Some thoughts on the Front Line

  • Front liners are capable of taking on far more responsibility than the boxes the system puts them in.
  • Front liners are very modest about their own abilities and skills.
  • Front liners want to do a great job for patients.
  • Managers must learn to let go of more of the power they have thus allowing front liners to get on with the job.
  • Managers must be there for support when front liners need it – they are well capable of judging when they need help.

Sensible reflections from Trevor Gay’s Simplicity blog

I am sure that you will agree with much of it.
But do you ACT on it?
Or do you let ‘the system’ get in the way?

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Measuring Management

Managers spend much of their time measuring – market share, year on year sales, voids, arrears, return on investment, customer satisfaction, orders fulfilled, calls handled per hour, orders placed, orders fulfilled (again), total invoiced, hours billed, attendance, productivity per employee etc

Why the obsession with measuring stuff?

Because it gives us the data to recognise what has changed, what needs to change, and when we make the change – whether it has had the impact we planned.

But none of these metrics are about US – the manager.  They are all about the performance of the system and the people that we manage.  And this often lets us of the hook for making real change in the way we manage.

What if we measured some more personal aspects of our management efforts?

  • how much time we spend listening in 121 conversation with team members
  • how many times we give REAL feedback – affirmative and adjusting – each day/week
  • how often we make sarcastic or cynical comments
  • how many times we interrupt others mid-sentence
  • how often we check our blackberry in meetings
  • how often we talk about values and vision
  • the amount of time we spend in meetings that are inefficient or worse
  • how many coaching contracts we put in place with our team members
  • what percentage of coaching contracts achieved their goals
  • how many significant tasks we genuinely delegated (rather than then allocated) because they provide great development opportunities
  • percentage of working time allocated to pursuing key objectives
  • how often we acknowledge our own development opportunities and make planned conscious change in our behaviours

I am convinced that if we started to measure our own personal performance in relation to some of these more personal aspects of management, most of us would we would pretty quickly get some powerful data on what we needed to change.  Measurement would also pretty quickly confront us with the fact that our perceptions of our performance are markedly different from reality.

As we make planned changes based on measurements of our own personal behaviours we will soon see a very positive impact in some of the more traditional areas where measurement prevails.  The act of measurement itself would also increase the likelihood of planned changes being implemented and seen through.  That after all is perhaps the main reason why we measure.

To make sure that important things get done.

People Are Our Greatest Cost – Honest Banker Shock!

You know when you hear a Chief Exec say,

“People are our greatest…”

and you are thinking yeah, yeah I know – ‘ASSET’.

Except on the Today programme I heard the CEO of RBS (rumoured to be looking at 20000 redundancies) say,

‘People are our greatest cost’.

Cognitive Dissonance or what!

Life is complicated though.  Most of us are BOTH great assets and great costs in weird and dynamic combinations.

Outstanding managers have systematic and effective processes (121s, feedback, coaching, delegation etc) for developing both the asset part of the equation AND the cost.  Yes, outstanding managers do want good people to cost more, and more, and more – because they recognise that what matters is the value that they create – not how much they cost.

How are you doing with your systematic and effective processes for asset development?

Ten Steps to Better Management

Step 1: Clarify, negotiate, and commit to your role as manager.

  • Many management jobs will have changed priorities in response to the current economy.
  • Check with your manager that you are doing what is best for the organisation.
  • Check with your conscience that you are doing what is best for you and your team.
  • Check that you are prepared to do the work that will help others to be outstanding.

Step 2: Understand the results you are expected to produce.

  • If you are to be recognised as an outstanding manager you need to know what excellence looks like.
  • At the moment you might be expected to drive costs down while producing more value.
  • Watch out for mediocrity. Expect excellence. Don’t let the current climate be an excuse to cut corners.

Step 3: Know your business.

  • Know what excellence looks like. Recognise the behaviours and habits that lead to it.
  • Recognise behaviours and habits that undermine it.
  • Understand the metrics that are relevant to your part of the business. Use them to get better.
  • Understand what your organisation needs from you – now.

Step 4: Build a great team.

  • Recruit, develop and retain people who will take responsibility and work independently – within parameters agreed with you!
  • To make sure you retain your best staff in difficult times talk to them – give them control – give them the chance to shape the organisation and their future in it.
  • Build a team that you can lead – not a flock that you have to herd.

Step 5: Ensure your team knows what excellence looks like.

  • Feedback, feedback, feedback.
  • Coach, coach, coach
  • Delegate, delegate, delegate
  • If you are not sure what constitutes excellence in your business – FIND OUT QUICKLY!

Step 6: Plan – with flexibility.

  • Review and revise plans on a weekly basis.
  • Expect progress on a weekly basis.
  • 121s are ideal for this.

Step 7: Get out of their way.

  • Help them to do great work.
  • Listen to them.
  • Understand what stops them from being great.
  • Get barriers out of their way.

Step 8: Be engaging.

  • Be positive and constructive.
  • Smile a lot.
  • Be energetic and hopeful.

Step 9: Proactively manage progress.

  • While change IS inevitable – progress is not.
  • Make sure that everyone knows what constitutes progress and has their own plan to make it.

Step 10: Leave a legacy: develop people and the organisation’s capacity to produce results.

  • better meetings
  • more focus
  • more knowledge and skills
  • more professionalism
  • better execution
  • higher standards

This post was inspired by Lisa Haneberg over at Management Craft.

Performance Management, Performance Reviews and Appraisals

I was asked by a manager yesterday to help to clarify the difference between performance management and appraisal.  I don’t think I did a great job  so I thought I would try again!

