Archives for posts with tag: communication

Carrying out a ‘performance management’ (I prefer performance improvement) discussion can be one of the most challenging tasks a leader can undertake.

Many leaders avoid these altogether or try to palm them off onto HR.Some wait until the pain of non-performance is so great that it exceeds the discomfort of having the discussion.

The truth it that it doesn’t have to be that hard. Really…

So how can you reduce the discomfort?

Well first, let me repeat my suggested NAKED LEADERSHIP problem solving mantra:

When despite your best efforts, something goes wrong and someone screws up, the first question you need to ask is

“How much of this do I own?”

That’s right – you, the company and anyone with a degree of influence over what has gone wrong.

You must with excruciating fairness, thoroughly explore the procedures and processes, including recruitment and selection, the communication, timely feedback, measurement, coaching and training (all documented of course!) and anything else that you have a responsibility to provide, to see if it has gone awry.

If you don’t bother and you eventually fire the employee, anything missing in the above can be cause for an unfair dismissal case.

More importantly, this process can help identify if someone else is likely to have the same problem. if that is possible, then you have a system problem more than an employee one and ‘shooting’ this person is not going to change that.

If after reviewing these key areas, you come to the conclusion that you have done as much as you can to help your team member onto the right path and they are not performing, you need to find out why and that means a coaching meeting.

Now a key point: Never, Never get emotionally involved in the issue. It may affect you and even your own KPIs but it is essential that you ‘park’ this and that it remains an objective discussion about the problem not the person.

You must play the role of an Umpire and a Coach.

  • In any performance meeting your job is to gather as many available facts and evidence as you can and then treat it like a mystery or a puzzle: The mystery is: Why is this employee not performing as required?

This is an entirely different approach to going in and telling them to pick up their game or else!

If you attack they will fight back, or dodge the issue or cry or call the union or HR. That’s Humans 101.

Remaining calm and impartial can help people accept responsibility to self correct.

It is crucial that you ask ‘open’ questions and let them do most of the talking. This can be as simple as sitting down and factually laying out the areas of concern. Avoid any emotional statements or accusations.

Use neutral questioning language such as: “Jeff I wanted to talk to you because I have noticed that your last three reports have been submitted at least two days late and contained a number of errors (place the reports on the table for him to review) . I have looked over the performance requirements of your role and your training in this area (place these on the table for him as well) . Can you have a look and help me understand how this has come about?”

Do not speak again until he does. Allow as much time as it takes.The silence is a tool – avoid filling it with personal justification for talking to him. In other words Shut up…

Your whole purpose is to provide information and then have Jeff measure himself against his job description, work requirements and any instructions you have given him.

When he comments he may simply accept responsibility or may try to make excuses. Either way you need to ask him if there is any specific reason why this is happening. Remember we are trying to determine the cause, not pin the blame.

  • Avoiding unnecessary criticism or visible annoyance (including tone of voice) can get much better results.
  • Remember you are not doing anything to Jeff. You are simply holding him responsible for the work for which he is being paid.
  • It may take some practice to remain detached but it makes it a better process for everyone. The employee doesn’t feel like a naughty child and you don’t feel like an angry parent.

If you get emotionally involved, you are as the old saying goes “Making a Monkey for your own back”. Getting emotionally involved can cause you to say things that you will regret or be perceived as unprofessional or hostile. Not a good look.

After he has clearly seen the contrast between what is required and what he has been doing, ask:

“So Jeff, as I have pointed out, your work is important to our team and I really need to be able to rely on you. Can you tell me how you plan to get back on track?”

Get specifics and a commitment within a time frame that works for you.(You must allow a reasonable time to correct performance). You also need to offer any reasonable support to help him. That is not only a requirement under most workplace laws it is good business. replacing employees is expensive!

Remember it is not your job to do Jeff’s job, it is his.

You simply need to provide him with necessary resources and support so he can perform. If he consistently fails to perform you simply repeat the process but let him know that this cannot continue happening.

I have found this approach usually identifies problems and in the vast majority of cases, the employee accepts responsibility and self corrects. Most people want to do a good job but they also need to have an Umpire and Coach to keep them on track.

Playing this role is a lot less stressful than playing judge and executioner.

Remember a coach can still ‘bench’ or replace a player if necessary.

This personal extension of Descartes’ moment of illumination has begun to be more apparent to me as the years go by.

(Make yourself a coffee – this is going to be a long one)

Over the last decade, I have become more acutely aware that we are being conditioned to think less and less or at least, to avoid thinking critically and this enables all manner of injustice to be perpetuated with little outcry.

Case in point: At present in my state, the government has begun a ‘war on motorcycle gangs’ and has banned many such organisations from gathering together. Mind you, they don’t have to be gathering to commit a crime, just getting together.

