Do your leaders know and articulate the organization’s strategy? Read on for a deconstruction of leadership.
The last few articles I’ve published describe some tips for helping managers – strategy executors – to better understand and articulate an organization’s strategy. But perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself here – do the leaders even know the organization’s strategy and do they articulate it?
Let’s take a look at two grids developed by the Manager by Designsm blog.
In this first one, the Leadership/Management mode, those who are leading are basically the ones setting the strategy and then take steps to roll out that strategy. That’s what defines leadership here at the Manager by Designsm blog. But what happens if you don’t have leaders who do this? If that’s the case, they are doing something else. They are in a “leadership position” but are not leading. Read more
Many managers want to get great results. To do this, they seek and find high performers who drive toward these results. One way a high performer can achieve great results is through creating and implementing structures and processes that provide ongoing value and systemic improvement. Or, in other words, change.
The high performer is a change agent. This is what managers want. Managers want change for the better, and rely on the “high performers” to instigate and implement the change. That’s what makes them a high performer.
But there is a mistake that many current managers make in seeing this model through: They give feedback to the person instigating the change that there is resistance to the change. This is a flaw in current management design, and one that is all too common.
Here’s what I mean:
When change occurs in an organization, there inevitably will be complaints about the change. The complaints will be about whoever is instigating the change. It doesn’t matter if it is good or bad change, people somewhere in the organization will be resistant to the change. This is normal and part of the “change curve.” The complaints will be inevitably be about the person instigating the change. That was supposedly the high performer, who was encouraged by the manager to create the change.
Today I continue my extended series on managers using perceptions to manage. Have you ever had a manager who leads feedback with “There’s a perception that. . .”? As in, “There’s a perception that your projects don’t come in on time.” Or “There’s a perception that you don’t know how to manage your budget.”
In previous articles, I’ve listed 12 reasons this behavior should be removed (here, here, here, and here). If you find this entertaining reading that may resonate for both employees and managers alike.
So let’s continue this list, this time focusing on what managing using perceptions reveals about the manager.
13. The manager is exposed to similar tactics, indirect and direct back to the manager
The manager says, “There’s a perception that you don’t deliver.” This encourages the employee to think (in most cases) or say (in fewer cases) in response to the boss a similar kind of feedback:
“OK, there’s a perception that you’re a terrible boss and don’t know what you’re doing.” Or perhaps, “There’s a perception that you don’t know how to give performance feedback.”
By using the “there’s a perception that” line, it essentially trains the employees to think and use back at you the same damaging rhetoric being used on them. In fact, upon training the employee to think perceptions first, this is probably the thing in the employee that will most likely change.
The employees will start creating “perceptions” about the manager, and most likely they won’t be directly to the manager. Instead, they will extend the negative and difficult perceptions around the workplace about the manager.
Here’s where employees can do this:
1. One-one-discussions with the manager’s manager:
“There’s a perception that my manager is having a lot of difficulty managing the team.”
2. On 360-feedback forms:
“There’s a perception that my manager struggles a lot.”
3. To each other:
“There’s a perception that our manager isn’t comfortable giving feedback, no matter what we do or what results we get.
4. During exit interviews:
“There’s a perception that this is the worst-run team in the organization.”
Using the “There’s a perception that. . .” line reveals that you are a manager who wants to receive feedback via the veil of perceptions.
14. It demonstrates that the manager is not committed to the feedback and changing behaviors
When a manager uses the “there’s a perception that” line, it indicates that the manager himself is not sure as to what is true and what is not true. The manager is ultimately non-committal to the actual events, yet still feels comfortable giving “feedback.” This reveals the manager as a “gutless wonder” (thanks, “Strictly Ballroom!” for this term) who wants something to change, but is not committed to that change. As such, this reduces trust with the employee. Without the manager commitment to changing the behavior, this means that the manager will likely undermine either the changed behavior, or the unchanged behavior, creating an overall untrustworthy work relationship.
