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November 29, 2013

Managing Performance - Learning & Development

An important part of Performance Management process (formal/informal) in any organization, is to help employees improve their skills and capabilities. Considerable resources – monetary, efforts and talent is spent in developing talent. This is more so in technology and services industry. L&D is as important spoke in the wheel for organizational talent retention and rewards strategy.
Learn being the driver of my earlier discussions (earlier blog), topic for this discussion is how to go about learning and development discussions. We all have asked, heard and been requested for Coaching, mentoring and training programs during our performance review sessions. Each employee sees being nominated for trainings as sign of reward and organizational investment in their development.
Now have we ever wondered, in organizations most people having graduated from reputed colleges, being trained at top rated companies/institutions and hired through same process and screen; why performance levels vary so much? This isn’t a modern phenomenon; throughout history some of the best coaches, mentors and philosophers had varied results and every disciple didn’t actually go on to be a role model or success.
Hint to solving this puzzle may lie in Aldous Huxley’s quote – “"I wanted to change the world. But I have found that the only thing one can be sure of changing is oneself."
In this context let’s discuss what we can do to improve our and our teams’ learning quotient.
As Manager:
  • Being an effective leader is about being facilitator and liberator. Instead of looking at training program as a solution, work with employee to create a learning solution for him/her. Organizations do Training Need Analysis and use it for creating Learning Calendar/Strategy. This is nothing but trying to change the world. How about creating Need to Learn as first step of creating learning Solutions? Unless there is a desire and need to learn, no amount of coaching, mentoring or training program will help employees.
  • Effective way to create Need to learn is, making employee’s goals and aspirations  foundation for learning solutions. More often managers tend to be driven by project needs, to use available training slots and distribute them among team members. Worst in some cases to meet minimum number of training days as per organization policy.
  • Expose your employees to experts, role models and successful people within and outside organization, there is no better tool to create Need to Learn.
  • Next step towards creating a need to learn is to assign the employee a task or deliverable as an apprentice before hand to experience need for skills and competency being offered through the Program. Also, ensure that employees get to practice and use those newly acquired skills and completes ‘Earn’ (read more) part of Learn.
  • Never assign any deliverables or responsibilities outside learning program during duration of the program. Apart from adversely impacting capability to benefit from program, it seriously brings down value and seriousness from employees perspective.
  • To maximize return on investment both for employee and team, assign apprentice to train under employees having undergone same training. This way you create pipeline of need to learn ready team members. Also works as a great tool to asses and develop your people further.
As an Employee:
  • Let’s start by looking at cost to you as an individual during your career, if you don’t take learning programs seriously. You are at best 4 Sigma productivity in your entire working life, If you are not serious and don’t benefit from only one program of 3 days duration, every 3 years in your entire career, 11 programs or 33 days. (Career spanning 35 years,@200 working days/year). You have lost opportunity of roughly 0.5% of your productive life time.
  • Follow ‘LESS’ (related article) to create your individual learning solutions. Please understand, however well intended, well funded and organized, no organization or Manager can develop you.Only person who can and will make you learn and develop is YOU.
  • Stop Whining. Nobody has got it all; every human being has limitations, blind spots, development needs. Every minute spent complaining is waste; instead use it to learn something whilst you work for a better solution.
  • Remain focused on your goals (Big Y) and never confuse tools and process (training programs, forms etc) with key drivers. Critical X will always be your need to learn and grow. Buck stops at YOU. Contrary to what we like to believe, Company or manager are not there to develop you. There primary objective is to serve Customers and make profit, everything else including Talent development and retention is driven by and should be driven by that need.
  • While developing your development plan, focus on creating opportunities to apply  skills. Look for stretch assignments, explore possibilities to be part of teams which have people you can learn from.
  • Apart from learning skills, leverage opportunities to network with people from different part of organization and different organizations.
  •  Become part of online forums, industry associations and expert groups.
  • Create and schedule time on your calendar for gaining knowledge and learning/improving skills. To quote Larry Bossidy – “I expect people to read, to watch the news—not just because it makes them more interesting but because what happens in the world affects what happens to us, to our marketplace, and to our competition.”
Human Resources team:
  • Focus on culture of ‘need to learn’. Explore metrics which capture and allow measuring Learning Culture not in terms of number of days spent in training rooms or seminars.
  • Look at example above and impact of one 3 day program in 3 years, re-evaluate effectiveness of current L&D strategy. What is your Sigma Score? To quote Deming:  “Quality is defined from the customer’s point of view as anything that enhances their satisfaction.”
  • Help create a robust apprentice/coach relationship within organization. This is not only in semantics (new one for Mentor / Mentee) but very different at fundamental level where responsibility and initiative rests with individuals.
  • Proactively, train and educate people in building business goals integrated with development goals. Relentlessly hold people accountable for meeting development goals.
  • Bring business customer in focus and work backwards, mostly we in HR stop at managers and employees as our customer.
  • A different perspective can be brought simply by growing beyond employee advocacy (whole notion seems outdated where employees need an advocate to speak on their behalf) and being a facilitator for business, employee and customer.
Happy reading and remember path to excellence is continuous and iterative  and few words from Steve Jobs - 'Stay hungry, stay foolish'.
Warm Regards

