Thursday, February 23, 2012

Life Skill: Why Collaboration is Good for the Workplace

"Change is hard when it's done TO us, much easier when it's done BY us."     
This comment was posted by member on a LinkedIn thread.

This belief supports the need for collaboration in the workplace. Working together has it's challenges, yes, but the whole is so much greater than the parts. The outcome is so much more than what could be imagined by one individual. When people are involved in the creation of their own futures, they buy in. They become invested. They become engaged. But true collaboration in the workplace is tricky.

On the one hand it requires a different kind of leadership. Leadership with a vision for more than industrial, factory-style workplaces where people are required to fit into simple box job descriptions.

Watch this awesome whiteboard animation adapted from a talk given by Sir Ken Robinson, world-renowned education and creativity expert. His ideas about how education is like a factory can be used to describe workplaces that are also stuck in old ways. Workplaces that are avoiding or ignoring collaboration.

Then watch this whiteboard animation, "Where Good Ideas Come From" produced by the same company, Cognitive Media. This presentation is about collaboration and how innovative ideas are generated. It is from a talk given by Steven Johnson who wrote Everything Bad Is Good for You (which I haven't read but maybe I should...)

Research: Finding Personal Value

I am on a quest to understand personal value. I've searched online and one of the first sites I found lists 7 stages to understanding and uncovering our personal value. Here are my notes from reading these 7 stages, along with some of my own personal thoughts and interjections.

"Self-Awareness"
  • How do you see the world and, more importantly, how does your presence impact the world? (Huh. I thought I was self aware but I never thought of this second side of things - how we impact the world.)
  • Do not judge your impact. There is no reason to minimize your impact or fear your own impact on others. There's a great quote about this by Marianne Williamson:
"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."
  • Some people don't even know that they have an impact on others and the world around them! (Gosh those people are irritating!)
  • Do you know how you're viewed and why? If people's perception of you matches the impact you are trying to make, you are being authentic.
  • Accept your ability to make an impact, be amazed by it and then learn how to develop it and direct it in ways that you want.
  • "Your very existence is changing the world. That is valuable," says the website.

"Self-Worth"
  • We are worthy because we have come into being. This connection to Creation is what makes us worthy. Not our good or bad actions. Not our good or bad qualities. (Those of course are judgements made by man.) We come into this world 100% worthy and nothing can change that. A diamond is still a diamond even if it is dirty and caked with mud.
  • (A little voice inside my head is calling out "We're not worthy!" like Mike Myres and  Dana Carvey in Wayne's World...)
  • When we oppress our feelings or deny, ignore or judge our emotions, we cover up the light or energy connecting us to Creation. 
  • Self-worth is a foundation, a solid core. It is the strength to take on life's lessons and challenges and the knowledge that we deserve life's gifts.
  • Marianne Williamson also has an interesting quote from a post called Feminine 2.0 on her blog:
"Women should be the keepers of the conscience of the world. We are keepers of the internal flame - the light of humanitarian values and the primacy of love - and our greatest power lies in keeping it lit." 
"Self-Esteem"
  • Seek out and earn self esteem - not from posessions, other people or good deeds done, but from love earned from oneself.
  • Self esteem is the evaluation you make about yourself. The story you tell about yourself. Arlene Dickinson from the CBC's Dragon's Den writes in her book Persuasion:
"...take a hard look at your own narrative. Think about how you'd tell your life story to a Hollywood producer, how you'd explain the highs and lows. Have you cast yourself as a victim of circumstance? If so, maybe your story could use a rewrite, starting with a lead character who has choices-and sometimes makes the wrong ones."
  • The site also suggests that self esteem requires honesty with ourselves; clarity of thoughts and feelings about our life. (What is my story?)
  • We also need to understand our responsibility (Are we willing and able to respond.) What CAN we be responsible for?
  • I also think that for perfectionists, we need a degree of compassion here. Be honest with ourselves but not overly critical. We are not responsible for everything. One website on Self Esteem suggests that healthy self esteem is "having a balanced, accurate view of yourself."
"With healthy [Self Esteem] you are confident and think positively about your strengths, abilities, accomplishments and physical appearance. You like and respect yourself despite your faults but also don't overvalue your strengths. You recognize your basic worth as an individual yet don't think you're better or worse than others."
  • Finally we need to be able to trust ourselves:
"Can you rely on yourself? Are you in your own corner? That's what trust is all about. Knowing that whatever life throws at you, you will deal with it. Maybe not as elegantly as you would have liked. Maybe not as easily as someone else. That's okay. Trust is knowing you can cope."

