Is there a single other management tool that has as poor a reputation or that is executed as shoddily as the hapless position description?  I don't think so.

So I am starting a campaign.  It's time to move the position description out from the depths of your work desk’s bottom drawer.  

You know what I am talking about. Most position descriptions are buried beneath a pile of files and papers and your surplus mouse pads, rarely to see daylight.  If you even have one.

Despite so much talk about how ineffective and counter-productive performance management is in its current form, there's few organisations who seem to have nailed getting it right.  But why?

Organisations are tinkering around the edges of performance management (e.g. changing the forms, modifying a rating scale etc.) without really addressing the root cause of its lack of impact on performance and productivity.  But as we all know, doing the same thing over and over again will generally yield exactly the same results.  

Or, companies are abolishing their performance review process but without a clear plan on what or how they will do differently in its absence.

So what can you do now to make your performance management approach awesome?  

Onboarding is a hot topic in HR circles, and rightly so.  Clearly it's important to bring new employees into the organisation in a way that sets them up for success in their job and has them excited about the company that they work for.

There's many articles about how to get it right or how to not mess it up, much of which contains good advice.  

But ... the most obvious critical thing to get right in onboarding seems to be missing from this advice ...

Last week I published a list of critical decisions to make when commencing as an independent consultant or freelancer – see here if you missed itThis is a big topic, so here is part two.

As mentioned in the previous post, starting out as a freelancer involves a mix of both boring and important things to consider, as well as the fun and cool aspects which led you to this way of working in the first place - this post covers both.

So let’s jump right into part two.

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AuthorMichael Sleap
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When I first started thinking about moving from being an employee of a consulting company to going out on my own as an independent consultant, I had a lot of questions about the exact mechanics of getting up and running.

So here is part one of the top list of critical decisions to make when starting as an independent consultant or freelancer. 

Much of this falls into the boring but important category, but hey, being your own boss isn’t all glitz and glamour (but it sure has a lot of great benefits!).

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AuthorMichael Sleap
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The word ‘agility’ is used frequently in discussions these days to describe desired characteristics of leaders, team members and organisations.  And that’s appropriate, as the environment in which organisations and their people now operate is increasingly dynamic, complex and volatile. 

Yet despite this acknowledged imperative for individual and organisational agility, so many HR processes are the antithesis of agile.

 Let’s focus on employee performance management.

Is there a more maligned piece of paperwork in the workplace than the performance management/appraisal form?

"The forms are too long and too complicated".  

"It takes too much time to complete the forms".

"The rating scale has too many/too few options". 

The list goes on and on.

According to an Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) report released today there are now almost one million Australians who work as independent contractors in their main job. 

 The Forms of Employment report provides a comprehensive insight into the shift in Australia’s labour market from the traditional employer-employee relationship built around full-time employment to branching out into other less traditional working arrangements. 

 It shows that as well as one million contractors in Australia’s labour market there are also around 367,000 employees engaged on a fixed term contract (one-third of whom are in the Education and training industry) and almost 610,000 ‘other business operators’ (people managing their own business).

Anecdotal evidence about the current state of performance management in Australia suggests that there is a significant proportion of employees without the fundamentals of good performance in place.  

So why then is it that managers in organisations don't treat the expenditure on salaries of employees with the same level of scrutiny that they do contractor or consultant fees?

As HR practitioners we frequently recommend, develop, implement and monitor policies, programs and procedures and provide advice that has a potentially large impact (positive or negative) on an organisation's people and performance. As professionals going about our work how much of what we do comes from a sound evidence base? If challenged, could you provide defensible evidence as to why a current or proposed HR or L&D program or practice will be of benefit to your organisation and its people and why that approach was chosen over other possibilities?

I see that many HR Teams and practitioners are conscious of evidence-based HR and espouse the need to underpin their HR practices with it. And I doubt that many people (although there's a few out there) would dispute that basing HR practices on sound evidence generally leads to more efficient and effective HR practices, which in turn positively impact the organisation's performance.