Using perceptions to manage: Three unintended consequences, or, how a manager can create a gossip culture in one easy step
Today I continue my series on managers managing perceptions, and how attempting this creates difficult situations and doesn’t resolve problems. When I say, “Managing perceptions”, I’m thinking of when a manager attempts to use perceptions as the basis for what is being managed, rather than using observed behaviors to manage the team.
Imagine a manager who attempts to give feedback by saying, “There’s a perception that you are easily excitable” or “There’s a perception that you easily get confused.” That’s using perceptions to manage.
In previous articles, I discuss how this deflects from actual performance and creates confusion as to what is real and not real. In today’s article, I discuss some more unintended consequences of a manager relying on perceptions to manage the team – how it creates an instant culture of gossip.
7. Citing perceptions confirms that gossip, innuendo, and back-biting is acceptable and encouraged, if not the default
When a manager says, “There’s a perception that. . .” it confirms that gossip, innuendo, and back-biting is an acceptable and encouraged behavior, both by employees and the manager. By definition, invoking the perception concept is gossip, since it does not rely on any sort of fact or evidence. The only fact that is confirmed is that there is gossip, innuendo and, most likely, back-biting that is occurring. On top of this, gossip and innuendo is now the default mechanism for understanding what is going on with the team. Read more
Using perceptions to manage: Three more reasons “There’s a perception that. . .” should be removed from a manager’s vocabulary
This article is a continuation of a series on a common manager mistake: Using perceptions to give feedback to employees. Think about a manager who says, “There’s a perception that. . . you are having a tough time at work” or “There’s a perception that things don’t come easily to you” (and all of the other perceptions that may or may not be out there).
In my previous article, I described how this doesn’t meet the standard of performance feedback, it shifts performance to a phantom job of managing perceptions, and it transitions the manager away from the role of setting the tone for the team.
In today’s article, I cite more reasons using “there’s a perception that. . .” is hazardous. This time with the focus on the inherent difficulty of managing perceptions, or managing to perceptions
4. It doesn’t really matter if the perception reflects what is true
One of the impressive things about the line, “There’s a perception that. . .” is that it doesn’t matter if the perceptions are true. In fact, if a manager is resorting to the “There’s a perception that. . .” line, the perception is by definition a candidate for being false. Because if the perception were true, then the manager wouldn’t have to use the “there’s a perception that. . .” line. For example, compare the following:
a) “There’s a perception that you are always late.”
b) “You are always late.”
In option a, it doesn’t matter if the employee is always late or not. That’s not what’s being debated. In option b, the employee can (and should) debate the actual frequency of being late (since it is highly unlikely that the employee is always late). However, the perception can be true. So if the manager uses the “perceptions” qualifier, it shuts down the ability to pursue what is true.
Today I start a series of articles on managers using perceptions to manage. A common way that managers attempt to do this is to use perceptions as a way of giving performance feedback and starting conversations with “There’s a perception that. . .” This is an indicator that the manager is attempting to manage perceptions. Here’s what I mean:
Have you ever had a manager give you feedback that starts with the words, “There’s a perception that. . .”? It may sound like this:
“There’s a perception that you aren’t delivering.”
“There’s a perception that you aren’t keeping up.”
“There’s a perception that you’re always late.”
“There’s a perception that you aren’t a team player.”
Managers who use the phrase, “There’s a perception that . . .” are attempting to manage perceptions. Here are the reasons that the phrase, “There’s a perception that. . .” need to be removed from a manager’s vocabulary and the effort to manage perceptions need to be refocused to other pursuits:
1. This may be feedback, but it isn’t Performance Feedback.
Managers attempt to manage perceptions via giving feedback on the perceptions. Using perceptions as the basis for feedback means that the feedback is on a phantom job external to the actual job. The performance of the employee — what the employee has actually done — has been removed from the feedback. The new implication is that the employee needs to manage perceptions in addition to doing the job. By giving this feedback, the manager has actually removed the duties of doing the actual job, and has inadvertently assigned new, and presumably more important duties to the employee: manage perceptions.
