Monthly Archives: June 2015

Fierce feedback

“As a leader, you only get one chance–when someone gives you feedback–to get it right.  If you push back or get defensive, chances are good  you will never get feedback from that person again.” – Susan Scott, author of Fierce Conversations and Fierce Leadership

fierceAs Todd mentioned last week, I’ve been conducting performance reviews with my staff the last couple of weeks of June. Typically, I ask my staff several questions to get the conversation going, like “What are you most proud of?” What gave you the most satisfaction during the year? What got in the way of doing your best work?” I also ask my staff for feedback about how I can support them and help them by removing obstacles that are keeping them from doing their best work.

This month we’ve been focusing on driving performance…for our teams and ourselves. Over my career, I’ve found that asking for feedback from your team members is critical in making sure that you are supporting their success and driving performance, not just during review time, but throughout the year.

Susan Scott, author of Fierce Conversations, encourages leaders to ask for feedback from their teams, saying that feedback is...”a conversation in which we have the opportunity to see what we may not see.”  Wow, think about it. Feedback can give you a window into an issue that you hadn’t understood before. It could shine a spotlight on an obstacle that is keeping you or your team from moving forward.  Problem is, it can also be scary to ask for feedback and to receive it, and “to see what we may not see.” 

Scott has put together a 6-step process that can help make the feedback process less intimidating for leaders.

  1. Ask for feedback (examples could include: “What feedback do you have for me that will help me become  more effective in how I lead our team meetings?” “What feedback do you have for me that will help me improve how I work with you, your team, this project, etc.?”
  2. Be prepared to listen and learn (listen to what is being said and how)
  3. Remain curious (ask for specifics, clarification and examples)
  4. Demonstrate a willingness to consider (decide what you can learn from the feedback; consider: “have I heard this before?”)
  5. Say thank you
  6. Follow up (commit to action for the areas you wish to change and ask for support)

In your experience, what has been the benefit of asking for feedback from your staff? What are the potential pitfalls?

Anita Rios

For more inspiration, see Susan Scott’s TEDx talk


Playing to your people’s strengths, part 2

strengths2Last week I talked about helping people identify their strengths. As leaders, we need to know our own strengths and also those of our team members. The second part of the equation is helping people to use their strengths. This includes a couple of key steps.

  1. Be a coach.  Ask good questions to help people focus on their strengths. Examples include:  Tell me about a success you’ve had at work. How did you accomplish it? What positive feedback do you often receive about your work? What parts of your job do you like most, and why?
  2. Identify their passions.  Those are the spots where you can tap into their energy and promote excellent performance. Focus on the emotions.  As people are telling their success stories, listen for excitement, enjoyment, and a sense of pride.
  3. Create an action plan. How, specifically, will someone develop their strengths and use them on the job?
  4. Provide opportunities. Where can you help people use and develop their strengths? Can they represent you on a committee, join a planning team, be in charge of a project? While you can’t necessarily change entire position descriptions, you can often make adjustments to leverage the best of what people bring to work.
  5. Hold people accountable. Follow up on the action plan. Recognize accomplishments and identify barriers that may be getting in the way. Ask how you can help.

Think about leaders that have helped you use your strengths at work. What did they do, and how can you do something similar for your team members?

Dee Anne Bonebright


The annual review!

time-for-reviewDo those three words cause your heart to race, a smile to creep across your face, or a panicked look at your calendar as you search for time to prepare? Well, either by luck or remarkable planning, I am scheduled to have my annual performance review later today and I have experienced all three in the last few days.

When you cut through all the information and opinions from the hundreds of articles, blogs, consulting firms, books, processes, procedures and policies on performance reviews you end up with two elements; the process and the people or human interaction. The process is usually determined by your institution, but you, the leader, can determine the quality of the human interaction with your team member. And a recent study by the Gallop organization indicates that the human interaction is what actually drives employee performance and the effectiveness of the performance review, not the process and forms!

