Managing Performance – From a Distance

So, you are a manager and your people are working from home – or on alternate days. How do you manage their performance long-distance? It’s a bit of a challenge, at least at first. Not because they are poor performers or you’re a poor manager. It’s a challenge because you’ll have to change your habits of communicating.

Remember how you used to tell them what to DO? With the details, sometimes: “Do this, then do that, and get Dave to do the other thing.”

No more. Performance is not about DOING anymore. It’s about DELIVERING. Borrow a term used by consultants: “Deliverables”. For a consultant, that’s what performance is: it’s a Deliverable. (I’m going to capitalize that word for a while because it’s important to learn to use it properly).

The whole world of performance has changed, because your “Goal Team” is now likely distributed, and you cannot assume that everyone understands the “big picture”. Now is the time to be clear with your people about the “Goal Deliverable(s)” – the product(s), service(s) and/or communication(s) to be delivered as the ultimate outcome of their work. If you haven’t had this conversation with them, they cannot see the larger purpose of what they are doing, so they are probably busy doing tasks and activities.

Once the Goal Team is familiar with the Goal Deliverable(s), work with them to identify all the other people, the necessary players, who will be involved in the accomplishment of the Goal Deliverable(s): their Collaborators, Resource suppliers, Authorities (not just you: include regulators and other rule-makers) and Beneficiaries (those who receive or benefit from the Goal Deliverable). Sound challenging? Maybe, but it’s what anyone who has a substantial goal or objective needs to figure out.

You have to “Know your CRABs”. You have been doing this for as long as you’ve been a manager, probably without saying it the way I’ve said it here. But now you need use the language and to train your Goal Team members about using it too. Your people will understand the CRABs idea: they know it takes Collaborators, Resource suppliers and Beneficiaries to accomplish anything substantive. They just never saw the whole circle before, and now it’s time. Introduce your Goal Team to their “Performance Circle” of CRABs, and invite their thoughts on how to expand, reduce or otherwise clarify it.

Note the Diagram that comes with this post:

  • The arrows are 2-way, indicating a central “Goal Owner”, i.e., your Goal Team members, will be in 2-way communication with each CRAB player, to create, commit to and support the fulfillment of Agreements – yours and theirs – to deliver goal-relevant Deliverables to one another.
  • Note also that the Collaborators, Resource suppliers and Beneficiaries have the same elements in their Agreements for goal-relevant Deliverables: Deliverable specifications, Schedules and Costs.
  • The Authorities have a slightly different set of elements in their Agreements – Deliverables, Goals, Rules & regulations, and/or Budgets – because, well, they are the people who have a say about the big-picture requirements for a Goal-Team’s work.

Your Goal Team members will come to learn that their job is not about DOING – it is about identifying the key players required to send and receive the goal-relevant Deliverables that will add up to their Goal Deliverable. They will learn about making Agreements with those key players to provide what is needed and when. And that means your Goal Team members will learn how to “manage” relationships with their CRABs to achieve the Goal Deliverable.

You’ve been doing this all along: you’ve always known there is an “end result”, the Goal Deliverable. But your Goal Team may not have seen that big picture Goal, or the Performance Circle of CRABs that contribute to its accomplishment. The key things they will discover for themselves are:

  1. They are a Goal Team. Every team (or department, or functional group, etc.) needs to be clear about its primary big-picture Goal. What is its ultimate Goal Deliverable? A product? A service? A communication? To whom? For whom? For what benefit? You can have this conversation with them and develop your own ways of saying it clearly.
  2. Every Goal Team has a “Performance Circle”. There are multiple “outsider” players necessary to accomplish a Goal Deliverable (finance people, IT experts, marketing consultants, regulatory agencies, etc.). Any Goal Team Member or any Collaborator, Resource supplier, Authority or Beneficiary can be made aware of the Team’s Goal and then be asked to commit to sending and/or receiving well-specified and goal-relevant products, services and/or communications, in support of the Team’s larger goal.
  3. Performance happens on the arrows. Performance is the product of a relationship – those two-way arrows between Goal Team members and the Collaborators, Resource suppliers and B Each relationship will establish Agreements for the delivery of the goal-relevant Deliverables needed – to and from Goal Team member(s) and CRAB member(s) – for the ultimate accomplishment of the Goal Deliverable. Each arrow in the Performance Circle is therefore a relationship and Agreements for Deliverables and a pathway for the delivery of those Deliverables. Paying attention to the arrows between the Goal Team and the CRABs will also reveal the difference between Doing, which happens in those “boxes”, and Deliverable Agreements, which happen on the “arrows”.

