Recent research by highly-reputable firms such as Gallup and TowersWatson suggest that, on average, at least 70% of employees in a U.S. workplace are either passively engaged (“mailing it in”) or actively disengaged, undermining the success of operations.
In his latest of six books, The Three Signs of a Miserable Job: A Fable for Managers (and Their Employees), Patrick Lencioni focuses on three reasons why so many workers are passively engaged.
What are the three signs?
“The first is anonymity, which is the feeling that employees get when they realize that their manager has little interest in them a human being and that they know little about their lives, their aspirations and their interests.
“The second sign is irrelevance, which takes root when employees cannot see how their job makes a difference in the lives of others. Every employee needs to know that the work they do impacts someone’s life–a customer, a co-worker, even a supervisor–in one way or another.
“The third sign is something I call immeasurement, which is the inability of employees to assess for themselves their contribution or success. Employees who have no means of measuring how well they are doing on a given day or in a given week, must rely on the subjective opinions of others, usually their managers’, to gauge their progress or contribution.”
1. When discussing performance with a direct report, focus on results of effort and keep in mind that results can be better (i.e. improvement), worse, or the same. Whichever, find out why.
2. Praise outstanding results in public (celebrating well- recognition); discuss unfavorable results only in private (providing constructive criticism because of sincere concern).
3. Help people to become more alert observers. Reward problem finders as well as pro0blem solvers.
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Patrick Lencioni is the founder and president of The Table Group, a firm dedicated to helping organizations become healthy. We do this by providing ideas, products and services that improve teamwork, clarity and employee engagement. Lencioni’s passion for organizations and teams is reflected in his writing, speaking and consulting. He is the author of nine best-selling books with nearly three million copies sold, including Death by Meeting, The Three Signs of a Miserable Job, and The Five Dysfunctions of a Team — which continue to be a fixture on national best-seller lists.
Recently named in Fortune magazine as one of the ‘ten new gurus you should know,’ Lencioni and his work have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, USA TODAY, Bloomberg Businessweek, Inc. and Harvard Business Review, to name a few.
When Lencioni is not writing, he consults to CEOs and their executive teams, helping them to become more cohesive within the context of their business strategy. The wide-spread appeal of Lencioni’s leadership models have yielded a diverse base of clients, including a mix of Fortune 500 companies, professional sports organizations, the military, non-profits, universities and churches. In addition, Lencioni speaks to thousands of leaders each year at world class organizations and national conferences. He was recently cited in the Wall Street Journal as one of the most sought-after business speakers in the nation.
Prior to founding his firm, he worked as a corporate executive for Sybase, Oracle and Bain & Company. He also served on the National Board of Directors for the Make-A-Wish Foundation of America.
There are two business topics that seem to bring out the best and (yes) the worst in executives: 360º feedback and performance reviews.
Here is an excerpt from an article written by Rebecca Knight for the Harvard Business Review blog. To read the complete article, check out the wealth of free resources, and sign up for a subscription to HBR email alerts, please click here.
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It’s performance review season, and you know the drill. Drag each of your direct reports into a conference room for a one-on-one, hand them an official-looking document, and then start in with the same, tired conversation. Say some positive things about what the employee is good at, then some unpleasant things about what he’s not good at, and end — wearing your most solicitous grin — with some more strokes of his ego. The result: a mixed message that leaves even your best employees feeling disappointed. But if you take the right approach, appraisals are an excellent opportunity to reinforce solid performers and redirect the poor ones.
What the Experts Say
For many employees, a face-to-face performance review is the most stressful work conversation they’ll have all year. For managers, the discussion is just as tense. “What a performance appraisal requires is for one person to stand in judgment of another. Deep down, it’s uncomfortable,” says Dick Grote, author of How to Be Good at Performance Appraisals. Evaluating an employee’s job performance should consist of more than an annual chat, according to James Baron, the William S. Beinecke Professor of Management at Yale School of Management. Performance management is a process, he says. “Presumably you’re giving a tremendous amount of real-time feedback, and your employees are people you know well. Hopefully your relationship can survive candid feedback.” No matter what kind of appraisal system your company uses, here are several strategies to help you make performance review season less nerve-racking and more productive.
