I was discussing leadership with a colleague the other day and the topic came around to the question of how do you deal with someone or a team who have not had any meaningful feedback on performance for some time? This is a good question and one that every leader faces at some point in their journey. Maybe someone gets transferred to your group or you move into leading a new group and inevitably you will discover this gap.
No One Moves - No One Gets Hurt
This should not surprise us because in spite of the perceptions we have and the posturing that some folks will exhibit about "sticking it to their staff" the reality is that giving feedback on performance is something almost everyone struggles with. Assessments are an emotional minefield and most of us either avoid them like the plague or we find a nondescript process that clumps everyone in a very narrow band - a sort of the "no one moves, no one gets hurt" approach where we can say we did it but in reality everyone knows that it was just a process of going through the motions.
Metrics & Behavior
So how do you avoid that minefield? Two things; metrics (not necessarily the same as a kpi) and behavior. On a plant floor or in a production setting metrics could be quite straight forward. How many widgets did you make today? What was your down time? In a corporate setting those metrics might be harder to spot but the question still comes down to what "widgets" need to be counted for the receptionist, mail clerk, or the HR department?
Focus on Numbers Not Personality
Why count anything? Simply this; if you can get your team to start measuring (counting) something that is part of their job you now have something that you can discuss with them that is performance related but not personal. You move from the notion of having to tell someone you don't think they are doing a good job (did you get a chill at the thought?) to asking them to tell you about their numbers. "How did you do yesterday?" "Tell me about that uptick on Wednesday." Now it's about the numbers not the person and surprisingly when you have a good set of metrics they will want to tell you about it.
Connecting to Behavior
Okay but what does this have to do with behavior? Let me share an example from an experience I had with the leadership at a large coastal LNG facility. The leadership was looking to ramp up operator performance and the first thing they wanted to look at was the daily ops report filled out by each operator. Up to this point they were concerned about the lack of detail in the reports and the mandate was "we want better reports". Over the course of the next 30 minutes we walked them from "we want better reports" to more specific behaviors such as they need to be filled out daily, need to have safety issues mentioned, need to have repair status mentioned and we would like them to discuss process reviews for things like P&ID's. Sometimes it is not about counting an actual widget as much as it is about counting a behavior. This is hard because we have not been taught to look at performance as a series of behaviors that in combination produce results toward a goal.
The net effect was amazing and really not that hard. We engaged in discussions with the operators and asked them what sorts of things they would like to see on the daily ops reports and of course they pretty much wanted the same things as the leadership. So we showed them how to count and track ops reports on a graph in the control room. They counted who submitted each day and they counted the number of discrete entries (safety, repairs etc.) and they explored process reviews. In very short order (one month), reports went from one or two sentences to a baseline of over 15 separate items and they discovered a number of ways to improve processes too! Now the supervisor or manager could walk in and stand and look at the graph and every time an operator would come over to engage them about the numbers and the performance.
We Compete by Nature
We are all competitive by nature. Whether it is in team sports or individual sports we are always looking to improve our "scores". I give you two examples to support this premise; the Olympics and video games. You would think that with all the advances in sport that it would be hard to break old records and set new ones. There was a point for example where we did not think breaking the 4 minute mile was possible and yet that is now routine. At every Olympic games we see new records set. Video gaming as an industry now has a total market value of just under $2 trillion dollars! Every gamer will tell you that it is the challenge of either doing better than you did last game or doing better than the other players in that game. We are wired for competition and improvement.
Linking behavior and metrics allows you to move past the old "minefield" that inhibited true performance improvement to active and meaningful discussions with your team on measures they have developed and that promote the overarching goals of the company. The work is in identifying the behaviors that are linked to the performance of a task or a role and then letting them run with it. Find the behavior, let them start counting and watch the impact that will have on performance. Performance Leadership - Think About It!