November 23, 2013

LESS is actually More

In earlier parts we discussed process of performance management in organisations. Now we shift gears and focus on sharing our perspective on Managing Performance at Individual level.
You must we wondering why such strong believer in excellence and focus is propagating LESS. So before we begin let’s start by sharing a quote – “The Philosophy of the Rich and Poor is this: The Rich invest their money and spend what is left; The Poor spend their money and invest what is left. - Robert Koyosaki
LESSis acronym for: Learn, Earn, Save and Spend.
LEARN – Another common theme across our listings, however we can’t reemphasise enough the need to learn. Listen, observe, and challenge the existing mindsets. There can be no excellence or improvement unless we continue to learn.
Entire idea of choosing this Acronym was to challenge pre-set notions and being able to look at things from different perspective; an essential prerequisite for learning and continuous growth.
First step towards, managing your own or someone else’s performance is to break down preconceived notions and perceptions. You will be open and objective in your analysis and evaluation. Similarly, any remedial action will need you to unlearn and relearn to complete the Performance Management loop.
Ignorance is bliss ... pursuit of knowledge leads one to often admit -"I don't know"; more we know more we don't know and become more ignorant. That’s the path of learning. Yes, Ignorance is bliss.
Now let’s move to next step ‘EARN’. If you notice ‘Earn’ is subset of Learn and Learning can never be complete without earning!! [Both in materialistic (read money) and other forms].
EARN: What is Earn? Being paid, rewarded, promoted etc.? If that is your first thoughts or response, you aren’t earning anything but just being paid by someone else. What is wrong with that? Biggest problem is control rests with someone else and you don’t choose your destiny or path!!
Earn mind set is breaking entitlement mentality. It’s applying knowledge and skills to create value, serve a customer (now depending on your goals and aspirations it can be commercial, for non-profit or God for people in spiritual pursuits). "A good strategy for success is to pray, plan, prepare and produce. Nothing happens without taking action!"  Nova Adams {Luke 18:1-8 / James 2:14-26}.
Importantly, how does Earn complete Learn? Simple, unless any knowledge is applied to create value it’s not skill and you haven’t learnt anything, e.g., in any situation, if every time you have to run a flashback of your earlier response and results. Your experience/memory isn’t helping you move ahead instead they are hindering your progress and you have to let go. Similarly, if for certain knowledge you have to keep referring to a book, knowledge remains with the book and isn’t your skill. There are no shortcuts to Earning. Old saying “Practice makes a man perfect” is only way out. This is how you earn to complete Learn.
With no bias towards monetary compensation or reward, A quote from earlier blog - “All talks of IQ, MQ & EQ are worthless if you are not able to realize that ultimately you are in a business transaction. Your knowledge and skills should be able to help you price your services appropriately.” 
SAVE: Warren Buffet says “If you spend on what isn’t needed you are not left with enough to spend on what is needed”. This is true for wealth, more importantly it is true on every other aspect too – time, effort, energy, relationships etc to name few. It’s vital that we consistently invest enough (save) to observe, reflect, think, and relearn. For example, Champion always learns from mistakes and next time instantly knows how to deal with similar ball without having to think twice. This is removing NVAs (Non Value adding) from a process.
“Pleasure in the Job puts perfection in the work”- Aristotle. So remove NVAs of over analysis, doubts and inaction, instead light up your efforts with passion and joy. Focus on what is important (click here to read more), make a stop doing list and follow it as rigorously as to do list. Every second or ounce of energy saved can be spent doing work/things which are important.
SPEND: Does this sound counter intuitive? Well it is not. In terms of wealth, earning and saving has no meaning if not spent on fulfilling one’s needs. Similarly, seek opportunities to coach, mentor and share expertise with people. Be genuinely interested in others growth and success. This way you end up with a strong support network and multiply your opportunities to learn, relearn, observe and grow.
As Leader spend your time, emotions and feelings congratulating people, grabbing every opportunity to recognise the contribution of others. From a gentle Good Job to appropriate rewards (pay hike, promotion etc), everything counts.  Talent costs; every small pat on the back goes a long way in retaining and attracting talent.
As individual, celebrate your success, be humble but don’t short sell, blow your trumpet. Be willing to learn, at the same time be proud of your contribution. 
We sign off with a quote from Benjamin Franklin - “Life's tragedy is that we get old too soon and wise too late.”
Have fun and worriLESS.
Warm regards,