Set expectations early
The performance review doesn’t start with a sit-down in the spare conference room. You must be clear from the outset how you’ll evaluate your employees. Grote suggests holding “performance planning” sessions with each of your direct reports at the beginning of the year, to discuss that person’s goals and your expectations. “You’ll see immediate improvement in performance because everyone knows what the boss expects,” he says. “And it earns you the right to hold people accountable at the end of the year.” Listen carefully to your employees’ personal ambitions, as it will inform the way you assess their work. “Oftentimes managers are evaluating performance without necessarily knowing what that person’s career aspirations are. We often assume that everyone wants to be CEO. But that’s not always the case,” says Barron. Understanding what your direct reports want from their careers will help you figure out ways to broaden their professional experiences.
Lay the groundwork
About two weeks before the face-to-face review, ask your employee to jot down a few things he’s done over the last year that he’s proud of. This will both help refresh your memory, and “will put a positive focus on an event that is so often seen as negative,” says Grote. Next, go over other notes you’ve kept on your employee over the year: a well-executed project; a deadline missed; the deft handling of a difficult client. Finally, ask for feedback from others in the company who work closely with your employee. “The larger number of independent evaluations the better,” says Barron. About an hour before the meeting, give your employee a copy of his appraisal. That way, he can have his initial emotional response — positive or negative — in the privacy of his own cubicle. “When people read someone’s assessment of them, they are going to have all sorts of churning emotions,” says Grote. “Let them have that on their own time, and give them a chance to think about it.” Then with a calmer, cooler head, the employee can prepare for a rational and constructive business conversation.
Set a tone
Too often the face-to-face conversation takes the form of a “feedback sandwich:” compliments, criticism, more niceties. But because there’s no single, clear message this approach demoralizes your stars and falsely encourages your losers. Instead, pick a side. “Most people are good solid workers, so for the vast majority, you should concentrate exclusively on things the person has done well,” says Grote, adding that this method tends to motivate people who are already competent at their jobs. For your marginal workers, however, do not sugarcoat bad news. Performance reviews are your chance to confront poor performers and demand improvement. “People are resilient,” says Grote. “As time goes on, that person is not going to get a promotion and not going to get a raise…You’re not doing this person any favors by [avoiding their deficiencies].”
After discussing the strengths and achievements of your solid performers, ask them how they feel about how things are going. “In most cases you’re dealing with mature adults and you’ll elicit their honest concerns,” says Grote. For both solid and poor performers, frame feedback in terms of a “stop, start, and continue” model, suggests Barron. What is the employee doing now that is not working? What are they doing that is highly effective? What actions should they adopt to be more so? By focusing on behaviors not dispositions, it takes the personal edge out of the conversation. Give specific advice and targeted praise. “Don’t say things like: ‘You need to be more proactive.’ That doesn’t mean anything. Say something like: ‘You need to take more initiative in calling potential sales leads.'” Similarly, “Saying: ‘You’re an innovator’ is nice but it’s helpful to know exactly what they’re doing that reflects that,” says Baron.
Hold your ground
The hot button issues associated with performance reviews are money and rank. If your company allows it, separate any talk of compensation from the performance review. “But if you must, do not save the salary information for the end of the conversation,” says Grote, “otherwise there’ll be an invisible parrot above the employees’ head squawking: how much? throughout the entire discussion.” Rank is another place for potential bruised feelings. A majority of companies require managers to rate their employees — often on a scale of 1-5. Your goal is go over the data, and make a judgment call.
Remember: the 1-5 system is not analogous to the A-F grading scheme in school; most employees will get the middle rank, a 3. This might leave some employees feeling let down, thinking they’re merely “average.” Don’t cave in. “In the corporate world, you’re dealing with a highly selective group,” says Grote. “The rules of the game have changed. In school, a C was mediocre, but a 3 in the working world means they’re meeting expectations. They’re shooting par.” Conveying that message is a leadership challenge. “People can accept it rationally but it may be hard to accept viscerally,” he says. “This is why it’s so important to hold a performance planning meeting at the outset. If they hit their targets, they are a 3. It’s a goal.”
