In this post, I continue to explore the tenets of the new field I’m pioneering, “Management Design.” Management Design is a response to the bad existing designs that are currently used in creating managers. These current designs describe how managers tend to be created by accident, rather than by design, or that efforts to develop quality and effective managers fall short.
Today’s tenet of Management Design: Managers are created not found
In an examination of the other “current designs”, there is a tendency to focus on the hiring process.
–Find someone with experience as a manager
–Find someone who acts like a manager
–Find someone who did well as an individual contributor
–Find someone with technical expertise in the area being managed
Here’s a goal for managers: Create a system that doesn’t rely on finding top performers — you’ll get more top performers this way
It seems that many organizations are on the quest for finding top performers. People who have the ability to get the job done, to do what no one else can do, and really “exceed expectations.” This quest makes sense intuitively: Find top performers, and your organization will succeed. After all, who would want an organization full of mid-range and lower performers?
But here’s the problem: When you are on the quest for finding top performers, you risk ignoring the quest for systemically creating top performers.
Here’s the quest to find top performers. This quest tends to involve finding great hires, offering big bonuses, providing quick promotions, and conducting annual reviews that attempt to identify who is great and who is not-so-great. In this quest, top performers are found and elevated.
Then there’s the quest to create top performers. This quest is more boring. It involves creating systems and processes that ensure basic level performance, creating teamwork that creates better output than any one individual, having a positive work environment that fosters creativity, productivity and collaboration, and opportunity to express ideas and see them through without political ramifications.
Here’s a scenario: Jim reacts badly to a new change in the organization. He starts telling all of his co-workers how much he doesn’t like the change, and discusses ways to undermine or avoid the change. This causes increased doubt in the change, and even causes confusion as to whether the change is actually going to happen.
Jim manager has the option of either addressing or ignoring Jim’s reaction. If the manager addresses it, this would be a performance feedback conversation.
However, many managers avoid the performance feedback conversation. One reason for this is the manager may believe that Jim’s behavior on the job is deeply embedded in the employee’s personality, and the employee’s actions are innate to their very being. So a basic thesis emerges that “Jim is just like that.” There is the belief that Jim just won’t change. So no performance feedback conversation is necessary.
But this is an untested thesis. Jim did react badly to the news, but does this mean that he has to react the same way next time? The answer is—you don’t know until you have the performance feedback conversation.
If you don’t have the performance feedback conversation, the Jim will definitely behave in the exact same way should a similar set of circumstances occur. His behavior was “negatively reinforced,” meaning that he received no information that his behavior was incorrect and he received no adverse reaction from his manager. In fact, his behavior may have also been “positively reinforced” when the other employees start agreeing with his arguments about how he doesn’t like the change. The manager, by being silent, is letting the other forces of behavior determine Jim’s behavior in the workplace.
So the basic thesis that Jim “always is like that” only is true if he never receives coaching or feedback on what he should do instead. And when the manager does not step in, then for sure this thesis will be proven correct.
Here’s a tip for managers: Banish the word “always” from your vocabulary.
The Manager by Design blog frequently writes about how to give performance feedback. Performance feedback is an important skill for any manager, as it is one of the quickest ways to improve performance of individuals on your team.
One particularly useless word in the art of performance feedback is the word “always.” Here are some examples of where a manager mistakenly uses “always” in performance feedback:
You’re always late
You always make bad decisions
You always come up short
These are examples of bad performance feedback, since they are not behavior-based, but the word that makes these examples particularly bad is the word “always.” That’s because “always” implies that the employee’s performance is eternal and permanent. And that undermines the whole point of performance feedback, which is to change the way your employees are performing, and have them do something better instead.
Let’s start by removing the word always from the three examples above:
You made a bad decision
You came up short
OK, these are still pretty bad, but at least this feedback didn’t put an eternal and permanent brand on the employee as “always late,” “always bad at making decisions,” and “always underperforming.” At least without the word “always”, the feedback is isolated to the once incident, making it possible for the feedback to be more specific and immediate.
Removing the word “always” allows you to focus on the particular event you are giving feedback on, and not make a generalization about the person’s permanent character.
Removing the word “always” allows you to support the thesis about “late” “bad decisions” and “coming up short” with more details. By discussing the details, you at least have entry to discussion as to why this happened, and identify the forces that went into the performance.
Removing the word “always” implies that this bad event can be turned around and the next time the performance can be improved.
When you use the word “always” in a feedback conversation, it implies that there is a permanence to the employee behavior the manager is ostensibly trying to correct. “Always” makes the performance feedback conversation useless, because instead of trying to get the employee to do something differently next time (be on time, make a good decision, meet the goal), it instead sounds like a relegation or banishment to permanent underperformance that the employee can never get out of.
That’s not good for either the manager or the employee, unless you want a chronically underperforming team that hates the manager.
Finally, by saying someone is “always late” or “always makes poor decisions”, it is inherently incorrect. If that employee can find one time he was on time, or one time she made a correct decision, then the manager is proven wrong. Not a good move if you want to be able to lead a team.
So to all of the managers out there – banish the word “always” from your vocabulary.
Have you ever been told that you “always” do something? What was that like?