5 Performance Management Myths Every Leader Should Avoid

The North Wind and the Sun is a famous story that are part of the ancient Greek’s collection, Aesop’s Fables.  It begins with the Sun and North Wind arguing over which is stronger.  To resolve the dispute, they agree to a challenge when they see a man walking along a road, wearing a coat.  Whoever can get the man to remove his coat is the stronger of the two.  The North Wind goes first, blowing and howling more intensely with each gust, frustrated that the man holds his coat only tighter against the wind.  Defeated, it’s then the Sun’s chance.  The Sun begins to shine with gentle beams.  The man unfastens the coat, leaving it to hang loosely from his shoulders.  As the beams grow warmer, the man takes off his coat and sits beneath a tree to enjoy the shade.

The moral of this story is “gentleness and kind persuasion win where force and bluster fail”.  Today, more than 2500 years since written, this story also reflects what we know to be true about human behavior.  Our behavior is largely driven by our experiences and how we feel.  While we may under stable or controlled situations show up a certain way, how we act in stressful or even uncomfortable situations can be very different.  So what does this mean for our workplaces?  How can we lead our teams to success knowing the journey of paving any path is uncomfortable and riddled with stressful obstacles?  Unfortunately much of today’s performance management practices are outdated (if not completely contradictory to what we now know about how we work).  Even the terminology used….driving results….corrective action…..performance review…..the term performance management itself….imply a combative or  suspicious relationship between employee and manager.  Much like the North Wind’s approach toward the man with the cloak, we remain convinced that negative reinforcement and punishment yield desired results…despite our failed attempts.  Here are five of the most common performance management myths that continue to blow through and harm our teams.

Myth #5:  The purpose of Performance Improvement Plans (PIPs) is to set clear expectations for a poor performing employee.

Have you ever struggled to meet the expectations of your job?  Did you need someone to put it in writing to recognize your job was in jeopardy?  From a legal and ethical standpoint, setting expectations is important.  From a commonsense standpoint though – it’s ridiculous.  Using a PIP merely to outline expectations for someone to keep his/her job is similar to describing the water to someone who is drowning, believing it will help him swim.  The primary purpose of a PIP is to create and develop a plan for the employee to improve.  A good PIP will include short-term measurable actions that align to longer-term goals essential indicative of progress.  A great PIP will include manager commitments such as a period of more frequent check-ins to reassess progress.  PIPs are a plan for success, and both the manager and the employee should be collaborating on how to save the situation.  And because the point of the plan is to improve, progress is key.  And similar to horseshoes and hand grenades, close a counts.  An employee who performs better although falls slightly short of the goal, should continue to be supported with the PIP process.  We all learn differently and at different speeds.  Performance management is about the trajectory.  So, an employee’s performance that is trending toward success that over time proves to be sustainable is a positive outcome for any PIP.

Myth #4:  Bonuses drive employees to work harder and smarter.

Bonuses, commissions, and incentives are not new concepts.  Perhaps one of the first positive psychology philosophies adopted by workplaces, pay-for-performance aims to encourage certain desired behaviors and results through positive reinforcement.  Research has shown however that the concept of how pay impacts how we work is much more complex.  Not all pay-for-performance plans produce better employee output.  Success of such a plan depends on the level of complexity in priorities within a role (ie, an incentive for quantity will often compromise quality goals), the level of social dynamics among coworkers, and the level of (existing) motivation within the employee-base to do a good job.  When considering how financial incentives improve employee performance, it’s first important to realize employees fail to succeed in their jobs for only one of two reasons, skill or will.  This is not meant to validate or reinforce the unfortunate misconception that struggling employees are either incompetent or lazy.  If anything, this false belief tends to be held and perpetuated by leaders that are underdeveloped or inexperienced. Neither term meant to reflect an employee’s motivations but instead their experience/expertise (skill) and habits (will).  For example, a sales representative that fails to meet her quota each month is either lacking the experience in converting leads to sales (skill) or has failed to adopt the habits of feeding and maintaining a healthy pipeline (will).  While financial incentives like commissions or bonuses may increase an employee’s short-term motivations, they don’t change an employee’s experience or habits.  In short, pay-for-performance plans can be a great reward for employees making significant contributions to the company’s success.  Pay-for-performance is not however an appropriate or effective way to resolve performance issues.  Research shows leaders meeting with employees more frequently, providing constructive feedback and coaching with those struggling is much more effective in improving performance.  Companies cannot simply buy their way out of it.

Myth #3:  Good employees don’t need performance discussions.

Why do top-performers leave your organization?  Performance discussions, for top-performers, serve as a way to retain them.  Given research shows high performers can deliver 400% more productivity than the average performer, your team’s success could drastically improve if this article dispels your belief in this myth alone.  Only 53% of top performing employees feel their managers provide valuable and timely feedback.  Would your team’s performance be different if your best employees were getting feedback on how they can improve?  How many of them would stay if you used frequent performance discussions with high-performers as a way to detect poor job satisfaction or work-related issues?  Weekly 15-minute check-ins, asking employees two questions, 1) what are their priorities for the week, and 2) how can you (their leader) help them, is one of the simplest and most effective habits a leader can adopt.  Not only will these interactions help retain and develop top performing employees, they will also establish a valuable connections, a quality consistent with the #1 driver of high-performing teams, psychological safety.

 

Myth #2:  Poor employee performance is caused by poor training.

Training is often the first, if not only, offering to an under-performing employee.  But rarely is training the actual answer.  Training is intended to teach skills.  Learning to use new technology or how to create and interpret business financials are skills to be gained by training.  More commonly challenging areas where employees fail to perform revolve around habits.  Staying motivated, time management, effective communication, collaboration, and attendance are the top employee performance issues….and none of them have to do with a lack of skills or need for training.  Similar to why we continue to consume junk food, eat too much, stay up too late, hit the snooze button too many times in the morning, or watch too much TV….it’s not because we lack the knowledge that these behaviors are harmful.  We continue to do things in spite of the negative consequences and even harm they produce.  We are habitual creatures.  It’s not something most of us like to admit.  Research shows habits dictate 40% of what we do each day!  If this is the case, wouldn’t it be fair to assume at least 40% of performance issues are simply bad habits?  What would helping an employee to replace bad habits or build new ones look like?  According to James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, willpower is like a muscle, so the key is to start small, increasing over time.  Staying consistent and not succumbing to feelings of overwhelm or hopelessness helps to create sustainable success.  So, start struggling employees with smaller goals.  If an Inside Sales Representative is not hitting their monthly sales goals, you may realize he is failing to maintain a healthy pipeline.  Start with a number of quality calls he should make each day.  Then look to add in how many appointments he should set each week.  Then how many proposals he should submit….then how many new customers….then how much new revenue.  It’s not as black and white as having him listening to sales training videos, and it may take more patience as his manager, but isn’t that the job of a manager….to develop their people?  If this is not a manager’s #1 priority, perhaps the manager could also benefit from replacing or building new habits.

