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How to reinforce performance expectations with your team?


Performance ExpectationAfter a recent company reorganization, which resulted in the team losing a few veteran employees and acquiring few new employees, the team started missing important deadlines, and morale had declined. Seeing that situation, the manager of that team (one of my good friend, let’s call him Bob) came to me for some advice. On asking specifics about the situation, Bob told me that his veteran team members have complained to him about the new team members slacking in their work. There could have been various reasons for this situation such as….lack of training, lack of established goals, strained team dynamics, etc. After doing further research, I figured out that the problem was in the fundamentals of how that team was operating. The team had very precise performance standards, but they were poorly reinforced after the reorganization of the company. Thus, in this blog I would like to share my experience on how I fixed that issue, and hence, giving you some insights on how you can reinforce your performance expectations with your team.

Go back to basics: In my example above, Bob had all the information that he needed, but he never gave attention to those. I can understand that. Sometimes, we are so much occupied in the details of the task at hand that we lose the big picture. Thus, I would recommend you to revisit your team’s mission before you take any action. Review any reliable documentation that you have which can confirm the team’s directives. If that document is not clearly stated, then please update that document to make sure that you are clear about what your team must accomplish before you meet with them in-person. It wouldn’t hurt to consult with your manager regarding these priorities, so that you have another person in authority who can confirm your redefined mission, and make sure that you are headed in the right direction. 

Meet with your team: Once you have ironed out your team’s mission, goals and specific objectives, now it’s the time to meet with your team. But yeah! DON’T conduct a one-way meeting with your PowerPoint slides. Consider asking the team to give you their ideas about the team’s goals, as it stands right now. In this way, you will be able to understand their point of view, and maybe, find out the reason for team’s deteriorating performance. After the team has shared their understanding of your team’s mission and goals, present them with your version of the goals in a document that everyone can view simultaneously, such as a slide presentation or a paper handout. Compare the team’s version of the goals with your version, and point out any gaps between the two versions. If the team’s version of these goals is reasonably close to your version, consider complimenting them. If they have added a goal or task that you think should be included, but was missing from your version, praise them. While closing, make sure that you reiterate individual team member’s roles and responsibilities, and get their agreement. 

Re-establish your goals: Just to make sure that everyone has the same understanding of all the goals and objectives of the team, you need to send a follow-up e-mail after the meeting. Make sure to summarize your meeting with the mission, goals, accomplishments, and responsibilities that the team is expected to deliver. If possible, deliver your message, or messages, in multiple formats, so that everyone receives the content, even if multiple message modes cause some redundancy. Use whatever mode of communication you know will be received by individual team members. Meet with them in person, send them email messages, or place paper documents in their mail boxes. Don’t forget to obtain feedback from individual team members, so that you can verify that everyone on your team has received your message and understands the team’s mission.

Follow-up with everyone: Even after re-establishing your goals, you can’t be sure that all of your team members will be committed to helping the team meet goals and produce the required results. Thus, I would recommend you to meet with team members one-on-one and identify whether they are committed to helping the team meet its goals. During the meeting, you should ask for direct feedback about each team member’s level of commitment. I know, it would sound silly, but I would recommend you to observe the body language and emotional tone of each team members. Try to find out, if he/she seem sincere and enthusiastic about the prospect of helping the team move forward. Ask each team member about their role in helping the team meet its goals, and ask them how they see themselves as adequately filling that role. Consider keeping notes about your findings. If you are uncomfortable taking notes during the one-on-one meetings, then jot down a few notes after each meeting, so that you are clear about where each team member stands, and then, you can take any corrective actions, if necessary.

Have you ever been in a situation like Bob? If so, what have you done to resolve it?

Thanks – Bhavin Gandhi

 
 

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How to provide coaching to your front line managers?


Coaching your line managersIf you are a Director or a Sr. Manager, who is involved in managing the front line managers, then this blog is for you. I agree that senior management’s role is very crucial and busy, and maybe that’s the reason why you can’t allocate enough time to coach your front line managers. But avoiding coaching/mentoring your front line mangers will create disastrous situations in the future. Your front line managers require more coaching than any other employees in the organization, since they define the culture of your company. In this blog, I will provide you with few pointers to coach your frontline managers effectively.

