121s – Common Objections

When I am talking with managers about the benefits of doing 121s they usually resist the idea and offer a range of objections:

  1. I don’t need 121s – I speak with my staff ALL the time!
  2. I would never have enough time to meet with each member of staff for half an hour every week.
  3. What would we talk about if we met every week?
  4. My staff would feel that I was micro-managing them – they just want to get on with the job
  5. My staff aren’t interested in strategy or otherwise engaging – they just want to do a good job

I don’t need 121s – I speak with my staff ALL the time!

It is true that a lot of managers spend a lot of time talking with staff.  The conversations are spontaneous, unplanned, unstructured, unfocused and often unproductive.  They promote a conversation culture rather that is characterised by high levels of interruptions – ‘Sorry to disturb you but can an I just have a quick word with about….’ Managerial time is freely available and therefore barely valued.  Prioritisation by staff is poor and managers are often diverted from more important tasks as they feel obliged to respond to staff requests for help.  Such managers usually have gaping holes in their performance when it comes to areas such as innovation, creativity, strategy and planning as they are too busy ‘mole-whacking’.

I would never have enough time to meet with each member of staff for half an hour every week

This translates direclty to ‘I have more important things to do than work in planned structured way with staff on a 121 basis’.   It also translates to ‘People are not our most important asset and therefore I can afford to neglect them’.

Company costs per full-time employee in the UK now stand at £97,122.  Such costs typically include:

  • pay and bonuses,
  • employers’ national insurance payments and pension contributions,
  • office accommodation costs, and
  • central costs, which incorporate elements such as HR and finance departments.

What other assets do you manage that cost this much to keep in the game – that, if they feel disgruntled, devalued or otherwise fed up can literally just get up and walk out the door?  You really think that investing 30 minutes a week in them to keep them engaged, challenged, informed, recognised and valued won’t give you a great return on your investment.  NB See above – structured 121 time is very different to ‘talking with them all of the time’.

What would we talk about if we met every week?

This one comes from managers where the culture is about delivering this year what we delivered last year but incrementally better.  No-one is thinking or exploring, looking for better ways to skin the cat/butter the parsnips etc .  No one is learning stuff every week that is relevant to improving the product, service or processes of work.  Expect people to make things better every week and ask them what they have done every week to contribute to making things better.  It also comes from managers that have ‘values on the website’ but don’t see their role in reinforcing them in practice on a weekly basis.

My staff would feel that I was micro-managing them

This comes from managers who don’t understand that most people want to have a connection to work.  They want to be engaged and to matter.  They want to have a chance to give their best.  They don’t want to be alienated and cynical. Although if you don’t work with them frequently on a 121 basis they will be!

They also don’t understand the difference between dabbling in the detail (micro-managing) and unleashing potential (the number 1 priority of the high performance manager).

My staff aren’t interested in strategy or otherwise engaging

This comes from managers who have tried to engage staff but failed.  Therefore in order to maintain their own self – image (I am a good manager) they have to believe that staff are not interested.  Do you REALLY have staff who aren’t interested in the future of their employer and how they can help to make it better?

So what is your excuse?

Connecting with a Vision

This post first appeared on my other blog ‘Enterprise and Entrepreneurship in the Community‘ but I have reproduced it here because it contains some insights on working with ‘Vision’ that are relevant to the progressive manager.  Apologies to those of you who have got it for the second time!

Our Vision for Leeds is an internationally competitive European city at the heart of a prosperous region where everyone can enjoy a high quality of life.

Leeds Initiative Vision for Leeds – 2004 2020

That must seem like a pretty distant vision for many Leeds residents.  For the tens of thousands that are living on incapacity benefits.  For those who have no job.  For those who work in the third sector and are more interested in social justice than international competitiveness.  For parents who are struggling to raise and educate their children.  For pensioners. For migrants and refugees.