Performance management is a system with four parts:

  1. Specify the desired level of performance for the thing you are trying to manage (people, programs, products or services)
  2. Measuring performance – collecting and recording reliable data, both quantitative and qualitative
  3. Using data to compare actual performance to what is desired – recognising gaps between what is desired and what highlighting –  variances
  4. Communicating performance information – to those that are most able to use it to make progress

Performance management can happen at a number of different levels:

  1. The performance of strategies and plans at the organisational level
  2. The performance of products, services and programs
  3. The performance of teams, department or units
  4. The performance of individual employees

A key task for a manager is to decide at which level an investment in performance management is most likely to pay off.  In my experience an investment in the performance management of individual employees drives improvements at the team, product/service and organisational levels.

Performance Reviews and Appraisals are a small but important part of good performance management at the level of the individual employee and the team or business unit.  When aggregated they can also provide powerful contributions to performance management at the organisational level.

However these ‘one-off’ annual interventions need to be supplemented by more frequent processes for measurement, monitoring and change to keep up with the dynamic context in which organisations operate.  These interventions would include:

  • 121s and quarterly reviews,
  • feedback,
  • coaching and
  • delegation.

Collectively these provide a manager with a powerful framework for the performance management of individuals and teams.  Few managers that I meet consistnelty use these intervnetions with rigour, conviction and compassion. As a consequence they are at best ‘mediocre’.  Without them the likelihood of real progress being made is small.  Putting these simple interventions into practice can transform mediocrity into excellence.

Measurement is central to performance management, but it is a double edged sword that has to handled skillfully.

“People revert to metrics out of fear, not out of vision.”

(Patrick Lencioni)

Measurement is often about the minimum requirements and rarely helps to articulate a grand design.  It tends to lead to reductionist thinking and may have little to do with the ‘high ground’ of excellence.

“Managers who don’t know how to measure what they want settle for wanting what they can measure.”

( Ackoff & Addison)

Most managers spend to little time considering what they expect from an excellent employee.

  • What would excellence look like?
  • How would I recognise it?
  • How would I ensure that excellence was contagious?

Even if managers do have a conception of excellence they rarely build in the time to collect the data and establish the working relationships necessary to achieve it.  Typically this means observing people at work, giving feedback, coaching and so on.  What Tom Peters referred to as ‘Managing By Wandering Around’.

Instead managers retreat to the easy, low ground of using what they can easily measure as a proxy for performance.  They become mole whackers.  Things that are difficult to measure are neglected, while things that are easy to measure become important.

Performance management is just a tool. It can be used to

  • move your agenda forward – what is your agenda? What does progress look like?
  • provide powerful messages about what matters – it doesn’t have to be precise, just influential – what are you trying to influence?

Barriers to Coaching

Prem Rao writes a great blog and one of his recent posts identifies 7 barriers that prevent managers from coaching their team members as much as they ought.

Now I spend a lot of my time teaching managers how to coach and while I agree with all of Prem’s 7 I would have to add a few more barriers that I regularly encounter!

One is the perception that coaching takes a along time and is expensive.  While coaching can take several weeks to really improve performance it is usually used to address a problem or an opportunity that has existed for months!  Taking 6 -9 weeks to make real progress on an issue that is important but not urgent has to be a great use of any manager’s time.

But this brings us to another barrier to coaching.  Coaching is a classic Quadrant 2 activity in Covey terms – it is itself an important but seldom urgent part of the work of the manager – After all you can always postpone coaching for another day without the wheels falling off.  Secondly the issues that require coaching tend to be Quadrant 2 in nature – they are important but seldom urgent.  So we are caught in a double whammy – not only can we afford to postpone coaching we can also postpone addressing the issue that coaching would be perfect to address.

Another barrier is the perception that it will take up a lot of the managers time if they start to coach – in fact it will nearly always save time – especially if used in partnership with delegation.

Then there is the association of coaching with under-performance.  The perception that coaching is something that is done (certainly at middle and lower levels in the organisation) as a last resort effort to address under performance.  This makes it awkward for managers to broach the subject of coaching with high performers.

Finally I think that many managers fight shy of coaching because they are insufficiently secure in their own technical competence and believe that their own short-comings might be exposed if they start to coach.

The solution?

Set an expectation that every manager will coach every member of the team every week.  Train managers how to coach. Hold them accountable for this expectation and reward those that deliver! 

Not only will you see progress in terms of performance and value creation, you will also start to develop a culture where you really do ‘invest in your people’.

The Time To Manage

Still the biggest barrier I find to helping clients to implement best practice approaches to people management is that ‘we do not have the time’.

‘But Mike I have 4 people in my team – are you really saying that I need to find 2 hours a week to invest in their 121s?  Don’t you understand how busy I am?’

It is a bit like a motorist saying ‘I haven’t got time to check the oil and the water and to fill up the petrol tank – because my car keeps breaking down’.

Except that the latter is statement is clearly ridiculous – while the former often passes for management wisdom!

When we choose not to invest time in managing staff what are we really saying?

‘I can create more value by spending my time elsewhere’ – this may be true but managers are paid to create a return on investment by managing people;

‘If I invest time in my people I may not get a good enough return on that investment’– this may be true but then you are not a competent manager;

‘if I spend time on managing people I will be operating outside the cultural norms of my organisation’ – this may be true but then I question the long term future of your organisation.  Unless we can harness the intelligence, passion, creativity, drive and energy of all our employees then we are, AT BEST, likely to achieve mediocrity.

Often what managers are really saying is that they actually quite like the adrenaline, energy and status that they get as a mole whacker, a problem solver, a crisis crusader.