Knight then recommends “Principles to Remember” and provides two mini-case studies that illustrate them. To read the complete article, please click here.
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Rebecca Knight is a freelance journalist in Boston. She has been published in The New York Times, USA Today, The Financial Times, and The Economist.
In his own words….
I’ve had a long career as a journalist and author. Lately, I’ve added a new hat: I’ve joined VSA Partners as its Editorial Director. The plan is to marry business to big-think journalism in a way that hopefully helps both prosper. The first example of that is the book commissioned by IBM and co-authored by me, Steve Hamm and Jeff O’Brien — Making the World Work Better.
My latest book, co-authored with Vivek Ranadivé, is The Two-Second Advantage: How We Succeed by Anticipating the Future…Just Enough (September, 2011).
Last year, I had another book out: Trade-Off: Why Some Things Catch On, and Others Don’t. The hardcover was published in the fall of 2009 by Broadway Books; the paperback, in August 2010.
I contribute occasionally to Fortune, The Atlantic, Fast Company and other magazines. I had been a contributing editor at the ill-fated Condé Nast Portfolio, joining the magazine prior to its launch in 2007 and hanging on until its demise in April 2009.
Before all this, I worked at USA Today for 22 years, much of it as the newspaper’s technology columnist. The job gave me the privilege of interviewing most of the biggest names in the industry. Here and there, I end up on television and radio. I’ve appeared on PBS, NPR, CNBC, and other media outlets, and I’ve frequently been a keynote speaker and on-stage interviewer at events and conferences.
On the music side, in 2008 I worked with a group of terrific Bay Area musicians and recorded a CD of songs of wry commentary about business and technology. It’s called “Privacy,” by Kevin Maney & His Briefs. You can actually buy it on iTunes. I’ve also played in a DC-area band, Not Dead Yet, which at the moment is dormant, if not actually dead. My shining moment was getting my song “Found It On Google” played on Mitch Albom’s radio show.
I graduated from Rutgers University, grew up in Binghamton, N.Y., and now live outside Washington, DC, while spending a lot of time in New York.
[Here is an excerpt from my second interview of Kevin. To read the complete interview, please click here.]
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Morris: Before discussing The Two-Second Advantage, a few general questions. First, of all the people with whom you have been closely associated, which has had the greatest influence on your personal development? How so?
Maney: Over the very long run, I guess it’s been my brothers. I’m the oldest of three, and the next one is Dave, and then Scott. (I also have a stepbrother, Mark.) Dave, Scott and I have always been close, but it’s more than that. I think our opinions of each other carry great weight, and that’s pushed each of us to be better people, be more ambitious, be wittier, raise better kids, and whole lot of other things like that. And it’s a supportive competitiveness. We’ve always boosted each other, and at times even done business together. Right now, I’m working at a firm, VSA Partners, that Scott introduced me to, and playing a role in Dave’s start-up, Economaney. Fortunately for me, I’m the least smart and savvy of the three of us, so I think I get to learn more from them than they do from me.
Morris: On your professional development?
Maney: There are two people. When I was 25, Hal Ritter just became editor of USA Today’s Money section, and he hired me. I think I was his first hire. I’d say we had a respectful but sometimes contentious relationship. He could be a hard guy to work for — demanding and harsh. But he was also maybe the smartest editor I ever worked for. He knew his audience and drove us to write for it with clear, lean prose. He taught me to have standards and never settle for less, and to have the discipline to always think of the reader. I worked for Hal for the first decade of my career. Whatever kind of writer I am today, it’s because of those 10 years. Hal is now an editor at the Associated Press. We nominally keep in touch.
The other important person is Jim Collins. While Hal taught me to pay attention to the details, Jim played a significant role in helping me think big and broadly. The two of us met well before Jim got famous for his books Built to Last and Good to Great. I was working on a story for USA Today, and talked to a publicist at Stanford, where Jim was a professor at the time, about it. The publicist told me that I should talk to Jim — that Jim was working on a book about a similar topic. That book ended up being Built to Last, but it was then a half-finished manuscript. Jim and I talked and hit it off. He sent me the manuscript, and I thought it was one of the most important business documents I’d ever read. When Built to Last was finally published, I jumped on it and wrote a cover story for USA Today, which in turn was the spark that sent the book up the bestseller list.