Myth #1:  Poor performing employees are disengaged or lack motivation to succeed.

Have you lost a loved one and returned to work while still grief-stricken?  Or, have you ever been really sick but decided to work rather than go see a doctor or rest?  How was the quality of your work during these times, honestly?  While working today, if you received a call that your house was broken into, it’s highly unlikely you would be very productive should you try to remain working for the rest of the day, without details   We are not robots.  We are complex beings. The same quality in all of us that drives us to do amazing things like create, collaborate with one another, and innovate, is the same quality that makes us susceptible to the natural setbacks and challenges of life.  While someone may LOVE her job, her team, and her boss…..how she shows up to work is not simply a reflection of how she feels about work.  We are a sum of our experiences – ALL OF THEM.  So, an employee that is stressed or fearful about life outside of work will naturally display symptoms of stress and fear at work.  She may seem tired, suffer from pain or headaches, appear more anxious than normal, struggle to focus, withdrawal socially, and seem more irritable or angry.  All well-documented symptoms of chronic stress, regardless of what is causing that stress.  If she is going through a divorce, or recently lost a loved one, is struggling financially, or with raising children…her poor performance may not be about her feelings toward the job at all.  It is the whole person that shows up to work each day.  It is the whole person that we as leaders are coaching when they’re struggling to perform.  While we as leaders may not be able to solve the problems at home, we can and ought to honor life challenges our employees are dealing with outside of the office.  It starts by connecting with our teams.  While many of today’s leaders have been promoted for our problem-solving capabilities.  This is not the skill that makes someone a good leader.  Good leaders support and collaborate with employees to solve problems.  It’s the difference in giving a man a fish versus teaching him how to fish.  So, the first step to collaborating with an employee on improving his performance is to ask him why he’s struggling.  Pull him aside, share your observations, let him know you’re concerned, ask what’s going on and how you can help.  Start this conversation before you come bearing paperwork.  According to a recent study, 62% of working Americans are lonely, meaning they may not have anyone else to talk to about challenges they are facing.  In many cases, employee life obstacles may first appear as performance issues.  If they don’t have a healthy and supportive network of people around them, you might be the only one to ask them this question.  Because we are social creatures, our work is a reflection of how we are feeling.  Just as a sales or customer service representative may struggle to be patient with or listen to customers when they are not feeling well emotionally or physically, a person that builds websites or analyzes financials is likely to make more mistakes or be less productive when emotionally or physically struggling.  As leaders of teams, it is critical we take a whole-person approach to performance management…..not just for the sake of our teams but for humanity.

Senior leaders say the number one weakness of their organizations’ leaders is their ability to have difficult performance discussions with direct reports.  Unfortunately, it’s our society’s belief in many of these myths that have prevented leaders from learning how to navigate these types of employee-discussions.  The longer we pretend these myths are effective only prolongs the pain felt by our businesses, and those that serve them.  So, who will you be in the story of your team’s success and performance?  Will you be the North Wind, blowing with all your might to make them do what you want….only to fail and be left deflated?  Or will you choose a the way of the Sun?

Intentional Leadership Challenge Kick-Off!

“The more intentional you are about your leadership growth, the greater your potential for becoming the leader you’re capable of being. Never stop learning.” – John C Maxwell

Leaders who intentionally nurture an environment of mutual trust and respect drive stronger employee performance.  A recent study showed the same employees working for an average leader, when led by a highly effective leader, increased productivity by 50%. In this 8-week challenge, you will gain valuable insights to create a framework of effective and sustainable leadership practices with measurable results.

In 8 weeks, leaders learn to inspire teams to ….do great work…. collaborate….. innovate ….and create meaningful results.  Leaders receive:

    • Weekly 1:1 coaching
    • Weekly accountability meeting with other leaders to work through challenges & track progress.
    • TeamEthos insights – real-time actionable insights  to maximize leader’s team performance & develop leadership behaviors in the moment.
    • Weekly team progress report, a unique tool customized for the leader’s team that reveals inefficiencies, opportunities, and how to connect with team members in a way that generates meaningful results.

Registration is limited to ensure participation, so please complete the below form to register today!

$1575 for single participant, $2520 for two.  Register before April 1st and get a 10% discount!

We love teams, so get a 10% discount when you register 2 or more before April 1st!

2020 Leadership Performance Challenge Kick Off!

Virtual leadership call

How would business be different if managers more consistently and effectively, managed employee performance?

Would sales be better?  Customers happier?  Would you sleep better? !

According to a 2019 DDI report, senior leaders say performance discussions with employees as the #1 weakness within their management teams.  And….managers agreed.  Managers are lacking the know-how and confidence to effectively manage and discuss employee performance, and it’s hurting our businesses.  A company’s performance can never improve unless employee performance improves first.

In this interactive series, leaders from varying industries come together virtually weekly for 10 weeks to discuss, practice, and collaborate on performance management techniques.

Upon completion of the challenge, leaders will:

  1. Have completed a performance review for each direct report.
  2. Developed employee and team goals that align with organizational targets.
  3. Demonstrate competency and confidence in difficult employee performance discussions.
  4. Be able to create performance improvement plans for under-performing team members.
  5. Have a check-in schedule with direct employees to ensure potential performance issues are identified and addressed proactively.
  6. Gain a network of peer leaders for continued development & support.

Cost:  $118/week!  Additional discounts for multiple managers from the same company.

Because sessions are interactive, we’d first like to understand more about what you intend to gain, for yourself or your leaders, from this series.

To learn more about the challenge, or to participate, please complete the following:


Better performance starts with better performance discussions…..and now there’s a 10-week path to get you there!

