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%.

How To Be an Outstanding Manager

This new 2 hour seminar is aimed at Managers, Senior Managers, Leaders and Human Resource Managers from any type of organisation where improving performance matters.

It will show how managers can quickly boost their managerial effectiveness.

The seminar will introduce participants to four practical management processes that are the hallmark of highly effective managers. These four processes will ensure that:

  • Communication and employee engagement is significantly improved
  • A sense of urgency is developed
  • Underperformers are managed effectively
  • High performers are recognised and retained
  • Every team member is coached, every week, to improve performance
  • Every team member is regularly given new tasks and assignments to help them and the business to develop
  • Business strategies, plans and values are put into practice
  • Will understand how mastery of 4 key management practices will unlock the key to being an exceptional manager.

“All of our managers have done NVQs in operational management – but still shied away from managing poor performers. Now they have the tools they need to manage this group effectively”

“That was an inspiring session”

“I would have liked longer”

Fiercely practical management training to make you stand out from the managerial crowd

Praise can backfire!

Giving employees positive feedback in the hopes of promoting better performance can sometimes backfire, suggests new research from the psychology department and the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University and the London Business School.

As I understand it they conducted an experiment where undergraduates were asked to act as managers in a recruitment process. Half the group were praised for their great decision making in the recruitment process. The other half werre praised for their creativity.

All were then told that the person they had recruited was not working out.

Those who had been praised for their decision making skills in the recruitment process invested more time and energy in trying to ‘save’ the poor hire rather than just cutting their losses and getting rid. Hence it is proven that giving praise can backfire!

This seems like BAD science and even worse management on so many levels.

The guinea pigs were praised regardless of the behaviours and talents they demonstrated during the exercise. Only the most incompetent manager would praise people indiscriminatley without any regard to what they actually do!

First law of feedback is to make sure that it relates to specific behaviours and is not just plucked out of the air.

If you want to check out the ‘research’ then you can do so here,

In Praise of Praise – Wally Bock

 Power of Praise

Wally Bock has written a great post on the power of praise in management.  It includes sections on:

  • What we know about praise
  • What we know about how to give good praise, and
  • Why don’t managers praise more?

If you find giving affirming feedback difficult – or just want to get better at it then have a look at his post.

More Returns on Investment from 121s

Tom Peters encourages managers to obsess on R.O.I.R – the Return on Investment in Relationships.

ROIR through 121s comes in many forms:

  1. increased staff retention
  2. improved productivity
  3. recognition and acknowledgement of progress
  4. appreciation of those who are performing well
  5. identification of under performance and early resolution
  6. promotion of behaviours that reinforce strategic goals and values
  7. increased tempo of coaching to develop potential and performance
  8. deeper professional relationships
  9. increased trust
  10. increased influence
  11. increased responsiveness
  12. better support of team members in their work
  13. conduit for ideas from the front line to be heard and acted upon
  14. management support for every member of the team – every week
  15. improved communication and focus on what matters
  16. progress made and recognised on a weekly basis
  17. increased sense of urgency in the team
  18. encourage individuals to think through their contribution to team or organisational objectives
  19. increased initiative and enterprise
  20. planning remains flexible and dynamic
  21. documentation makes performance reviews simpler and less contentious
  22. barriers to high performance are removed
  23. factors contributing to poor performance are identified and resolved
  24. formal opportunities for delegation
  25. feedback – both given and received
  26. increased employee engagement
  27. improved knowledge management and knowledge sharing
  28. better talent management and development
  29. increased creativity
  30. more responsibility taken voluntarily by more people
  31. reduced absenteeism
  32. more diversity as 121s recognise that ‘one size fits one’

Managing the Moon Walking Bear

It is true that we don’t see with our eyes as much as with our brain. Sure the eyes capture the photons – but it is in the brain that we actually do the seeing – largely based on what we are looking for.

If you need proof, try this.  NB you will need to hear the soundtrack!

Our ‘findings really do follow our seekings’, and our brain only lets us see what makes sense in the context.

This is especially important when we start to form opinions about people or projects. If we believe that they are good – then all we will see is the good stuff (as our subconscious filters about what does not fit in with our pre-conceived ideas). If on the other hand we think that people are bad or lazy then all we will tend to see is the behaviour that serves to confirm our beliefs.

Learning to observe and feedback on a range of work behaviours in a non judgemental, non-evaluative way is a key skill for the effective manager.  BTW there is some evidence that women in general tend to be more open to ‘peripheral’ stuff, to pick up on the background and make more sense of it than men.  I wonder if there are gender differences in spotting the dancing bear!

