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Save your day from the Gottaminutes without being a jerk

If you’re a manager, leader, or otherwise work in some way with people, then chances are you’ve had at least part of your day derailed by a ‘gottaminute’. It all starts innocently enough; you’re sitting at your desk when you hear that curtesy ‘tap tap’ at your open door and someone pops their head in asking if you can spare them ‘a quick sec’.  After you say ‘of course, come on in’, the asker will usually enter your office, sit downand engage in conversation that is ALWAYS more than ‘just a sec’.  I’ve never met a manager who didn’t acknowledge that the gottaminutes were huge time sucks. These unscheduled, sometimes lengthy meetings, can derail you, and by extension your team. So why don’t we just say no?

Rest assured, managers aren’t merely saying ‘yes’ to the gottaminutes because they’re insecure people pleasers who don’t know how to say no (well, some are, but that’s not who this is directed to). We say yes because:

  • We appreciate our people and want them to know we’re available to them
  • We know that our people are often privy to valuable information that we’re not, and that it would be foolish to plug our ears when someone wants to talk
  • We enjoy interacting with our team
  • There is an issue that needs our input in order to be resolved
  • We are the only ones who can make certain decisions, and so need to find out if this is one of those
  • We’d prefer to be in the loop on any actions that need to be taken
  • We have carefully cultivated a culture encouraging open communication

So for all these reason, we tend to say ‘yes’ when there’s a gottaminute, and wonder if there’s a better way.

The trick is mining the gold from the gottaminutes and doing away with dross. To do that, we have to look at the four categories of gottaminutes. These are a) exchanges of non-urgent information b) coachable moments c) urgent issues and d) a side effect from micro-managing (you control freak, you).

Realistically, you’re never going to eliminate all the gottaminutes, and I’m not sure anyone would want to. But what we do want to do is give you, the manager, control back over your time while still maintaining a positive relationship with your team and a finger on the pulse of your operations.

The solution lies in setting up structures for your communication with your team. I recommend the weekly spot check, monthly one on one, the scheduled gottaminute, and the urgent gottaminute. It looks like this:

  1. Once a month you have a 30 minute one-on-one with your employee about their job, their goals, any projects, training needs, and general well-being. This is the time to talk about anything you’ve noticed in terms of performance trends, and to let them in on any company info they should know.
  2. Weekly spot checks are prescheduled times where they employee knows they’ll have your undivided attention to talk about anything. I recommend covering a few key points such as wins, obstacles, needs.
  3. Scheduled gottaminutes: Sounds counterintuitive, but the idea here is when someone needs your opinion or advice on a non-urgent gottaminute that you agree to meet later in the day at a time that works for you both. So if you’re in the middle of a report, or you have a meeting starting, you let the employee know that you want to be able to give them your full attention, and ask them to come back later.
  4. This leaves only the urgent gottaminutes, which you should legitimately make room for.

As you go through this process, there will be a period of retraining for your team and yourself, as you learn together what urgent and non-urgent really mean. A natural (and wonderful) by-product is that everyone will become weaned off the need for you to make every decision for everyone, and you’ll become more and more comfortable in the judgment of your team, and their ability to make decisions. They will also appreciate your efforts to give them your undivided attention, rather than a grudging, watch-checking (maybe even sighing) half-hearted gottaminute session.

Want to know more? Contact us today for more real-life support for managers.

Today’s Leadership Solutions is a Seattle-based consulting firm dedicated to providing business owners peace of mind and job fulfillment by ensuring their management teams are equipped to run their businesses successfully. With certified executive coaches, organizational development experts and HR Professionals, we consult with small to medium sized businesses on management, leadership, and recruiting solutions in addition to providing career coaching to managers and executives in transition. We can be reached for consultation at info@todaysleadershipsolutions.com

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The magical formula to crushing the employee performance conversation

Five key components to crushing the employee performance conversation

This is probably THE biggest problem area for managers of all levels; from first time supervisor to CEO. IT is terribly difficult to have a conversation with someone who is not performing well. Reactions to this situation range from just ignoring the problem indefinitely to firing people without ever telling them why. Yes, that’s right – many managers would rather fire someone than tell them they need to improve! Why is this?