The Future of Remote Work

Remote worker

Last weekend, I caught up with some friends….in the very awkward social distancing way that we’ve grown to know in 2020.  It’s a group that has known each other for years….some since childhood.  Perhaps due to so much history, we rarely talk about work.  This time though, much to my HR-geeky pleasure, everyone seemed to have something to say about how work has changed this year in light of COVID19.  Nearly everyone, despite working in different industries, at different levels, and with varying levels of expertise, is now working remotely either some or all of the time.  Few expect to ever return to an office full-time and are now realizing what it means to work 100% remote.  Many are not happy about it.  The annoying HR person in me wanted to shout, “I knew it!”.  Fortunately though I know to keep that annoying HR voice in check in social settings.  She’s a buzzkill!

What are we missing about our workplaces?

What we miss about collocated work depends on role.  For managers – it’s seeing and knowing employees are working.  For employees – it’s the interactions with coworkers.  Ultimately though, these are two sides of the same coin, because whether managers are unsure employees are working, or employees miss interacting with peers, it comes down to our dependency on visual communication.  According to a recent survey of more than 2,300 US workers, 74% say “people” are what they miss most about the office.  As much as 93% of communication is thought to be nonverbal (Mehrabian & Wiener, 1967 and Mehrabian & Ferris, 1967), with body language and tone of voice having a much larger impact on our understanding of messages.  Although there is some debate on the extent to which we depend on tone and body language in communication with others – anyone who has worked in a remote capacity would likely agree with this information.  Emails, texts, slack messages without tone or body language, are often misinterpreted.  When stress enters the scene, communication becomes even more fragmented.  High levels of stress actually impairs brain function.  The part of the brain responsible for planning, communication, and logical reasoning suffers – leading to more frequent mistakes, frustration, ultimately leading to feelings of disconnection and loneliness. Feeling stressed, left without the nonverbal cues on which we depend to connect with others, not only our work suffers, we also suffer personally.  So while very few of us miss the commute or inconvenience of sitting in an actual office, we do miss interacting with others.  We are after all social creatures.  Yes, introverts, even you.

What challenges lie ahead?

Social isolation

A closely watched industry during the pandemic has been call centers.  Historically resistant to the work-from-home model, call centers were part of the 88% of companies to seemingly overnight switch to remote work, encouraging and in some cases requiring employees to work from home and socially distance.  Last month, J.D. Power published findings from a survey of 124 customer service organizations where 86% of companies say they plan to implement permanent work-from-home models even after the pandemic – clearly happy with how their teams are performing.  Call centers, notorious for their workforce analytics, recognized an unexpected phenomenon, increased Average Handle Time.  Average Handle Time (AHT) is a common call center key performance indicator (KPI) reflecting the average amount of time that a call center employee spends on the phone with customers/callers.  During the pandemic, 55% of companies saw an increase in AHT, despite lower call volumes.  Why?  Employees and customers alike, are lonely, more eager than normal to chat with someone on the phone – even a stranger.  Perhaps one of the few positive effects to life in quarantine, it’s not something to be ignored or monetized.  This finding serves as warning of how significant yet subtle we are to our need for social interaction and connection.

Exit, employee engagement. Enter wellbeing.

For years we have been consumed with the concept of keeping our employees engaged, certain that better engagement means happier and more productive employees.  Historically, employee engagement was a term used to identify an employee’s involvement, enthusiasm, and commitment to their workplace.  Although methods of calculating  engagement vary, most consist of qualitative data reflecting a combination of two things: 1) the extent to which an employee understands his role as it relates to the company’s success, and 2) behaviors in how an employee approaches her work.  With the pandemic however, we’ve seen this definition change, both rapidly and drastically.  Today’s definition of employee engagement has shifted toward a definition of wellbeing.  For many of us, our workplaces during the pandemic have validated what research has revealed for years, a culture of wellbeing is a high-performing culture. A 1997 study illustrates the positive correlation between employee mood and quality service interactions with customers.  A 2005 study confirms the importance wellbeing has on creativity.  More recently, a 2019 meta-analysis of 339 independent research studies related to wellbeing and either employee, team, or company performance, found positive correlations between employee wellbeing and customer loyalty (0.30) and employee productivity (0.20).  It turns out, we humans are a bit more complex than previously predicted by the traditional concept of employee engagement.  Even if we care deeply about our professional success, the success of our company, and understand and are committed to the importance of our work, the quality and output of our work can still be jeopardized by how we think and feel – even when thoughts and feelings are unrelated to work.  Health concerns, fearing for the safety and health of our loved ones, caring for our children unable to attend school or daycare, concerns about the economy, racial tensions….basically the entire 2020 human experience is taxing to both our emotional and psychological state.  And because our modern world is primarily made up of knowledge-based jobs, dependent on our cognitive ability to solve complex problems, our thoughts and emotions have a significant impact on how we work.  In times of stress, cognitive function is impaired.  Research and the pandemic serve as evidence that good work is not simply a choice as an extension of our work ethic.  Good work is a byproduct of our wellbeing.

Implications for the Future of Work

Stop obsessing on the physical and look to the psychological.

Several new terms and phrases have surfaced so far in 2020 such as social distancing, maskne, and a new normal.  Another term to surface recently is bossware – software apps that allow companies to monitor the computer and online activity of its workers that functions a lot like spyware.  While some software is more invasive, covertly capturing employee private social media passwords, others are much more overt, tracking an employee’s key strokes and opening and closing of work-related applications to then calculate and report productivity scores back to the employee, his/her boss, and his/her boss’ boss, and even coworkers.  A recent article reported two such software applications have seen a 500% and 600% increase in prospective or actual users since the pandemic!  These tools are growing in popularity serving as a reminder of Albert Einstein’s quote, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them”.  A micromanager pre-COVID will likely be a micromanager post-COVID unless she decides to develop into an actual leader.  True leaders understand leading people effectively when it comes to work, means first understanding the value of the work.  Unless a company’s success somehow depends on how many keystrokes are made by an employee in a sitting or how many websites and software applications she opens and closes in her shift, the data collected is useless.  Without a qualitative measurement, these metrics mean very little.  Something understood by most modern workplace HR professionals, if you want to identify holes and gaps in any people-facing system or structure, put down incentives and consequences.  People will naturally seek out ways to game systems to avoid pain (consequences) and achieve pleasure (incentives).  Rarely do they drive the behaviors you hoped to elicit.  Instead, today’s leaders and workplaces are best to invest in creating a high-performing culture.  Generally high-performing teams, remote or onsite, are made up of more self-aware workers and have a higher level of psychological safety within teams.  A study on high-performing and average leaders showed high-performing leaders were significantly more self-aware than average leaders.  A 2017 report identifies employee self-awareness and emotional intelligence as having a significant impact on employee performance in two different areas, contextual performanceinterpersonal behaviors or actions that benefit the organization, and task performanceusing skills, knowledge, or accomplishing specialized tasks to support core functions of a business.  So, while some managers choose to focus on driving the physical tasks associated with knowledge-based work, such as typing, opening and closing programs, etc,. others are choosing to focus on an employee’s psychological approach to work like self-awareness, emotional intelligence, psychological safety.  Research shows us that those workplaces investing in employee mindfulness and wellbeing see a much bigger return on their investment compared to those allocating dollars to bossware-type technology.

