I am reading a very interesting book about in an effort to improve my “performance gap.” What’s a performance gap you say? Well in her book Winning from Within, author Erica Ariel Fox describes it as the disparity between your actual reaction to a situation or problem and your “optimal reaction” to that very same problem. This is a very real phenomenon. Have you every thought the moment you said something, uggh I sounded really, arrogant, patronizing, impatient or like a horrible parent? Ahh then you too have experienced the performance gap. The interesting thing about this quick read is that it gives you practical applications that real people can practice in everyday life as a leader, friend, parent or employee. It is also completely based on someone you can control, you. I have read a number of books on negotiating strategies to get desired results, they can be helpful to a point, this one may be on to something though with practical strategies for developing yourself from the inside as a leader.
One of the most difficult balances to achieve is the balance between work life and home life, especially for moms. Maternal guilt is real! We internalize all the looks we receive when the pie for the bake sale is store-bought. I at least buy well. While I grocery shop at Rainbow, I buy pies at the boutique bakeries. This assuages the guilt somewhat.
As a manager I try to remember that people had lives outside of work. While in theory it would make sense to keep work life and home life separate, I would argue that the traits people exhibit in their home lives are part of the reason you hired them in the first place. I am a results oriented leader. As long as we hit our goals and the work gets done, I am happy. I truly believe that flexibility, within reason, breeds flexibility.
On a calm weekend in 2010 someone decided to commit news and shoot a St. Paul cop. It happened to be a weekend when we only had one day time shooter. I came into the office to direct news coverage. I began thinking of whom to call to cover the shooting and my phone rang. It was a staffer who was off that day asking if I was alright coverage wise. I was just about to call them, because I was not OK! I needed bodies fast! I shared this and they made a plan and hit the road to cover the story. A lot of journalists understand the fast-paced unpredictable nature of news and are ready to pitch in, this was different, it was an unspoken agreement.
This particular staffer had a busy home life with two active children and a traveling spouse. I often made sure they could start their day from home, make it to sports games etc when their spouse was out of the country. As long as the work got done, I was not going to mandate that this responsible member of my staff were sitting at their desk, just for the sake of making them do it. This respect for their family meant that they were willing to help me, the way I had helped them, by being flexible and helpful.
It may not always work, by no means should you allow people to take advantage of your kindness, but flexibility can be extremely useful.
Another great lesson I was reminded of at the seminar I attended this week was the concept of embracing change. One of the biggest hurdles to moving forward with new ideas and innovation is the fear of change. As humans, we have a natural tendency to fear the unknown. Knowing what the future holds is a gift most of us don’t have so, being fearful of change can be crippling. Plain and simple fear of change leaves us unprepared.
In 2006, I was charged with the task of helping my staff move into multimedia production. While I was naturally nervous about what this new change would mean for my staff, I embraced the change because I knew I would need to be an example for my staff to get the buy-in I would need from key players in my department. I not only needed the agreement of my happy learner types, I specifically needed the buy-in of the unspoken leader of my staff. The unspoken leader, while a whole other post topic, is the person whose constancy at the time was comforting to the staff. As there had been many leaders before me, the photo department had chosen their own d-facto leader whom they trusted to always be there.
This particular veteran photographer was a man of very few words but distinct actions. He was a professional he did stellar work consistently and I could tell that having his respect was extremely important to his colleagues. He had literally been shooting photos at the newspaper, for longer than I had been on Earth. This is how I knew he was great at embracing change. He had been through the era of the newspapers transition from black and white printing to color, the darkroom transition from film processing and printing to digital scanners. He used the first digital SLRs in the newsroom and survived the introduction of PhotoShop, Quark and the pagination era. So, I started with him.
Our first multimedia endeavor was to produce audio slide shows with Marantz recorders. Many thought I was crazy to ask the oldest person on my staff to begin producing audio slideshows first, all the assumptions were that the veterans never wanted change, but the truth is, they understand change better than anyone on the team. They have lived through it and are still there!
Fast forward 3 years to 2009; the unspoken leader on my team retired. I threw his going away party at my home and took the time to share how much his constancy meant to me. He gave me a small hand written card that is still one of my prize possessions.
It said “Thank you, I can go now because there is someone here who will help them navigate the changing waters, you are a great Mother Duck”
This was in reference to a conversation we had once about my favorite children’s book inspired by my hometown of Boston, “Make Way for Ducklings!” While looking for a safe place to raise their ducklings This mother duck enlisted the help of others to lead her flock to a new home. Who knew a children’s book would be such a great lesson about change and navigating the world we live in. Change is just a new home, and if you enlist the help of those who know it well to help you, you will most often get there safely.