 

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Almost every company's Learning and Development team is grappling with reduced or tight training budgets on the one hand, and increasing demand for training on the other. In attempting to deal with this challenge, L&D teams should be asking "How effectively are we using our current training budget?", or more pointedly, "how much of our training spend is being burned?".

Outlined below are the main areas in which organisations' training investment is being wasted:

1. Misdiagnosis of development need The most obvious way to burn the training budget is to train a person in an area that isn't a development need.

This could happen by simply putting everyone in a team or department through a training program without any assessment of individual competency (the sheep dip) and therefore training need.

It can also come about due to a misdiagnosis of an apparent development need. For example, an employee is not completing their assigned work in a timely manner so their manager enlists them in a time management training course. However, if the main reason for not completing the work on time is something else such as a lack of understanding of the work itself, then they are being trained in the wrong area. This both burns the training budget and leaves the development need unaddressed.

HR needs to be at the forefront of driving productivity in organisations. Anyone disagree with that? Not likely, especially in this post global financial crisis era where HR more than ever needs to demonstrate its bottom line contribution to business performance. Yet despite general acknowledgement of the importance of increasing organisational productivity, I wonder how many HR professionals can articulate what it means and how HR can help? And if we don't really understand productivity how can we truly influence organisational performance?

Most people in HR haven't studied much in the way of economics and accounting and the concept of productivity, and its practical application in the workplace can be complex and nebulous.

In fact the vast majority of HR related articles about productivity focus almost exclusively on individual efficiency at work - better time management, how to manage your email more effectively, saying no to pointless meetings etc.

Is there anything more uninspiring in large companies than their ‘vision’? Almost every major organisation has one. Do you even know what your employer’s vision is, let alone use it a means of motivation and to guide the decisions that you make on a daily basis? Here are a couple of examples that can be found on the website of large Australian businesses, and which are fairly typical of the ubiquitous company vision.

One large bank's vision is “To be one of the world’s great companies, helping our customers, communities and people to prosper and grow”.

A major oil and gas company's website states “Vision - Our aim is to be a global leader in upstream oil and gas”.

Do you find them inspiring? I am not trying to single out those two companies; the point is that most organisations’ visions are similar. They are typically written as a one sentence statement and are very generic, intangible and formal. It is difficult to see how this is benefiting the company or anyone associated with it.

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AuthorMichael Sleap
Tagsvision

Over the years there is one aspect of organisations that I have come to view as having the greatest positive or negative impact on company performance – executive team alignment. A little while ago, someone I was talking with described their organisation as like a big family.  Not as in one big happy family; the implication was that people behave in some of the worst ways that sometimes only families do. The workplace was neither productive nor a pleasant place to be.

So to continue with the analogy, there are some basic elements which most well-functioning families* seem to have in common:

  • A sense of purpose and priorities;
  • A clear and shared set of values;
  • Good will towards each other;
  • Clear and direct communication; and
  • A good mix of focus on the present and the future.

Clear performance expectations are the foundation for setting team members up to succeed.  It also often seems to be the case that when an employee is perceived to be underperforming there is a lack of shared understanding of what good or bad performance looks like.  This post provides a set of five questions for managers to work through with their people to assess just how clear and shared the performance expectations are and to resolve any ambiguity before it leads to problems. 

Both the manager and team member should come to the discussion prepared with a few brief notes for each question (leave behind position descriptions etc and focus on the conversation).  To be most effective, for each question the team member should first provide their views about their role and then the manager should respond by comparing and contrasting their expectations for the role.  Areas of alignment and differences will quickly become apparent and can be discussed and resolved as the conversation progresses.

Below we use a fast food restaurant scenario to illustrate use of the questions.

Q1.  The top three focus areas of our organisation at the moment are ... This should be kept high level and should help bring some context to the discussion, as every role should be contributing to executing the organisation’s strategy. 

Example:  1. Reducing operating expenses.  2. Increasing sales of high margin items.  3. Expanding aggressively in to emerging markets.