It’s a team effort

For years we have stressed the importance of leadership, making statements like “people don’t quit companies, they quit managers”.  But, in many cases the manager is simply the embodiment of the company.  Who hired and trained the manager?  Who holds the manager accountable?  And when employees don’t quit – is it only because of a good manager?  Most companies attribute their high employee retention in part to managers, but not entirely.  So, if the saying is true, how would any of this make sense?  Managers are an important part of the employee experience, but less as a standalone component, and more as a byproduct.  How individuals and teams feel and perform today has much more to do with their connection to the team, as a whole.  High-performing teams, as mentioned previously, have a higher level of psychological safety.  To measure psychological safety, individuals indicate how much they agree or disagree with statements like, members of this team are able to bring up problems and tough issues, and it is difficult to ask other members of this team for help.  While a manager can clearly impact whether a person feels comfortable speaking candidly or asking for help, peers within the team also have influence.  Psychological safety isn’t just about how individuals perceive the leader.  Psychological safety is about how individuals perceive the team.  It’s a team measurement highly reflective of a team’s potential to be high-performing.  Research on social relationships and business performance further demonstrates the importance of trust and connection within teams.  A report by Gallup shows 20% of employees say they have a best friend at work.  Based on their findings, they predict companies where 60% of employees have a best friend at work see 36% fewer safety incidents, 7% more engaged customers, and 12% higher profits.  In a separate study, 72% of workers indicate the most meaningful and memorable recognition they received came from someone other than their direct manager – placing a high value on other workplace relationships such as peers, customers, and indirect leaders.  Looking toward the future, it’s critical we look to create an environment conducive to success – where employees look to peers and leaders for support and connection.  Particularly for remote teams – even the best leaders do not have the bandwidth to serve as the sole thread linking employees together.  People perform and feel better when they support one another, can collaborate on projects, and have a network within the workplace.  Historically we have hired, developed, and rewarded leaders based largely on their ability to solve problems.  In doing so, we’ve inadvertently stifled the creativity, innovation, and success achieved when we instead empower entire teams to solve problems.  Leaders of the future will not be tactical problem solvers.  Instead, leaders of the future will be coaches, understanding how to ignite and enable teams to collaborate.

How will you remember 2020?  Spoiler alert, it turns out bad memories tend to stay with us more than the good ones.  As 2020 has had its fair share of distress, to say the least, most of us will associated 2020 with health concerns, social and racial tensions, and economic woes, no doubt.  But, how each of us changes from these events will likely differ, greatly.  In 2007, days after my 27th birthday I caught a virus and was rushed into surgery after learning my body was shutting down and that I had only a few hours left to breathe.  A month after recovering, heading home from picking up a coworker’s wedding gift, I lost control of my car and hit a concrete barricade at around 50mph head on.  Months later in an attempt to reconnect with someone I was in a relationship with earlier that year, I learned he’d been killed in a tragic accident.  It was not a fun year, but most certainly a memorable one.  Today however, I reflect on 2007 as the year that saved my life.  To that point, I’d been living a fairly shallow life. Most of my relationships revolved around parties and going out, not about connecting.  I looked to food as comfort, not nourishment.  I treated my body like a well-insured weekend rental car, not bothering to make maintenance a priority.  2007 presented me with the painful but valuable opportunity to reconsider my entire way of life.  It’s been better each day because of it.  So although 2020 has no doubt been painful for you personally as a parent, spouse, friend, and member of your community, and professionally as a leader, what will matter most is how you come out of it.  How has 2020 changed your relationship with humanity?  How will you choose to lead the future of work?

 

Interested in learning tools to help your team collaborate and connect?  Click here to learn more about Team Ethos.

Staying Connected While Working Apart – Effectively deploying & managing remote teams

How are your remote employees working?

Gradually, many of us are coming to the realization that our future consists of a new normal in the face of COVID-19.  What will that look like?  While industries such as healthcare and education will likely transform significantly – how we work as a whole has changed, overnight.  In response to COVID-19, companies scrambled to shift office workers to working from home and for many, there’s no turning back.  But many have realized, working remotely is not all it’s cracked up to be – for remote employees or leaders.  People have been working from home for a few weeks now yet teams are still struggling – even more than they did two weeks ago!  Why?  It’s not a lack of trying, and it’s not a matter of technology.  What separates good teams from underperforming teams is not the distance between them but the connection they have with each other.  This new normal of remote work is a call to us as leaders to foster connection.

Presented by Teresa Marzolph, Culture Engineered

Employee Experience Basics Every Leader Should Know

Person walking down a hallway

“A mind that is stretched  by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.” ~ Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.

What experiences have made you who you are today?  Whether good or bad, experiences can change us.  An event may change the way we see a person, or the world entirely.  Being part of or witnessing an incident can trigger intense chemical responses within us of pleasure or pain.  Our perception and response to an occurrence transforms a neutral event to a life-altering experience.  In recent years we’ve applied this understanding to our workplaces, resulting in the term employee experience, often referred to as EX.

What is the definition of employee experience?

Employee experience is an all-encompassing term used to describe an employee’s perception and observations regarding the collective events, interactions, and benefits he/she undergoes as part of the journey in working for a company.  Unlike many definitions that define the experience as simply a person’s journey working for an organization, the word experience implies the personal and emotional response to potentially neutral events.  While workplace events and communications take place in an office or around an employee, it’s an employee’s perception and/or interpretation of these events that make for his/her unique experience.