This, according to some media, has widespread support in the community and clearly the government has ‘shown leadership’ by taking action to curb a crime wave initiated by these individuals.

As my personal motto is ‘Question everything’ I decided to explore for myself, what surely must be some significant justification for the government to pre-emptively remove the rights of some of its citizens. Surely the widespread fear of these rampaging violent criminals so frequently reported in the media, must validate all possible methods to keep us safe?

Unfortunately, it didn’t take very long to realise that this appears to be another case of A war on….(insert distraction of the month here)’  Yep – another ‘war on terror’ which turned out to be a tragic farce built on falsehoods which made the world a much less safe place.

Bur please don’t believe me, according to the state police’s own statistics[1] these ‘gang members’ account for .04% of the crime in the state.[2]

So let’s do a little thought experiment and use these numbers to look at an activity that these ‘violent criminals’ are most likely to be involved in.

According to official statistics, there were 5338 reported ‘violent acts’ (not convictions mind you) in 2011-12. Now applying the governments percentage of crimes carried out by ‘outlaw motorcycle gangs’ we can deduce that these individuals could accused of – wait for it – 2 violent acts’. That’s right 2.

Now of course this is a statistical average and a portion of total crime but even if we allowed 10 times this rate there would still only be 20. If we multiplied this rate by 100 there would still only be 200 alleged violent acts and even police admit that this is usually amongst clubs, not with the public. 

Even if this 100 times multiple was true, it would still be 200 alleged acts in a state population of 4.5 million. Yet the current government has cleverly manufactured a climate of fear where a citizen’s right to freedom of association can be removed based on who their friends are… Fear is a powerful logic anaesthetic.

Crime wave? It’s not even a ripple but someone wants you to believe it is… Why is that?

Was P.T Barnum right? Are suckers really born every minute? Unfortunately yes…

Why? Because as humans, we react much more quickly and with much more vigour to our emotions than to logic. It is part of our survival mechanism that evolved over aeons but in the 21st century should our emotions still be leading us by the nose, even subconsciously?

What’s the harm? I mean really – logic is such a party pooper, a spoiler, a wet blanket. It is the person who sits behind you in the theatre and whispers “Vader is Luke’s father” or “The kid sees dead people so Bruce Willis must be dead” or “Red John is….” (just kidding).

What’s wrong with reacting emotionally? Well nothing – if it is for entertainment or fun or love or kindness or any other of the wonderful experiences that allow us to fully experience the richness of life but what about when weighing up truth or falsehood? Or seeing though media hype (If it bleeds it leads) to realise that what is happening is wrong? What about when administering justice or ensuring fairness?

That’s when we have to take a cold shower – even more so when we hold leadership positions. Leaders have the leverage and opportunity to promote a personal agenda or demonstrate our dislike of someone if we choose. This is because employees are vulnerable and not all leaders are objective.

As an employee, when we go to work for a company we exchange certain freedoms for a salary. This is a normal contractual type of arrangement and of course is voluntary. If we don’t like it we can leave. However, the unseen leverage begins the moment we become reliant on the financial security that a job often provides. This ‘security’ quietly permeates all areas of our lives and relationships and over time, particularly if we have children or do not have a partner earning enough to support the whole family, begins to open a door through which all kinds of nasty things can enter.

If we didn’t ‘need’ our jobs, bullying would be almost non-existent. We could invoke the vernacular cry ‘take your job and shove it’ and walk out.

In the real world however, this is often not an option. Unscrupulous, immature or low EQ[3] leaders can use all kinds of methods to ‘control’ their employees, to their satisfaction. For example, if the leader prefers quiet, they can insist that all the team whisper or pass notes in order to communicate. Sound ridiculous? I know someone to whom this happened. Team morale plummets and work becomes like a prison. You hate it but you can’t escape.

If there is one who stands up or protests, the same leader/s can describe this person unfavourably to other leaders and generally poison the well. Pretty soon an environment is created that is emotionally hostile to this person and because a number of others now share this opinion (not based on experience but hearsay) it makes the environment intolerable and what would ordinarily be an outstanding employee leaves or becomes ill with stress.

That is why we leaders we have both a practical and moral duty to think critically and clearly about everything we hear and see, in order to remain objective.  We must remain, (as I have said for many years in Naked Leadership sessions) The Coach and the Umpire’ – in this case the Umpire function being critical.

If we are told unfavourable stories about an employee we are inheriting, it is tempting to accept these as ‘real’ experiences from another leader’s perspective and treat them as accurate because as humans we are wired to enjoy a gritty story or scandal otherwise those Kardashians would be unemployed!

As the great 20th century philosopher Henley once observed: “This year notoriety got all confused with fame” and this is because gossip strongly appeals to our emotions and feels ‘real’.