Ask a group of managers for their tips on providing effective feedback, and the ‘sandwich’ method is often put forward as a winning approach. The premise of this technique is that if a person needs to deliver some "negative" feedback to somebody else they should sandwich it between two pieces of positive feedback, to cushion the impact.

I asked several groups of managers why they advocate the use of the feedback sandwich.  The most common responses included:

“Some people won’t be able to handle the negative feedback so it is easier for them if you start and end with the positives”.

“If you are delivering negative feedback you want to finish on a positive note so that the person leaves the conversation feeling motivated”.

The intention behind people’s use of the sandwich feedback method is admirable – maintaining the esteem of team members is important.  Very few people perform at their best when demoralised or anxious.

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Managers are accountable for leading, engaging and developing the most important assets in any organisation - people. But despite the criticality of their work, in many instances there is not enough being done to set up new managers for success - and it is costing businesses plenty. Onboarding of new hires is a high priority in most organisations but there doesn't seem to be the same focus in relation to people who are new to manager roles (either existing employees or external recruits moving into leadership positions).

It is commonplace that people are promoted into leadership roles primarily on the basis of their technical rather than people skills. Often new managers are thrust into a people management role with no prior leadership experience and little or no management training or education.

An organisation wouldn't put a person without relevant experience or qualifications straight into an important role such as an engineer, accountant or IT professional, yet there seems to be an assumption that anyone can be an effective manager and simply pick it up as they go along.

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AuthorMichael Sleap

As the end of the year fast approaches many organisations are abuzz with a flurry of activity as managers conduct performance reviews with each of their people. Now I acknowledge that many people dispute the value of a performance review, but as argued in a previous post, if performance management is done well by a manager across a whole cycle and if it is linked to business strategy, then a performance review should be a valuable tool for the manager, team member and organisation alike (see http://tinyurl.com/3el7nya).

In the midst of all this work a golden opportunity is often lost by organisations - the chance to turn performance review data into strategic information.

For the purposes of this discussion let's assume that an organisation's performance management process uses a combination of performance objectives and competencies against which a person's performance is assessed and that some type of overall performance rating is determined (numeric or otherwise).

Compared with twenty to fifty years ago we now have a much more highly educated workforce as well as more complex and less rigidly defined jobs.  The days of command and control style leadership are all but gone and organisations are now trying to encourage the role of manager as coach working in partnership with their team members. Here are some tips for managers on how to be an effective coach for your team members:

Ignore the fluff and keep it practical A lot of training and information relating to manager as coach is just too complex and often irrelevant to a manager’s role.  Whilst there is some overlap, we need to keep separate the capability requirements of an external executive coach and the role of a manager as coach.  The role of a manager as coach is simply to help their team members to perform their job to the best possible standard and to develop their capability - using coaching.  So ignore the fluff and jargon and focus on the basics.

Be confident – you already coach Many managers do not recognise that they already coach and have most of the skills and knowledge required to coach well.  You already coach – you do it on a day to day basis with your team members and even your kids or partner.  You just may not recognise it as coaching due to the mystique and lack of clarity about what coaching is (or isn't).

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AuthorMichael Sleap

Being a manager is a tough job.  Not only are they accountable for their own work but also for the outputs of their team.  Sure, such accountability is part and parcel of a manager’s role; however a commonly expressed concern of managers is that while they are held accountable for the results of their team they feel that they don’t have the commensurate managerial authorities.  For some managers this leads to frustration, disengagement and even despair at being able to perform their job competently.  Let’s explore this in more detail.

Scenario 1 - “I have employees appointed to my team without having any input in to it”.

Does this scenario ring true in any organisations for which you have worked?

The manager’s manager:  “Hey I just wanted a quick word with you. Our General Manager has a niece who has just completed her master’s degree in philosophy and he asked me if she could join your team and learn the ropes”.

Manager:  “Well I don’t have any vacancies in my team right now and I am not sure how someone’s philosophy qualifications are really the right fit for an IT team – it’s very specialised work you know”.

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AuthorMichael Sleap
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