This quote from Peter Drucker highlights the importance of reflection as part of learning.
As adults, we know that most of what we learn doesn’t happen in a classroom. It happens during our work and personal lives. But here’s the thing – it’s not just the experience we learn from, it’s how we think about it afterwards. Researchers at Harvard Business School discovered that reflection on our experiences enhances learning. Taking time to understand the meaning of what happened has multiple benefits:
- Learning from experience can be more effective if coupled with reflection.
- Reflecting on what has been learned makes experience more productive.
- Reflection builds confidence in our ability to achieve a goal.
With that in mind, we’ll be taking a break until after Labor Day. As our team spends the next month on vacation and catching up on projects, we’ll also take time to reflect on the past year and what we learned from it.
I hope you will have some time to relax, reflect, and re-energize during the rest of the summer.
Dee Anne Bonebright
I know this isn’t a surprise to any of you; it takes work to develop your leadership chops. And in the end, you need to take responsibility for your own development. Given that my profession is leadership development, that is hard to hear but it is reality. As we prepare to take a short break from our blog I want to share a few ideas for you to consider and perhaps use to drive your own leadership development, wherever you are on your leadership journey.
Natasha Bowman recently shared a short article in Forbes titled, Five Ways to Take Charge of Your Professional Development. Each of these give you an opportunity to drive your own development.
- Earn a certificate in your field. A few years ago I earned my Certified Professional in Learning and Performance certificate from the Association of Talent Development. Taking responsibility for diving into the 10 areas of expertise in my profession was a powerful development experience. Ask yourself, where do I want to expand and grow?
- Enroll in an online course. Technology has made available a wide range of inexpensive and easy-to-access courses on almost any topic. For us in higher education it gives us a chance to better understand our students by becoming one!
- Speak at a conference or seminar. Challenge yourself to move from the audience to the front of the room. Nothing helps you learn more than having to teach others about your topic.
- Expand your scope. Actively look for and propose to your boss projects, activities and experiences outside your normal responsibilities.
- Find a mentor. And meet with them! Reach out and ask someone to formally be your “mentor.” Most people love to help others, even if they are busy. Take responsibility to identify why you want a mentor and to schedule and drive the conversations.
As Bowman states, proactively “invest in yourself.”
“We do not learn from experience… we learn from reflecting on experience.” – attributed to John Dewey
What work experiences best prepared you for your current leadership role? Last week, my colleague Todd and I asked this question of leaders who are advising us on a new leadership development program. The program is designed to build the pipeline for selected C-suite positions in Minnesota State colleges and universities.
The discussion that ensued was a fruitful one. It got me thinking about how important it is that as leaders we reflect on our own development so that we are more effective in our current roles. In my experience, challenging or new work experiences have offered up the most opportunities for growth. My first big managerial role right out of college taught me much about team building as I supervised a staff of 30 at a resort hotel in Montana. Another experience working with multiple institutions across the country and educational associations in Washington, D.C. taught me about partnership, collaboration, and the importance of strategic communication.
In thinking about your work experiences, here are a few questions for you to ponder:
- What work experience was the most challenging for you? What did you learn from it?
- What work experience stretched you most in your career?
- How might you challenge yourself to learn and grow in your current role?
- Are there assignments or projects you can take on that will require you to learn new skills or information?
- How might you develop stretch assignments for your team members that will help them grow?
I spent most of this week at the Luoma Leadership Academy, a year-long program in which about 60 leaders at Minnesota State have been learning about leadership and putting it into practice with action learning projects.
At the graduation program, Senior Vice Chancellor Ron Anderson spoke about the importance of developing ourselves as leaders. I appreciated his thoughts about the importance of development, even when it’s hard.
First, he talked about becoming comfortable living in the “murky space” of continuous change. He challenged us to stand up, step out of our comfort zones, and engage in what we could do, not just what we are doing. Increasing our comfort with change, from a work and personal standpoint, enables us to better serve our students, institutions, and the system.
He also challenged us to become comfortable with failure. As we push ourselves and our institutions into new places, we will try some things that don’t work. He reminded us that failure isn’t bad, and it doesn’t mean we’re bad leaders. As long as we learn from it, failure is part of the development process.
As Vice Chancellor Anderson pointed out, we in higher ed are less likely than some other industries to support the idea of “fail early and often.” Developing ourselves as leaders for the future will mean moving into that space and trying new things, even if we aren’t sure whether it will work as planned.