I think there are probably a couple factors. First, we are scared the person will get upset and quit and we don’t have a replacement lined up. Second, sometimes managers feel that they have not provided an ideal opportunity to perform well and so don’t feel it’s fair to correct performance in those circumstances. Third, some companies who pay below market average tend to compromise on poor performance out of guilt, or resignation that this is just the best they’re likely to get for what they’re paying. Fourth, people believe that the performance isn’t going to change, so why go to the hassle of an unpleasant coaching talk? I’ll be honest – sometimes these fears are legitimate.  However, I would argue that it’s still good practice and having these tough conversations will increase your management skills. Not only that, sometimes it actually works and performance turns around. The reality is you have nothing to lose by coaching poor performing employees and everything to gain. So what’s the magical formula?

The most important part of coaching poor employees is taking the emotion out of it, for you. There are usually two emotions warring when we have a badly performing employee. First is anger, especially if the performance is making your life more difficult or reflecting badly on you (and eventually it does). Second is fear – fear of confrontation, fear of the employee crying, fear of the employee quitting, or maybe fear of the employee not liking your or their job anymore. It’s okay to be nervous, but it’s not okay to either avoid or villainize the employee because of the emotion. To take the emotion out, take your ego out of it and right size the issue. Likely, it’s not a life or death issue, and will not make or break the company or your career. Put the performance in perspective and remind yourself that it’s part of your job as supervisor to help people do better, not an indicator that you’re failing if they need help. This is crucial.

Next, take a step back and look at the behavior only. Not your label or interpretation of the behavior. If your employee is consistently late for work, or does not complete tasks in a timely manner, this is the issue. It’s not that they don’t care, or are lazy, or have a bad attitude (necessarily). These things may be true from your perspective but it’s highly unlikely the employee will agree. Most of us judge ourselves by our intentions, not our actions, and your employees are no different. Your job as their supervisor and coach is to help them see the discrepancy between their intentions and their actions. This is the magical part of the formula because this is what will help your employees understand that you’re on their side and stop seeing you as an enemy.

Next, in order to increase the likelihood of successful change, you, the manager, must not own the problem. If you want the employee to successful more than they do, it won’t work. Part of the coaching conversation is to uncover or inspire a desire to succeed. If you can’t do that, or it’s just not there, there’s a very slim chance that the employee can and will turn their performance around. It’s very common for well-intentioned managers to own the problem and the solution. I’ve seen managers actually volunteer to call employees at home to wake them up so that they can make it to work on time. This is crossing the line from caring to co-dependent and I don’t recommend it as a general rule. Sometimes the best favor you can do someone is help them become more responsible on their own by holding them reasonably accountable for their actions.

As part of the performance discussion, make sure to establish specifically what you’d like to see more of, less of, started or stopped and the timelines in which you’d like to see it. An expression of confidence in their ability to do this is also good, but only if you believe it. If you can’t authentically tell someone you know they can improve, try for hoping they can improve.

There is one final component to crushing the employee performance conversation and this is to have performance conversations all the time. When someone is doing great, have a conversation to outline what they’re doing well. When they’re maintaining satisfactorily have a touch base to make sure they’re feeling challenged and appreciated. This takes the ‘no news is good news’ perception out of your presence and reduces the fear factor immensely, which makes it much more productive when there actually is an issue.

So to conclude, talk to your employees and talk to them often. Talk to them when things are good and when they’re not and remember that having this conversation isn’t taking you away from your job…it IS your job.

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Superstar School 101: How to make your boss think you’re a rock star

Unless you work for yourself, you have a boss (and if you do work for yourself you have a lot of bosses; they’re called your clients and it’s way easier for them to fire you than traditional bosses).  And, unless you just inherited a gazillion dollars, it behooves you to ensure your boss is pleased with you. I’m not talking about the phony, sucking up kind of pleased. Most bosses and all true leaders are able to look past flattery pretty quickly.  Rather, I’m talking about some basic communication and professional standards of behavior that will mark you as the super star you are, but that are surprisingly UNcommon.  In fact, the majority of management counseling, disciplinary actions and even terminations I’ve seen result from these NOT occurring.  They are so important that even if you are a technical expert at your job, failing to do these things could be the kiss of death for your career. On the other hand, these coupled with competence could just get you labeled a rock star! And you want to be considered a rock star, because it leads to great things like more money, more opportunity, more responsibility, more interesting assignments and more leadership opportunities.

1: Follow up on a request from your manager:

This one is crucial and a huge source of frustration to leaders when it doesn’t happen. If your boss, or the company owner, specifically asks you to do something there are a couple important next steps. First, DO IT. Second, let your boss know it was completed. You don’t need a lengthy dissertation, but a quick email, text, IM or even, gasp, verbal confirmation that it was done is more than professional courtesy. By doing this, you are relieving your boss from having to worry about something. When you are the person who relieves worry, instead of causing it, this is a good thing for you. Now, suppose step one is not possible and you can’t complete the assignment. This happens and in this situation it is exponentially MORE important to communicate this was not done. Your boss may not like that it was not completed but they will dislike getting surprised with this information even more.