Anyway, Jim and I became friends, and I can’t tell you the number of big, analyze-the-universe conversations he and I have had. I love the way he makes me think. His ideas about corporations had a huge impact on the way I analyzed Thomas Watson in The Maverick and His Machine. I wouldn’t be the same kind of author if not for Jim’s friendship.
Morris: Years ago, was there a turning point (if not an epiphany) that set you on the career course you continue to follow? Please explain.
Maney: I knew I wanted to be a writer from as far back as I can remember. That was my talent. Lord knows it wasn’t math. If there was an epiphany, it came when I went to Rutgers and got involved in the journalism program. I reluctantly signed up for a journalism major, thinking I needed a fall-back way to make money should my career as a novelist fail to take off. As I started to try on journalism, including doing internships and working at the campus paper, I found I actually liked it. So I started to want to be a journalist.
And then there was another epiphany when I discovered the great old New York Times columnist Russell Baker. I realized there could be a way to be a newspaper journalist and write funny yarns in a column. Then I wanted to be Russell Baker. I kind of half achieved it — writing a column for USA Today that often involved funny yarns about technology.
Morris: To what extent has your formal education been invaluable to what you have since achieved thus far?
Maney: Well, with all due respect to Rutgers, I’m not sure the value of my time there was in what I learned academically. It was more about the fact that Rutgers introduced me to journalism and diverted my path into newspapers.
Morris: You are a serious musician. To what extent has your significant involvement with music proven to be highly valuable in ways and to any extent you had not anticipated? Please explain.
Maney: I’m not sure how much the word serious applies! I write songs like “Wouldn’t Want to Be Bill Gates” and “Little Tattoo and All Over Tan.” But I certainly have pursued music in general and songwriting in particular.
What’s it done for me? I think it’s become part of my personal brand — in a field where having a personal brand is an asset. It’s helped me stand out a bit in the minds of a lot of people in the tech industry. I’m that tech writer who gets on stage and plays funny tech songs. I wouldn’t want that to be all I’m known for, but it’s a bit of a differentiator.
Morris: In your opinion, what will be the single greatest challenge that business leaders (especially CEOs) will face during the 3-5 years?
Maney: This gets a bit into what I’m doing with my brother Dave. He and I and other people we’re working with believe that the disruptions and difficulties in the economy the past few years aren’t just a bump in the road — they’re part of a massive change in very big forces, brought on by the Internet, globalization, and the flood of data. It’s changing the very nature of what a company is, the nature of what a job is, the value that proximity has or doesn’t have. Economaney is kind of a new age think tank for tossing these ideas around and trying to make sense of them. All in all, the next three to five years are going to be among the most challenging in history to be a CEO in America — or for that matter, President of the country.
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To read the complete interview, please click here.
Kevin Maney cordially invites you to check out the resources at these websites:
Here is an excerpt from an article written by Richard D. Kahlenberg for Slate magazine. To read the complete article, please click here.
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What Michelle Rhee’s fans don’t get about education reform
The national press and political class adore Michelle Rhee, who ran the D.C. public schools from 2007 until 2010. She’s appeared on the cover of Time and Newsweek, chatted on television with Oprah and David Gregory, and starred in Davis Guggenheim’s documentary Waiting for Superman and a 12-part series on PBS’ the NewsHour. This level of attention is unheard of for a schools chancellor of any size district, much less the 108th largest in the country.
For many, Rhee is the heroine in a morality play that draws on the power of the civil rights movement. In Washington, D.C., disadvantaged black and brown children are being robbed of an education, and Rhee has been battling the forces that were keeping them down: the teachers’ union. Whereas the union selfishly put adults first, Rhee puts kids first. The new organization she just founded, StudentsFirst, is hoping to raise $1 billion explicitly to counter the political influence of the unions.