It seems to me that these 7 things are like optimism - learning about them and incorporating them into our lives happens organically. Being optimistic and having healthy self esteem fluctuates with life and our experiences. Sometimes we are optimistic and have healthy self esteem. During those times we have a strength about those ideas in us. We eminate those values. Other times however, we need to lean on others because we have briefly forgotten these values or have just gotten temporarily lost or bogged down with life's lessons. But if we take care to exercise these values and keep them in our lives like we know to properly exercise our bodies we will stand a better chance at weathering the storms around us.

More on the following in future posts:
"Self-Love"
"Self-Confidence"
"Self-Respect"
"Self-Realization"

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Question: What is Personal Value?

What is value?

What does it mean to have value?
What does it mean to be valuable?
What does it mean to give value or bring value?

Dictionary.com definitions I like best:
1. relative worth, merit, or importance
11. (Ethics) any quality desirable as a means or as an end in itself
12. (Fine Arts) a degree of lightness or darkness in a color

17. to consider with respect to worth, excellence, usefulness, or importance
18. to regard or esteem highly
Synonyms: "Worth" implies especially spiritual qualities of mind and character, or moral excellence

Bringing or giving sounds very business-like. It implies an exchange of something. A reciprocity most often found in business relationships. Do I have something to give? The general consensus is yes, everyone has talents and abilities that that can contribute to society. The trick is to discover and develop those talents and abilities, put them to good use, increase those opportunities over time to bring your professional value to the world. Well what if you cannot find a way to give those valuable traits to the community - what if you cannot find a job? What if you are unable to do that job because of some accident or some unforseen circumstance? Are you still valuable?

The question of being valuable implies that someone else sees value in you. Although it inherently makes us feel good to be thought of as valuable to someone else, this sense of value should not be at the heart of our own sense of self worth. Their beliefs are entirely separate from our own selves and have the potential to change. If our value is based solely on another's belief that we are valuable, and if they change their mind for whatever reason, then we must change our selves to meet their approval and become valuable once again. While we can change our actions and those actions may change their beliefs about our value, ultimately we have no control over their beliefs. The fact that we do not control their sense of what is valuable shows that being valuable to others is not the strongest foundation of self esteem.

But what does it mean to posess value? What does it mean to know that we are valuable not for what we bring in terms of talents and abilities and not just because we are special to others? What does it mean to have value? Not because of who loves us or because of how we contribute day to day. This is a personal question, an internal quesion. No-one else can give us the answer.

It feels akward to say "I am valuable." When a statement doesn't reflect an inner thought or belief, it creates conflict. It's what makes this positive statement or affirmation so darned weird. If it's true that knowing and understanding one's own value brings peace to the soul and serenity to a person, then I certainly do not know or believe in my own value.

Knowing I am valuable to others brings me a feeling that I am loved and appreciated for who I am. Whoever that may be. But it shouldn't be the reason I feel valuable because I do not posess that value.

Knowing that I bring value through my talents and abilities makes me feel confident and sure of my contribution to the community at large. Whatever those contributions may be. But it also shouldn't be the reason I feel valuable. What if I am unable to contribute those gifts to society?

What if someone else told me that the gifts and talents I posess are not valuable. Whoa. Double whammy. Where do I stand then? Guh.

So what IS personal value?

What is my personal value?

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Life Skill: With SMART Goals She Can GROW

There are a million kajillion tips and tricks out there to help focus and improve personal development. Check out any self help, corporate training or personal coaching website and you are bound to run across a handful. There is so much content out there that even training guru Thiagi suggests that you don't need to recreate content in this You Tube video. Please note: It's an extremely long video but very interesting. Especially the part where he discusses developing and facilitating a leadership training workshop in just three days (approx 48 mins into the video.)

