Performance Management Sessions by JMO Recruiter Joel Junker

In the book, The 8th Habit, the sequel to the best selling book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Steven Covey sites a Harris Interactive poll that asked 23,000 US employees working across a broad set of industries about their ability to focus on and execute their companies’ highest priorities. The poll concluded that 37% said they did not have a clear understanding of what their organization is trying to achieve and why; only 1 in 5 was enthusiastic about their team’s and organization’s goals; only 1 in 5 workers clearly understood their responsibilities and their team’s and organization’s goals; and only 15% felt their organization fully allowed them to execute key goals.

It is easy to dismiss these results with, “Not in my organization. Not my team.” But by surveying 23,000 people, you can’t ignore the poll – far too many people are disengaged from their work, and you can bet there are members of your team who reflect the stunning statistics mentioned in the poll. The consequences of ignoring the poll include employee turnover and significant lost productivity. In business this means increased costs (hiring and retraining costs a lot of money) and waste, and decreased revenue.

Whether a Junior Military Officer (JMO) or a former JMO who has made the transition to business leader, you can take one simple step to change this; but be forewarned, it requires honest and direct communication, and time. The step is, consistent and frequent individual performance management sessions with each of your team members. I often hear leaders talk about how busy they are executing the day-to-day mission, how other responsibilities consume their time, and how they don’t have time for performance review sessions. I say, “How can they afford not to?” The poll proves that lack of performance management sessions exacerbates the problem. Great leaders make time for, and develop a habit of individual performance management.

There are several excellent books with great tips on this topic to help you get started. Steven Covey’s, The 8th Habit, and First Break All the Rules by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman are two such books. Here are some tips I have learned through experience, reading, and other leaders that could help you conduct productive performance sessions.

1. Keep it simple. Some leaders don’t conduct individual performance sessions because they don’t know how. They think they have to be complex, follow a specific process, and include filling out forms/paperwork. In the end, all each session needs to include is open dialogue between the leader and the employee concerning two to three performance areas specific to that employee. Open dialogue means you ask questions and listen to the employee AND the employee also asks you questions and listens to you. Start by setting aside 45 minutes to an hour for each employee and preparing two or three questions on key topics to open the dialogue. Expect to start slowly. It takes time to build a relationship and trust. You may not think you are accomplishing much in the first few sessions, but that is why the second point is critical.

2.Frequency. Most leaders meet with individual team members once a year for performance evaluations. Annual sessions end up being focused only on opportunities for improvement, compensation, and future promotions. On the other hand, frequent sessions allow leaders and employees to build on previous conversations and dive more deeply into recent events, lessons learned, talents, specific goals, and opportunities they have to learn. This also allows the employees to know more consistently where their performance stands and what their opportunities to improve are. They are not left guessing throughout the year while waiting for the annual review and their “report card.”

3.Focus on performance and the future.It is easy to get off track in these sessions. They can become employee complaint sessions, mired in some past problem or focused on compensation. These all take away from the purpose of developing the employee, communicating and aligning goals, and improving performance. I am not saying compensation and listening to complaints are unimportant. My point is that they require a separate time and should be kept out of individual performance management sessions. Instead, focus the session on what the employee wants to accomplish, improve upon and learn.

4.Be honest and direct. It’s hard to give honest and direct feedback. The old adage “truth hurts” is true. However, I have learned that when I fail to give honest feedback, there may not be negative consequences immediately but there will be in the future. Several years ago, one of my team members was underperforming. She was a good person, a culture fit for the company, talented, but just not in the right position to maximize her skills. I created a new role for her maximizing her strengths and mitigating her weaknesses. When I asked her to change positions, I explained it was a new role that we needed for the organization and critical to the company’s success. I did not explain I was moving her because the current role did not fit her mix of strengths and weaknesses. After a few months in the new position, where she was doing well from my perspective, she became frustrated and asked to return to her original position. If I would have been honest from the start, this would not have happened. Instead I initially took the easy way out and later had to explain the additional reason for the move. It created an uncomfortable situation and I lost credibility. It took me a long time to realize my team members are just as smart if not smarter than me. They know exactly what’s happening in the organization, and probably before I do. There have been times when I have let underperformance or behaviors go because I lacked the courage to address them. I have learned that when I address them early and directly, I get a lot more respect from the entire team and the individual person as well.

5. Be empathetic. When I led all male soldiers as an Army Armor Officer, it was easy for me to be direct and honest with my soldiers. When I did evaluation reports on my non-commissioned officers, I didn’t mince words. They were men and in the Army, they could handle it. Besides, they had contracts and I had rank, they wouldn’t and couldn’t revolt or leave. I learned the hard way. This style did not motivate them to change. I learned I had to be empathetic during these sessions. Through many sessions, I began to learn a strong majority of people want to do the right thing and be successful. I also learned everyone has struggles. To be more empathetic I learned to create an environment where the person would be comfortable engaging me in personal conversation. This meant conducting these sessions in private and without a lot of distractions from the day’s work. I also asked them more questions about their personal situations and goals so they would understood I cared about their work as well as who they are as people. I saw results immediately.

6. Keep the employee involved. In First Break All the Rules, the authors argue, “In many companies, ‘performance appraisal’ is something that happens to an employee.” Employees show up to the session ready to listen, but not much else. It shouldn’t be this way. The employee needs to be actively involved and help manage these sessions. Have the employee be responsible for keeping track of performance, accomplishments, lessons learned, and tools developed. Make it a requirement for the employee to be ready to discuss these as well as their progress during each session. By keeping the employee involved and giving responsibility, you will eventually find that the employee leads the session discussing future goals and what they want to learn, and offering ideas to improve team performance.

Make individual performance management a habit. It may be hard at first, and you may not see immediate change. However, if you are patient and consistent, you will develop engaged team members and see a difference in both individual and team performance.

READING RECOMMENDATION

Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High is a book full of tips on how to handle difficult and important conversations. I read this book 3 years ago and immediately started applying the principles in my personal and professional relationships. When you read this book, you will learn how to identify when a conversation becomes “crucial” (difficult and important). You will also learn tips on how to continue a dialogue when the conversation becomes “heated” or “risky”, listen to others when they blow up, how to communicate persuasively during the conversation, and more. The book is on our Recommending Reading Program for our candidates and I continuously recommend it as the first book our candidates or Cameron-Brooks Alumni read after they finish the required reading.

MOTIVATIONAL QUOTE

“Destiny is not a matter of chance but a matter of choice. It is not a thing to be waited for. It is a thing to be achieved.” William Jennings Bryan

Cameron-Brooks and I would sincerely appreciate any suggestions you have for books or quotes we should include in future Career Tip e-mails. We are avid readers and committed to lifelong learning. We learn so much from our client companies, alumni and candidates. Please e-mail me at jjunker@cameron-brooks.com with any suggestions or ideas for improving our Career Tip Email.

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