Executive Effectiveness

  • How to Master the Annual Performance Review: Five Winning Tactics

    By Susan Battley

    Great leaders and organizations keep talented employees motivated and aligned with their strategic business goals. Evaluation, feedback, and continuous adaptation to new circumstances and opportunities are critical to success at every level and function. They are also essential to keeping your star performers, those who constantly strive to extend their career accomplishments and potential.

    Yet when it actually comes to conducting annual employee reviews, I frequently hear managers express skepticism, concern or outright distress.

    Do any of these statements sound familiar?

    * “I know good performance when I see it. I don’t need to write everything down.”
    * “They’re either unnecessary because the person is great on- the-job, or difficult and painful because the person isn’t.”
    * “I am conscientious about doing them, but I could probably do a better job.”

    Evidence, not paperwork, should inform your employee reviews.

    In my experience, five tactics in particular can help you go beyond the administrative aspects of performance reviews to supercharge your employees’ motivational drivers, loyalty and productivity.

    But first, a brief refresher to set the stage.

    Benefits of the Annual Employee Review

    *Assess individual employee performance and accomplishments
    *Determine motivational rewards such as compensation increase, bonus, and promotion
    *Identify high-potential talent for accelerated development
    *Address any employee performance issues in need of corrective action
    *Inform employee goal-setting for the coming year
    *Check that job descriptions and duties remain aligned with business and operational needs* Maintain a performance-based culture and meritocracy
    *Document the evaluation and decisions made for management and the organization

    The annual review should be a summation, not a standalone, once-yearly activity. Sadly, though, I routinely hear professionals, including middle managers and senior executives, tell me that they have not had a meaningful performance review from their boss in years. Comments such as these suggest that their company or organization is seriously under-managing its portfolio of talent assets.

    Here is how you and your organization can avoid a similar fate.

    Five Tactics for Conducting Winning Performance Reviews

    1. Preparation. Effective reviews are evidence-based reviews. The more prepared you are in terms of relevant data and key message points, the more effective you will be when you meet one-on-one with each of your direct reports. Verify in advance that the employee performance information you have on an employee is current and complete.

    Action Step: Prepare and rehearse for best results. Schedule sufficient time for each review session.

    2. Clarity. Effective performance appraisals are clear and transparent to all parties concerned. This means that the overall performance appraisal process needs to be well-defined:

    * Employees fully under stand how the process works
    * Job accountabilities and performance goals are specified in detail
    * Employees understand what constitutes Outstanding, Satisfactory, and Unsatisfactory performance levels

    Action Step: Begin the review session with a brief overview of the process and its purpose in order to set the context. Be prepared to answer clarifying questions.

    3. Accuracy. When performance metrics and expectations are well-defined, your assessment as a manager can be straightforward and objective, not impressionistic and subjective. Attention to detail shows that you have been paying attention.

    Accuracy also means that you have weighted – and evaluated – key activities according to previously agreed-upon performance goals and priorities.

    Action Step: Ground your assessment in relevant, specific evidence and examples. Where possible, use statistics to capture successes, progress indicators, and any performance deficits.

    4. Fairness. Your ability to impact and inspire your direct reports during this milestone review can ultimately succeed or fail based on whether they perceive your appraisal to be fair. Research shows that when feedback involves negative or poor reviews, the recipient is more likely to accept and act on the information if he or she regards the process and rationale as fair. Ask yourself: are you weighing this person’s actual performance or rationalizing your evaluation on the basis of personal bias or office politics?

    Fairness also involves consistency. Your evaluation standards should be consistent from person to person. Remember, everyone talks, brags, and complains at work. Your appraisal should not just be fair in fact; it should be perceived as fair.

    Action Step: Keep perceived fairness in mind in drafting and delivering your appraisals.

    5. Follow-Through. While annual reviews look at past performance, they also bear on the employee’s present and future. Rewards such as bonuses and promotions and promises involving follow-up sessions or resource allocation need to materialize in a timely fashion. Agreements involving behavior change or performance requirements need to be monitored and reviewed.

    Action Step: Hold yourself accountable for delivering on rewards and commitments and monitoring any employee change efforts going forward.

    Yes, it is a crazy-busy workplace. All the more reason for leaders to remember – and remind all those with supervisory responsibility – just how important employee performance management is to the organization’s vitality and competitive advantage. Of course, the most powerful way to do this is to lead by example. Show by your own attitudes and actions that you take the annual performance review seriously and you model the behavior that your direct reports will heed and seek to emulate.

    Copyright © Susan Battley. All rights reserved.

  • How to Manage a “Lone Ranger”

    By Susan Battley

    A while back, a client mentioned her ongoing frustration with a member of her group. “How can I turn a lone ranger into a team player?” she asked me.

    We launched into a detailed exploration of case specifics after which she took away several next-step options.

    Despite both the realities and “management-speak” about teams and teamwork, “Lone Rangers” will always be with us …and that’s definitely not a bad thing.

    Here are some general points to consider in managing “Lone Rangers” effectively.

    First, Lone Rangers come in various manifestations. Three common types you’re likely to encounter are:

    The SUPERSTAR or rainmaker: a great producer or exceptionally talented performer who sees no benefit in interacting with the rest of the work group or division.

    The TECHNOCRAT or “geek”: a person who finds great satisfaction in completing technical tasks and problem-solving, but has little personal interest in interacting with others.

    The “IMPOSTER”: a person who worries – correctly or not – that he or she is underperforming or may not be the right person for the job, and stays at the periphery as an avoidant strategy.