Although I'm not new to this adult learning, corporate training business, I am stepping up my game and spending a lot of time reading and processing lately. My biggest concern with all this content? How will I ever remember all of the great ideas that are out there when I need them??

And let me just take a moment to share how astounded I am to realize that many of the corporate training ideas (or adult learning practises) I've uncovered lately are the same ideas that I learned how to use while teaching kindergarten a few years back, go figure. All I really need to know I DID learn in kindergarten. Huh! How do you like them apples! But I digress...  

I wish somewhere there was a list of all the useful learning tips and tricks ever imagined, all in one place. Can someone please get on that? I want a searchable database of all the learning ideas and tools teachers, coaches, instructors and learners everywhere might ever need. All in one place so I never have to think, where did I read about that great idea? Was it in my Mum's dusty file folders from her 30+ years teaching public school? Or was it online and did I save it to Evernote? Or was it an idea I saw in a book written by someone I don't remember the name of now...?

In the absence of the learning tools database that someone out there must surely be working on, I feel the need to list two tools here. Both have been around the block to school and back a couple of times already but that's fine, if they're helpful at some point down the road, I'll thank myself.

I first heard of SMART goals in the corporate world over a decade ago and just today I ran across the GROW model of problem solving/goal setting. Here they are... The "Coles Notes" version.

S - make Specific goals
M - make them Measurable
A - make them Attainable and Accessible
R - make them Relevant to the task/problem/person at hand
T - make them Time bound so there is an end date to aim for
E - Evaluate the progress, pitfalls and success once the time has ended
R - Re-evaluate and if hopefully Reward yourself

G - define the Goal
R - understand the Reality of the current situation
O - pinpoint the Obstacles and discuss the Options
W - confirm that there is a Will to change and figure out the Way forward
S - celebrate Success

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Life Skill: Management via Witch Hunt Never Pans Out

Wow. An article on LinkedIn lead me to this video post about why it's important to fire ineffective employees. On the one hand, yes, those who don't pull their weight or who contribute to poor team performance should certainly be dealt with. And yes, this may mean letting them go if various strategies and solutions prove ineffective. Poor performance left to fester will absolutely bring the team down.

But the example Kevin Ryan, CEO of Gilt, provides in his video to illustrate his point is an eye opening view of just how systemic issues can be between managers and employees in an organization.

To sum up in case you don't have a chance to view the 5 minute video...

Kevin opened this video segment by suggesting that each team has a low performer. (Ok, if you want to focus on the negative, fine.) Those who are at the bottom are most likely not on the right career path. (Possibly true, but objective? No. A personal opinion only.) Kevin then went on to describe how these ideas might be used in the real world: He hired a new manager for an existing team and directed this manager to build a great team in 5 months. He set three objectives:
  1. Evaluate the people you have now and lay off the people that don't fit.
  2. Promote people internally.
  3. Maintain and retain your best people.
What he found was that by the 4th month, valuable employees had left, moral was low and when he finally fired the manager for not completing the task effectively, employees on the team were more damaged and upset than what was originally believed.

Well, Kevin, what did you expect?!

You coached and directed your newly appointed employee, a manager, to "Go in, find the bad apples and eliminate them." You sent him on a witch hunt. A surefire way to damage team moral, kill employee engagement and obliterate any sense of value the employees might have felt working for the organization. You set this new manager up for disaster by coaching him to "lay off the people that don't fit."

Laying people off should never be the first objective. And at the very least the objective should be to lay off the people that won't fit. Those that prove that they are not willing to align with the goals of the team.

There are always going to be employees who are not performing well. Maybe stuff at home has gotten the better of them. Maybe they have lost their zest for their job and aren't sure of the company's direction. Maybe (gasp!) it's you... Maybe you're only seeing their faults and forgetting to look for their strengths and the value they bring to the team because you're blindly following orders to eliminate the bad apples. Who knows. But a manager with strong people management skills knows how to
  • engage their employees to solve problems collaboratively (often this takes time to get to know the new staff)
  • persuade people to align with the company's objectives (persuasion does not involve coersion or manipulation but an attitude based on reciprocity)
  • coach and train their staff to bring their personal best (this also takes time because it involves implementing different strategiesand assessing their success)
  • all while rewarding and appreciating successes (focusing on the positive)
  • providing constructive feedback (mentoring using non-threatening, supportive tactics)
  • being open enought to accept and learn from criticism too (hey, we're all in this together)

Phew! Yep, that's a lot to remember. A lot to focus on. But if you're a manager, that's the primary function of your job: Managing people.