A high-performance Goal Team will identify their Performance Circle and establish the relationships that commit to and deliver their goal-relevant Deliverables to meet agreed-upon specifications, schedules, and costs. Some of your Goal Team Members may begin to operate like managers, sometimes making the promise to deliver, sometimes asking others to commit to fulfilling the promise – and sometimes both.

No need to get crabby about any of this. It’s a new day, one that calls for a shift between Doing Things like “tasks” and “activities”, to Delivering things like goal-relevant products, services and communications. You know how to do this, and how to coordinate this “performance circle” idea, with relationships that clarify Agreements and support the necessary Deliverables. Now you need to speak that language with your people, so they learn how to do that too.

Manager Tip: Clarify What You Really Want in Every Work Request

One job of a manager is to ask, invite, or demand that other people “do their work”. But people understand the word “work” in three different ways. You may be asking that I “do” something, like you want me to put the appropriate data into a spreadsheet for analysis. That’s not the same as getting something “done”, which is when you tell me to get that spreadsheet finished. And it also doesn’t mean “delivered”, which would be you asking me to send the finished product over to you by close of business today.

When you want something from me, it is important to clarify: Do you want me to work on something? Or produce something? Or bring it to you or someone else? Do – Done – Delivered: do you want to keep me busy, or finish something, or turn my final result over to somebody? Or maybe all three?

Good work typically generates a specific product, service, or communication that calls for all three: to be produced, completed, and delivered to someone who will use it and/or value it. The best way to produce results – to perform well – is to focus on those “deliverables”.

A focus on deliverables, sometimes called “Do-Dues”, requires giving attention to the desired outcome(s) – the products, services, and communications to be provided to another individual or group. Deliverable results always have:

  1. Specific characteristics such as production processes, amounts, formats, and other attributes or qualities,
  2. A producer/sender and a user/receiver,
  3. A due date and time it will be sent or received, and
  4. Some value or benefit that will serve others.

Both the work-requester and the Doer-Deliverer should clarify – and agree on – these four aspects of what a “good result” will look like.

If you want to improve someone’s “performance”, don’t focus on what they should do. Start by being clear on the specifications, requirements, and conditions for what will be sent and received, to and from others. This seemingly small shift in attention – from what people are doing to the outcome of what they do – is actually very useful. If you add the information of who will receive it and why it matters to them, you have added value to people’s “doing-work” and to the result it produces. Magically, their “work performance” will improve too.

 

We All Need Deadlines

“I don’t need time. What I need is a deadline.” -Duke Ellington, jazz pianist, composer, and conductor 

Although we resist, protest, and sometimes miss deadlines, they provide a structure time alone does not. “Deadlines are one of the most powerful tools for accomplishment you can use,” writes Jeffrey Ford. Deadlines let us know what is needed by when and, when added to a request, create an agreement that can be managed. Without a deadline, projects or tasks exist in limbo, their importance undetermined and their necessity questioned. 

No matter whether the task is for personal satisfaction or a critical business action, a deadline arranges time so you can measure success. So, the next time you are given a new assignment, take the first step to achieving success by asking, “by when do you need it?” If you don’t, getting it done on time suggests “It Don’t Mean a Thing”. 

Photo by Kevin Ku on Unsplash

The Leadership Challenge… Again.

I saw an article earlier this month titled “How to Spot an Incompetent Leader”. I rolled my eyes, expecting to see a case for personality traits rather than communication effectiveness. I was right about that, but it was an interesting article, nonetheless.

Here’s a sample: “competent leaders cause high levels of trust, engagement and productivity”. Well, yes, of course they do. But how do they do it? With their charming personality? Or by knowing when, how and why to communicate with their people? The article says the personality trait that is most highly correlated with incompetent leadership is arrogance, or over-confidence. Maybe so. But I’d like to clarify two things.

First, that leadership is defined as the ability to “draw people together toward something”. That is a two-dimensional capability: pulling people together and moving them ahead to reach a goal. I understand that being self-centered could distract from accomplishing both of those things.

Second, drawing people together to accomplish something is not simply a matter of personality. It takes productive communication to make that happen. (You knew I would say that, didn’t you?)

