghosts…who’ve ended up in one life instead of another and they are just so disappointed.” She describes her manager as a “high-functioning sleep-walker” who thinks, “…work is supposed to be drudgery punctuated by very occasional moments of happiness…” … “Guys like Dan, they’re like sleepwalkers…and nothing ever jolts them awake.”  (Pages 164-165.)

While the first quotation is unconstructive criticism dressed up in a melange of clichés to the extent that its meaning is almost lost, the second quotation is very personal. We can imagine how we would feel if we were the ‘targets’ of these reports. Both would be painful to read and neither would give you any useful guidance to work on. Nor would the reports be of much use to the organisation.

There is a better way.

Frederick Funck has proposed a case for moving executive coaching beyond personal development (or even personal criticism) to professional development linked to the goals of the organisation.

He says, “…we see how coaching helps individuals and teams increase performance and satisfaction at work, and on the other hand we see organizations struggling with strategic leadership challenges that are common regardless of industry, region or size.” The implication is clear given Funck’s finding that 40% of leadership transitions fail.

Funck proposes three steps to put an executive coaching strategy into the context of the goals of the organisation, by integrating research into the process:

  • Use research-based diagnostic instruments, starting with 360° feedback and adding diagnostic tests
  • Glean insights from research on a particular leadership challenge.
  • Use research as part of an ongoing evaluation.

All good executive coaching must be more than personal development, and we welcome the use of research and evidence to link coaching to an organisation’s goals.

There are two key implications for 360° reports. The first is the need to customise the report and be specific. We need to get a clear understanding, explicitly expressed, of the goals of the organisation and of the actual job the person undergoing the performance review does. The second is that we need to understand the level of performance expected of the person being reviewed.

Then, to assist both the person and the organisation, we need to understand exactly what it is that our client is supposed to be doing.

Is she supposed to be improving the performance of her team? If so, in what ways is her team not performing sufficiently well and what should they be doing differently?

Is he expected to bring in new clients? If so, what is his business target?

Does she need to enhance her communication skills? With whom, in which media and to achieve what organisational purpose?

Finally, while the most commonly used 360° rating tools are often designed to elicit robust feedback, it is the personal comments made by subordinates, peers and managers that people take most to heart. Perhaps we should consider asking reviewers to tie their comments far more explicitly to the role the person is employed to perform – and preferably in plain English.

What do you think?

Dr Catherine Burrows is a Founding Partner of Executive Coach Exchange and the CEO and owner of Innoverum independent consulting. She is an accredited Hogan Assessor and is qualified to administer and interpret the Hogan 360° multi-rater feedback tool.

How 360 reviews can help leaders develop as coaches

Executive Coach Exchange coaching space #wocintechchatThe Dunning-Kruger effect is the theory that underskilled people tend to hold overly favourable views of their abilities, with the corollary that highly-skilled people can tend to assume that tasks that are easy for them are also easy for others.

Both of these tendencies present clear challenges in management.

A recent article suggests that the Dunning-Kruger effect is present when leaders self-assess their ability to coach their teams.

Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman reviewed data on leaders who self-assessed their coaching ability, and then had their skills assessed in 360 reviews. They found that for coaching, as for other skills, there is a noticeable tendency to estimate skills incorrectly.  About a quarter of subjects significantly over-estimated their skills.  Those who under-estimated their skills were also out by a significant margin.

The authors recommend attending targeted training, self-assessing and seeking feedback, to get a clearer picture of both overall coaching effectiveness and specific areas to target, such as listening well, collaborating effectively and encouraging diversity.

360 feedback can be personally confronting, especially for a leader who takes these issues seriously. Engaging with an external executive coach can provide a safe space to work through the results of 360 feedback, and to recognise how to apply the results in developing management skills.

A day in the life of an executive coach

Executive Coach Exchange coaching #wocintechchatHere is a perceptive article which goes beyond the usual “day in the life” style to offer insights about coaching and the role of the coach.

Sandra Richardson explains that in coaching executives, she is also teaching them how to coach their staff.  “I … go into organisations and teach their leaders how to bring coaching into their leadership style. Research shows that either a coaching or a visionary style of leadership are the most effective over the longer term. I help leaders put together both styles and this in turn enables them to help their staff take responsibility and move forward in their roles.”

For managers – when to bring in a coach

Executive Coach Exchange officeHere is an article by Robin Wynn setting out 4 scenarios to assist managers in deciding when to coach employees themselves, and when to bring in an external coach.  The scenarios include where the personal relationship makes it difficult to address areas for improvement, where the employee is uncomfortable with coaching and where star employees need high-level coaching.

There are also some interesting comments below the article, including a debate about the manager-coach model.