Management is not just about drafting the best people to be on your team and simply benching or immediately firing those who aren't. Management is about coaching and mentoring people to become a winning team together. I guess Kevin hasn't seen Moneyball yet.

I hope Kevin Ryan's advice was just a quick soundbite taken out of context because an attitude for simply eliminating people and their problems is a recipe for disaster when it comes to managing people. Employees invest time and effort into their jobs and careers no matter what their current level of productivity. It takes minimal investment by a manager to simply avoid, ignore and eliminate people. That's called passing the buck, not solving a problem.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Quick Tip: Ask 3P Questions

I hear that positivity is like a muscle - it needs to be challenged and stretched daily to gain strength over negativity and essentially, ward off depression. So now I am on the hunt for tactics that can help me exercise the positives.

Here's is quick tip #1

Dan Johnston, Ph.D. (a clinical psychologist and director of psychological services at the Medical Center of Central Georgia) suggests in his post on the Success Television site that we "learn to challenge the 3P's:
  • Permanent: Always look to see what can be changed or salvaged; the old making lemonade from lemons approach.
  • Pervasive: Focus on the specific situation and don't generalize. Don't let one small, isolated problem become like a wildfire roaring through your life affecting everything.
  • Personal: Don't personalize events with self-blame. Accept legitimate responsibility and learn from mistakes but don't beat yourself up for every setback."

I've heard that these concepts before. That they help stop negative thinking in it's tracks. But I know I need more. Simply reminding myself that it's not forever, it's not in every corner of my life and that I shouldn't take things so personally is not enough for me (not yet anyway.) As I've mentioned before, things like positive affirmations don't help Negative Nelly's like myself. The negative voice inside some of us is too overbearing. I am still in Negativity 101. Baby steps people. Baby steps.

I've heard questions are good though. I read about this idea on the Positive Living Now blog. (Which by the way, is a fantastic site that delves into the topic of positivity in a realistic and respectful way. No annoying, "It's easy, just think positively!" advice that makes me want to slap the cheerful smile off their face. I promise.)

In one particular post on Positive Living Now, Susan K. Minarik explains how asking ourselves questions forces us to think of answers instead of dwelling on the negative. So next time the tornado of negativity starts swirling around me, I will ask myself the following questions based on Dr. Dan's 3P's and Susan's suggestion of asking questions.
  1. Is this situation forever? Why not?
  2. Is it really the same everywhere I look and in every similar situation? How do I know?
  3. What can I learn from this situation? How can I avoid this situation in the future?
  4. Am I the only one to blame here?
  5. What can I do to stop thinking about this situation?

Monday, February 13, 2012

Life Skill: Listen to Red Flags

Depression feels powerless.
Powerless to change things for the better.
Powerless in our ability to make things better.
Depression is a loss of confidence and a loss of inner power.
Depression is when the light of life inside us goes out and we don't know how to restore it.
We lack the skills, the insight, the vision or the wherewithall to put ourselves back together.

Anger, on the other hand, is a sign that something is out of balance.
Anger is a red flag of caution.
Anger feels defeated.

Too many red flags left unheeded becomes depression.
Too much defeat becomes depression.
Too many moments where we stifle our inner wisdom, avoid our intuition or override our gut feeling, tends to blow out the candle of life within us.
It's important to evaluate our cautionary gut feelings.
It's important to listen to our inner self.
Listening to our inner selves shows that we care about it. It's important. WE are important.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Question: Are we in danger of being amateur psychologists when we attempt to deal with workplace negativity?

"Don't play amateur psychologist."