November 22, 2013

Tips - How to Focus and be Productive

In earlier blogs Leveraging Architecture of Success to meet your Goals, Corporate Lessons from Mahabharata & Understanding Human Resources, we talked about Passion for Excellence and importance of Focus.
We would like to share some tips to help people focus and avoid distractions –
  • Get up early say at 5 am – 6 am. Drink 2-4 glasses of water first thing in morning. Water restores energy and helps detoxify body. I read somewhere; most important asset for executives isn’t time – its energy.
  • Start your day with 30-45 minutes of exercise or walk.
  • Start your work day focusing on your most important work. Turn off your emails, digital notifications, reminders and most importantly emails for 60 minutes.
  • Another gem I read was “Maintain a Stop doing list” but more importantly look at it every day and review your day against it.
  • Work in blocks of time. Creative geniuses all had 2 things in common: when they worked they were fully engaged and when they worked, they worked with this deep concentration for long periods of time. Schedule and plan your work in 45-60 minute blocks.
  • Data shows workers are interrupted every 11 minutes. Distractions destroy productivity. Be assertive and protect your time; say no to interruptions.
  • Don't answer your phone every time it rings. Encourage people to drop SMSs instead of leaving Voice Messages. They are faster to look and respond either replying or by calling the sender.
  • Avoid gossip, not only it saves time but also saves you from the pit fall (refer to As an Employee part of blog Managing Performance– I (Handling Disconnect)).
  • Make meetings about actionable items and insist on people having done their homework.
  • Invest in your professional development and creating more value in your work. Schedule time to read, learn a skill and more importantly apply/ practice the knowledge.
  • Schedule every day of your week every before start of the work week. A plan restores focus and provides momentum.
  • Take one day a week as complete recovery day, to refuel and regenerate (that means no email, no phone calls and zero work). You need full recovery one day a week otherwise you'll start depleting your capabilities.
At first go,lot of this may sound idealistic or difficult, I would simply quote Cyrus the Great – (After punishing some renegade commanders) “Here again, I would demonstrate the truth that, in my army, discipline always brings rewards.”
Warm Regards,

November 13, 2013

Leadership Lessons from ‘Bird’s Eye’ incidence of Mahabharata

I was watching Mahabharata on TV yesterday, the episode showed sons of Hastinapur dynasty, on day one at their Teacher’s (Drona) Ashram (resident school). The teacher takes all students for their first lesson. First task is to hit a bird’s eye with an arrow, while ensuring that bird doesn’t fall from the tree branch it is placed on.
We will use his interaction with four main protagonists namely Yudhisthir, Bheem, Duryodhan and Arjun; to draw parallel with Leadership challenges and expectations in Business (Corporate or otherwise).
Drona calls Yudhisthir, to take aim and asks him what he sees. Yudhisthir answers that he sees tree, tree branch, a bird’s nest on the branch below, an ant hole at bottom of tree. He has to ensure that while hitting target he doesn’t end up hurting/destroying any of them. Drona compliments him for his ability to see so many things and says these are qualities of a good ruler but Yudhisthir can’t be a good Archer.
Similarly, Leadership is all about being able to see big picture and build/protect institutions, processes and organization whilst delivering organizational goals. Important part is not to forget to hit the Aim. Great leaders not only bring set of skills and competencies but also able to attract and retain great people with complementary skills.
Next in line is Bheem, Drona asks him what he sees. Bheem answers that Yudhisthir has made life difficult for him as he is seeing everything Yudhisthir saw, and he is also seeing delicious fruits and want to eat them. Drona punishes him while observing that he is seeing so much but isn’t aware that the rope on his Bow isn’t tied.
Similarly, people wanting to be leaders jump in projects, teams and roles based on what others tell them and in anticipation of rewards. They never reflect if they are ready and whether they have competencies required for the Job. Same applies to leaders mindlessly pursuing opportunities or launching products/services. To quote Abraham Lincoln – "Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”
Next Drona calls Duryodhan, to take aim and asks him what he sees. Duryodhana answers that he sees tree branch and bird. While hitting the bird his arrow may chop the branch and bird may fall with impact. Drona asks him to withdraw saying a warrior must asses and determine impact of his hit and should not attack unless he can control outcome.
Similarly, it is important for leaders/businesses/individuals to not rush in, currently there is too much emphasis on going after next account, client, market or market share, with little consideration for impact and consequences. Recent mortgage crisis and global meltdown in financial sector is prime example of this behavior.
Finally Drona calls Arjun to take aim, and asks what he sees. Arjun replies that he only sees Bird’s eye. Drona asks him to release his arrow and Arjun hits the aim without disrupting bird’s position or anything else.