How is employee experience different from employee engagement?

The term employee engagement has been around for several years.  Engaged employees are defined as physically energized, emotionally connected, mentally focused, and indicate alignment with the purpose of the company (Loehr & Schwartz, 2003).  By this definition, employee engagement is a positive state of mind or mindset held by employees.  Research suggests companies with high employee engagement are more profitable, more productive, have higher sales, are safer, have lower turnover, and have lower employee absenteeism.  Whereas the term employee engagement is used to describe how connected an employee feels to his/her work and company, the term employee experience is used to describe an employee’s perception of a collection of events and exchanges related to his/her working for the company.  How much a person feels connected to or disconnected from their work may be a result of a positive or negative employee experience.  So, while a high level of engagement may be the goal, it is achieved by strategically improving different aspects of the employee experience.  Many metrics may be used to assess how positive or negative a company’s employee experience is.  Employee engagement is just one of these metrics used.

How is a company’s employee experience measured?

The ultimate goal of a positive employee experience is a healthy business.  So, when a company fails to perform successfully, it is often a sign of a misaligned or even poor employee experience.  Because of this, metrics used to assess a company’s operational and financial performance such as revenue, shrinkage, customer retention, and productivity also serve as valuable methods of measuring a company’s employee experience.

A company’s workforce data such as employee turnover, retention, absenteeism, and overtime per employee rates are also indicators of an effective or ineffective employee experience as these datapoints are reflective of employee behaviors driven by their experience.  The two most popular methods for evaluating a company’s employee experience are employee engagement, as explained previously, and the Employee Net Promoter Score (eNPS).  The eNPS system was born out of the customer loyalty metric, Net Promoter Score (NPS), first recognized by Fred Reichheld of Bain & Company in 2003.  Through research, Reichheld and the Bain team found customers responding positively to the question, “what is the likelihood you would refer Company X to a friend or colleague”, were very likely to demonstrate positive buying behaviors (rebuying, referring new customers, and spend more).  It was later as the concept of the internal customer (employees) grew that industry and leaders began applying the model internally giving way to the eNPS, asking employees the question, “On a scale of 0-10, how likely are you to recommend the Company as a (good) place to work?”.  Higher eNPS ratings reflect more employee loyalty, higher employee satisfaction, and suggest a more engaged workforce.  While generally this is a metric intended for internal use only, not designed for benchmarking, scores can range from -100 to +100 and generally scores in the 10-30 range are considered good, and 50+ considered excellent.

What can a company do to improve its employee experience?

To improve a company’s employee experience is to improve an employee’s perception of how the company rewards, recognizes, motivates, drives, communicates with, hires, terminates, values, supports, and develops its employees.  While an eNPS score can provide an overview of how an employee feels about and perceives the company, an eNPS rating does not identify why.  To improve the employee experience it is then important to understand both the employee’s overview of the company AND the what led to this perception.  For this reason, it is best to ask employees to rate not only their overall perception of the company (eNPS) but also ask their outlook as it relates to attributes of the employee experience (recognition, communication, safety, brand, management engagement, employee engagement, culture, compensation & benefits, and business viability).  With this data, companies can decipher what employees like and dislike about their interactions with the company as well as how heavily the different aspects of the employee experience impact their unique company culture.   For example, a media company had poor employee ratings around compensation and benefits.  Upon further examination however, compensation & benefit ratings had very little impact on whether an employee felt positively or negatively about the company’s employee experience (no correlation between comp & benefit ratings and eNPS ratings).  Instead, recognition (how employees feel rewarded for outstanding performance) and brand pride (whether employees are proud to work for the company and of the company’s impact to the industry/community) were the most influential attributes to a positive employee experience.  With this realization, the company chose to strategically invest allotted time and budget to people initiatives around recognition and employee-brand alignment, appreciating the value employees place on these aspects of their relationship with the company.  These insights allowed the company to create a much more thoughtful and unique experience for employees that resonates with its culture and helps deliver better business results.

Just as today we each are a culmination of our past individual experiences, our current workplace cultures are a reflection of our collective employee experiences.  Experiences are not based on logic.  We often don’t even realize what historical work-related events led to the perceptions we hold so firmly today.  By asking concise, reflective questions in a strategic way, we shift the employee experience from habitual to intentional.  Every workplace has an employee experience leading somewhere.  Where is your current employee experience leading you?

Learn more about surveys to capture your eNPS score and identify the critical attributes to your employee experience.

Bringing Value to Employee Reviews

Two men meeting

Are you gearing up for annual employee reviews?  And are you dreading it?  If you’ve answered “yes” to these questions, know you are not alone.  A 2018 WorldatWork survey shows 94% of companies conduct formal employee reviews annually – and a separate study suggests we hate them.  95% of managers surveyed are dissatisfied are with the process and nearly 90% of HR executives feel results are inaccurate.  A Gallup survey shows only 14% of employees feel performance reviews inspire them to improve.  So, if it’s so awful, should we just chuck the review process all together?  No.  Although there is frustration on all sides of the current traditional process, employees who have had a review in the past year are more engaged in their work than employees who haven’t.  Surprisingly, 82% of employees say they value receiving feedback (positive and negative) with 65% of employees wanting more feedback.  So rather than abandoning performance reviews entirely, here are the three ways to elevate your culture and your business by simply fixing what’s broken with our current approach to employee reviews.

1.  Increase the frequency.

Seems counterintuitive right?  Managers, HR professionals, and employees dread them, so do them MORE?  Much of what seems to be broken is that we are only talking about performance once per year.  A Gallup poll shows only 15% of employees working for a manager who does not meet with them regularly are engaged.  Consider this, what if you set an intention on January 1st to lose 15 pounds by December 31st?  Then, come the morning of December 31st you weigh yourself – for the first time since setting the intention nearly a year earlier and you instead gained five pounds.  How would you feel?  How would it have been different had you known in September that you were further away from your goal that in January?  You could’ve chosen to do something about it – but now that you waited the entire year, you’ve really painted yourself into a corner of disappointment.  Waiting to talk about employee performance is the same.  No one works their butts off only to have it all come crashing down when it’s too late.  Frequent, less formal reviews, often referred to as check-ins, allow employees some time for course correction and leaders the opportunity to evaluate employee goals and performance as needs of the business change.  Check-ins also allow for more trust to be established between employees and managers.  Social psychology identifies two types of trust, cognitive – trust based on what you know about someone, and affective – trust based on emotional connection and closeness.  It’s through frequent interaction with another that we develop affective trust in another – so long as both parties act in a trustworthy way of course.