This was a comment in an online discussion regarding workplace negativity. It hit me a bit like a slap in the face. Here we are talking about dealing with negativity and someone posts such a negative and accusitory comment?! Sheesh!

Ah, but then I realized, it was my reaction, not the comment itself that carried the negativity. If someone who I trust and often turn to for advice had said those words, would I have reacted so sharply? Probably not. What I read initially as negative and defensive, could also be heard as caution. And isn't that was negativity really is? A negative reaction is a red flag waiving a warning that something might be unbalanced? It says "Caution, there is potential danger here."

In my own journeys through depression I have learnt to question my pessimistic and negative feelings. We can't just go around reacting negatively without putting our evaluations through scruitiny. Otherwise we are just a sad version of Chicken Little. Which is not very productive and does nothing to help matters. So I asked myself, are we in danger of being called amateur psychologists when we try to deal with negativity at work? (or in any other relationships in our lives for that matter?)

Yes, we are dealing with people. Yes, we are dealing with relationships. So yes, there is merit to this cautious interpretation. For those of us persuing respectful workplace dynamics, this perception gives us a reason to tread with caution. We certainly are not in a position to diagnose personal issues, but we must have a way to negotiate a productive, civil and collaborative workplace and establish a culture of respect in the workplace. Authentic and respectful relationships require tranparency and civility. Sometimes this means digging deeper for meaning behind our actions. Sometimes this means owning up to our actions and the subsequent repercussions.

So how do we address negativity in our relationships and actively improve our relationships without stepping over the line of being an amateur psychologist?

This leads me to more questions:
  • Is there a place for collaboratively dissecting our work relationships?
  • Is there value in undertaking this process at work?
  • Is it neccessary to get to the root cause of negativity to find solutions that really work?

Friday, February 10, 2012

Life Skill: Dealing with Negativity or, Rights and Responsibilities

Recently someone on a Linked In group I belong to wondered how to deal with negativity. Tonnes of people commented on the issue. Many people tried to avoid negativity. Some tried to shower negativity with positivity. Others posted specific activities to try to keep negativity at bay. Here's what I've decided...

Address the negative or it takes root in your shadow.

I'm not sure where I heard this or if I made it up at 3am while tossing and turning, trying to fall asleep one night. Nevertheless, it's helped me remember what I've learned recently.

Negativity means something is not right somewhere. Negativity presents an opportunity for us to learn, grow and evolve if we are willing to face it and understand it. Of course not everyone sees it this way. Not everyone is ready to see it this way. But the only way to really deal with negativity is to actually deal with it. End of story. If you try to avoid it, it will follow you around, get under your skin and ultimately bring you down.

Well that's just fine and dandy. I now have a nice little phrase to remind myself to deal with the negative. Easier said than done. So I had to break it down even more.

Negativity is a human thing. It's a judgement we make as to whether things are good or bad. Frankly speaking, we make it up. We continue to judge good or bad throughout the day, every day. If we start judging more and more things as bad over the course of time, we can't help but get negative. The trick is finding the root of the negativity. Did it begin in my mind, or in yours? And then addressing it compassionately and with the intent to right the balance of good versus bad judgements.

It is true that many strive for no judgement at all. And even though I don't know many people who are able to achieve this for any length of time, I'm more perplexed by the idea of removing judgement completely. My ego and my feelings are what's helping me learn and grow. This is a uniqueness of being human. People who proudly announce that they've achieved a state of no judgement are sadly, just too smug for their own good. Their over-confidence belies their naivity. But I digress...

So getting back to skills and strategies for dealing with negativity face to face.

If it's a negative reaction in me, I need to first assess my feelings and my ego. Is my negativity a red flag waiving about potential danger or fear ahead? Evaluate: Is it REALLY a fearful or dangerous situation?

If the negativity comes from another person, I need to assess the situation from their point of view and communicate my desire to restore balance. What might they be afraid of or unhappy about? Is there any action I can take to help regain their respect and trust? Are they willing to connect to the deeper issue and work together with me to find a solution?

If I've checked in with my own negative thoughts, tried communicating with the other person but things have still not improved, then the next best thing is to try to negotiate and define some relationship boundaries with the individual. By expressing (privately and with reverence) my needs for a more positive relationship/environment I can train people to treat me with more respect. While this won't likely solve or remove the root cause of negativity, it can offer a protective shield and keep their negativity at bay.