The study found the following four managerial actions made a significant difference in the effectiveness of any performance review process:

  1. Clearly communicating performance standards and what good performance looks like
  2. Focusing on employee strengths rather than weaknesses
  3. Emphasizing that the purpose of the review is to support and aid their development and success, not just an HR requirement
  4. Communicating performance expectations throughout the year, not just at the annual review

Other tips that focus on the people or human interaction element include:

  • Make it a two-way conversation by starting with an open-ended question
    • Over the past year, what accomplishments are you most proud of, and why?
    • Describe how your work supported the mission of the college or of your department/office.
  • Keep your feedback:
    • Helpful
    • Unbiased
    • Balanced
    • Specific

And a final general rule of thumb that I have found helpful is to balance the focus of the review to:

  • 10% on the past year
  • 30% on the current expectations and needs of the department, team and institution
  • 60% on the goals, expectations and development over the next year

As I said earlier, today is my review and I am looking forward to a genuine two-way conversation with my manager, Anita. She demonstrates the importance of the human interaction and I always walk out of her office fully engaged and with a clear picture of the year ahead and how I can succeed!

Let us know what good ideas or tips you have used to improve the quality of the human interaction in your performance reviews.

Todd Thorsgaard








Happiness fuels success?

happinessAccording to Harvard researcher and author Shawn Achor, most of us have the formula for success backwards. We think if we work hard, we will be successful and that our success will lead to happiness. Think about it. Have you ever thought happiness would follow after getting that next great job or promotion? Maybe it did briefly, but was it really lasting?

Recent discoveries in neuroscience,  positive psychology, and management studies actually prove the opposite to be true. Our happiness fuels success. When we are happy, we are more productive and successful. In fact, being happy increases the levels of dopamine in our brains. And dopamine makes our brains 30% more efficient. So what does this have to do with driving performance, both our own and the performance of our teams? Quite a bit actually.

Achor explains in his 2011 Ted Talk, that only 25% of job success is predicted by IQ. The remaining 75% of job success is predicted by three key factors:

  • Optimism levels
  • Social Support
  • Ability to see stress as a challenge, rather than a threat

So knowing that optimism levels (aka happiness) fuels success, what can you do to increase the optimism levels of your team? Achor suggests that everyone needs to start with themselves first, saying that positivity and happiness can be contagious. He outlines several practices that can help you rewire your brain’s ability to see things positively.

  1. 3 Gratitudes – every day for 21 days, write down 3 new things you are grateful for
  2. Journaling – every day write down one positive experience you’ve had in the last 24 hours (this helps your brain re-live the experience)
  3. Exercise – choose something you like to do each day (exercise boosts mood and performance)
  4. Meditation – spend just 5 minutes a day meditating, praying, or just listening to yourself breathe in and out  (this helps your brain to focus)
  5. Conscious Acts of Kindness – write and send one positive email to a colleague each day (doing something good for someone else increases your own positivity)

This week I’m committing myself to the 3 Gratitudes and a Conscious Act of Kindness each day to increase my happiness and boost my performance. I’ll let you know if my team notices the difference and it begins to spread.  I challenge you to join me!  Go ahead, choose one or two strategies to increase your happiness and see what happens.

Anita Rios

Playing to your people’s strengths, part 1

strengthsfinderOne of the keys to driving high performance is understanding and leveraging the strengths of people on your team. As leaders, this means we need to 1) know what the strengths are, and 2) provide opportunities for people to  use them. This post will focus on the first step, identifying strengths.

You may be familiar with Gallup’s StrengthsFinder assessment. This is a useful tool for individuals and teams to identify and support the things that we each do best.  Another list of strengths was developed by leaders in the positive psychology profession. It includes:

  1. Strengths of wisdom and knowledge such as creativity, curiosity, and perspective
  2. Strengths of courage such as persistence and integrity
  3. Strengths of humanity such as kindness and social intelligence
  4. Strengths of justice such as citizenship and leadership
  5. Strengths of temperance such as forgiveness and humility
  6. Strengths of transcendence such as gratitude and humor

These are powerful words. With our stereotypical Minnesota modesty, you may find yourself or someone you are coaching is reluctant to claim them. Here are some signs to help people identify their strengths:

  • Authenticity:  Does it feel like “the real me?”
  • Engagement:  Am I excited to use this strength, and to learn more about it?
  • Rapid learning: Does it come easily to me? Am I frequently learning new ways to display the strength?
  • Inevitability:  Do I frequently find myself in situations where I need to use this strength? Can I “not help myself?”
  • Energy:  Does using this strength recharge me rather than lead to exhaustion?
  • Intrinsic motivation:  Is an opportunity to use the strength its own reward?