  1. Provide them training: If you are super busy with your day-to-day activities, and if you are unable to provide coaching to your managers, then please take the benefit of some external trainings. Most of the bigger companies (employees 1000+) have these kind training classes established in-house for their front line managers. So, make sure that your managers go through these training opportunities. While internal training is crucial for every company, not every company can afford to have internal training programs. In this case, you can partner up with few consulting companies to provide similar training opportunities to your front line managers. While selecting those external training programs, make sure that those programs match your company’s culture and working style.
  2. Help them build a network: In a senior management role, you should always encourage your front line managers to network with the key people from your company. By doing this, their area of influence will increase and they will become more independent to do their work. Thus, you should always help them to broaden their exposure within the company by visiting different areas of the company with them, or by introducing them to the new people within your organization. Your work doesn’t get done after an introduction, you need to help them to find opportunities to represent their part of the organization to others. In this way, they can be encouraged to discuss strategic issues and share the information with other management personnel.
  3. Reinforce your culture: Line managers are the one, who will define the culture of your organization. After all, they work at the root level. And hence, it becomes very important to ensure that they are embedded in your organizational culture. In order to reinforce your values, you need to teach them to respect and promote diversity in all areas and jobs in the company (if your company is diverse). You might want to have the discussion during your one-on-one session on how their behavior makes a difference in the organization. Sometimes, it is very important for you to provide them with ongoing information about the people, culture, and history of the organization. Reinforcing these values frequently through your one-on-one sessions or your interactions with them will ensure their growth with the company.
  4. Encourage them: I know, this sounds very simple, but this is very crucial part of the coaching. You need to help your line managers to learn how to deal with and manage ambiguity. Being in the senior leadership role, we always expect our line managers to get everything right. But that may not be the case always. And hence, you need to embrace their failure and provide them encouragement during those situations. I am not telling you to agree with their failures all the time, but have the behavior where they can come to you if they failed. You should also encourage them in their efforts to sponsor and develop potential leaders in the organization. After all, it will help your organization to become better. And yeah! When appropriate, offer feedback, support, and “push back”.

I hope, these tips will help you to better coach your front line managers in your team. So, what would you do to coach your front line managers in your team?

Thanks. – Bhavin Gandhi.

 
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Posted by on February 20, 2013 in 21st Century, Leadership, Management

 

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How to provide coaching to an experienced employee in your team?


Coaching Experienced EmployeesMost of the managers think that their experienced employees, who are in their team from a long time, doesn’t require any coaching. If you are one of those managers, then let me stop you right there. You are completely wrong. In fact….your experienced employee will require more coaching than your new employee, since he is the one who will be defining the normal of your team, and maybe, become a mentor to your new employee. Right? Obviously, you will require a different coaching style to coach your experienced employee as compared to your new employee (as I have indicated in my last blog). Thus, in this blog I will provide you with few pointers to coach your experienced employees.

Before I provide you with any strategies to coach your experienced employee (Mr. Y), let’s define what we expect from our experienced employees………We expect our experienced personnel to work on special projects and expand their circle of influence outside of your team, so that they can resolve few mission critical issues without your intervention. We also expect them to take ownership of few projects, and solve mission critical issues on their own. Some of the other expectations would be……training a new hire, defining new processes to improve efficiency, etc. Am I right?

Since we depend on our experienced employees to get the job done and improve the productivity of our team, their coaching style needs to be very personalized and effective. Following are few strategies that I use with my experienced employees…….

  1. Provide exposure: Since you already depend on Mr. Y; wouldn’t it be nice, if he can communicate directly with the cross functional team members, so that you can get the expected results? In order for Mr. Y to communicate with appropriate members from other teams, you need to provide him with various opportunities to work on cross-functional team. You can also provide company-wide exposure by introducing him to persons and areas beyond his current expertise. Sharing your larger network with him would be even better.
  2. Provide time: Let’s say, you give Mr. Y with the responsibility to lead a project from development to implementation, or provide him with the opportunity to coach others. In both of these cases, you need to be slightly patient to see the outcomes from those efforts. Since, these responsibilities are very new for him, he will take some time to learn and adjust to these responsibilities. Hence, don’t be frustrated, if you don’t see quick results. Provide him with some time to adjust to these new responsibilities, while closely monitoring his progress and providing needed help along the way.
  3. Teach them to delegate: Since Mr. Y is an experienced employee, you might be using him for very special projects, and hence, his knowledge might be very specialized and rare. In order to coach him effectively, you need to teach him how he can delegate his tasks and transfer his knowledge. You need to encourage him to “let go” his activities and expertise to give others the opportunity to be an “expert”.
  4. Provide training: You should involve your experienced employee in the selection, development and planning efforts, so that he can learn your style of decision making, and hopefully, use that knowledge to make future decisions on his own. His involvement in decision making will not only help you to get better informed with the day-to-day issues on the line, but it will also give him the opportunity to learn how mission critical decisions are taken. If your employee is inexperienced in coaching others, co-coach your new employees with him. This will give him the confidence in coaching others, while improving your trust relationship with him.

