October 26, 2008

Why conversation trumps "Performance Management"

I hear it time and time again. People lamenting over the lack of open conversation and trust with their managers. Sometimes you hear someone say...."I used to have a great relationship with my manager, but I have a new person and rapport is not so good...." or "I left my job because my manager was impossible. I just couldn't get through to him..".

It is a serious and persistent problem which ostensibly has an easy fix. But I guess if the fix was easy, the problem wouldn't persist.

Companies of any size now implement sophisticated performance management systems to improve the performance of their employees. These are important (I think). Well, OK, they help. But the bottom line is this: if a manager cannot have a direct and sensitive conversation with his/her direct reports and build the kind of trust that is needed for effective team and individual productivity, then the performance management system is window dressing. I've seen it. You have probably seen it. Anonymous surveys confirm this. Yet somehow, we seem unable to fix the problem.

I firmly believe that it is the Manager's responsibility to build that trust and open communication and that is true at every level of the organization from the Executive ranks to front-line supervisors. There is a power differential between a Manager and his/her direct reports. As a Manager, you cannot expect your staff to be open and honest with you unless you take responsibility for setting the tone, especially as they know you have the power to "hire and fire".

What do we need? Managers, as well as all of us, need to learn how to talk with one another. How to listen effectively. How to develop self-awareness, so we know when we are alienating those with whom we are trying to connect; how to balance assertive and accommodative communication; how to resolve conflicts in a win-win way. These are the things that will build trust, increase employee morale and improve productivity.

But first, we must somehow be convinced that something as simple as learning to communicate effectively is worth the attention, time and money we pay to sophisticated performance management systems.

Now that is the real challenge !

October 15, 2008

Hope vs. Fear

Maybe it is reasonable to have a little FEAR. If you are in danger of losing your job, your health care insurance, your house, your lifestyle....then fear may be an appropriate response.

On the other hand, FEAR can become overwhelming, distorted and lead to dangerous actions. We saw the hatred and bigotry that came after 9/11 when FEAR was used by some to move their own agendas forward.

HOPE, on the other hand, is necessary to keep us moving forward. The main factor associated with deep depression and suicide is hopelessness, the strong belief that things will not get better, so why bother, why not just end things now.

Both HOPE and FEAR are natural human emotions. They have evolved to help us maintain a balanced existence. They can both be abused. FEAR is adaptive if it helps you to confront a danger that needs to be addressed, but it can also lead to rash decisions and behaviors.

Blind HOPE can lead us down the wrong path if we don't stop to ask the difficult questions and follow through with real plans and actions. HOPE can be passive. We cannot make things happen by simply "HOPING" they will.

So, when confronted with critical life issues, we should ask ourselves: On what basis am I making this decision ? Is it out of an irrational sense of FEAR, a blind sense of HOPE, or a reasoned thoughtful analysis of what is best?

October 3, 2008

2008 Financial Crisis--Part 2

Well, things seem to go from bad to worse.

While the White House, legislators and the business community are battling over how to fix the serious financial crisis, let's ask ourselves--

What can we expect from our leaders?
How should they respond to this situation?

Some of the behaviors we are witnessing include....
  • Immediate action
  • Making speeches
  • Reflection
  • Anger
  • Information gathering
  • Bringing together competing points of view
  • Blame
  • Reassurance
  • Negotiations
  • Compromise
  • Self aggrandizing
  • Fear mongering
  • Analysis
  • New Ideas
Once the immediate crisis is resolved, there are longer term issues to address....
  1. How did we get ourselves into this mess?
  2. How can we prevent such serious problems from reoccuring?
Leadership matters. It really does !