2: Restate objectives to ensure you’ve heard them:

This is not something everyone does, but they should.  If communication was easy and straightforward, it wouldn’t consistently rank in the top three biggest issues companies face. I strongly recommend taking notes when meeting with your manager or company owner, even if for no other reason than to keep yourself focused. Always, always and ALWAYS restate the objectives you believe you’ve been given to make sure you and your boss are on the same page. This does more than just reassure you both that you are in agreement, believe it or not, it also is a great way for your manager to process through things. When my employees would do this, it sometimes turned into a fantastic problem solving opportunity for both of us, as I realized there were some missing components in my action plan. Without this critical step, the mission would probably have failed and both me and my employees would have been frustrated.

3: Engage your boss in re-prioritizing:

There will be a time in your career when you are given more than is possible to reasonably do (cough, every day, cough). Most of the time, our priorities are pretty clear, but there can be times when they’re not. Your boss is likely juggling multiple responsibilities as well and, being only human, can lose track of what you’re working on. And sometimes you may be given additional directives from other managers or your boss’s boss. When this happens it can feel stressful, but it doesn’t have to be a big deal. Instead, talk to your boss, reasonably, to ask which is most important. They often times have access to information you don’t which can help prioritize. Regardless, it’s good practice, because this way you are engaging your boss and eliminating the element of surprise at potentially unfinished tasks.

4: Celebrate your team:

This is so important! Teamwork makes the world go round, or at least, good companies. By pointing out the star players on your team to your boss, you are giving him/her a chance to thank them, which can be an amazing boost to morale. In addition, it reflects well on you that you are consciously growing and supporting talent. No company has room for managers who hog the glory or the credit, whether this is spoken or unspoken. It’s confident, savvy leaders who know that building people up is an important component of their job – maybe THE most important.

5: Effectively advocate for the company AND your employees

Most managers are intrinsically good at one or the other, but to be a rock star, you need to do both, at the same time, all the time. It’s impossible to separate which is more important. If the company goes down, no one has jobs and if the people aren’t taken care of, the company goes down. As much as it’s important to celebrate your team, if you are acting more like a shop union steward (in a non-union company) and neglecting to see the big picture of what is in the company’s best interest as well, you will not be successful and you will not be able to partner effectively with your boss. This is not easy, because much of the time it can feel like the company and the employees have opposing interests, but it is possible to find a middle ground and that is where the rock stars live.

So essentially, make your boss (and your company) successful and they will in turn make you successful. Exceptions lie in the cases of grave economic conditions, or working for terrible bosses in terrible cultures but the principles of rock-star-ness hold true even in those situations. Sometimes we are placed in positions to make a difference in bad circumstances, or to elevate our awesomeness to the extent we will be hand-picked by an equally awesome company. So let your inner rock star out!

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Adding to your team: 5 bad hiring practices to avoid

When you own or lead a business, you will eventually go through the process of adding to your team. Depending on your business, this may happen often or it may be rare. Regardless of the position, who you bring on board is one of the most important things you will do to your company. If you have entrusted this to your managers, or other leaders on your team, it can be a big mistake to assume that they have the ability, training or experience to do a good job on your behalf. Regardless of a manager’s background, they may very well be falling prey to common bad hiring practices that can prevent making a good hire or can increase the chances of making a bad hire. 

1)      Weeding vs Prospecting

If you are taking a weeding out stance to hiring versus a prospecting for gold stance, you will be screening interviews and asking questions with the goal to trip someone up or find their flaws. The good news with this approach is that you will always be successful. The bad news is you will possibly turn away the best candidate in your life because they had a flaw. In case this is news to you, I’ll say it slowly. Everyone has flaws (even you). Look at the bigger picture and determine if your organization has the systems, training or mentors to mitigate the flaws while capitalizing on the gold. This approach allows you to experience the truly transformational possibilities of leadership.

2)      Talking too much

If you or your managers are really excited about the company or the role, you may easily find yourself talking too much in the interview. This also happens when you just ‘fall in love’ with a candidate and want to convince them why they should work for you. Ironically, I’ve noticed that the managers who tend to talk the most during the interview, also tend to rate the candidates most highly, so really watch out for this tendency as it can waste a lot of time. An easy fix is to write out your questions ahead of time and make sure you get through them all.