Putting ourselves into places that may be uncomfortable, and stretching our boundaries, is a key component to our work as leaders. What uncomfortable challenge have you taken on recently?
Dee Anne Bonebright
You’ve hired good people, set goals, helped them identify development opportunities, scheduled and held performance reviews, managed workloads, and overall avoided the “bad manager” actions Dee Anne described. What else do you need to do to build organizational talent and help your people succeed? Give them feedback on how they are doing!
In his white paper, The Hard Truth About Effective Performance Management, Marc Effron highlights the evidence that on-going coaching and feedback is a requirement for effective performance management. To truly help people improve their performance, coaching must be focused and delivered regularly. To help busy managers coach effectively Effron recommends a process called 2 + 2 Coaching. It has four steps:
- Have a dedicated coaching conversation once a quarter.
- Schedule it for 15 minutes.
- Provide two comments to the employee on their progress towards their goals.
- Provide two comments to the employee on what they could do more or less of in the future to be more effective.
Clear and direct feedback has been shown to be a crucial element for high performance and goal attainment. Clearly you will be working with your people to solve problems, develop ideas, complete projects and other on-going tasks. However, carving out time for dedicated coaching and feedback on goals will help you effectively develop and build organizational talent and increase the performance of your people and your team.
One of the best ways to build organizational talent is to hire the right people. As Steve Jobs used to say to leaders, “Hiring the best is your most important task.” Great hires add energy and new ideas to your team and have the potential to increase your team’s productivity and effectiveness. Conversely, a poor hire can cost you time, money and endless frustration. So what are some of the best tips for hiring the right employee? Here are a few ideas adapted from HR expert Susan Heathfield:
- Define the Job Carefully – Before pulling out an existing position description, enlist the aid of your human resources professional to conduct a thorough job analysis. Collect information about the job responsibilities and desired outcomes, along with the required skills, knowledge, and abilities needed for the job. An accurate position description can help you plan your recruiting strategy for hiring the right employee.
- Plan your Recruiting Strategy – Meet with those involved in the hiring process, including your HR professional, the hiring manager, team members, search committee members, and others who might assist with creating a recruiting plan.
- Use a Recruiting Checklist – Does your HR office have a recruiting checklist? If so, go ahead and use it keep your recruiting efforts on track. If not, create your own to systematize the process and keep everyone involved informed.
- Actively Source Candidates – Forget the old “post and pray” method of recruiting. Reach out to professional associations and diverse communities in your advertising efforts. Better yet, work to develop relationships with potential candidates long before you need them. This will ensure that you have a large pool of qualified candidates when you have an open position.
- Review Credentials and Applications Carefully – Screen applicants against the qualifications, skills, experience and competencies listed in your well-developed position description. When you do, you’ll spend your time interviewing the most qualified candidates.
- Ask the Right Job Interview Questions – Create behavioral questions that are tied to the competencies needed for the job. Agree upon the desired answers in advance of the interview so that all search committee members are rating the candidates effectively.
- Check Backgrounds and References – Before hiring an employee, check their background to verify their work experience and credentials. Contact references to gain insight into how the candidate has performed in past positions. Online reference checking solutions (rather than phone reference checking) can help you sort through your top candidates with candid and reliable information.
Hiring the right person for your team takes time, but is well worth the effort. What have you done to hire the right person for your team?
A recent newsletter from the Association for Talent Development included an article called “9 Bad Manager Mistakes That Make Good People Quit.” They cited a statistic from Gallup that you’ve probably heard before – 70% of an employee’s motivation is directly tied to actions by his or her manager.
People don’t quit organizations, they quit managers. So how can you be the sort of manager that doesn’t send good employees job hunting? Here are some tips from the article, which was reprinted in Huffington Post.
- Manage workloads – I’ve heard many employees say that they appreciate the work/life balance provided in their job at Minnesota State. That not only supports motivation, but it’s effective management. Overworked people are not as productive and are significantly less engaged.
- Recognizing contributions – Everyone likes to be acknowledged for their good work, and high performers often value it even more. Figure out what type of recognition your employees need, and then provide it on a regular basis.
- Provide development opportunities – Our environment is about learning and growing. Not only do our employees want to provide that for students, but they also want a chance to keep their own skills current and develop new ones.
- Honor commitments – Highly engaged employees usually report that they work for a manager who is reliable and trustworthy.
- Engage creativity – Encourage people to use their talents to improve the work they do. It will engage their creative problem-solving skills and tap into their passions.