Bottom-line Effective leaders see big picture and impact of their actions across dimensions like Yudhisthir yet focus and hit the aim like Arjun. They can’t get carried away with big picture and lose sight of their goals and customers. In Steve Jobs’ words – “That’s been one of my mantras — focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains. it comes from saying no to 1,000 things to make sure we don’t get on the wrong track or try to do too much. We’re always thinking about new markets we could enter, but it’s only by saying no that you can concentrate on the things that are really important”.

Leaders have to constantly learn and relearn. They can’t afford lacking control like Bheem and Duryodhan. To quote Indira Nooyi, Chairperson PEPSICO, “I am a learning CEO, I go to school all the times. We look for people who are able to understand and work around geo political environment quickly and surround themselves with great talent. Who are agile, can work with scarcity of commodities (read resources) and make something out of nothing.”

Signing off for now till we are back with next one!!
Happy Reading!

Warm regards,

November 11, 2013

Managing Performance – II (Performance Appraisal Form)

In this post we focus on Data Collection and Presentation (Performance appraisal form - PAF) part of Managing Performance.

Every organization has Managers, Human Resources and Employees using Performance appraisal format as common key element of Performance Management systems.  Let’s discuss tips and vital elements of this important and often neglected part of process.
As an Employee:
·       Firstly, you don’t fill PAF for Process, Your Manager, HR or Company. You do it for ‘YOURSELF’. This is your Marketing Brochure. To quote a colleague from GE, “It’s (PAF) your Organizational Horoscope, don’t make it your Horrorscope.
·       Don’t wait for year-end/appraisal time to complete, keep recording information on weekly /fortnightly basis, it is much easier to consolidate and delete extra information instead of remembering everything at the end of period (mostly a year).
·        Create PAF, review it, improve it, and get it reviewed by your colleagues, HR, Manager etc. While doing so, be careful about sensitivity of information contained in document. Whether people you are seeking help should be privy to data and information contained in your PAF.
·       Think how much effort and time you spend while preparing a proposal, technical specification or client presentation. Why not leverage same skills, intensity and focus for your own Marketing Brochure.
·        Avoid Jargons, acronyms. They look cool on Social Media or SMS chats. PAF is a business document with your Career at stake. Objective isn’t to be cool but to communicate about you as a professional.
·       You own your career, so don’t pass the Buck by blaming it on HR, Company or your Manager.
As Manager:
  • A well written and documented PAF provides you an opportunity to validate your perception of team members. Having evaluated performance and contribution of your team members in light of data, you are able to be fair in your assessment of employees.
  • Information collected in PAF will provide significant and important support in future decision making, while filling important positions in teams or organization at large.
  • Instead of being a formality (paperwork) to be completed, it is a snapshot of your team portfolio and should be foundation of your People Decision Support System.
  • First task should be to review quality of information provided in the form. Provide feedback and coaching to employee in improving quality of data and information. You may not be equipped to do it yourself (there is nothing wrong in acknowledging and accepting this fact) and might need to ask for help from HR.
  • Don’t treat PAF as exam paper which you have to evaluate and give marks. Poorly written or a form missing vital information regarding an employee’s contribution isn’t an opportunity to use as an excuse to deny due rewards. 
  • Similarly, going ahead and trying to do employee part in manager’s feedback and giving ratings /feedback, rewards, development plan etc., on incomplete form is an important opportunity missed. It’s like deciding to invest in a firm with shoddy financial statements, on basis of your instinct.
Human Resources Team:
·        HR team has an opportunity to contribute significantly by spending time in coaching and counseling employees individually in improving quality of PAF.  HR can transition from being seen as policemen to employee partner. When you help an employee improve his/her PAF, you build a strong bond based on trust.
·       Organization (Managers, HR), will be seen interested in promoting and recognizing performance. This will reduce lot of fire fighting and rework post appraisal process.
·       Spend less time on designing new forms and policies, go back to basics;  train, coach and counsel people in using tools better.
·       Be passionate and persistent about quality of information collected through performance appraisal forms, Focus on simple and useful information instead of trying to collect too much data. In my experience, 50-60% of data is never used and collected upfront in forms. So bring important part in front/beginning of PAF you design.
·       Reaching out and helping people during this part of process will yield much better return compared to lot of Retention tools and schemes we implement.
Warm Regards,