As a manager, one of the hardest things to learn is, what performance issues to discuss and how. While being the taskmaster is part of being a manager, learning to weigh items that need necessary correction with those inconsequential flaws is an art form. I have had both the manager who points out every error and the one who is so buried that they give no correction at all. While the former seems annoying, I prefer that to no feedback at all.
I like to write out all the negative things I need to discuss with an employee and then ask four questions about each issue.
- Is this a procedural issue? Is this simply an error of not following the right steps.
- Is this a critical behavioral flaw? Were they rude, harassing or socially inappropriate for the workplace.
- Is this a clash of personality? Are people simply not getting along and needing to learn to play better in the sandbox.
- Lastly I ask what will happen if I don’t address this now? If the answer here is nothing, I toss it!
Statistically employees who receive feedback will multiply the bad feedback by three. They are also more likely to forget the positive feedback if it is delivered first. I have found an extremely productive way to give feedback is the sandwich approach. I sandwich all tough feedback between two positive comments. I also do so in writing so that when people are rereading my comments; they can actually see that there is more good than bad, literally, twice as much. I also do this regularly. When you share both good and bad feedback on a regular basis, at a ratio of two to one, it is both easier to take and more believable.
Streaming TED talks is now easier than ever. First if you don’t know what TED is you need to. TED is an idea consortium. They offer great talks and presentations for free and motivating workshops for a membership. Memberships are not cheap but are beneficial if you want to allow your business to incorporate TED talks into training. TED now has an app that allows these presentation and talk videos to be shared on mobile devices and tablets. It also allows you to save and organize your favorites so you can easily get back to them for reference. I have used TED talks to shape the ideas behind what kind of leader I want to be, how to maintain happiness as I work and how to motivate others to do their best. Check out TED.com if you want really great resources for effective leadership and team building.
Remembering the little things is often key to earning the trust of your staff. For me that meant knowing what types of assignments people preferred, handling their pet peeves (the work related ones) and letting people you don’t see everyday know you are thinking of them and wishing them well. You see photographers spend the most time out of the newsroom. They need to be out and about for the best news coverage. There is no real way to phone-in the photos for a story. You have to be there. This can lead to people feeling disconnected from the office and sometimes forgotten. I tried to get in the habit of sending regular birthday acknowledgements in the form of e-cards. It is hard when you have a department of 20 or more to keep track and remember to select and send an e-card so I used a service called Birthday Alarm.
Birthday Alarm is a neat service that allows you to load people’s birthdays and e-mail addresses and then starts sending you reminders for birthdays 10 days in advance. You can then click on the link select a card, add a personal greeting and it will send the card on the recipient’s birthday. It remembers every year and makes the task super simple by suggesting age appropriate and often hilarious options for cards. So it allows you to add a personal acknowledgement in a few minutes. It doesn’t add hours to your day and it makes a great statement to that employee you rarely see but who works hard and let’s them know you’re thinking of them. Birthday Alarm remembers which cards you’ve sent to whom, so duplicates don’t happen and it offers every type of occasion card. There are thank you cards, a great way to say “Job well done!,” holiday cards, nice for sending a holiday greeting to those working abroad. They even have just funny animations to share with colleagues and staff to add a little levity on a slow day.
Today is my wonderful mother-in-law Jan’s 73rd Birthday. She is a woman of great humor and grace whom I love and respect. You can read more about my wonderfully loving and funny relationship with Jan in today’s “Raisin in Minnesota” column on GoodEnoughMother.com Happy Birthday Jan! Check your inbox, today’s card is a hoot!
One great way to measure your success as a manager is to look at whether or not the ship will sink without you! It is now Eight months since I was laid off from my previous employer. Yet, I am proud and happy! You see succession planning begins with you. The young man I hired as the deputy is a rock star! I am proud because I was able to see that when I hired him. He did not have the wealth of experience I had when I was hired, but he was smart and resourceful and a hell of a photo editor. He found me when I was hiring. We all know finding the hiring manager is a tough task! He made a simple and clear case for how he wanted to both learn from me and move closer to his family in Minnesota. This was both honest and necessary for taking a job in the tundra.
During my interview with him I asked him an interesting question, “Do you want my job?” He paused, I assume searching for clues about what I wanted his answer to be. Then he said with rising intonation “Yes?” When I smiled, he realized, this was the right answer. You see the staff I led had been through horrible turnover in managers. It was almost a soap opera of poor decision makers and mal-tempered micro-managers of the past. The department had been through nine directors in 15 years. I wanted to be sure I gave them stability and an honest to goodness succession plan. I was not planning to leave them for a while, a commitment I made to myself when I took the job. It actually took 3 years of me being there before their shoulders relaxed.
