Friday, July 29, 2016

Making your Leadership Development more Meaningful

Use Leadership Competency Models

As I noted in this previous post, the American Society for Training & Development revealed that after leadership training only about 15% of the skills learned are actually transferred to real life situations in the workplace. Leadership development programs often focus more on theory and ideas rather than on action and learning by doing.

Clearly, we’re structuring leadership development programs in the wrong way. The earlier post notes adult learning theory and how that applies to the failures of most programs. However, regardless of how you structure and present a program, you have to choose the right participants, those who are likely to succeed in leadership roles.

One way to choose your future leaders is to develop competency models. If you don’t focus on developing and encouraging the skills that are most needed and take the time to define what success looks like for each leadership position and how you will measure it, your efforts will be challenging at best, and failures at worst. It will be very difficult to determine when someone has achieved it and your process for hiring and promoting will suffer.

In short, leadership competencies are skills and behaviors that contribute to superior performance in the role of a leader at any level.

This article in Mindtools walks you through the process of developing a competency model. Three principals are identified as critical in developing your framework:

Involve the people doing the work – These frameworks should not be developed solely by HR people, who don't always know what each job actually involves. Nor should they be left to managers, who don't always understand exactly what each member of their staff does every day. To understand a role fully, you have to go to the source – the person doing the job – as well as getting a variety of other inputs into what makes someone successful in that job.

Communicate – People tend to get nervous about performance issues. Let them know why you're developing the framework, how it will be created, and how you'll use it. The more you communicate in advance, the easier your implementation will be.

Use relevant competencies – Ensure that the competencies you include apply to all roles covered by the framework. If you include irrelevant competencies, people will probably have a hard time relating to the framework in general. For example, if you created a framework to cover the whole organization, then financial management would not be included unless every worker had to demonstrate that skill. However, a framework covering management roles would almost certainly involve the financial management competency.

A study by HBR shows that differing levels of leadership require different skills. It also shows that the universal skills may vary in important at different levels. 

Why do competency models matter? Your organization most likely has corporate values. Those values, as guiding principles, should have a corresponding set of behaviors that are used when hiring, promoting and evaluating performance. A model will help you align actual behavior with your culture and business strategy. Being able to coach an employee on where she failed to meet a defined set of expectations or where there is room for improvement is a cornerstone to effective performance management and employee development. Conversely, being able to tell her specifically which behaviors are leading to her success will encourage a continuation and development of those behaviors beyond the current situation. Employee satisfaction and engagement are beneficiaries of such clear standards and communication.

Building a strong and effective leadership succession plan is much easier when you have a clearly defined set of skills, knowledge and abilities. Only when you have defined these items can you create a meaningful training program and help you to choose the best employees to be considered for future leadership roles.

Helping you to identify which employees have the needed skills – which can then be developed in training so they can be properly applied in situations a leader may face – is beneficial to creating and maintaining your leadership development efforts. Likewise, your efforts at building the model will help you to determine if your current recruiting and selection process is meeting your needs. Leadership is important at many levels of an organization. If you’re not selecting or promoting employees that have the basic skills you seek, your efforts at leadership development will be empty.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Theater of the Absurd – continued

Sometimes you just have to shake your head in wonder at how any progress can be made on any issue when federal agencies continue to contradict one another and work at cross purposes.

Last year, the US Chamber issued a report titled Theater of the Absurd. If you have any interest in this topic at all, no matter which side you’re on, this is a good read and has gotten far less attention than it deserves. The report outlines some of the craziness that has become the National Labor Relations Board and their decisions on common employer policies and practices.

So, what now? A recent ruling by the NLRB tells us. After complaints filed by union members about some of T-Mobile’s policies, the NLRB went on the hunt and dug into the company’s employee handbook and other policies. As has been common, the board found at least one policy it didn’t like and ruled to be illegal:

"[T-Mobile] expects all employees to behave in a professional manner that promotes efficiency, productivity, and cooperation. Employees are expected to maintain a positive work environment by communicating in a manner that is conducive to effective working relationships with internal and external customers, clients, co-workers, and management."

