• The Power of Specificity

    Five Winning Ways to Execute Brilliantly

    By Susan Battley

    If you want winning results, get specific.

    When Terry, a managing partner and client, was looking to hire a new Human Resources director, we reviewed the relative strengths of the three short-list candidates.

    Like many seasoned decision makers, he focused on their relevant work experience, professional accomplishments and personal traits.

    Still, he confessed that he and the search committee were stumped making the final selection. On the basis of their resumes and interviews, the candidates appeared evenly weighted.

    “What makes a senior executive successful here?” I asked him.

    “You know what a cast of characters we have here,” Terry replied, smiling.

    He went on to answer my question thoughtfully and thoroughly. At the end, more to himself than to me, he said, “Well, I know who’s the clear choice now.”

    Two years later, the person Terry hired is now the firm’s Chief Talent Officer and a member of his executive committee.

    Getting very specific up front helped Terry to make the best choice.  And one that has paid dividends ever since for him and his firm.

    Specificity Supercharges Results: A Case Study

    Specificity improves more than decision quality. It can also be a powerful tool for inspiring, motivating, and managing people. In fact, specificity can motivate people to do what they might not otherwise be inclined to do.

    Consider the results of a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research that examined how people respond to differently worded appeals.

    The study involved hotel guests and how they reacted to the plastic cards in their rooms urging them to forgo daily laundering of their towels. Some guests had a room card urging them to “save the environment” by putting their towels back on the rack.

    Other guests had highly customized cards, such as “75 percent of the guests who stayed in this room (room 313) had reused their towels.”

    The results? The towel reuse rate was 49.3 percent in the rooms where the request was highly specific. This compared to a towel reuse rate of 37.2 percent in rooms with the generic card.

    The lesson here for managers? To guide and inspire your people most effectively, opt for specific, “close-to-home” messages over universal, abstract or fuzzy language.

    This is especially important in today’s turbulent business and management environment. When people are anxious, specificity – and repetition of key messages – helps to keep everyone focused on what needs to be done and why.

    Five Winning Ways to Execute Brilliantly

    1. Keep it local. Make your points as targeted and personal as possible to your audience. For example, “Here’s what [fill in the blank] means to you and the team.”

    2. Keep it clear. Provide concrete examples, or metrics, or desired outcomes. A phrase like “Do your best” is not nearly as actionable as “Your division needs to increase revenues by four percent to make your numbers.”

    3. Keep it simple. Distill your message to its essence: no more than three points. And don’t undo the power of specificity with a data-dump of statistics. (Dense PowerPoint presentations are the surest way to lose minds and hearts.)

    4. Keep it real. You want precisely defined targets and goals to inspire and challenge your people, not de-motivate them. So be sure what you ask or describe is actually attainable.

    5. Keep the focus on “what,” not “how.” When you’re specific about the former, you’re an effective leader. When you’re overly specific about the latter, you’re a micro-manager!

    As John Dewey reminded us, “We cannot seek or attain health, wealth, learning, justice or kindness in general. Action is always specific, concrete, individualized, unique.”

    Copyright © Susan Battley. All rights reserved.

  • Stunningly Simple Ways to Give Effective Performance Feedback

    Ten Deadly Manager Mistakes and Solutions

    I speak to thousands of executives and managers every year. When the topic of giving performance feedback comes up, as it frequently does, I hear the truth from managers about their uncertainties and anxieties in doing this critical task effectively.

    This is especially the case when sensitive or negative feedback needs to be conveyed. The all-too-human temptation in these cases is either to avoid the issue, hoping it will go away, or to spend as little time as possible on the unpleasant matter. However, neither approach typically works well in achieving sustained on-the-job performance improvement.

  • 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.

  • When Are You At Your Best?

    By Susan Battley

    Here’s a million-dollar question to add to your repertoire:

    When are you at your best?

    Now I’m not referring to the time of day, but rather to situations, tasks and activities that align your professional talents with your career passions.