In my previous article, I shared a model to determine the relevance of the performance aspect of performance feedback that many managers give to employees. Here’s the model:
In looking at the upper left corner of this model, many managers create, via the act of giving performance feedback, a second job for the employee: How the employee performs in front of the boss.
So now the employee has two jobs: 1. The job and 2. The job of performing in front of your boss.
The model reveals also in the lower left corner that when a manager gives performance feedback, a third job is often created:
3. The job of managing the perception of others in how you perform your job. Read more
In my previous article, I discussed a common mistake managers make: They evaluate the “interactions with the boss” performance, and not the “doing your job performance.” So an employee can go through an entire year and not receive performance feedback on the work he was ostensibly hired to do, but receive lots of performance feedback on how he interacts with his boss.
Given this concept of receiving feedback on the job performance vs. receiving feedback on the “in front of the boss” performance, let’s create a model to help managers get closer to the actual performance of an individual, and where the performance feedback needs to be.
Here is a grid that looks at various elements that employees commonly receive “performance feedback” on. I put these elements into boxes along the “what/how” grid, with the most relevant to job performance being toward the lower left, and the least relevant up and to the right.
In looking at this grid, you can see that what is most relevant is the impact of something produced, with the next most relevant elements being the actual thing you produced, and the way you produced it. Finally, the contribution to the general environment and the communication around the thing produced is the next most relevant element. The closer to the lower left, the closer it is it performance.
Have you ever received performance feedback about what you say and do in a 1:1 meeting?
Have you ever received performance feedback about your contributions to a team meeting?
Have you ever received performance feedback about not attending a team event or party?
Were you frustrated about this? I would be. Here’s why:
The performance feedback is about your interactions with your manager and not about what you are doing on the job. This is an all-too-common phenomenon.
If you are getting feedback about items external to your job expectations, but not external to your relationship with your boss, you aren’t receiving performance feedback. You’re receiving feedback on how you interact with your boss. The “performance” that is important is deferred/differed from your job performance, and into a new zone of performance – your “performance in front of your boss.”
OK, so now you have two jobs. 1. Your job and 2. Your “performance in front of your boss.”
I was talking to an independent consultant the other day, and she told me that, while tempting, she didn’t want to go full-time at the business she was consulting with. The reason she didn’t want to report to the client as a full-time employee was that she didn’t want to go to that team’s “all-team meetings” (also known as “all-hands meetings” or “group meetings.”) She felt that her relationship would go right out the window as soon as she had to attend one of those dreaded meetings. She would go to that meeting kicking and screaming, and then cringe through the whole thing. Instead, she’s happy as someone who can focus on doing her work, getting results, and establishing great relationships with her clients.
The lesson learned from this discussion – “all hands” meetings can be de-motivating and take away from good work.
So clearly something is wrong with all-hands meetings. So wrong, in fact, that this highly capable consultant who would otherwise consider working for the company full time has ruled it out for this reason only. Yikes!
So what’s so bad about these all-hands meetings?
First, as the name implies, the “all-hands” meeting is usually “required” or “mandatory”. So, by definition, a certain percentage of the population doesn’t want to go for whatever reason but is there anyway. The “mandatory” element builds in a tough audience from the start.
Next, oftentimes all-team meetings make the attendees cringe — especially the ones didn’t want to go. Perhaps they didn’t want to go because they know the proceedings will make them cringe.
Perhaps you know what this cringing looks like – I call this the “horrified at the all-team meeting gesture” where participants look away from what is happening at the front, heads down, hands over eyes. This gesture is often seen when the events are so embarrassingly awful that participants have to look away. They cringe at the terrible proceedings unfolding before them.
But Walter, you may ask, what could a manager or director or senior vice president be doing that is so bad? What is it that they could be doing that is so awful that people on the team can’t bear to watch?