You might ask "what’s wrong with this"? The NLRB says that this policy could be construed to restrict employees’ rights to "concerted activities"; for instance, engaging in controversial discussions about wages or working conditions, including discussions about unions. Seriously? Here’s a good article in the National Law Review, which includes a link to the ruling.

Now for (more of) the absurdity. Recently the EEOC came out with the result of its study on anti-harassment training. I wrote about it here. In the report, the EEOC describes several options employers have to make anti-harassment training more effective. One of the options is described thusly:

"Workplace civility training" focuses on promoting respect and civility in the workplace generally, rather than eliminating offensive behavior based on protected characteristics protected under anti-discrimination laws.
The agency also noted that it should – not will, not must, but should have a dialogue with the NLRB about its stance on workplace "civility codes". Ahem…….. When is that discussion going to take place? 

Talk about working at cross purposes! How is an employer supposed to create a harassment-free, bullying-free, respect for others environment when it risks getting nailed by one regulatory agency if it does, and another one if it doesn’t? Rock and a hard place, folks. Absurd.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

The “Compliment Sandwich”

Nothing will make it taste good

I’m still surprised when this tactic is used, and surprised at the number of articles that recommend using it. A "compliment sandwich" is where you put the meat of criticism in the middle of two pieces of complementary bread. The idea is that you soften the blow of the criticism by giving the recipient praise before and after you deliver some negative feedback concerning performance or behavior.

What those who recommend this seem to consistently fail to understand is that you undermine your effort at performance management and most likely damage your relationship with your employee. You lose credibility and respect. Simply put, people are not that stupid.

I get it. Giving negative feedback, having to correct poor performance or inappropriate behavior is tough. It’s uncomfortable. It’s also necessary. Here are some problems and risks with using this approach:

  1. Your motive is transparent. And not in a good way. Most people know what you’re trying to do – make them feel "good" about the coming criticism. Hearing the initial compliment will only serve to make them brace for the bad news, thereby nullifying your effort. Others will see your compliments as insincere, again undermining your effort. In this case, a spoonful (or two) of sugar will not make the medicine go down any easier.
  2. Your message will get lost. What is your purpose for these conversations? You want to correct inadequate performance or behavior. There will be many who will only hear the compliments; completely missing the message you want them to get about the true situation. Your effort fails to accomplish what you intend, which is to provide constructive feedback in order to improve performance. People often only "hear" the beginning and end of such conversations, not the middle.
  3. You alienate and lose respect. Your employees are adults. You should be treating them as adults. If you have negative feedback to give, just give it. Again, they see through your transparent efforts to somehow make this easier to hear. When you reach the point of having these conversations, you will often find yourself reaching to find something complimentary to say. This is only too clear to the employee. Do you really want Joe to come away from the meeting thinking "the best thing he could say about me was that I come in on time?!"

If you have to give negative feedback – give it. Be clear and direct about the problem. Be clear and direct about what your expectations are for performance going forward, and about the consequences if that doesn’t happen. Then, you can have an actual conversation about how those expectations can be met, engaging the employee is coming up with the methods for the solution. If you feel the need to add praise to the conversation, this may be the only appropriate time to do so. Talk about times and situations where the employee was successful in similar circumstances and solicit ideas about how he/she can apply those methods to the current problem.

Praise and compliments should not be marred by including them with criticism. Give that praise when it’s warranted, all by its lonesome. It will have a much more positive (and intended) effect when not stuffed with negative meat. 

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Asking the Right Questions?

of the right people, and listening to the answers……

In order to succeed, leaders ask a lot of questions. How do we grow sales/improve our company/expand our service or product line? How do we improve employee morale and *gasp* employee engagement? Asking is great. Listening – really listening – to the answers is better. But are we asking the right questions of the right people?