2.  Care

Recently there has been a lot of talk, and some significant research on what makes a good boss.  Top traits include being a good coach, helping employees achieve their professional goals, and caring about employee success & well-being.  A Harvard study of 3,200 employees found employees describing their culture as caring, had higher levels of satisfaction and teamwork, less absenteeism, and better company performance.  What this means from an employee appraisal or check-in standpoint is – performance discussions should serve as a time to either support or recognize an employee depending on how that employee is doing.  Performance reviews – whether formal or informal – are not simply a time to report back performance data.  If an employee isn’t performing, work with the employee to identify why he/she is struggling – and how to fix it!  If an employee is performing above expectations, recognize the employee for a job well done.  Get to know about what is important to employees – what they love and dislike about their work.  Caring about employee success will not only make for more valuable reviews and check-ins but also make for a more open and honest relationship.  What managers did you have that cared about your happiness and success?  How did you choose to show up for them each day?  Our employees are no different.  Start each employee check-in by asking how they are doing.  Did they recently go on vacation?  Is his son graduating high school?  Did she get a new car?  Did she have a big sale?  Is it his busy time of year?  Start each check-in building rapport, reinforcing you care.  “I know you are wanting to spend every minute with your son before he heads off to college, so let’s talk about what you have on your plate and make sure we’re streamlining everything as much as possible to get you out early on Fridays.”  Empathizing with the employee and offering support to get work done in a way that benefits you both is highly effective.

3.  Collaborate on goals

The happiest and most valuable employees are the employees that understand how their work translates to company success.  They get it.  Without this understanding, an employee’s manager is no longer a manager but a babysitter or a person that barks orders.  But leaders are responsible for exposing employees to this mindset, by explaining company initiatives and describing how the employee’s work aligns to those initiatives.  For this reason, effective employee reviews happen when employees and managers collaborate on employee goals.  With a basic understanding of what the company aims to achieve for the month, quarter, year, or whatever timeframe, encourage employees to create their own goals for the period.  Aside from helping employees get more engaged in the business, there are also some psychological benefits.  Research shows that when we create our own goals, the emotional and strategic parts of the brain work together to plan for and envision the goal, turning our attention away from less productive thoughts and events that aren’t aligned to our goals.  When an employee then creates his or her own goal that a leader then reviews and/or tweaks, the employee is more emotionally and mentally committed to the goal that if we as leaders were to just prescribe them goals.  When we encourage employees to create specific challenging goals, studies show these difficult goals will actually lead to higher performance than easy goals (such as “do your best), or no goals at all.  Because mindset is critical to achieving any goal – regardless of it being personal or professional, this step is key to making a valuable performance discussion.

Like any interaction with employees, it’s more valuable to both parties when it’s an exchange, not one-way feedback.  Historically, performance appraisals were one-way discussions in which a manager advises each employee of how well or poorly he/she performed over the year.  Is it any wonder we all dread this process?  By implementing these three simple strategies in your performance management process, you solve for a healthier and more effective feedback loop in which leaders work with employees to achieve success.  More successful companies start with more successful people and feedback paves the way.

Does your performance management process need a boost?  Learn more about our tools from a Culture Engineer.

A punch to the face taught me to fight. Why a culture unafraid of failure always wins.

1996 sparring competition

I was 16 and it was my first real sparring match.  Although I started karate when I was 13, I had braces.  For safety reasons, we weren’t allowed to spar with braces, so my training in sparring was delayed, significantly.  I was three years behind everyone else my age and I was TERRIFIED of being punched in the face.  Thinking back now, I’m not sure if I was more afraid of the pain or crying in front of everyone like a baby.  To make things worse – I’d always been afraid of ending up with a nose like my dad and knew having it broken in a fight would not help my situation.  This was the day I learned how to fight…not because of any tip, trick, move, or skill.  On this day, I was punched square in the nose, hard.  A loss I still reflect on often, this is the day, the pivotal moment, that led me to go onto become the #2 ranked female collegiate fighter in the nation just three years later.

Master Shojiro Koyama,  was very traditional.  He disagreed with the decision to let women compete years before I walked into his dojo and was known to pair up young, petite female students with much larger and stronger male students in sparring exercises.  We were encouraged to challenge one another physically, it was practice after all.  But, we were discouraged from striking with full physical strength.  I was competing by the time I started training with M. Koyama but only in kata.  In class he would coach me in sparring exercises, frustrated by my over-thinking and apparent lack of instinct.  “No thinking!” he shouted at me repeatedly one day, his way of trying to get me out of my own head.  Over and over he would tell me not to flinch and to counter immediately after blocking an attack.  But, all I could do was freeze and close my eyes.  I was scared.  I had never been hit in the face before and was paralyzed by fear at even the thought of it! So, the day I had my braces off I was filled with emotion.  I had braces for FOUR YEARS, so thoughts of eating corn on the cob or biting into the candy apples at the state fair later that year were really exciting.  Realizing I would now need to spar with others who appeared unafraid of a broken nose was terrifying.  I continued to struggle in practice but the true horror set in the day of my first competitive fight.  Her name was Samantha – and she was good.  I knew her from previous competitions and she was a much better and more confident fighter.  I was toast.  I remember the punch coming at my face and I closed my eyes, as I sadly had done EVERY time in practice.  Those I trained with were shouting from the sidelines as Master Koyama had shouted at me in practice, but I didn’t hear them.  All I could do was brace myself for the inevitable punch that was now too far along to block.  Boom!  I knew she hit me because when I opened my eyes, they were watering.  Oddly enough, all that I could think of was not to let the ref see my eyes watering or she, my opponent, would get a point!  Not sure why I thought the blatant strike went unseen by the ref who was just two or three feet away from us. I refused to blink in an effort to prevent the tears from streaming down my face.  But they weren’t tears from crying.  If you’ve ever hit your nose or been hit in the nose, you know what I’m talking about here.  Tears naturally well up in your eyes following such a hit, but there’s no sobbing or lip quivering like the tears that accompany emotional or physical pain.  The ring judge saw the hit and my opponent was awarded the point.  Naturally I lost the fight.  My biggest fear had come true and it wasn’t the life altering event I’d expected!  Although my teacher tried breaking my habit of flinching and freezing for years, my fear of pain and embarrassment was stronger.  And suddenly the fear was gone.  I’ve never flinched or frozen since.