In years past, Republicans like Bob Dole castigated teachers’ unions as a central impediment to good schools, which made political and policy sense because the unions are strong supporters of Democratic candidates and provide the political muscle that has stymied conservative school-privatization initiatives. But today the critique of unions is advanced not just by conservatives like George Will, but liberals like Jonathan Alter and Nicholas Kristof; not just the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal, but also of the Washington Post and New York Times. And in the 2008 presidential debate at Hofstra University, Barack Obama called Rhee, one of the nation’s leading critics of unions, a “wonderful new superintendent.
Rhee’s message about education reform is very seductive because it’s simple and optimistic. Childhood poverty and economic school segregation, in Rhee’s world, are just “excuses” for teacher failure. If we could just get the unions to agree to stop protecting bad teachers and allow great teachers to be paid more, she says, we could make all the difference in education. The narrative is attractive because it indeed would be wonderful if poverty and segregation didn’t matter, and if heroic teachers could consistently overcome the odds for students whom everyone agrees deserve a better shot in life.
The fact that Rhee is a hard-working Ivy League graduate makes the elite press respect her as one of their own. And Rhee’s flair for the dramatic makes her irresistible. In his well-written and highly favorable biography, The Bee Eater, Richard Whitmire recounts that as a teacher in Baltimore, Rhee grabbed the attention of her students one day when she swatted a bee flying around the classroom and promptly swallowed it. As a chancellor, Rhee once told a film crew, “I’m going to fire somebody in a little while. Do you want to see that?”
Most education researchers, though, recognize that Rhee’s simple vision of heroic teachers saving American education is a fantasy, and that her dramatic, often authoritarian, style is ill-suited for education. If the ability to fire bad teachers and pay great teachers more were the key missing ingredient in education reform, why haven’t charter schools, 88% of which are nonunionized and have that flexibility, lit the education world on fire? Why did the nation’s most comprehensive study of charter schools, conducted by Stanford University researchers and sponsored by pro-charter foundations, conclude that charters outperformed regular public schools only 17 percent of the time, and actually did significantly worse 37 percent of the time? Why don’t Southern states, which have weak teachers’ unions, or none at all, outperform other parts of the country? Rhee often noted that poor blacks in New York are two years ahead of poor blacks in Washington, which properly illustrates that demography is not destiny, but New York didn’t get ahead by firing bad teachers. Chancellor Joel Klein terminated only three teachers for incompetence between 2008 and 2010.
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To read the complete article, please click here.
Richard D. Kahlenberg is a senior fellow at the Century Foundation and author of Tough Liberal: Albert Shanker and the Battles Over Schools, Unions, Race, and Democracy and All Together Now: Creating Middle-Class Schools Through Public School Choice.
Roger Connors and Tom Smith are the founders and Co-CEO’s/Co-Presidents of Partners In Leadership, Inc., the internationally recognized premier provider of Accountability Training® Services around the world. They have thousands of clients, and have trained hundreds of thousands of people, in over 50 countries. Their clients include 25% of the “most admired companies in the world” and all 13 of the most admired Pharmaceutical Companies, almost half of the Dow Jones Industrial Average Companies and nearly half of the Fortune 50 largest companies in the United States, along with many other well-known and highly regarded organizations. They have produced the most comprehensive collection of books on workplace accountability ever written. All of their books, The Oz Principle, How Did That Happen? and their most recent book, Change the Culture Change the Game, have ranked as the No. 1 leadership book on The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today and Amazon.com bestselling lists.
Morris: Before discussing any of your books, a few general questions. First, when and why did you begin to realize the relevance of L. Frank Baum’s classic book, The Wizard of Oz, to the business world?
Connors: We use the metaphor of the Wizard of Oz in our first book, The Oz Principle: Getting Results Through Individual and Organizational Accountability, as a literary device to create even greater interest in our message on accountability. While it is a light touch, it is a meaningful connection that we have found useful all over the world. In fact, our publisher tells us that The Oz Principle has continued to be in the top-5 bestselling business books in the leadership and performance category since it was first published in 1994, year after year.