I hope, these tips will help you to better coach your experienced employee in your team. Stay tuned for my next blog, where I will provide you with some pointers on how to coach your managers. In the meanwhile, if you have any other ideas through which you can provide effective coaching to your experienced employees, then please feel free to share it here.

Thanks. – Bhavin Gandhi.

 
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Posted by on February 7, 2013 in 21st Century, Leadership, Management

 

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How to provide coaching to a rookie in your team?


Coaching a Rookie in your teamOne of the most important duties of a Manager/Leader is to coach their employees to get the desired business results. Like….one management style doesn’t work for everyone, one coaching style doesn’t function for everyone. Depending on your employee’s experience and historical background, you have to customize your coaching style to get the best out of themselves. Right? In this blog post, I will provide you with few pointers through which you can effectively coach your new hire.

Before I provide you with any strategies to coach your new employee, let’s find out few challenges that they would face as a new hire………As a new hire, your employee (Mrs. X) would require clear direction on what she is supposed to do, right? She will also need some clearly defined work assignments, where she can get herself acquainted to your company and its processes, am I not right? Obviously, she is new to the company, so she will also need your help to expand her circle of influence to get the work done.

Since, we are clear on what challenges she would face as a new employee in your team, now we can go ahead and define some coaching strategies. Following are few strategies that I use with my new hire…….

  1. Frequent feedback: As a new employee, she would not know if she is doing the assigned task appropriately and up to your expectations. And hence, providing frequent reviews and feedback is a must.
  2. Set clear expectations: In order to make sure that she can be productive quickly, you need to provide clear and detailed instructions for every basic tasks that you assign to her. It would be better for you, if you can provide her with smaller projects with clearly defined start and end times. This will make sure that you educate herself with your team’s processes while meeting your productivity targets at the same time.
  3. Ask questions:  In order to make sure that you are strengthening your relationships with your new employee and she is getting all the information that she needs, you need to regularly ask her questions. Questions like……. “How are you doing?”, “Do you have time for lunch?”, and “How do you like our team?” will help you to strengthen your relationship with her and to build your initial trust. On the other hand, questions like…….”Are you getting the information you need?”, “Are you meeting the right people?”, and “Let me know, if you need anything” will help her to make sure that she gets the work done.
  4. Assign a coach: Obviously, you would be introducing her to your team and encouraging her to increase her circle of influence within and outside of your team. But sometimes that is not enough. You need to explicitly assign a member of your team, who is willing to coach her. This strategy will not only help her to get herself acquainted with your team’s processes, but it will also give your experienced employee an opportunity to showcase his talents to you. With an explicit coach assigned to her, she can now learn your processes, languages, and acronyms used in your area without your explicit time given to her.

I hope, these tips will help you to better coach your new hire in the team. So, what would you do differently to coach your new employee? Do you have any other ideas to effectively coach your rookie?

Thanks. – Bhavin Gandhi.

 
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Posted by on January 22, 2013 in 21st Century, Leadership, Management

 

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Did you get promoted to a management position for the first time? Then stop doing what you know. Find out why.


After seven years in software development at a San Francisco based e-commerce company, my friend (let’s call him Mr. X) was promoted to his first manager’s position as an Engineering Manager. Up to that point, his track record had been stellar. His intelligence, focus, and determination had won him recognition and various promotions in his organization.

When his company assigned him to be the engineering manager for one of the company’s hottest new products, he ran into trouble early on. Mr. X’s past successes were due to his extraordinary technical leadership and programming capabilities. Accustomed to programming, he was a control freak and had the tendency to micromanage. His efforts to micromanage the engineering team alienated them. And within few months, Mr. X was back as being a technical leader (sr. programmer) and someone else was leading the team.

Mr. X failed as an engineering manager because he was unable to make the transition from being a strong individual programmer to an engineering manager. He failed to grasp that the strengths which had made him successful during his sr. programmer role could be liabilities in a role that required him to lead an engineering team by trusting their programming skills instead of doing it yourself.

What might Mr. X have done differently? He should have focused on mentally promoting himself into the new position, a fundamental challenge for new leaders. The one thing to remember is…………..you can’t become successful in your new job as a manager by continuing to do what you did in your previous position as an individual contributor.

Since you might have been promoted due to your skills and accomplishments, it is only human to think that your senior management wants you to do what you were good at. Maybe that’s the only reason why you might live in the denial, and believe that you are being productive and efficient, if you continue your old behavior. But instead of continuing your responsibilities as an individual contributor, you need to prepare yourself mentally to move into your new role by letting go of the past and embracing the imperatives of the new situation to give yourself a running start. This can be hard work, but it is essential that you do it.