Is this really such a unique story though?  Parents, teachers, co-workers, our friends, family, bosses – we get lots of advice from those around us.  But, how much of it do we take or even listen to?  I didn’t believe my mom about drinking….until I drank too much.  That friend that everyone cautioned me not to trust – I refused to believe it, until she betrayed me.  So many painful lessons that could’ve been prevented had I just listened to the advice I was given.  And I don’t think I’m the only one who has these stories.  So, why is advice only right in hindsight?  There is no better teacher than failure.  Athletes recall every shot they miss, poker players remember the turn that led to losing a hand.  And if you’re gritty, you walk away from that failure assessing and sometimes obsessing over what you need to do to prevent that mistake from happening ever again.  Isn’t this what innovation and improvement is all about?  How much would we achieve if we made failure acceptable?  What would you try today if you didn’t fear the shame of defeat?  According to Harvard Business School Professor of Leadership and Management, Dr. Amy Edmonson, a lot.  Dr. Edmonson has spent decades studying what makes some teams effective and high-performing and others, not.  Ultimately, she discovered better teams actually are more accepting of mistakes.  In 1999 she coined the term psychological safety – the belief that you won’t be punished or judged for making a mistake.  Without this fear of shame, embarrassment, or judgment, people are more comfortable asking questions, open to learning, speaking up, taking risks, and as result, perform better.

It’s counter intuitive and scary, but failure and success are not mutually exclusive.  Part of learning to walk is falling.  We learn the value of money when we are without it.    For individuals and teams, failure can make or break us.  In 1999 I attended a national competition in Denver, Colorado.  I was competing for first place against a woman I’d competed against before.  She grew up training in karate as her father was a well-respected instructor.  She fractured my nose and I quickly countered with a punch to her ribs.  She won the point, taking first place.  I walked away for the second and final time with a loss and a bloody nose.  These are the two fights I still think of more than 20 years later despite sparring hundreds of times in practice and competition.  They’re not memories of regret, they’re not memories of sadness…..I remember them as lessons in the journey of my success.

Are You a Good Boss? Two Studies Identify Traits of Top Managers

Worlds Best Boss

Two separate studies were conducted by Google and the Royal Bank of Canada to determine what traits make for a good boss versus average or even bad boss.  Here is what they discovered….

How many great bosses have you had in your career?  For me, two stand out.  One was with a job I hated, the other was with a job I loved.  One was male, the other female.  One was a lot like me, the other not like me at all….except maybe for our sense of humor.  One was stubborn and feared by some in the organization.  The other was the friendliest person you’ve ever met, quick to put others at ease.  So, how is it that I would find these two VERY DIFFERENT people equally great?  Had I changed over time?  There were about ten years between these two bosses after all.  I’ve worked with many great people but what made these two bosses great?  There is no shortage of research on leadership; however two of my favorite studies were performed by Google (2008, then updated in 2018) and Royal Bank of Canada (RBC, 2011-2013) in separate attempts to determine what makes manager good?

What does a good boss look like?

Do you know a good manager when you see one?  Based on the findings of both RBC and Google, not at first glance.  Both studies report good manager traits having little to do with what the manager does, but how and why they do it.  Micro-managing determined highly ineffective by both groups, suggesting a good manager’s day revolves more around strategy and developing or coaching employees; however nearly all other findings relate to how a good manager engages with employees.  Being genuine and showing an interest in both personal and professional well-being for employees rate high on both lists suggesting empathy for others and authenticity are essential in making employees feel valuable.  Today this should be no surprise.  In 2017, Surgeon General Vivek Murthy wrote about the impact loneliness is having on the workplace.  A person with a poor network of friends and family, lacking support needed to push through this epidemic of loneliness in most cases will still need to work, making work perhaps their only opportunity to feel connected.  If true, doesn’t it only make sense employees respond positively to managers that seem invested in the employee’s personal journey?  Look over the list provided here.  How many listed traits do your top managers possess?  More importantly, do you feel your under-performing managers can learn the traits and behaviors necessary to be more effective?  Can a manager learn to be empathetic and genuine?

Google & RBC findings side-by-side
* Trait was either updated or revised in 2018

Why it matters

Google’s parent company, Alphabet, employs more than 107,000 people worldwide.  The company owns more than 88% of search engine market share and is in the race to join the highly exclusive $1 trillion dollar list.  RBC employs 80,000 people, and with 1.28 trillion dollars in assets is the biggest bank in Canada and the 11th biggest bank in the world.  They look for ways to excel, commit to a solution, and go ALL IN.  Google and RBC’s choice to independently research their own management practices that were proving to be effective versus ineffective and build their teams and leaders on these principles is no accident.  This research, although beneficial to many, was not done for humanitarian reasons.  Good managers drive success.  In a study, employees working for a manager identified as average when changed to a manager identified as highly effective, increased productivity by 50%!  Good bosses also have lower employee turnover and themselves also stay with companies longer than bad managers.  It’s important to note, the 2008 Google study was only after Google surveyed their own engineers to determine whether managers were at all necessary within their organization.  It was perhaps this initial project that led them to realize that a good boss is highly valuable whereas a bad boss is actually worse than no boss at all.

I stay in touch with each of my former managers.  I trust that I can call either of them today and they will still take time out of their busy schedules to help me.  I don’t know what their relationships were like with my peers or other leaders within our former organizations although I suspect those relationships were positive.  It was perhaps a year ago that one of them reached out to me in need of a favor.  I stopped everything I was doing and immediately jumped at the chance to help my former boss and friend.  It was no different when I worked for these individuals.  I cared as much about their success as I did my own.  That’s the thing about a great boss – their fingerprints from pushing you forward, catching you when you fall….are EVERYWHERE in your life!  A great boss changes your life,  But because it’s authentic and they genuinely care and love their jobs, it happens so naturally and organically.  Only in hindsight do you look back and wonder….were they working for me or was I working for them?