In reality though, I have found that the people spoken most unfavourably of by their former manager, inevitably turned out to be my best most productive team members when give a fair chance.

People described as ‘adversarial’ ‘unprofessional’ or ‘difficult’ usually turn out to be the thinkers who can add real value to the organisation by exposing the ‘dumb stuff’ or at the least prompting a fresh look at what we are doing and how. As I relay in Naked Leadership®, whether I am consulting to or working within an organisation, I will go to the ‘whiners/whingers/complainers’ first and ask them to tell me all of their issues.

Often they are the only ones with the courage or relative freedom (they don’t need the job) to do so.

I can confidently say that in the vast majority of my experiences over the last decade and a half, it has turned out to be the leader, not the employee that is the problem

So how to deal with this and other issues where things that appear to be ‘facts’ are nothing more than distortions, myths, fabrications or simply lies?

Well personally, I rely on the cornerstone of the Naked philosophy which I nakedly adapted from Socrates. Ask questions then shut up and listen.

When someone uses a non-specific term like ‘adversarial’ ask them specifically how the employee demonstrates this. If the term ‘difficult’ or the like is used, again ask for a specific list of actions and situations so you can understand what is actually occurring.

Keep going until you have asked for detailed descriptions of every alleged behaviour. It will usually become clear after one or two questions that the leader is the problem and often they will suddenly have other things to do rather than stay and ply you with tales of miscreant employees.

Our world has changed. News has changed from reliable information into ‘infotainment’, the Internet both provides information for critical analysis and a platform for loonies and these days a whole range of media outlets can be owned by one person or corporation who decides to which viewpoint the journalists conform.

So do we give up or become hermits?

No. But rather than ranting at the perpetrators, when we feel our emotions being engaged unproductively we can snap out of it and ask ourselves:

”Why am I watching/listening to/accepting this crap?” Change the channel, stop reading that paper and practice being thoughtful about everything that is important.

Humans should have embedded in our DNA somewhere the impulse to question everything until we are comfortable that we have looked at all points of view, discerned what is accurate and what is not and made an informed judgement. (That’s why I don’t let my university students use Wiki as a reference!) Then keep an open mind and seek things that challenge your beliefs, so you examine them often.

A word of warning though; many people are comfortable living in denial or blissful/wilful ignorance or being complicit in injustice by ‘keeping their heads down’ and those leaders who use manipulation and oppression to rule, do not want you peeking behind the curtain to see the truth.

If you seek objectivity, honesty and fairness, you may have trouble finding a company you want to stay with.

Perhaps that is why most thought-leaders, philosopher/authors and creative champions (people like Godin, Pink, Gladwell, Ronson and others) work for themselves or only with other likeminded people and consult to companies in the hope that some of what they say may stir change for the better.

I am very grateful I have a beautiful and intelligent partner who seeks to understand people and their actions from a critical and objective viewpoint and also seeks to right wrongs.

Until I met her, I thought therefore I was lonely…

A diversified and interdependent world brings with it many challenges – not so much with technology or medicine or engineering or food production but rather of ‘thought inertia’ or even active resistance.

As different cultures and beliefs encounter each-other there is inevitable friction. Fortunately these days it does not usually erupt into war but it can lead to a similar type of mental digging in.

This for me has also illustrated an interesting phenomenon. It seems for some people the more we understand about our condition, our biology, psychology and other elements of our make-up the more they want to retreat into the past or into belief systems that comfort them. This can lead to them singling out a group or organisation and claiming that they are somehow responsible for all manner of ills. (Gay marriage and ‘boat people’ seem to be the ‘threats du jour’ for these folks at present.)

The incredible achievements of humanity both in technological and sociological terms,  seems to threaten their view of the world and to be open minded or flexible in our thinking must somehow be branded as wrong, evil or even elitist! . For these people, scientific knowledge and evidence-based reasoning has ‘stolen their magic’.

They believe that everyone should think as they do and that they shouldn’t have to justify their beliefs-just holding them is good enough to demand action from the rest of us.

Of course we have seen this in the past when information was elusive, expensive and guarded.

Control was exercised by a small ruling minority, clan, religious or political group and they could direct their followers by controlling their beliefs.  This still happens today in some places (we call it talk radio) but for the most part, modern communication has rent the veil forever.

The young people of today are no longer satisfied with ‘…because I said so!” Politicians are held to much higher scrutiny that in the past and on a larger scale, despots can no longer hide behind borders; mobile phones with video have seen to that. (The Syrian regime is learning this at present.)

The democratisation of knowledge has created a powerful force and is something that begs us to question everything. In the 21st century, assertions need to be supported by evidence.