  1. Talk about the goal. Clarify what we all want to make happen, why it is important and how we will know when we are successful. A clear and worthwhile goal, with timelines and measures of progress – a scoreboard of sorts – helps give everyone a sense of purpose. It “draws people together toward something”.
  2. Engage the people. Talk with people about the goal and discuss ideas for reaching it. Listening is important here: use people’s ideas wherever they make sense. Meetings and one-on-one conversations should include mention of the “game and the scoreboard”, plus respect for team member input.
  3. Develop management skills where possible. The people on a team will need to reach out to others, perhaps both inside and outside your organization, in order to achieve the goal. Whether they are in other departments or outside customers or vendors, goals are reached by productive networks of agreements. Have at least some team members make requests, make promises, and create and manage agreements with “outsiders” to achieve specific results toward the goal.
  4. Review progress regularly. Weekly or bi-weekly meetings are the forum for examining the progress made on goal, measures, and timelines as well as the successful delivery on agreements with other key players. This also serves to train team members in being accountable for creating agreements and supporting their fulfillment.

These four conversations are what ensure that “competent leaders cause high levels of trust, engagement, and productivity” in the workplace, as mentioned in the article. True, as the article points out, incompetence is likely to be a product of putting too much attention on oneself, which looks like arrogance or narcissism. Competent leadership puts attention on drawing people together – by talking with them and listening to them – while making the goal the center of the conversation.

It is fine to have several goal-endeavors going at once, if you can handle it. Each goal-team will have its own version of the four conversations identified above, focused on accomplishing something specific and of value. Not everyone is able to be a leader, but that’s alright.  Still, according to this article, we probably should not put people who think they are the center of the universe in positions where we want them pulling people together to achieve something important.

All Ears: The Importance of Listening in Organization Change

The Smart Manager magazine’s copy editor asked me last autumn to write an article for them about “how leaders can stop blaming resistance to change and view it as a positive resource”. Since Jeffrey and I have several academic articles on that, so I am familiar with the topic and it was fun to write. They just published it in their January-February 2020 issue. I liked the clever “meme” they used with the article too – it gets the whole message across visually.

Here are three quotes from the article they featured with bits of their “meme” artwork — so you’ll get the picture:

  1. Organizations need to constantly evolve to meet new challenges, but there is one key component that gets lost in the upheaval—listening. Without an open culture which encourages and responds to feedback — in all its positive and negative forms — a company-wide transformation will fail before it has even begun.
  2. The primary role of leadership in organizational change is to facilitate employee engagement at every level, across all departments and units that will be directly or indirectly touched by the change.
  3. Dialogue and discussion are the tools of good leadership to formulate and prepare for a change, and to see the change through to a successful conclusion.

Management communication is especially important when making an organization change. I’ve seen many failures – and more than a few bad moods and resistant behaviors – when a change process marches forward without proper dialogue and genuine listening.  You, dear subscriber, can see the article HERE – and at the bottom of the lead image there is a shaded strip with arrows that will let you scroll through the document.

Some Advice from an Effective Change Agent

Shannon, one of Jeffrey’s former students, just sent him an email about our “four conversations” material (https://usingthefourconversations.com/). He also referred to Matt Lemay’s “Product Management in Practice”, and included these two quotes from that book: (1) “the guiding principle for communication is ‘clarity over comfort’…”, and (2) “you cannot fear discomfort – you must actively work through it to get clarity for yourself and your team”.

Shannon said that in his workplace, he often hears people saying, “You need to be able to work within an environment of ambiguity”. This led him to notice that people often prefer ambiguity rather than having what could be a “difficult conversation”. The problem, he says, is that “we end up promoting and recognizing people who passively choose to not seek clarity”.

This reminded me of when I first discovered the idea of creating certainty (in the Landmark Forum https://www.landmarkworldwide.com/). I had always thought certainty was discovered, not created – and that it was discovered by scientists or geniuses, not by mere mortals like me. But then I learned about giving my word – making promises, agreements and commitments – and about integrity, which means keeping my word. Giving my word and keeping my agreements is what creates certainty.

Of COURSE people are reluctant to do that! It’s a little scary, at least until you practice it for a while and discover how useful it is – and how effective it can make you. Shannon is realizing there are people who don’t care about being effective, and it’s true that we aren’t all wired to be interested in that. Plus, it’s often easier to be ambiguous, unclear and uncertain than to commit to something or confront those “difficult conversations”.

But Shannon said that Lemay’s quotes about “clarity over comfort” helped him address the ambiguities that are usually left hanging in some conversations at work. I’m glad he also gave credit to his study and use of the four productive conversations in those situations. In fact, he gave Jeffrey some high praise that I will share with you: “First off, thank you for the awesome class you taught during our Master Black Belt training at OSU. I have actively been applying the principles around conversations and being an effective change agent at my job. We even integrated some of your key topics into our Six Sigma training sessions at the office.