    Guess what? Very few people tell me, “I’m at my best at meetings.” And except for early-stage job hunters, I almost never hear, “I’m at my best in a crisis.” Indeed, anyone who’s been in the workplace for any time knows that it’s almost impossible to be your best in a crisis.

    This is not a superficial question. In fact, it’s what I call a core best practice question, intended to prompt reflection and strategic analysis. Kevin Roberts, the global CEO of Saatchi and Saatchi, passed it along to me some years ago.

    How would you answer this question for yourself? Athletes talk about being “in the zone.” Psychologists speak of “flow states.”

    For example:

    • Those with a creative orientation may say they love to develop new products… or theories.
    • Analytical types often delight in solving big, thorny problems.
    • Great salespeople love to influence others.

    Sometimes, people assume I’m asking them to describe their current role and responsibilities, but I’m not.  Rather, I’m interested in learning about what really fires them up. Then we can look at how their true professional interests and aspirations intersect with their actual work position and activities.

    Do they intersect? And if (hopefully) they do, on a day-to-day basis how often does the person – do you – have a chance to operate in this sweet spot?

    The greater and more sustained the intersection, the greater your satisfaction and enduring success.

    Action Steps

    • Ask yourself:  When are you at your very best? Has this changed over time or circumstances? Are you able to be your “best” on a regular basis?
    • Ask those you supervise:  When are they at their very best? Do they know? Do their opinions coincide with your own assessments?

    To do great work and to deploy your organization’s talent to maximum advantage, you need to have the answers at your finger tips and act on them.

    Copyright © Susan Battley, PsyD, PhD. All rights reserved.

  • How We Really Make Decisions

    By Susan Battley

    “The strong man is the one who is able to intercept at will the communication between the senses and the mind.”
    – Napoleon Bonaparte

    Most executives like to think they check their emotions at the door before making business decisions. The idea that cool, rational analysis breeds better decisions is not new. Unfortunately, acting rationally is not as simple as it sounds.

    Research in behavioral economics suggests that emotions have a way of affecting management and business decisions. Anger, in particular, can increase risky choices and behavior, thereby compromising your effectiveness and results at work.

    Research by Gerben A. van Kleef suggests that anger can have a negative effect on negotiations. Angry people tend to yield more concessions in small deals with strangers. Anger can also poison negotiations in ongoing relationships by establishing long-term negative impressions and low satisfaction levels. The conclusions make intuitive sense.

    Have you ever seen a patron at a retail store argue with a clerk over the price of a returned item? In many cases, the angry patron will simply accept the lower price and storm off rather than continue the argument. And when management and union representatives snipe at each other in the newspapers before the talks begin, you can expect difficult negotiations.

    When research backs up intuition, executives should take note: Expressing anger may get you what you want in the short-term, but it can backfire by sabotaging long-term, ongoing relationships. In other words, bellicosity is a poor management technique and a high-risk approach to conducting business.

    Social psychologists at Carnegie Mellon University have shown that people who are angry tend to make more optimistic risk estimates and lean toward choices that carry higher risk.  These investigators also examined fear and subsequent decisionmaking in unrelated situations. Unlike anger, which prompted more optimistic risk assessment and greater risk-taking, they discovered that the “fear factor” made people risk-averse and overly cautious in unrelated contexts.

    In another study the researchers looked at two more emotions – sadness and disgust – and people’s subsequent buying and selling behavior.

    People who felt sad or disgusted, they found, tended to allow these emotions to affect buying and selling decisions in an unrelated situation. Sadness elicited a desire to change circumstances. As a result, sad people were willing to pay more for items and sell them for less.

    Disgust, on the other hand, caused people to want to get rid of what they had. They were willing to sell cheap, and they wouldn’t buy unless prices were very low.

    Consider the implications of these findings for everything from impulse shopping and sales tactics to major business negotiations and transactions.

    Copyright © Susan Battley, PsyD, PhD. All rights reserved.