The development of critical thinking in children usually starts with Santa and the Easter Bunny. As children grow and learn, the concept of a ‘magic bunny that no-one can see’ or an old man who can visit every house in the world in 24hrs becomes a bit threadbare. Eventually reality intrudes and they either decide for themselves or put us on the spot with the big question… Beliefs like these are generally harmless and self-terminating on an individual level but others are not.

When our daughter comes home and relates a controversial assertion by a school mate or even teacher, we discuss how she could deal with it. Most often her response is to ask “How do you know” or “Can you prove what you say?”  Many times this is sufficient to prevent a reoccurrence but some people can’t let go or are unwilling to examine why they believe something.

Perhaps it is because from the time we are born, we are immersed in the culture of our immediate and extended family. As we grow up, our exposure to more and more outside sources of experience and information  means that we gradually develop our own view of the world, however, some people never escape. They continue believing the same things, voting the same way or following the same religion.

Even when we discover that what we thought was true is not or is no longer appropriate, we can struggle with feelings of guilt about changing. After all, how could those that raised and loved us be wrong? It can be traumatic.

In severe cases. the sense of loss when they realise that progress (knowledge, technology or science) has ‘stolen the magic’ is so great, they seek to reinvent it in another form. They seek a belief system or a ‘thought community’ that can give them certainty again-someone they can get guidance and confidence from but in order to join, they have to suspend critical judgement and this can lead to to some unhealthy outcomes. Cults thrive on these kinds of ‘lost’ individuals.

For many people, tightly adhering to a particular point of view can offer comfort by removing uncertainty and as diversity is welcomed in most places-what could be wrong with that?

In fact it is common to hear that  ‘You have to respect a person’s beliefs’. It seems that ‘belief or faith’ has been reinvented as a legitimate challenge to knowledge based on facts or best evidence.

To this I say; nonsense… We do not have to respect beliefs – some cultures hold that it is fine for a husband to beat his wife or for girls to be prevented from going to school – clearly things that in modern society are wrong and harmful. Beliefs are not sacred – however, in a democracy, we need to respect an individual’s right to hold them  provided that exercising them does not cause harm.  Suppressing a belief is not the way to educate people. When we do so, people can become convinced that something is wrong and we as leaders are not telling them the truth for some dark reason. In the absence of reason, odd beliefs can take hold because nature abhors a vacuum. Erroneous beliefs can only be countered by unfettered access to the facts, by purposeful questioning and by the passage of time.

As leaders in the workplace,  people look to us for guidance; they expect us to know what we are talking about and to be a steadying influence. That is why we must be active in honestly informing our people about our organisation and our industry and be open to questions and feedback, so that rumours and conspiracy theories don’t take hold-particularly in the tough times. Regular open honest communication can be a kind of vaccine for all manner of workplace ills because rumours and distortions can affect morale, share price, customer satisfaction and even the profitability of the organisation and once embedded can be very hard to eradicate because again – people love a good story.  On a macro scale we can see it regularly in the news media and it only gets worse when spread on the internet, if not actively exposed.

As Adolf Hitler noted in Mein Kampf, “…the most brilliant propagandist technique will yield no success unless one fundamental principle is borne in mind constantly and with unflagging attention. It must confine itself to a few points and repeat them over and over. “

Cases in point: the anti-vaccine movement that sprang up several years ago is an example of an evangelical fervour based on a falsehood and despite being thoroughly debunked and the perpetrator prosecuted; it still thrives on the Internet and in the minds of too many people. This is a case where a false ‘belief’ repeated often, has caused actual harm to our communities by allowing virtually eradicated diseases to re-emerge and threaten the lives of our children.

On a less serious note, the moon hoax believers have been convinced for years that NASA faked the moon landings. When confronted with irrefutable evidence they go on about conspiracies. When a lunar probe photographed the landing sites a few years ago even that didn’t convince them. Even the fact that since 1969, scientists from all over the world have been bouncing lasers of a special reflector left by Apollo 11 to measure the distance between earth and the moon doesn’t hold any sway with them. Perhaps NASA FEDEXed it there…

People are free to believe what they wish but it is when this turns into action that affects others we must have the courage to challenge them.

Too often we can be seduced by over simplistic thinking and by screaming headlines that engage the emotions but not our cerebral cortex. ‘Public outrage’ us usually based on incomplete information and that this succeeds so often is surprising when we have more sources of data at our fingertips than ever before.

As I tell my 3rd year University students- find at least 3 credible sources before you quote something that purports to be true. Otherwise you can fall victim to people with an agenda that may not be helpful.

As we have seen, humans are often easily swayed by a good story. Emotions can be roused to overwhelm rational thought. While this may be good at the movies-it is much more of a challenge in our workplace.

If you are not communicating honestly and often with your people, someone else will fill the vacuum…