To us, the well-known story of the Wizard of Oz is not just a classic children’s novel, but it is a story about the journey each of us must make to discover the powerful advantage we gain when we take personal accountability for achieving results. Honestly, our children think we have gone a little overboard in drawing the parallels, but they are there. Consider the four main characters of the story and each of their challenging circumstances. Dorothy was taken by a tornado, an act of God, away from home to the land of Oz. There she meets the scarecrow who was not given a brain, the tin man who was not given a heart and the Lion who had no courage. Each of them felt a victim of their circumstances; circumstances that were entirely outside of their control. At the beginning of the story, they commiserate together about their plight, but soon agree that the wizard in the Emerald City could solve all of their problems for them, or so they hoped.
They begin their journey down the yellow-brick road to the Emerald City in search of the wizard, only to find that — after doing what he had required (i.e. obtain the broomstick from the wicked witch of the west) — that he was only an old man, hiding behind a curtain pulling levers and blowing smoke, but unable to do anything for them.
During their quest, each of them discovered the power within themselves, with a little outside coaching and encouragement along the way, to overcome the obstacles they faced and achieve the results they wanted. The lion showed great courage, the tin man great heart and the scarecrow great wisdom. Dorothy discovered that she always had the power to click her heels and return home.
Smith: As you can see, the Wizard of Oz is a great metaphor for the journey to greater accountability. While our book, The Oz Principle, makes a light treatment of the analogy, we think we make a compelling case that taking greater personal accountability is an effective way to empower yourself to overcome the obstacles you face and achieve the results you want. In the book, you will learn how to avoid the victim cycle and the blame game and take the Steps To Accountability and operate Above The Line to See It, Own It, Solve It and Do It. Greater personal accountability truly does bring greater results.
Morris: In your various books and articles, you seem to be especially interested in sharing what lessons can be learned from ordinary people whose achievements are extraordinary. Is that fair assessment?
Smith: To a great degree, I think that is right. We love to tell the story of the busser who was cleaning tables in a restaurant chain we work with. They were beginning their national launch, but were struggling in hitting their numbers. We asked the senior team, what their top result was that they needed to achieve. They said it was “Profit margin.” We asked, “What’s the number?” The team gave responses of 3, 5 and 7 percent. We then asked the CEO what the number was and she rightly responded that “It is somewhere between 3 and 7 percent.” She explained that 3 percent was the number they told corporate they would hit, 5 percent was the number they thought they would hit, their own internal goal, and 7 percent was their stretch goal. While it is not uncommon to have three sets of numbers, it is also common that confusion about results accompanies that lack of clarity. They decided upon 5 percent as the number they would communicate throughout their entire organization.
Connors: That busser we were talking about. You could walk into any of their restaurants and stop the busser and ask them, “What’s your job?” Typically, you would expect to hear something like, “Clean tables.” Not here. This busser would respond, “My job is to make a 5 percent profit margin. The faster I clean tables, the more people we seat per hour. The more people we seat, the greater the profit margin. That’s what I do!” This company enjoyed a 200% increase in profit margin over the next 18 months. We think this story illustrates the power of personal accountability. When you get everyone in the organization at every level engaged in achieving results, fully invested with their hearts and minds, extraordinary things happen.
Morris: My own opinion is that crisis does not develop character. Rather, it reveals it. What do you think?
Connors: Interestingly enough, our clients usually tell us that they work best when they are in “crisis” mode. Everyone suspends their beliefs that prevail in the workplace culture during a crisis. All their inhibitions about working cross-functionally, sharing information, making decisions, etc… go away and people get aligned around the belief that they need to do what it takes to get the result. However, when the crisis is over, they revert back to the existing cultural beliefs and norms that clutter the organizational process, stand as barriers to organizational success and make it more difficult to achieve organizational results. Helping leaders learn how to help people and teams throughout the organization suspend beliefs that don’t work and adopt new beliefs that do work is what our book, Change the Culture, Change the Game, is all about.
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To read the complete interview, please click here.
Note: Culture of Accountability, Accountability Conversation, Steps to Accountability, Above The Line, Below The Line, See It, Own It, Solve It, Do It, The Oz Principle, How Did That Happen? and Change the Culture, Change the Game are trademarks (™) of Partners In Leadership.
Roger Connors and Tom Smith cordially invite you to check out the complimentary resources they offer at their website.