“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?
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?
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?
I love that I know what to expect on the 4th of July. Fireworks on Sand Island (photo from 2007); sparklers; food that is red, white and blue; mosquitoes; family fun, and ooohs and ahhhs! Yup, I can count on it!
Research shows that we also need clear expectations at work. The authors of a recent study by Gallup stated, “Even if employees feel energized and motivated, those who lack clear expectations and spend too much time working on the wrong things can’t advance key initiatives to create value for an organization.”
Based on Gallup’s decades of research and information from over 31 million employees they recommend the following four best practices for leaders to set effective expectations:
- Develop them collaboratively. Effective expectations need to include both the leader’s strategic perspective and the employee’s awareness of the day-to-day realities of the work.
- Articulate them clearly. Minimize confusion and uncertainty and maximize focus with clear and understandable language.
- Focus on excellence. Work together to identify “best-in-class” opportunities and expectations that inspire.
- Individualize to strengths. Identify and leverage the unique talents, interests and skills of each person related to their specific role and expectations.
Help build your people and your talent by setting clear expectations.
According to David Mallon of Bersin & Associates, if you want a high performance organization, it’s imperative that you build a learning culture. In his research of successful, high performing organizations, he’s found that “a culture of learning and a culture of high performance are significantly linked.” Intuitively, it makes sense that the smarter your organization is the better it can perform.
So, what is a learning culture, you might ask? Bersin & Associates define it as a “collective set of organizational values, conventions, processes and practices that continuously impels organizations and individuals to build knowledge, competence and performance.” And while a learning culture supports training and leadership development, it isn’t limited to formal development programs.
In Bersin’s comprehensive report, Mallon identifies 40 best practices and seven strategies that organizations can use to create a learning culture. Here is a sample:
- Assign staff to do jobs that surpass their skills and knowledge – Ask people to stretch. Use difficult assignments to encourage employees to push themselves to develop new skills and improve their old ones.
- Let people participate in selecting their assignments – Employees work hardest when their jobs and tasks interest them. Google takes advantage of this by permitting its engineers to devote a fifth of their time to personal projects.
- Recognize workers who learn new information and abilities – Provide rewards that show you care about each person’s learning.
- Value mistakes and failures – Employees learn best from their mistakes. Capitalize on errors as learning opportunities. And give people time to reflect on them.
- Emphasize learning as an important activity – Demonstrate its value in tangible ways; for example, make managers responsible for their staff’s professional development, not just their output. Actions always speak louder than words.
- Take a personal interest in the organizational capabilities of teams and individuals – Mentor the people you supervise.
During the next month, we’ll be exploring these ideas and more as we dive deeply into our next leadership competency of Building Organizational Talent. What strategies have you used to build a learning culture?