I want to share a quick and short insight today around the concept of "intention" and its role in leading change. I use the term loosely because we do a lot of things without intention. We don't intend to breathe we just do it. We don't intend to fall in love. We don't intend to grow old, fight it as we may. There are lots of things we don't intend to do and sometimes that tendency carries over into our business lives as well.
Change happens - Either by Accident or by Design
Companies today need to be agile in dealing with competitors and an ever shifting consumer market. Companies grow and swallow up other companies as part of the constant challenge of staying ahead of the pack and delivering what clients want. All of these processes create stresses, even if they are good for a company. Like so many things that we don't "intend" we assume that everyone will simply see it our way and get on board, that the change contemplated is patently obvious to all. There is that old saying that the road to hell is paved with good intentions but I would suggest that when it comes to managing change the road to hell isn't paved with intention at all.
Intention Drives Better Results
Prosci as an organization has been about the business of change for some time. Each year they publish extensive studies around the subject of change; what works, what doesn't and how that impacts organizations. (822 change practitioners, project leaders, consultants and executives from 63 countries)Prosci 2015 The statistics around this one area of intention or planning are stark. Of the organizations that did not use a change management plan (intention) only 37% experienced good or excellent change effectiveness. Of those companies that did apply even a moderate change management plan 58% achieved good or excellent change effectiveness. That is a difference of 21%!
Change is manageable but like anything else that is worthwhile you need to apply intention and structure to the change you are leading. Don't take it for granted, be intentional about how you are going to structure and drive the change you need. Performance Leadership - Think About It!
If you are like me, you love reading about companies that have employees that always seem to be miles ahead of everyone else with regard to engagement and customer service. For example, how many times have you heard stories about a certain airline staff going the extra mile and turning a potential disaster into a marketing coupe?
Who Steps Up?
One story that stands out for me occurred while there was a storm in Toronto and all flights were mired in delay and frustration. Now there were several carriers operating in that part of the airport but not one stepped up like this airline. Seeing the long lines and sensing the growing frustration this staff went into over drive to address every passenger concern and need. Someone even went so far as to order a huge amount of pizza and pass it out to all of their customers while they waited. It did not speed up the delay but it sure made everyone feel as if the airline cared.
That wasn't the best part! After handing out pizza to all their clients they realized that they had lots left over. And guess what? That's right they walked across the floor to their competitors and began handing out pizza to their customers! If it had not been for all the jaws hitting the floor you could have heard a pin drop!
Not a One Off!
We might be tempted to think that this sort of thing is a one off or that this can't happen in most places and that is where we would be wrong. This kind of engagement does not happen by accident and it is possible to have that sort of engagement in your company or on your team.
A company “fun” to work at?
I might not be able to say which airline it was (although I am sure most of you have guessed by now) but I can tell you who they learned it from. Southwest Airlines pioneered this approach that has been so effective in creating employee engagement. In their excellent book "Maximum Leadership" Charles Farkas and Philippe De Backer spend some time plumbing into the mindset of Southwest founder and then CEO Herb Kelleher. With an airline that was the envy of the industry when they asked Kelleher what made Southwest so different his response is informative; "...the intangibles." By that he meant the employees. He formed his airline around a clear set of principles that put their people first and profits next. He wanted a company that would be fun to work at and he wanted people to know that they respected, valued and who could be trusted with a degree of independence in performing their roles. While this may seem counter-intuitive at first blush (after all without profit it won't matter how happy a company's people are) it turns out that this was pure genius.
Happy work life = Happy home life!
It would be years before the research would catch up to Mr. Kelleher but when it did two things stood out; first - happy and engaged employees actually make for a better client experience. I know this seems obvious in hind sight and yet why was he the first in that industry to do it? Second, people who are happy in their work are actually happier in their home life. Research done by Gostic and Elton and published in their book "What motivates me?" discovered that creating a sense of happiness at work actually had a side effect of increasing overall enjoyment in other areas of life. That’s right, the whole work/life balance equation had always started with the home side but as it turns out its the other way around. A happy work place actually has a big impact on home life.