Nice, huh? But I think the realization that may contribute the most to Shannon was in these 34 words of his email: “We rarely see leaders encourage people to create clarity with their peers. Instead, there is more emphasis on “getting along” instead of actually creating productive environments. We shouldn’t settle for ambiguity in the workplace.”  I’m betting that Shannon will use that advice to become a stronger leader himself. Let’s make it easier for people to step up to creating clarity and certainty.

How Reliable are “Expectations” for Getting Good Performance?

Answer: Not very. Why? Because expectations live in your head. If they are not put into a conversation with the person you “expect” will take action, those expectations have no way to get out of your head and into theirs. At least put them on a post-it and hand it to that person. That will increase the likelihood the person will take some action, all the way from 7% up to 24%.

OK, I made those statistics up. But in the past two days, I have heard three different people refer to “expectations” as if such a thing existed and are as real as a sign in the hallway or a billboard along the road – visible, in big bold print, where everyone can’t help but see them, and they know what to do. Here is one of those conversations:

Karyn, the head of an IT project management team, saw her boss in the hallway. He stopped her and said, I want you to gather the data on project performance over the last six months and prepare a report on what you find by the end of this month.” Karyn told him she would do that, and they went their separate ways.

Later that month, Karyn told me her boss was really cross with her because she had not delivered the report. “It wasn’t the end of the month”, she told me. “I thought he wanted me to prepare the report, but I didn’t know he wanted me to deliver it to him! Plus, I really had no idea that for him, the end of the month is really the middle of the month. He must think I am a mind reader.”

Karyn’s boss had “expectations”, thinking that she would know – of course – that “prepare a report” means “prepare a report and bring it to me”, and that she knew he meant the end of the company’s financial month, which was on the 15th of every month. Karyn was bothered by this, and by not seeing any way to tell her boss that he was making assumptions that weren’t valid.

I’m reminded of a former client’s response when I told him that the Marketing Department team was not giving the Customer Service office the information that they needed to keep customers informed about new options for different service packages. I thought he would help me be sure the communications between the two groups was workable for both of them. Instead, he banged his fist on his desktop and shouted, “They should know their jobs!” He apparently didn’t realize that jobs change faster these days due to technology and communication improvements, and that what it says on most people’s “job descriptions” (if they even have them) is usually way out of date.

So, if you have expectations for someone, whether a co-worker or a family member, it will be helpful to explain those expectations to the people you expect to perform in a particular way. If you explain what you want, when you want it and maybe even tell them why you want it that way… AND if they agree to that, then you have an agreement between you. If they don’t volunteer an agreement, ask them if they will agree to do what you ask.

You at least need a clear statement of what you want, and when – plus a “yes”, before you are entitled to have an “expectation”. What’s inside our head is less obvious to others than we think.

 

The Management vs. Leadership Debate

I’m sorry to weigh in on this, but I can’t ignore it any longer due to a current writing assignment on management. I worked with executives and managers for my whole career of 35+ years and came to have very high regard for them, thinking of them all as “managers”. I never thought of that as a derogatory term in any way.

But apparently Abraham Zaleznik (in the Harvard Business Review of May-June 1977) asked the question, “Managers and Leaders: Are They Different?”  That launched a 40-year discussion of putting down management as simplistic and dealing only with the routine, while elevating leadership as… drumroll, please… visionary and inspiring.

Unfortunately, that premise was reinforced by otherwise brilliant John Kotter, in his “What do Leaders Really Do?” article in HBR, December 2001. As a result, the people who enjoy an opportunity to take sides between “bad vs. good”, “dullards vs. geniuses”, or any other “better-worse” kind of argument, have an excuse to keep up that artificial and divisive comparison.

I have tried to ignore this, going so far as to tune out the vote of MBA students in Jeffrey’s classroom a few years ago, when they were asked, “Would you rather be a manager or a leader?” The entire class raised their hands for being a leader. Managers, I’m sad to say, have a bad reputation created by “leadership experts”.

But now I must face the flurry, which is, I hope, winding down these days. Here’s a quick summary of the argument:

WHAT MANAGERS DO WHAT LEADERS DO
Planning and budgeting Creating vision and strategy
Focus on routine operational results such as producing products and services Focus on strategic direction and producing useful change
Organizing and staffing to build capacity Aligning people with the vision or strategy
Specialize in structural matters Specialize in communication issues
Control Inspire and motivate
Solve problems Prepare organizations for change
Managers are task-oriented Leaders are people-oriented

Mitch McCrimmon (https://www.lead2xl.com/john-kotter-on-leadership) said, “This was a disaster for our thinking about management from which we have yet to recover.” I agree. The fact is that managers do all those things at different times for different reasons. Humans do not fall into such neatly arranged categories.