It is important to be a good shepherd of the flock you are leading, make sure they will be cared for and have their needs met even after you are gone. So, if you are hiring someone to lead with you, make sure you teach that person how to keep the flock safe. This means getting outside yourself, and actually looking to hire that person who both wants your job, and will be able to do it. Don’t get me wrong, I was nervous at taking this approach, as we all think of self-preservation, but I did it anyway.
I shared this story on a recent job interview that is looking for a creative manager that can really come in and both lead and teach the creative staff as well as set them up to succeed. I made it to the next round and I’m convinced this story was the one that put me over the top. If you put the needs of your staff before your own selfish desires, you will know that you are in fact a good leader.
The staff is talented and producing great work! That is in part because they are in good hands. Eight months out the ship is sailing and the staff has an excellent leader, it’s not me and I’m proud!
Are you creating a succession plan? Do you ask the question during your interviews? Do you know who wants your job and will be able to do it? Do you give them the tools to replace you? Do you set people up to succeed? Why or why not?
In every gymnast’s career there are years of skills training, practice and strengthening focused on learning the pieces to their routines. They put together routines for every apparatus they perform on in every competition. They are judged on degree of difficulty, artistry, poise and balance. They get up early, stay late and work on every aspect of the performance. In the back of their minds, they know that after all is said and done; they’ve got to stick the landing.
You work hard and educate yourself and train for every aspect of your career. You have your career routines down. When a new competition is at hand, do you stick the landing? Do you deliver beyond what is expected? Do you remember how good it feels?
I had that feeling today. I had an interview with the top creative staffing agency in town. Previously when I had spoken with the recruiter she was very kind and let me know that transitions in management are hard without 10 plus years of experience in that field as a leader. She asked if I would consider entry to mid level positions, I told her I would consider them, but that I prefer management because of my experience and skill (I didn’t mention the routines, as she was not aware of my analogy).
When I went in for my interview today I was interviewed by an account manager and again I was given the initial “transitions are hard” speech. Then she began to question my experiences, what I had learned and all that I had done with or without the “appropriate title,” she realized I knew my chosen new field really well. In addition, I was easy to talk to and had a good sense of humor. I dressed for my interview with her as if I were a Creative Director already. She complimented my look. (Not all creatives are disheveled!) I articulated clearly and did not waver about my desires. In the end she looked at me and said “You are impressive on paper, but you’re phenomenal in person! You won’t be hard to market as leader and you won’t be on the market long!” Dismount, (flying through the air) Nailed it!
I worked in a union environment where compensation was automatic and not tied to performance. A number of my direct reports shared with me that prior managers of my department rarely performed annual evaluations. Most assumed it was because they were not tied to compensation. I realized that this meant a number of people on my staff had not been regularly informed how their supervisor thought they were performing, nor were they having annual measurable goals set for them. I set out to change this by reinstating the performance review and letting people know where their strengths and weaknesses stood with me. I also invited them to help me set measurable goals for them to achieve over the course of the next year.
The evaluations I provided were frank and honest and provided specific examples of their triumphs and trials. It is important to include both praise and observation in what people do well as well as where they struggle. It shows them that you are aware of their work in good times and bad. All too often people feel as if their bosses don’t know what they do. I made a point to make electronic notes on my personal calendar under the name of each direct reports sort of a “Sainted &Tainted” bulletin board of their yearly performance. So not only did I give examples of successes, I could even provide the dates. For poor performance, this also allowed me to know whether they had a pattern for a certain behavior all year or if it was just a fluke. When it comes to the good, include it all is my view. When it comes to the bad, I only include the troubling patterns and let the flukes go. This was my Mary Poppins approach; I found “a spoonful of sugar” really did help the medicine go down. To my surprise not only was this effective, it actually helped me turn lower producers into top performers. First, they knew I was watching. Secondly, they intrinsically wanted that sainted list to be long and the tainted list to shrink. Last and most importantly, at the end of the review, I would ask them to help me write their goals for the next year. I knew that even if they didn’t mind letting me down, they might think a little harder about letting themselves down.
I’m still in learning mode after finishing my MBA in December, 2011. So I take the time to read all the leadership and new/social media books I can find because my WPM, words per minute, is still in overdrive. You may not have the time to go back to school or read a tone of the latest books but what if you could listen to a lecture series from a top University over your lunch break? With iTunes U you can. You know you have seen the link in your iPhone or iPad for iTunes U , Have you ever clicked on it? I’m currently watching a series of business leadership lectures from MIT, free! Sadly, these great lectures only have 52 reviews because so few people know they can literally go back to school on their phones, with no tuition. Pick a topic and learn from the best academics in the world. I may not matriculate from MIT but I can be as sharp as their grads! Isn’t getting the knowledge the real point?