OK. I’ll give you two common actions and tell me if you’ve never witnessed these:
1. Performing skits that attempt to entertain
This was a large part of the premise of the comedy series “The Office” (I recommend the The UK Version, but the American Version has the same premise). In this series, the manager believes that as part of being a manager he must entertain his team. He tells jokes, does dances, acts out performances and he does a whole host of things that make the office workers cringe. Unfortunately this isn’t a parody of what happens in actual offices, but a stone cold documentary.
The humor from the show stems from the phenomenon that people in management positions often mistake being a leader with being an entertainer. Managers who try to entertain are, by definition, amateurs at entertaining (they should be professionals at managing). Their ideas as to what is funny and what works as entertainment are usually poor. Also, many people find it a waste of time. Attempt to entertain only if you have professional entertainers there to assist you (and probably at great expense). Even then, know that a percentage of your audience will consider it cheesy.
Attempting to entertain should be considered a highly risky endeavor and, at best, would constitute advanced “style points” of being a manager. At worst, it negates all of the good work done as a manager.
Similarly, you can be a great manager without ever having to entertain the troops.
2. Publically praising the wrong people, the wrong projects, and the wrong work
All-team meetings are often used as venues for the leader to publically praise people on their hard work. They will call out different people for what they did and why they are great. This, too, should be considered risky, since the leader of the meeting will risk praising the hard work of someone at work that others have noted to be ineffective, difficult, or otherwise produce poor work.
Here’s how it works: The director says, “I want to thank Jeremy for his amazing work.” Now, perhaps Jeremy has indeed produced great work – for the boss. But imagine if Jeremy is also the proverbial “A**hole at work” — Jeremy has been unresponsive to multiple people, yelled at others, lied to get ahead, called people he doesn’t like “stupid,” has dumped work on them or taken credit for other people’s work. And now the director stands in front of everyone and says how much she likes Jeremy? You can expect that many in the room will cringe.
Not only that, many in the room will wonder just how clueless the director is, to publically call out someone who is clearly an awful co-worker. Then they will get depressed, knowing the difficulty of shedding light to the manager on the problematic aspects of Jeremy.
Now, the same thing can happen for projects. Let’s consider Project Y: It is over budget, the people working on it have extended the timeline multiple times, and it is generally considered a debacle. Then the director says, “I want to thank all of those on Project Y who have worked so hard to make it a success.” The director may earnestly be trying to show support for those on Project Y, but by highlighting project Y – even with an eventual positive outcome, those on Project X, W, V and U (projects that, if run smoothly, didn’t get attention from the big boss) get upset about the public praise, because now they feel like they are being ignored, and the boss has no concept as to who is doing the good work. Cringing ensues.
In previous articles, I discuss “public feedback” (another common all-hands meeting error), where the manager attempts to provide corrective feedback to the entire team. “Public praise” has a similar problem. Providing the manager’s view of who the top performers are in front of everyone and in real time has own dangers.
These cringe-worthy actions are exacerbated because these all-team meetings are often deemed “mandatory.” This means that the people who will not be entertained – no matter how high-quality the entertainment — have to sit through the entertainment. This means that the people who feel that they are not being recognized, while the less deserving do get recognized, will have their worst fears confirmed.
A disastrous all-team meeting might even be a galvanizing reason someone will want to leave their job (i.e., leave their managers), as they will see many things they don’t like about the job compressed into a single event and channeled through the senior leadership’s so clearly on display. As in the case of the consultant I was speaking with, all-team meetings are the first reason she didn’t want to join an organization.
So what I’m saying is: All-hands meetings should be considered high-risk. Managers and directors risk inadvertently embarrassing themselves and their team, and also inadvertently make it seem like they don’t know what is happening on the team and how the team feels at the precisely moment they are trying to assert their leadership.
In my next article, I’ll enumerate more reasons all-team meetings are high risk.
In the mean time, please share your memorable “cringe-worthy” moments at all-team meetings!