There is real value in knowing all three of these techniques for dealing with negativity. Everyone has the right to a respectful (ie positive) work environment. Everyone also has the responsibility to contribute to a respectful work environment. (A note to optimists trying to eradicate pessimism with heavy doses of positivity - the perception is that you are avoiding or ignoring the issue and therefor being disrespectful.)

If I model the behaviour I expect in return there's a good chance that things will improve. I am human though, so mistakes are possible. If I goof up, I must be willing to own up and apologise. A relationship is an exchange. It is a two way street. Both sides of a relationship have rights as well as responsibilities.

If BE-ing the change does not have the desired effect, then I would have to respect my own boundaries, accept the things that cannot change and move on.

Life Skill: Manage Up vs. Challenge the Authority

I recently read this article on Forbes.com about the 3 most important interview questions an employer should ask. The comments on the article were fascinating especially because the first poster (bethharte) turned the whole situation upside down by pointing out the flip side: each potential employee should be asking the same 3 questions.
"Will you allow me to do my job? (Trust in letting someone do their job once hired)
Will you love that I love doing my job? (Respect that there is more to a job than a paycheck)
Can I tolerate working for you? (Corporate culture affects both parties)"

Later in the comments another reader mentioned that we have "enthusiastic workers under poor management." This got me thinking...

Conventional rules of power and authority have changed. More is required of leaders now. Even the Daily Show teaches us to watch the authority closely for any incongruencies or mis-use of power. Good managers/leaders understand that quality, stewardship, authenticity, civility, transparency and honesty are the expectations now. Poor managers still subscribe to the mantra that "it's not personal, it's just business." The Occupy Movement and poor voter turnout in society certainly support the assessment that the public in general believe there are many poor managers/leaders out there. In the workforce poor leadership certainly doesn't help employee engagement and productivity.

But there are things an employee can do. What alluded me for the longest time was how to "manage up." Being a lowly employee makes it very dangerous to point out management's flaws. Doing so can cost an employee their job. Insubordination and challenging authority do not prove to be the best solutions.

The key to managing up without falling into insubordination means modelling these same expectations in our dealings with, and relationships with management. This means setting and negotiating boundaries with management, communicating needs in an open and honest way and training people to treat you the way you want to be treated. The trick is learning how to communicate this in a way that is non threatening and respectful.

I agree with bethharte and many other posters - every relationship is a two way street that both parties should and can negotiate fairly. It is unfortunate that potential employees (being the underdogs in the interview relationship) haven't in the past done more research into the company's BRAVE culture to assess a good fit. But power and authority are changing, employees are starting to do this with sites like GlassCeiling or simply by using the Like button on facebook.

When an employee asks these questions, they start the professional relationship off on the right path. They have given the employer clues to how they want to be treated.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Life Skill: The Devil is in the Details

Today I finally figured out how to deactivate my account on CanadianJobForce.com and since their Contact Us form would not accept my full message, I've decided to post it here instead.

I found this site a week or two ago. I can't remember how or what link brought me there but boy has it been an interesting experience since! When I arrived on the site, it must have been at 2-3 page views in when it asked me for a bunch of information inorder to proceed. It was too early to be asking for all my info so I left the page and thought I'd left the site. Nope! Too late! Apparently I'd already been subscribed to upto 5 emails a week! (#CanadianLawIsOptIn)

Once I realized I had inadvertently signed up for a bunch of emails I did not want, it occured to me that the jobs I was being emailed were NOT EVEN Canadian!? Wow. (#LowUnderhandedDirty)

So somehow a site that advertises that it's Canadian but is NOT, now has a bunch of my information and is sending me way too many emails. Ugh. So I unsubscribed. Good riddance I though, that site was bunk.

But The Cat Came Back the very next day. Yes indeed, I thought the emails were a gonner but nope, they kept coming...