Managing difficult employees – Can good employees have bad attitudes?

There are two reasons an employee fails to meet reasonable employer expectations – either they can’t or they won’t.  Falling short of expectations is often assessed through the lens of skill or will.  When the employee is trying but lacks the knowledge or experience needed to succeed in his/her role (skill issue), the solution is most commonly solved with training, coaching, better systems or access to resources, or sometimes mentoring.  Managing difficult employees, employees that are not trying however (will issue), is a much bigger challenge.

Behavioral issues are often misdiagnosed as skill/performance issues and therefore often go unresolved.   This is especially unfortunate as these behavioral issues can be incredibly damaging to a company’s culture and success.  Some of the most common workplace behavioral issues are:

  • Excessive absenteeism or tardiness (when not as part of an accommodation)
  • Insubordination
  • Gossip
  • Disruptive to others
  • Poor quality of work
  • Harassing behavior
  • Theft
  • Failure to meet KPIs
  • Emotional outbursts

There are two reasons behavioral issues are more difficult, 1) inexperienced leaders, and 2) employee actor-observer bias.

Experience Matters

Perhaps the hardest lesson learned in managing and leading people is that we all perceive, think about, and value things differently.  It’s easy to say, but when leading a team of conflicting personalities and priorities to achieve a common goal – the leadership can seem overwhelming.  Diagnosing why a person with the desire to succeed isn’t, is a tactical diagnosis.  An employee wants to get more sales, has a great attitude, works hard, and asks for help – it doesn’t take a lot of experience to recognize he needs training.  He’s putting the work in but needs help turning activity into sales.  What about the salesperson that isn’t “working hard”?  She previously hit her quota every month – but her sales have declined steadily over the last few months.  Is she calling out sick all the time?  Is she showing up late?  Leaving early?  When at work – is she working effectively or talking with co-workers and tending more to her social media accounts than customers.  Is she selling to fewer people, closing smaller deals, or both?  She has shown she can do the job, but somewhere along the line stopped.  Why?  This is a harder problem to solve because it requires insight, empathy, and a genuine desire to understand.  Generally, these are leadership qualities developed with experience.  It’s by managing and leading people that you develop the confidence and self-awareness needed to step outside of your own head willing to look at a situation from the perspective of another.  Good people make bad choices all of the time.  Many inexperienced managers assume the person “doesn’t care” or simply “has a bad attitude”.  A leader I worked with in the past would respond to managers complaints about an employee by asking the manager, “was the employee bad when you hired him or did you make him bad?”.  If you want employees to understand the “why” behind your company’s purpose, you need to understand their why as well.  Why do they choose to work hard?  Why do they sometimes choose not to?  You can discipline them, you can warn them, you can suspend them, but nothing serves as a solution to a behavioral problem unless you first understand the why behind it.  Why did they stop caring?  That’s the first step on the path to a solution.  Most employees can regain their love and passion to succeed in their role.  First though – we as leaders NEED to ask what caused it to be lost in the first place.

The actor-observer bias at work

The actor-observer bias is one of several attribution biases, concepts used in social psychology to describe irrational patterns in how we view our own behaviors and interpret behaviors of others.  The term refers to our tendency  to attribute our own behaviors to situational factors while attributing behaviors of others to internal factors.  Put simply, we see our behaviors as a reflection of a situation but perceive others behave a certain way because that’s who they are.  This bias causes behavioral problems to surface in two ways, 1) biased employees see their decisions and behaviors as the only option, rather than a choice, and 2) biased employees subscribe to the idea that only bad people do bad things.  Because someone doesn’t see himself as bad a person, he is incapable of doing bad things and as such, his behaviors are justified.  Think of an employee who is frequently late or absent.  Does she always have a reason?  Does she seem to feel you too should excuse her absence –as though she had no choice but to be late or miss the day?  A person harassing others, although clearly a more serious offense, often does not recognize himself as a harasser.  Because the person doing the harassing believes the person he is harassing either wants or deserves the unwanted attention, he typically feels his behavior is justified.  Ironically, the harasser is often the most offended by harassing behavior demonstrated by others, seeing other harassers as bad people rather than people engaging in harassing behavior (2 Reasons Your Harassment Training is Failing).  Research suggests this bias occurs less often with people we know well – most likely due to exposure.  We see ourselves, behaviors, and decisions as a reflection of situations and the more familiar we are with situations faced by others, the more we recognize that most of us are neither all good nor all bad.  Self-awareness allows us to see ourselves objectively, recognizing the impact our decisions have on others – and that every decision is a choice.  So, next time you’re forced to address an employee’s excessive absences or tardiness, ask him, “do you feel that everyone else that makes it in on time for work has it easy?  Do you feel they do not have extenuating circumstances that they must manage in order to get to work?”  This question can be a game changer in addressing similar behavioral issues.  With more serious behaviors like harassing others or insubordination, it’s important to focus on how the employee’s behavior impacts others – and how the behavior is not in line with the company’s values or culture.  When behavior issues are deliberate such as theft, fraud, or harassing behavior that’s hostile, manipulative, or calculated, it is very unlikely the leopard will change his spots.  There is always a chance that a person engaging in scheming and cunning behavior will change for the better; however, this is a decision she will make on her own.  No punishment, threat, or training will change the behavior and in many situations the person will only use warnings to behave poorly in a more conspicuous way.  It is up to each company and leader to find the right balance of forgiveness and accountability.  People will make mistakes and poor choices – to what extent you, as a leader, are willing to accept the harm those mistakes and poor choices brings to you, your company, and employees, is a choice you must make.

It would be great if we all just got it.  If we all saw our behaviors and decisions as choices and possessed the self-awareness to see how we impact others.  The reality is, we are flawed.  There is no such thing as a perfect person and therefore cannot be a perfect employee, or leader.  A successful workplace culture isn’t about perfection.  A successful culture is about a group of unique individuals coming together to achieve a common purpose.  So the key is establishing a common set of values and then communicating, upholding, and delivering on those values relentlessly – addressing when actions or behaviors deviate from what benefits the group, as a whole, or their collective purpose.  Strong and healthy workplaces have behavioral issues. They only differ from toxic workplaces in how leaders respond to those issues.  Address the behaviors harming your company’s culture today because it’s the only way you will ever achieve your purpose.

Watch our tutorial on how to address employee behavioral issues here.