Think about your team’s successes over the past year. What did it look like when you saw people using their strengths?

Dee Anne Bonebright

Just do it!

Ignore-me“It won’t happen again,” “I’m sure he has it under control now,” “She does everything else so well,” and “I hate having to talk about this.”

How often have you had this talk with yourself? I know I have and many leaders I work with have shared that they also dread having tough performance conversations. We avoid the issue, we over-analyze, we search for glimmers of improvement, we obsess and over-prepare. And what happens? The performance problem continues or gets worse!

To drive high performance we just need to dive in and have the conversation. While that is easier said then done, the “Two Minute Challenge” (from The Practical Coach distributed by Media Partners) is a straight-forward guide to start the conversation and initiate improvement.

The Two Minute Challenge asks you to follow these five steps, in order, without skipping one:

  1. State what you have observed – only the actual behavior or issue. Be specific but concise with no extra details, potential motives or personal assumptions.
  2. Wait for a response – make yourself stop. Do not charge forward with your ideas. This clarifies that they are responsible for taking action, not you.
  3. State or clarify the expected performance or goal – focus on the outcome desired not explanations or unrelated issues.
  4. Ask for a specific solution that will meet the expectation – what specifically will they do differently?
  5. Agree together on the solution – clarify what they will be doing and establish a shared understanding of next steps.

Following these five steps doesn’t make the conversation easy but it provides a structure that can help you take action sooner. Recently a dean at one of our schools shared that he had been planning and planning a performance conversation with a faculty member and not actually having it. After I shared the two minute challenge with him he scheduled the meeting, followed the steps and agreed with the faculty member on a plan of action. It wasn’t the favorite part of his day but it was productive and started the ball rolling!

Most of us will never enjoy having tough performance conversations but the Two Minute Challenge can kick-start the action needed for a productive outcome. Give it a try when you hear yourself hoping the issue will go away.

Todd Thorsgaard

The power of affirmation

sugataLast month, I was reminded of the incredible power of affirmation to turbo-charge performance by Sugata Mitra, who was speaking at the ATD International Conference. You may have heard of Mitra as the “Hole in the Wall” professor from India. While Mitra’s research focuses on children and how they learn, I think his findings have relevance for how adults learn and perform in the workplace.

If you haven’t heard of Dr. Mitra, I’d encourage you to listen to his TED talk. Through his research, he has discovered that groups of unsupervised children can learn just about anything if they have access to the internet. After winning the million dollar TED Prize in 2013, Mitra was able to fund and create five self organized learning environments (SOLE)  in England and India to further test his theories about education and literacy.

He wanted to see if affirmation would further children’s learning in the SOLEs, so Mitra recruited retired teachers and other interested adults to volunteer their time one hour a week to beam into the classrooms via Skype. He dubbed these volunteers the “Granny Cloud.” Their sole job was to demonstrate interest in what the children are learning and doing, ask good questions, and provide positive affirmation. What Mitra learned was that:

  • Children react well to encouragement
  • Children exceed targets if encouraged
  • Children like to show off to a friendly adult

In my experience, I’ve found that adults behave similarly in the workplace. We react well to encouragement and often exceed performance targets when encouraged.  While I know I am an internally motivated person, I have often worked harder for a boss who is appreciative and encouraging.  And I can honestly say that the teams I’ve led do better when I am actively engaged, interested in their work, and providing positive affirmation.

Does this ring true for you? What has been your experience with positive affirmation and performance?

Anita Rios



Using development plans to drive performance

IDPIndividual development plans (IDPs) can be an essential tool for driving high performance.  According to the federal Office of Personnel Management, professional development planning is an ongoing process to ensure that employees stay current, if not one step ahead, of their fields and their core competencies.