The Challenge of Becoming a Better Manager

Dark Arches
(Image supplied by Deborah Benbrook – a great ‘Leeds’ photographer – click the image to see some more of her work)
I work with managers who are trying to get better at their craft. Much better. They want to be the kind of manager who supports a team to do amazing work. To help others to really deliver to the best of their potential, both individually and as a team.
We use a set of management tools and techniques that could be described as ‘enlightened’. They are certainly based on an assumption that people are intrinsically good and want to perform well and develop their potential. However this means facing a dark truth – especially when talking about managing under-performers. No-one knowingly recruits an under-performer. And very few new recruits start off that way. There is something about the work context, something about what we as managers do that influences some people (sometimes the majority) to settle for less than their best. And it can be easy for managers to collude with them especially if that is the ‘culture’ of the organisation.
There are several reasons why making a transition to being a significantly better manager can be so difficult.
  • Firstly you have to be prepared to be obsessed by high performance, improvement and making the most of potential. Organisational rhetoric will always advocate this. However, in practice the rhetoric of excellence is dropped in favour of more pragmatic and easily achieved compromises.
  • Secondly, enlightened management practices can feel very uncomfortable especially to begin with. They are not our default management style. Our spontaneous management style is an expression of our deeply held, often subconscious, values and beliefs. And sometimes these are driven by more more traditional management concepts of power and control and more of a focus on the task than on developing the potential of the team to deliver excellence. So we wrap ourselves in the tools and techniques of enlightened management but underneath there is always a little voice saying ‘Just give a few orders, crack a few heads and get things done’. Only if we persist will we recognise that relationships are improving, more initiative is being shown, teams are performing better and genuine progress is being made. Only then will the nagging voice encouraging us to revert to the old fashioned ways start to fade away. And this is a process of substantial personal development. It is the process of becoming a different person with different attitudes and beliefs about what ‘excellence in management’ is all about. Now the tools and techniques of ‘enlightened management’ feel much more congruous with who we are as a person.
  • The third difficulty is the response of your team and the wider organisation to your changing management style. You start to use regular 121s, you give and seek feedback – frequently. Furthermore you expect it to be acted upon. You start coaching – everyone in your team – and expecting things to get better on a weekly basis. And you delegate consistently and well – not from a place that says ‘I can get some of my work done by others’ – but from a place that says ‘giving people the opportunity to take on these challenges will help them to develop and keep them interested an fulfilled in their work’. And what response do you get? Often it is a combination of surprise, discomfort, antagonism and disbelief. Usually there is a hope that if we can just keep things quiet for a while you will get over whatever training programme you have been on and things will get back to the mediocrity that passes for normal.
So the challenge of becoming a better manager is not an easy one. However it is not about mastering tools and techniques or acquiring new skillsets (although there maybe a little of this stuff). It is actually about recognising that there is a better way to manage and having the commitment and the discipline to pass through the discomfort of putting it into practice.

David Maister on the Role of Management

The role of management is to:

  1. Provide a clear purpose for the organization, so that the individual can decide whether that purpose is one they can believe in and contribute to;
  2. Help the individual find his or her passion, providing alternatives, encouragement, support during rough times;
  3. Provide clear and honest feedback;
  4. Enforce common standards so that the individual is part of a community of like-minded people of whom the individual can be proud.

Anything missed out? I’d love to hear your comments.

If you marked yourself (or your management team) out of ten on each of these four aspects, how would you score?

What could you do, most quickly and easily, to increase your score?

From Good to Great Manager – Part 5 – Knowing What Matters

Great managers know what matters.

They know both what matters to the organisation (vision, values, goals, behaviours, strategy in action) and what matters to individual employees.  Their families’ names. Who is terrified of flying. Their favourite hobbies and interests.  Who has expressed interest in a leadership role.

They take every opportunity to recognise and appreciate what matters to the organisation and to recognise and respect what matters most to the individual.  They help to connect the dots between what matters to people personally and what matters to the organisation.

In my work with Progressive Managers often the largest challenge is that of recognising the good stuff.  Often managers do not see enough of what people do to be able to observe (even less recognise) it.  And if they are in a position to observe it, often the subtleties go un-noticed and un-acknowledged.

The best managers know what they expect to see an employee doing to support vision, values and goals.  They look for it  – and when they see it they acknowledge it.  If they don’t see it then they will ask questions:

‘Is there anything more that you could do to put our values into practice?’

‘Are there any opportunities that you can see to help reach the goals we have set?’

Good managers know their stuff.  They know excellent work when they see it – and they know that they MUST appreciate it.  Lesser managers struggle to distinguish excellence from mediocrity – and unwittingly establish a standard that says mediocrity will do.

121s and the Return on Investment in Relationships

Tom Peters encourages managers to obsess on R.O.I.R – the Return on Investment in Relationships.

Usually what has to be invested is not cash – but time. And the challenge is to invest that time effectively.

For me, without doubt, the most effective tool for ROIR with employees is the 121. These are structured, documented 30 minute meetings held with each member of staff, every week. They provide the most effective ROIR with employees that I have ever seen.

ROIR through 121s comes in many forms:

  1. increased staff retention
  2. improved productivity
  3. recognition and acknowledgement of progress
  4. appreciation of those who are performing well
  5. identification of under performance and early resolution
  6. promotion of behaviours that reinforce strategic goals and values
  7. increased tempo of coaching to develop potential and performance
  8. deeper professional relationships
  9. increased trust
  10. increased influence
  11. increased responsiveness
  12. better support of team members in their work
  13. conduit for ideas from the front line to be heard and acted upon
  14. management support for every member of the team – every week
  15. improved communication and focus on what matters
  16. progress made and recognised on a weekly basis
  17. increased sense of urgency in the team
  18. encourage individuals to think through their contribution to team or organisational objectives
  19. increased initiative and enterprise
  20. planning remains flexible and dynamic
  21. documentation makes performance reviews simpler and less contentious
  22. barriers to high performance are removed
  23. factors contributing to poor performance are identified and resolved
  24. formal opportunities for delegation
  25. feedback – both given and received
  26. increased employee engagement
  27. improved knowledge management and knowledge sharing
  28. better talent management and development
  29. increased creativity
  30. more responsibility taken voluntarily by more people
  31. reduced absenteeism
  32. more diversity as 121s recognise that ‘one size fits one’

Perhaps some of these are things that you as a manager need to work on. If you are already using 121s then think how you can use them more effectively for the things that matter most to you and your business.

If you are not already using 121s then you have a tremendous opportunity to improve your management practice.

By the way – additions to the list are very welcome!