3)      Lack of passion for the company and /or job

This is the opposite of the previous point. In my role as recruiter, I have encountered managers who are seriously unhappy in their jobs or with the company and it makes it really difficult for them to add to the company.  Sometimes it’s so bad they actually feel guilty bringing someone else into such a miserable environment, and other times they just project a negativity into the interview that is only attractive to other, equally negative people. If there is a lack of enthusiasm or passion for the role, as a leader you need to deal with it promptly, whether it’s your own or your manager’s.

4)      Interviewing questions without predictive validity

Predictive validity refers to how well the answer to the question indicates how well the person would do in the role. “What kind of animal would you be on a carousel?”, “What’s your favorite color?” are obvious examples of questions with no predictive validity. There are others that are not so obvious. “How would you go about ensuring you resolved a customer complaint” is similarly unhelpful, but a surprising number of interviewers ask situational questions. Although these can tell you some useful information and an argument can be made (although probably not by me) that they serve a purpose, it is important to include at least some questions that will give you an idea of how well a person will perform the role. Since the best predictor of future behavior is previous behavior, this means you will need to find out if they have successfully performed similar or transferrable roles in the past.

5)      Lack of clarity on role expectations

It is incredibly difficult for both interviewer and interviewee if there is lack of clarity in role expectations. This can happen if someone has delegated the interviewing, if it is a new role, if there is lack of agreement in the role or other transitional type circumstances. Not only will it be difficult to determine if someone is the right fit, it will equally impossible for them to succeed without clear expectations. Take the time to vet out the need for the role, the 30,60,90 day accomplishments, how the position fits into the overall structure and vision of the company. Make sure you know who they will report to, hours, compensation, travel, and the knowledge, skills and abilities they need to succeed. In addition, you should have a thorough description of the work environment and what it takes to thrive there. Without this, everyone is operating blind and your chances of making a good hire are very slim.

So if your managers are new to hiring, or if your new hire success rate is about 50/50, consider investing some time into fleshing out the roles and cultural expectations and training interviewers on how to identify the golden candidates who will make your company a more profitable and better place to work. 

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Do nice guys (and gals) finish first or last? Who cares…just be nice. Please.

There have been studies, articles and social media blitzes on the subject of the effectiveness of either being nice or being a jerk.  The labels are narcissist, selfish a$$hole, altruist, transformative leader etc etc etc.   Then the offshoot questions start; which gender exhibits which trait more often and why, or is it a cultural thing?  Learned or innate?    And what is success anyway?  There has been more money and brainpower thrown at this than I can claim to have.  The prevailing question seems to be, is it better to be nice or a jerk in terms of your career success? There is almost as much evidence for one as for the other so I thought I’d weigh in as a bystander, HR Practitioner and Coach.  

My opinion is…please just be nice.  Even if you don’t get selected for promotion as quickly, or your obnoxious peer/rival gets the kudos you deserve or you end up doing more than your share of the work for not as much credit.  Please be nice.  Why?  Well, I’ll skip the moral argument that it’s just the right thing to do because I know many people can/will argue that.  Here are some practical HR reasons to Just. Be. Nice (Especially if you’re the boss):

1)    Your office will be more efficient
If you are rude, abrasive or inconsistent, your staff will spend an inordinate amount of time talking about you, trying to figure you out or trying to placate you.  This is not what you are paying them to do, presumably.  Their job is to produce a product, serve a customer or design something.  Your bad or mean behavior is a distraction to the purpose of your organization.
2)    You will spend less on recruiting and training
Yes, this is self-evident but bears repeating.  If you are mean to people they will leave and then you have to replace them (unless you are mean to your customers, too, and then you really won’t need to replace the employees who are leaving).  
3)    You will retain better and more confident employees for less money
If you are rude and abrasive, only people who feel they deserve that kind of treatment will stay, or else you will have to pay far above market value to keep the confident and productive ones.  There are people out there who are wonderfully talented AND insecure but statistically speaking, you won’t be able to hire enough of them.
4)    You will achieve commitment instead of just compliance
If you are a jerk, people will probably give you what you ask for because they will be afraid of you.  But they won’t give you an ounce more.  You won’t get innovation or creativity because people who are resentful and fearful don’t take the risk or effort required to be innovative.
5)    You will not have to worry about bloodless (or bloody) coups all the time
Even the most ruthless tyrants can get deposed.  If you are a big enough jerk, even if you own the company people will be plotting your demise.  A distraction at best.