Formal IDPs can:

  • Encourage employees to take ownership of their career development
  • Promote conversation between supervisors and staff about current and future career opportunities
  • Provide tools for identifying and tracking development goals
  • Help leaders plan development activities for their units

As leaders, we can use the IDP process to support performance for our staff and also to discuss goals with our own managers.  In both cases, key steps include:

  1. Identify business needs.  How will completion of your IDP make you a better employee?  Whether you want to grow in your current role or move to an entirely different position, your plan should align with the institutional mission and goals. A friend once reminded me that IDPs that aren’t tied to organizational interests aren’t work – they are a hobby.
  2. Identify knowledge and skills you need to meet the business needs. What do you know already?  What is needed in the next year? In the next five years?  Where are the gaps?
  3. Create specific plans to close the gaps. Think broadly about options. Maybe you don’t need to attend a class; it might be better to spend a day shadowing someone who does the task you want to learn. List 3-5 things you can do in the next year, with action items and deadlines.
  4. Seek your manager’s support.  Each employee is the driver of his or her development plan, but managers play a critical role. Think about the knowledge and resources that will help you complete your plan and ask for what you need.
  5. Follow up. Best practice for most MnSCU employees is to have a formal IDP meeting once a year, often associated with the annual performance review. Consider scheduling quarterly follow-up meetings, or more often if you need direct manager involvement. Remember that it’s an ongoing process. Next year’s plan should be based on a review of what you accomplished this year.

Dee Anne Bonebright



2 + 2 = ??

puzzled lookIt isn’t a trick question. But the answer can solve two of your biggest challenges: not having enough time in your day and driving high performance. How, you may ask?

Try 2 + 2 Coaching, a concept described by Marc Effron of the Talent Strategy Group in his article, The Hard Truth About Effective Performance Management.”  Effron, somewhat harshly, encourages leaders to radically simplify how they lead their people and to narrow their focus to what really works. Clear, direct feedback on progress against important goals“while taking the least amount of managerial time!”

To do 2 + 2 Coaching you:

  • Have one 15 minute conversation each quarter with each of your direct reports
  • Make two comments on the employee’s progress against their goals
  • Make two suggestions for what the employee should do more of or less of in the future

No more, no less! You can watch Effron describe 2 + 2 Coaching here.

Solving the equation 2 + 2 =  ?? with coaching will help you drive high performance and accountability.

Todd Thorsgaard

Reduce interference?

Last month, I had the opportunity to “fill up my bucket” and learn lots at the Association for Talent Development Conference in Orlando, Florida. It’s a huge international conference attended by thousands of talent development professionals from around the globe. While there, I met Alan Fine, author of You Already Know How to Be Great. Alan is one of the founders of modern-day executive coaching and was speaking about how managers can have better conversations with their employees to drive performance.

He said the traditional wisdom that we all need to just learn more by reading a book, hiring a consultant or coach, taking a class, is just not true most of the time. Our biggest obstacle and the obstacles of those we lead isn’t knowing what to do, it’s doing what we know.  In a nutshell, driving great performance is not about knowledge acquisition, it’s about knowledge execution!

But how do you help coach both yourself and your people to execute on their knowledge? To do what they know? That’s where Fine has stumbled on a simple, but powerful discovery in his early work as a tennis coach and later as an executive coach: you remove interference.

interferenceThink about it. It certainly makes sense. When have you done your best work? For me, my best work has been accomplished when I have had the support from a leader who was able to remove significant obstacles in my path, like providing funding for a new program, sponsorship for a joint venture, or just giving me space and time to innovate.

Fine says that the formula: Performance = Capacity + Knowledge, while used for generations, does not really improve performance. So he has turned this formula inside out to look like this:

Performance = Capacity – Interference

I challenge you this month to explore how you can remove interference for your employees’ performance, so that they can really do their best work. In my one-on-one meetings with my staff this month, I’m going to ask them a few questions to unearth obstacles that might be keeping them from great performance and to eliminate any unintentional barriers that I might be creating for them:

  1. What obstacles or barriers are getting in the way of you doing your best work?
  2. What can I start doing to support your success?
  3. What would you like me to stop doing?

Anita Rios