I hope, this blog comes to you as a reminder to forget what you knew, and try adapting yourself to the new management role that you have inherited. What would you do in this situation, if you were to be promoted to your first ever management job?

Thanks. – Bhavin Gandhi.

 
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Posted by on November 13, 2012 in 21st Century, Leadership, Management

 

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Why shouldn’t you let your poor performer slide?


Oftentimes, as a manager we believe that as long as project goals are being met, we can let poor performers slide. Handling poor performers can not only consumes lot of time; but if handled incorrectly, it can create a hostile work environment for your other employees. After all, no manager is looking forward to have a difficult conversation with their employees, especially in a crunch time. But if you keep ignoring these poor performers then it can create a disastrous situation for your team. You might encounter following consequences, if you refuse to deal with your poor performers.

Decline in your team’s productivity: Let’s say, Joe is your go-to guy, and a good performer. Let’s say, Steve is your poor performer in the team. Joe is monitoring Steve’s performance from last 2 months, and he sees that even if Steve’s performance is bad from last 2 months, their manager is not taking any action to correct his behavior. So, now Joe may begin to wonder what the point is of his extra efforts and working overtime. Due to the multiplicity effect of this behavior, you will have a team of 60% poor performers within few months.

High turnover rate: When your poor performers are not working, your good employees are working twice as hard as usual to keep projects on track or to correct the mistakes of the incompetent employee. If your poor performer doesn’t face any consequences from you, your good employees can lead to resentment, unhappiness, and, eventually, leave your team to seek employment elsewhere.

Creation of rumor mills: If your go-to guy (Joe) keeps on seeing that the incompetent employee is getting away with his poor performance for months, then he might think that your poor performer (Steve) might have connections with upper management. It’s human nature. When we see any wrong action from someone without any consequences, we try to think up number of reasons for justifying that behavior. In my example, some of the rumors that can stat are….What does so-and-so have on the manager? Why is everyone so afraid to reprimand so-and-so? Etc.

Though it is very difficult and unpopular to deal with your poor performers, it is your utmost responsibility, as a manager, to address these performance issues as soon as they are noticed. This practice will help you to avoid problems in the future and create a healthy work environment for your team. I hope, this blog came to you as an eye opener, so that you can handle your poor performers in the future. Let me know, if you know of any other issues that your poor performer might create. Thanks – Bhavin Gandhi

 
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Posted by on October 15, 2012 in 21st Century, Leadership, Management

 

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How to keep your team motivated in the crunch time?


I am sure, as a manager, you must have encountered a situation where your team has been working very hard for past few months to get that next product out of the door. And due to this situation, everyone in your team feels under-appreciated and overworked. And you don’t know how to keep your team motivated. Does this sound familiar?……..Through this blog, I would try to give you some tips through which you can keep your employees motivated during this crunch time.

Provide feedback: As far as feeling under-appreciated goes, this has to be the #1 killer of team’s motivation. During the crunch time, our focus is so much on the end result that we forget to provide feedback to our team. Sometimes it is very crucial to provide constant feedback to your team on how they are doing. This behavior not only conveys the message that you care for your team, but it also gives you the opportunity to correct any mistakes in your current process.

Communicate purpose: The second biggest killer of self-motivation is negativity. When we set personal expectations at a level that are unattainable, we start to invent reasons for why we are not achieving our goals. We start thinking about past failures that have not gone our way and weak points in our character or at least in our working style. This causes us to come up with all the reasons that we can’t succeed. Hence, to keep your team motivated, you not only need to accept that the timeline given for the project was too aggressive, but you need to also provide them with the reason of ‘why we are doing, what we are doing’. This will provide your team with some background on why you are having these aggressive deadlines, and how it will impact the business, if you don’t meet those deadlines. Also, (if possible) you need to provide them with some blueprint of the plan, so that this doesn’t happen again.

Positive reinforcement: During these tough times, I would recommend you to remember old success stories, and recognize it for what it was. The power of this kind of positive reinforcement and positive feedback can’t be underestimated. Make sure that your team is getting the positive feedback from you that they need. Always make sure to restate your team’s and individual achievements during your team meetings and one-on-one meetings with your team members. This will encourage your team to keep going.

I hope these tips will help you to keep your team motivated in the crunch time. What would you do in this situation? How will you keep your team motivated?

Thanks. – Bhavin Gandhi.

 
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Posted by on August 19, 2012 in 21st Century, Leadership, Management

 

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