- Care about your employees – Effective mangers know how to balance professionalism with being human. They understand that people have lives outside of work – they help celebrate successes and are supportive of difficult issues.
Dee Anne Bonebright
Every four years I am captivated by the amazing performances of the World Cup soccer players. Add the famous GOOOOOOAL call by announcer Andres Cantor and it is “must see TV!”
Big goals also lead to high performance in the world of work. In Marc Effron’s soon to be released book, 8 Steps to High Performance:Focus on What You Can Change (Ignore the Rest), he highlights the science behind goal setting:
- Specific goals improve performance.
- Bigger goals are more motivating than smaller goals.
- Fewer goals lead to higher performance.
Based on this research he describes a four step process to set goals with your people to help them perform at the highest level.
- Align – individual goals need to directly contribute to what is most important to your institution’s success.
- Promise – limit individual goals to those important few that an individual is emotionally committed to and willing to “promise” to complete.
- Increase – individual goals need to focus on concrete improvement in performance.
- Frame – write the goals so they are clear, easy to understand and succinct.
Not everyone gets to score a goal in the World Cup but you can help all your people be star performers in their own way.
Over the last few weeks I’ve been conducting annual performance reviews with my staff. In preparation for our conversations, I ask my staff to not only document their accomplishments and performance goals, but to think about their professional development goals as well. Helping my staff grow and learn is highly satisfying. And according to career development expert and author Beverley Kaye, it is essential to retaining high performing individuals.
In her book, Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go, Kaye offers up simple strategies that leaders can use help their staff grow in their careers, including:
- Have short, frequent conversations with your staff about their career development
- Listen attentively. Let your employees do 90% of the talking in your personal sessions.
- Be curious and encourage curiosity. You do not need to have all the answers.
- Provide constructive feedback regularly.
- Discuss career development as a “rock-climbing wall” where employees can move up, down or sideways – or hang on and stay put
Kaye also recommends employing hindsight, foresight, and insight conversations:
- During hindsight conversations, encourage people to look within themselves and examine where they’ve been in the past
- During foresight conversations, ask staff to look outside of themselves and consider their future paths
- Use insight conversations to combine hindsight and foresight
While professional development conversations between supervisors and their direct reports shouldn’t be limited to once a year, I find annual performance reviews a helpful time to focus on professional development conversations. It gives my staff an opportunity to discuss how they are wanting to grow their careers and it gives me a chance to encourage them and provide additional ideas for development that might include stretch assignments, new work projects, professional certifications, continuing education, and service opportunities.
How do you help your employees grow?
Annual performance reviews can be a useful tool in building organizational talent. On the other hand, if it’s not done well it can be like going to the dentist or getting an immunization – necessary to maintain health but not particularly fun.
From the employee’s point of view it’s a chance to focus on what we’ve done well this year and where we’d like to go in the future. I was having a bad day on Monday morning, and receiving my review from Anita actually made it much better. It’s very engaging to hear what your supervisor appreciates about you and to think about possibilities for development.
From the manager’s point of view performance reviews are a chance to reinforce things that are going well and develop goals for the next year. It’s much easier to hold people accountable for their performance if you’ve both agreed on what successful performance looks like. In my review, Anita and I created a set of goals that I will be able to report on in our ongoing conversations.
As an HR professional, I see the value in having the annual review meeting. I’m also well aware that they are going out of favor in many organizations, with the focus shifting to more frequent ongoing conversations. Since many of us at Minnesota State are starting a new cycle, here are some tips to make next year’s reviews effective.
- No surprises – the annual review should be a summary of conversations that you’ve had throughout the year. It’s a chance to focus on what’s gone well and what should happen in the future.
- It’s not about the form – whatever the process is at your institution, focus on having a meaningful conversation, not on filling out the form and selecting ratings.
- Don’t rely on memory – If your employee does something extraordinary in the next month, it will be nearly impossible to remember that a year from now. Keeping notes will make the process easier and more accurately reflect the full year.
- Take it seriously – I’ve heard way too many stories about people who don’t get a review at all, or who are asked to fill out their own form, which the supervisor then signs without comment. That’s demoralizing for the employee and can come back to bite the manager. It’s really difficult to manage a performance problem if the employee has a track record of reviews that exceed expectations.
Making the annual review the capstone to a year of effective performance management will help it feel more like getting ready for a 4th of July party than a medical appointment.
Dee Anne Bonebright