    Five Tips for Managing a Lone Ranger

    # 1 Selection is critical.
    You should know if the person you’re hiring is a Lone Ranger before you make an offer. This allows you to determine how much of an “outlier” he or she will likely be in the work group. Too often, what is presented as a retention issue with Lone Rangers was really a selection issue.

    Action Tip
    Probe a candidate’s team experience and orientation with specific interview questions. Consider using some scientifically robust behavioral assessments as part of the selection process.

    # 2 Clarify what “team player” means functionally.
    Organizations and businesses have different concepts and requirements for teamwork. Some so-called teams are really work groups, not cross-functional teams. Does “teamwork” mean attending meetings, or does it mean quick seamless cooperation, as between the Sales and Technical Service Departments?

    Action Tip
    If a star system is part of your organization’s culture and value system, it may be necessary to remind all staff from time to time of the bottom-line benefits that Lone Rangers bring to the enterprise.

    # 3 Discuss the situation one-on-one.
    Don’t assume that your Lone Ranger realizes that he or she is behaving in a certain way, or realizes the impact of that behavior on the group, team or department.

    Action Tip
    Arrange an informal private meeting to review job expectations and requirements. Take a collaborative problem-solving approach as a first step. Get the Lone Ranger’s perspective. Agree on a follow-up date to review the situation. Don’t wait until the annual performance review to bring these issues up.

    # 4 Make sure your Lone Ranger is not just very shy or uncertain of his or her communication skills.
    See #3 above.

    Action Tip
    These are issues that can often be improved with an appropriate skill development plan.

    # 5 Put Lone Rangers in charge of something.
    Find out what they’re passionate about, and use this information to draw them into the fold. This is a low-key, highly effective way to engage people.

    Action Tip
    Ask Lone Rangers to mentor someone, represent the company at a fundraiser, give an in-house workshop, etc.

    Copyright © Susan Battley. All rights reserved.

  • Five Ways to Sink a Meeting

    By Susan Battley

    We’ve all had to sit through meetings that could bore the bumps off a dill pickle.

    More than 10 million meetings occur every day in America, and the average professional attends about 60 every month. Studies suggest that at least one-third of those meetings are unproductive. But they don’t have to be.

    If you value your time and the time of the people who work for and with you, consider the following five meeting threats and take steps to avoid them:

    1. “Potemkin” Tactics
    General Potemkin, Catherine the Great’s military leader, erected phony villages to mislead an invading enemy.  Too often, meetings that purport to be substantive turn out to be just window dressing, or address issues not relevant to the people invited. Using “Potemkin” tactics is a sure way to lose the confidence and trust of attendees, who cotton on to the deception soon enough.

    What You Can Do
    Communicate the meeting’s agenda and goals completely and accurately ahead of time. This will help ensure that the right people attend the meeting, and come with reasonable expectations.

    2. MIA Sessions
    When people critical to advancing the meeting are “missing in action,” you have a MIA session. This can delay decisions and in many cases lead to the ultimate time-waster – scheduling a second meeting to tackle the same issues as the first.

    What You Can Do
    Identify everybody who needs to be present in order to accomplish the goals of the meeting. In many cases this may involve additional people beyond the regular cast of characters.  If you cannot accomplish the meeting goals because key players are unavailable, reschedule or cancel the meeting.

    3. Hijackers
    When one or more attendees seizes control of the agenda or monopolizes the group’s time, your meeting has been hijacked. Tactics can be overt or subtle, as in “This will only take a minute.”

    What You Can Do
    Stop the hijacking before it starts. Once a meeting is hijacked, it may just take the Green Berets to regain control. Instead, make agenda items and time limits clear from the start, then enforce these rules early and often.  What if the top gun is responsible for the meeting deviation? Then you’ve been rerouted, not hijacked.

    4. Techno-Fog
    When meeting attendees are busy with mobile phones, PDAs, or laptops and give speakers only part of their attention, a cloud of techno-fog has rolled in. Holding productive meetings in this kind of climate is difficult because interruptions and multitasking compromise memory, information processing and decision making. It’s also rude.

    What You Can Do
    Clear the fog by laying down the law. Whenever possible, adopt a zero-tolerance policy toward electronic devices. This will increase the quality of attendees’ attention and can also lead to shorter meetings. Consider too that if you don’t need everyone’s full attention, why hold the meeting in the first place?

    5. SOP Meetings
    When meetings occur too frequently or always use the same format, they can become SOP, or Standard Operating Procedure. Meetings that in actuality are rituals – all form and little substance – add little or no value. Quite the contrary, they consume valuable and, in the case of time, nonrenewable resources.

    What You Can Do
    Perform a “meeting audit” of all regularly scheduled meetings. This audit will determine: Whether you are meeting too often, whether the format is productive, and whether the right people are attending.

    Conclusion
    To get the most out of meetings, you should be sure that the meeting is necessary, then structure the format, agenda, and attendee list to support the meeting’s goals.  Remember too that meeting norms, such as arriving on time, paying full attention, keeping discussion on target and on track, get established one way or another – either by conscious intent and influence or haphazardly.

    Copyright © Susan Battley. All rights reserved.

  • Keeping the Spark Alive: How to Avoid Executive Burnout

    By Susan Battley

    Finding or otherwise buying “down time,” is one of the most common problems I hear from harried executives. Workload and the relentless demands of juggling multiple priorities and constituencies can be so extreme that serious “battle fatigue” ensues. Often, the first sign that something is wrong occurs when the person has an unexpected breather, and finds himself or herself unable to enjoy it.

    That is just what happened to a very successful -and busy – VP of National Sales at a leading pharmaceutical firm.