So today I finally logged back in (only after requesting my password to be sent to me -and lets just say I certainly did not pick that one!) and found the Account Settings area to Deactivate my account. Here's hoping I will be completely removed from CanadianJobForce's
  • lying (about being Canadian,)
  • cheating (me into signing up for emails unknowingly,) and
  • stealing (my information) site.

To CanadianJobForce.com: you guys may be the next Monster or Workopolis but I won't be buying in. You've missed all the details that make for a credible and trusted site. Clean up your act and grow some integrity balls.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Life Skill: Perfomance Assessment Goes Both Ways

There's a lot of talk on HR websites about performance management. Traditional corporate performance management has a popular assessment system called forced ranking (in education we called this the Bell Curve.) The performers in the top 10% get a ranking number of 1, the next group get a ranking of 2, then 3, and the bottom 10% of performers get the lowest ranking number: 4. Managers and employees are up in arms saying it encourages ugly competition between employees and eradicates all team building efforts.

There are others who rave about this system saying that it allows for comparitive assessment between employees. If all the employees in your team "exceed expectations" then how do you differentiate your employees to upper management?

Well, let's start by pointing out the obvious -fitting the people on your team into a numerical rank can be short sighted. In a workplace where each employee is performing the same job function such as on a sales team or in a call centre, performance ranking is easier because performance can be reduced to numbers (i.e. dollar brought in, number of calls, etc.)

But more and more workplaces these days are made up of teams of people who perform different jobs and who bring different skills sets to the group. Comparing their performance to each other becomes a complex task because the criteria must be the same between the employees being assessed and compared. But some employees bring in dollars and others don't. Some employees have expert technical skills and others don't. How do you compare their performance?

Defining the criteria becomes a challenge in identifying transferrable skills that apply to every job function. This could include things like "Works well with others," "Completes work on time" or "Keeps up to date with industry advances." Huh. This reminds me of the "work habits and social development" section of your old school report card. You remember that section, right? Did you get an E for Excellent, a G for Good, an S for Satisfactory or an N for Needs Improvement? Do you even remember? Probably not. But I bet you remember that A in Math class one year.

(Wow, so that A in math wasn't as important as the E you got for shows pride in work...? And yet many parents still pay for A's. But I digress...)

So transferrable skills could potentially cost you a job. Funny thing is that transferrable skills are learned through experience. They are skills that can be coached and trained. A strong manager knows this and is able to coach their team members to success and build a team supported by their employees strengths.

So there you have it. It's not the concept of assessing and ranking employees that bothers me.

Nope, what bothers me about traditional performance assessment is two things. One, to be effective assessment criteria often ends up being based on transferrable skills. Skills that are learned through life experiences and can be learned with a good coach. Two, that the assessment is a one way street where only the employee is expected to engage, perform and learn to the expectations.

In order to perform well, most of us have to be experiencing a positive relationship. Hopefully an employee feels positive about their work, their team and management. A relationship is between two or more people (or things.) A relationship is a two way street.

In forced ranking, as soon as the employee is ranked low, the relationship is strained and it takes a very intuitive manager who has strong interpersonal skills to be able to coach the employee and bring the situation back into the positive. Most times the situation is doomed from the get go.

Think about all the stories you've heard about the kid in class who gets terrible grades, year after year until he meets just one teacher who believes in him and helps him so his grades improve and his life is changed forever. That teacher saw potential, believed in the value of that child and was skilled and talented enough to modify their own style of teaching to build on that child's strengths.

Sadly there are many managers out there that lack team building vision, don't see an employee for their worth, who aren't able to train or coach well and have no interest in recognizing how their own personal management style (or lack of skills, or professional misgivings) may have contributed to poor performance in the first place.

We tell employees to welcome feedback, to learn from the high achievers around them and to strive to be top performers. If you're hung up on deciding what performance management system to use and the details of how to use it, you've lost sight of the fact that you manage people. And people function as one half (or one part) of a relationship between each other.

What would happen if your team had to assess your performance? Your team, if asked (and the fact that they're not is what I take issue with) might rank you as a manager in the bottom 10%. In which case you have bigger issues in your life to sort out. Maybe managing people is not your calling. Those in a position of authority who fear assessment are those who act without authenticity and integrity. And those people do not deserve power.