But the problem is not with the vision per se.  The problem lies with the capacity available to help a very wide range of people and communities to connect with it.  To understand why it is relevant to them and how it can help them to make progress on their agenda.  How it can help them find a sense of belonging in a Leeds community that is striving to make ‘progress’.

For a vision to be effective a wide range of stakeholders have to be able to connect with it and make sense of it in their own context, and then to use it to leverage action – to make things happen.  Otherwise it is just words.  I suspect it is no accident that this ‘Vision for Leeds’ appeals so directly to the white collar community, to the developers and the investors.  To those that have power shall be given more.

Visions can help to pull us towards a more attractive future, but only if they are relevant to us and are dripping with possibilities for action.

In the world of organisational and business development the ‘Vision backlash’ has started.  Instead of dreaming of distant possibilities those leading the backlash ask:

  • ‘What is it that we are on the verge of becoming?’,
  • ‘How, at this time, is it possible that we could change?’

This ‘emergence’ based on a process of ‘presencing’ (understanding the ‘here and now’ and then acting to tip the balance in favour of progress) honours the past as much as the future. It ensures that the future is rooted in the strengths and cultures of the past.  It encourages placemaking based on history as much as on the future.  And this matters because it is the history that has shaped us all.  Our cultures, our psyches our potentials and our preferences.  Development that honours who we are, what we have become and what we believe it is possible for us to be.

Perhaps we should compliment the Vision with a real understanding of what we have the potential to become – not by 2020 – but right now.

How to Manage Whelmers

A whelmer is someone who we manage at work who neither overwhelms us with their professional expertise. enthusiasm and commitment, nor underwhelms us with their lack of talent and commitment.

They inhabit the middle ground of mediocrity.

Whelmers are a problem because they act as cultural magnets, performance benchmarks in the organisation.  They are the experts in knowing just what has to be done to be seen by the organisation as ‘acceptable’.

So what should we do when we recognise that we have a whelmer on the team.  The first thing to do is to look in the mirror.  The person you see is the one who has allowed a human being with energy, enthusiasm, talent and passion (you did check for those things when you recruited them didn’t you) into a whelmer.  In order to change their response to your management style, you need to change the way you manage.  Keep on doing what you have always done….

The first thing to do is to invest time in building a relationship with the whelmer.  Let them know that you know they are capable of giving more and ask what you need to do (or stop doing) if they are to give of their best.  Don’t just do this once.  Keep doing it.  Regularly. Not just at annual reviews but at least monthly, preferably weekly.  Let them know that you value them and that you want to see them doing well.  Make it clear that you EXPECT MORE.

Secondly focus on the behaviours that they exhibit that make you think ‘whelmer’.

  • Is it that they never accept delegation?
  • Never volunteer to work on projects?
  • Hardly contribute to meetings?
  • Rarely smile or express a positive reaction?

Get specific about the behaviours and then use feedback to make sure that the whelmer knows exactly what they are doing that causes you, and no doubt others, to be ‘whelmed’ by their contribution to the workplace.  Give the feedback freely and consistently and make it clear that yo expect them change.  Feedback must be given properly for it to e effective though – so come along to one of our training events to learn how to do it well!

Thirdly spend some time understanding what they are looking for from the organisation.  Most whelmers join with high hopes and every intention to be an overwhelmer.  But as ambition is thwarted they slip into the ranks of the whelmers.

Maslow is relevant here.

Most whelmers wanted to achieve something of importance.  They not only wanted a salary and a sense of belonging but they also wanted to make the world a better place when they chose to work for you.  But you have failed them.  They have recognised that they are unable to achieve this higher purpose in the organisation (no doubt due to resource restrictions or politics) and so have given up on this higher purpose and settled for the monthly salary and a quiet and unspectacular working life.  Often the whelmers will do their self actualising outside of work where they will show incredible passion, skills and enthusiasm for anything from stamp collecting to binge drinking.