Maybe not. There are hundreds of articles, and probably hundreds of companies out there, all wanting to sell you their theory about how to improve employee engagement (whatever that really is) and many have a product they say will get you there. What perk will you add to your menu of goodies available to employees hoping to see a jump in their "happiness" quotient? Will it be branded awards, concierge services, catered lunches or foosball tables? How about a roadmap for how to create the ultimate employee involvement committee? Or maybe a themed employee picnic is more your style. The thing is, none of these will get you anywhere you really want to go.

Asking the right questions and listening to the answers has a better chance of helping you reach your goal, whether that’s a sales, growth or employee-related goal. It’s also equally important to ask yourself these questions before asking any of your employees.

Is the company structured properly? You want to determine if your structure is both effective and efficient. Are roles and responsibilities widely understood and are decision rights clear, are the right people in the right roles? Ask your leadership team these questions and listen to the answers.

Do employees fully understand our overall strategy and how they contribute to that strategy? You want to know whether employees really see and feel the connection between what they do and the strategy and mission of the company. Effective leaders regularly communicate what the company strategy is and work to ensure that individual goals and responsibilities positively contribute to the desired outcomes.

Do policies, systems, and processes reinforce the strategy, culture, and results we desire? Look at employee policies, compensation and benefit systems, performance management systems, and promotion guidelines to ensure they support what you expect of employees. Look at usage and participation in benefit plans, and ask employees which they value and which they are indifferent to. Delve into employees’ perceptions about various policies to determine if they understand the purpose of the policies. You may find that communication about the "whys" may help understanding and buy-in.

How does the community perceive our company? And the companion question can be what does our company stand for in the community? The answers to these questions can have a dramatic impact on attracting great talent and also on how current employees feel about and are connected to your organization.

Following along with the "what do we stop doing, start doing, change?" questions that we should be asking frequently, we should be digging deeper. Are we (our product/service) relevant? How can we remain that way? Are we measuring the right things to get to these answers? What do our customers say about us?

Sometimes we need to identify what exactly the issue is when we perceive a problem, since we’re likely seeing the symptoms and not necessarily the cause. Asking the right people:

  • What is it like to work here?
  • What seems to be the trouble?
  • What do you make of this situation?
  • What concerns you the most about the current issue?
  • What do you think is your main obstacle?
  • What is holding you back from completing this project/furthering your career?
Identifying the desired outcome and recognizing there may be some difference between your ideal outcome and that of any particular employee can give you information about what motivates your staff and help get you to a mutually beneficial goal.

  • How do you want this to turn out?
  • What is your desired outcome?
  • What benefits would you like to get out of this project?
  • What do you propose?
  • What’s your plan for getting there?
  • What else do you need to consider?

Regardless of what questions you ask, keep them open-ended. If a question can be answered with "yes" or "no" it’s not likely to generate discussion and rarely yields any insight. By asking open-ended questions, you can get far more interesting insights.

Don’t ask "do you like working here?" ask "what about working here causes you to stay?" 

Nearly every decision we make is based on at least one assumption. If you build on faulty assumptions, your conclusion will be faulty as well. Ask – both yourself and your staff - "What are we assuming in this situation?" You need to determine if what your employees are "assuming" about your company’s direction is correct and if your assumption about their understanding of your mission is correct. Get on the same page.

Leading people to their own insights is far more effective to building commitment than only telling them your thoughts. Asking about lessons learned can be very revealing. "What can we learn from this experience that might be useful to us in the future?" And this question works when things go well, and when things don’t go as well as planned. 

Learning to love, or at least tolerate, the sound of silence is advantageous in getting employees who may be somewhat reticent to express their thoughts. Most of us get uncomfortable when things get quiet. We feel compelled to fill the space with chatter. You can let this work to your advantage by just not giving in to that compulsion to talk. When you do that, you may find that people volunteer an amazing amount of information that you would have never gotten any other way.

The key is always the right thing at the right time, and with the right people. Asking the right questions of the right people, really listening to the answers and then implementing what you can will get you far more than that foosball table.