November 7, 2013

Managing Performance – I (Handling Disconnect)

Everyone, who has managed teams, understands the importance of performance management and providing feedback to employees. Dealing with employee disconnect /dissatisfaction comes with the territory.  We share our experience and learning with you through following scenarios. Also, it is important to remember that whilst we manage teams, we are also employees and might have faced similar situations.
One common tip for all situations: Don’t try to close issues immediately. Always be polite and firm. Seek help/counsel from your manager and HR. Never hide behind statements like Management doesn’t agree, HR is not willing to relook etc. , own feedback and resultant rewards or lack of them.
Scenario I – Employee approaches manager with very clearly articulating his/her accomplishments /contributions as well as how (s)he achieved those results. Contrary to common belief, this is where most managers fail. This kind of situation needs lot of care and attention. Also, understand that anyone with this approach is worth retaining and keeping motivated.
·         Listen, Listen Hard; don’t react.
·         If, you are not ready don’t try to close issues by committing or implying to have committed anything except being able to revert in aspecific time frame.
·         Do your home work; also understand that every organization has limitations, bell curve, forced ranking etc.
·         If you are convinced that issue is genuine, connect with takeholders (your manager, HR) and work out possible solutions.
·         Go back to employee and communicate facts.
·         If required feel free to take assistance from your manager or HR but under no circumstances let anyone else take blame or credit. There is nothing more frustrating for an employee than to feel his/her manager does not own the Situation.
Scenario II – Employee approaches manager with expectations consistently basing on Degree, years of experience and a long list of comparisons with other colleagues.
·      While listening, try to steer conversation towards results.
·   Try to understand if  conversation is about entitlement or some other genuine concerns are getting manifested in this manner.
·      Do your home work; look at past performance (results) and credentials.
·    If you are convinced that concerns aren’t justified, communicate feedback based on facts and clearly outlining expectations.
·      Most importantly deal with issues of entitlement attitude head on and provide a direct feedback. Don’t soft paddle. Don’t give allowance for cultural issues, immaturity etc. By doing so you are missing on a critical coaching opportunity.
·    Observe and track employee conduct as likelihood of employee being part of / falling into office gossip group and spreading negativity can be high.
Scenario III – Employee approaches manager and discussions are solely focused on results and lack of rewards in return. More often employees in this scenario tend to be either aggressive or project themselves as victims.
·   While listening, try to steer conversation towards how part and relevance of results in bigger picture, this will allow you to direct conversation towards exchanging information.
·  Try to assess if employee is being aggressive (with entitlement mindset) or (s)he is feeling victimized.
·      Do your home work; look at past performance (results) and credentials. More importantly check out values (how) part of employee, because if (s)he isn’t talking about it, it is a clear red flag. Even for most valued employees, communicating their concern effectively is their responsibility.
·    If you are convinced that concerns aren’t justified, communicate feedback based on facts and clearly outlining expectations.
·       Most importantly deal with issues of effective communication and coach employee concerned.

As an Employee:
·         You have done the hard part.
·         Be firm and polite while communicating how you feel, and remain focused on facts.
·         Avoid comparison with other colleagues.
·         Seek solutions, be part of solution.
·     Understand Organizational limitations, while being persistent to look for means and ways to achieve your goals.
·      Never be aggressive or demanding.   Don’t ever talk about your issues; with anyone in office except your Manager or HR. Avoid being part of office gossip at all costs. More careers have been ruined by office gossip compared to actual lack of performance.
·      Re-look at your communication style, use facts and results to communicate your concerns and avoid being seen as someone with entitlement attitude.
·      If you are convinced about being consistently overlooked, look at opportunities outside current team, project, territory or organization. You own your career and take steps to make it happen, don’t wait for ‘expire by date’ to pass. 

Related Post

Managing Performance II : Performance Appraisal Form

Happy reading !!
warm Regards,