Watching managers and leaders in action for over 3 decades, the primary factor in the differences between people in positions of authority is their location in the hierarchy. Those at the very top of an organization – the “C-Suite” and Board members – are called upon to communicate more frequently with “outsiders” who are in civic, community and corporate power positions, rather than focusing first on internal activities and connecting with fewer “outsiders”. Every organization has a level in the hierarchy where communications seldom reach up or down (I’ve seen them, remember?), and both sides of that authority dividing-line don’t know much about the other one.

That gives the top layers of an organization a closer view of the worlds outside the organization, hence a larger context to work with. Unfortunately, it also gives them a smaller view of those toward the middle and bottom of their own organization. The number of CEO’s and Executive Directors who know almost nothing about what their people toward the bottom of the organization are dealing with daily would horrify you. That is also the reason organization change is so problematic, often failing to meet planned deadlines and budgets. The “leaders” simply do not see the realities and challenges that are the facts of work life for those in the bottom rungs.

OK, that’s all I need to say for now. I will get back to my writing assignment, which is on the subject of “management”, i.e., the machinery that operates organizations and a layer of smart people that is a lot more strategic, people-oriented and effective at communication than they are given credit for.

Happy New Year!

Feeling and Thinking Happen Inside Us.  Communication Happens Between Us.

“Being a manager involves a lot more than just setting targets and entering numbers into a spreadsheet. It requires empathy and an understanding of human nature.”  That’s a quote from The Economist, December 14, 2019.

Wow.  A recommendation that a human manager should have empathy and understand human nature -imagine that! What would a workplace look like if that were the case? Well, start with empathy: “Experiencing the feelings of another as one’s own”. (That’s from a Merriam Webster Dictionary). And understanding: “The knowledge and ability to judge” (same dictionary). So, a manager should be able to experience other people’s feelings as their own, as well as knowing and being able to judge human nature.

The problem is, with just those two capacities alone, the workplace really wouldn’t look much different than it does now. The reason is that experiencing empathy and understanding human nature are both ‘internal states’ – they occur inside people. Are we sure those internal states will leak out into our interactions with others in a way that is effective or useful? A manager can be a lofty and inspired person, but that doesn’t mean their communication is lofty and inspired, does it?

Fortunately, that article in The Economist’s was also applauding the use of the arts in training business managers. Training sessions included participants who practiced conducting a choir, reading and discussing a novel, and even acting our roles in a play. One tutor said, “We help people to become more aware of their habits; what they do without realizing it. How people manage their physicality – their breath, their voice. Not many people are aware of how they come across.” That is surely true.

Empathy and understanding occur in an internal world of feeling and thinking. Practicing communication with others – whether in daily conversations and discussions, or in using the language of music, discussing characters in a book, or acting out roles in a story – well that would create a self-awareness that internal states alone cannot bestow.

To support and increase self-awareness in conversations at work, managers could assure direct reports that if they communicate both freely and respectfully, their perspectives and ideas will be welcomed and considered. In other words, managers can give others permission to practice communicating, and thereby to learn for themselves what works and what doesn’t.

Most of us live inside of our own thinking and feeling much of the time. But the world of interactions between individuals and groups occurs in the communication space around each of us, a space that we create with our words and actions, and our listening for others. When we notice that space, we can bring ourselves there and, eventually, learn to see ourselves as others see us. It’s a powerful lesson in self-development.

Your 1-week Bargain on Books for People Who Think!

Our publisher for “The Four Conversations” book is Berrett-Koehler, a source of quality books for people who want to make a difference in something that matters to them. Right now, they are having a 1-week book sale. Berrett-Koehler is especially known for its high-credibility publications on leadership, effectiveness, and getting results in a variety of fields. Take a look – Publisher Book Sale!

I especially like the books for people who are interested in the world of management – one is Henry Mintzberg’s latest – “Bedtime Stories for Managers” – love that title!  I know several people who will enjoy it.

Anyway, starting today, Dec. 2nd through next Monday, Dec. 9th, ALL of Berett-Koehler’s books, including eBooks and Audiobooks, are 40% off with Free Shipping.  And 50% off if you want to be a member.  Just go to Publisher Book Sale and use the code PRESENTS.  You can get the book-gifts that will let you give a nice boost for those people who matter to you – co-workers, colleagues, family or friends.

Best to you all for an enjoyable holiday season. Happy Hanukah, Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year!