So re-visit their hopes and aspirations for working for you.  Talk to them.  Re-kindle their belief that they can achieve something worthwhile at work and then re-double your efforts through feedback, coaching and delegation to give them the opportunities that they need to be a real force for progress in the organisation.

By helping a whelmer step up to being an overwhelmer not only will you and they have a much better time at work but also productivity is likely to increase by 25-40%.

Another Politician on to the Professional Speaker Circuit

Clearly Ken had been working on a Boris Victory Contingency Plan…

Manager or Cox?

These days I am 6ft 4″ and carry a few extra pounds.

However there was a time when I was 5ft 4″, skinny as a rake and sought after by rowing crews as a cox.  Yes the small person who sits in the back of the boat – barking a very limited range of orders and making small adjustments to direction with a tiny rudder.

Truth of the matter is that as a cox I could achieve very little.  I could urge the rowers to give more effort, or even get them to ease off a little if they are in danger of peaking too early.   I could plot the best course possible.  But that was just about it.

I couldn’t really see what was going on in the boat.  I could tell just how hard the crew was currently working (the stroke rate) and could ask for extra effort in short bursts to try to get the boat ahead of the competition.  I could make some educated guesses at what individuals were doing by watching how their oars moved through the water.

I couldn’t coach the crew.  The coach would usually be be seen on the bank, riding a bicycle and shouting instructions to the rowers.

In terms of really helping the crew to improve performance – well that was out of my hands.  I could just get the best out of them on the day.  I would do this by putting their effort into context.  Keeping them informed about whether we were catching the opposition or not.  About how far we had to go before a bend came into our favour or we reached the finish line.

All I could do was create a context in which the crew were likely to give me more effort.

And I meet a lot of managers who work just like a cox.  They tell good stories and demand more effort in return for prizes.  But they never get their bike onto the river bank to really understand what is going on in the boat.

They miss a lot of chances, that a cox never has, to develop their crew.

Highlights from the World HR Congress

‘Because so many organisations will be competing for the same resources, the (HR) profession will have to manage a marketplace which has changed from one where employers choose to one where potential employees choose.’

Florent Franceur – WFPMA President

I know it is not much of a highlight – but at least it has the virtue of being true.  If you want to recruit and retina good people you had better have  compelling offer – and you had better help them to achieve in their own terms – or they will go elsewhere. Only the whelmers will remain!

We are a reservoir of literally human resources, but we don’t always dig deep enough because it’s inconvenient. Sometimes tidiness and efficiency get in the way of creativity’

Charles Handy

WOW – Watch Out for the Whelmers…

Watch Out for the Whelmer Vampire

Chip Conley has written a great book called PEAK – How great companies get their mojo from Maslow. In it he gives grave warning of the dangers of whelmers.

According to Chip there are three types of recruit in your organisation.

There are the over-whelmers – those people that ‘over-whelm’ you with their energy, skill, passion and enthusiasm. These people are what you need. They provide the foundations on which excellent can be built. However you will need to work hard, very hard, to recruit and retain them. These people have choices about where they work – so why should they choose to stick with you?

Then there are the under-whelmers – those that leave you distinctly unimpressed. According to Chip these don’t constitute a real problem either – because they are easily recognised and managed. As a consequence they either perform or get fired. I only wish it were this simple – but I do get the point. Under performance is easily recognised and can then be managed if you have the courage and commitment to do so.

The real dangers are those people that neither over nor under whelm. These are the whelmers. Their work is OK without being great. Customers are satisfied without being thrilled. Colleagues have kind of got used to the mediocrity. And the over-whelmers will not want to be any where near them as they sap energy and enthusiasm. They are passion vampires.

And this is the pernicious culture killer – mediocrity. If the whelmers are allowed to carve out a quiet life of mediocrity they will drag the culture of your organisation down to their level.

In the words of the legendary Van Morrison:

“You gotta fight every day to keep mediocrity at bay”.