Fun can boost the bottom line!
An interesting study was highlighted in a Forbes article;
“A recent experiment conducted by the Social Market Foundation at the University of Warwick’s Centre for Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy addressed this question. Organizers randomly selected 700 individuals and either showed them a series of 10-minute comedy clips or provided them with refreshments. After confirming that the clips and refreshments indeed made the individuals happy, their productivity was tracked after assigning them various tasks. For those individuals who received the “happiness shocks,” their productivity increased by an average of 12 percent and, in some cases, rose as high as 20 percent.
And fun doesn’t have to be frivolous. If incorporated strategically, it actually can have a positive impact on the bottom line. According to The Happiness Advantage author Shawn Achor, an expert on happiness psychology, “Focusing on the good isn’t just about overcoming our inner grump to see the glass half full. It’s about opening our minds to the ideas and opportunities that will help us be more productive, effective and successful at work and in life.” (Kathy Oden-Hall – Forbes, Feb. 9,2017)
So here is what we can glean from Kelleher and the Southwest experience; start with people, make the effort to get to know your people and don't be afraid to give them some independence and support. Don't be afraid to lean on them and don't be afraid to let them have fun! Who knows? You may just discover how much you like coming to work each day too! Performance Leadership – Think About It!
Competition is Organic
One of the key ingredients in developing a performance improvement or continuous improvement culture on your team or group is tapping into our natural competitive nature.
Harnessing those competitive behaviors that are part of our make up as humans will ensure that improvement on your team or group will be “organic” in nature.
What do I mean by organic? Organic in the sense that as a natural tendency, competition is something that we all respond to almost without thinking about it. Contrast this to all the programs you have witnessed that struggled with implementation because they lack that “organic” component and you get the idea.
I was chatting with a colleague the other day and we were laughing about the “fun” around various software implementations. Now don’t get me wrong any software can be a powerful tool but all the stories that come out of implementation are almost universally painful. Why? Because often that implementation misses the human components and thus the struggle.
The Lesson of the Potato
When I was a teen there was a potato farm across the road from where I lived. I was getting just old enough to know that I wanted more than my allowance provided and so decided to walk over to the farm to get a job picking potatoes. If you have ever picked potatoes, you know it is back breaking work and quite frankly not a lot of fun. There were no machines, these potatoes were all hand-picked. I had invited my friend to come with me to make some "easy" money lol!
I noticed quickly that even with ten kids picking potatoes not that many sacks got filled on any given afternoon. To say there was room for improvement was an understatement. Fortunately, my friend had the same view that I did and we decided to quantify our work and set targets. We were paid for each 50lb sack we filled and so most of the kids would decide to pick a couple of sacks per shift. I don't know why but that just wasn't a sufficient motivation for us so my friend and I decided to use a different measure - we would work by row.
Now these rows were quite long usually about a 1/4 mile in length. We did not want to finish a shift with a row undone so we decided to start each shift with a fresh row and set a target to do the entire row that shift. This typically worked out to around 10 sacks. So we would not distract each other we would pick rows side by side and see who could complete their row the quickest. We made it fun, by making it a competition.
We determined we would not leave that day until we had each done an entire row. Well it was dark when we got done, but we did it. The next day we worked at shortening the time to do a row and by the end of the week we set a new target of a row and a half for each shift and by Saturday afternoon we hit that target as well.
On the following Monday after school when we showed up, none of the other kids were there and we asked why? As it turned out my friend and I were picking as many sacks between us as all the other kids combined so the owner told us they were gone, we were getting a raise and the field was ours!
Metrics tap into our Human Nature!
You know the work did not get any less back breaking and I never went on to become a potato tycoon but I did learn a valuable lesson. The introduction of a little competition through the use of a metric (a row of potatoes) can not only increase performance but it makes the work fun! (We will discuss this “fun” concept in our next blog.) Behavior science has backed up this principle and it works in any setting from the field to the office. Performance Leadership – Think About It!