It’s performance review time – how do you feel?

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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

 

You can count on it!

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:

  1. 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.
  2. Articulate them clearly. Minimize confusion and uncertainty and maximize focus with clear and understandable language.
  3. Focus on excellence. Work together to identify “best-in-class” opportunities and expectations that inspire.
  4. 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.

Todd Thorsgaard

Want high performance? Build a learning culture!

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Recognize workers who learn new information and abilities – Provide rewards that show you care about each person’s learning.
  4. Value mistakes and failures – Employees learn best from their mistakes. Capitalize on errors as learning opportunities. And give people time to reflect on them.
  5. 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.
  6. 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?

Anita Rios

Creating a service culture

Julie Selander is a former colleague from the U of M. I recently came across a presentation she made for the Innovative Educators group, Execptional Front-Line Customer Service in Higher Education.

Selander is the Director of One Stop Student Services, and she had some very useful advice for creating a service culture. As an example, her unit has a goal of being knowledgeable, efficient, empathetic, and friendly. Their basic principles include:

  • Understanding customers and their expectations
  • Providing accurate, timely, consistent information
  • Being professional and courteous
  • Delivering what was promised
  • Being a problem-solver

Here are some questions she proposed to help you think about service principles and standards in your area:

  • Who are our customers? What are their attributes and demographics?
  • What are their perceptions and expectations?
  • What are we offering them – products, services, and/or resources?
  • Do we have the capacity to meet and exceed their expectations? If not, how can we get where we need to be?

As Selander points out, exceptional customer service leads to increased retention, improved graduation rates, a positive reputation for the institution, and more fulfilling work for staff. How can you create and maintain a positive service culture in your team?

Dee Anne Bonebright

 

 

Actually, they are customers

“They are my patients, not customers. We aren’t a Target store!”

I heard that comment, or some variation, hundreds of times when I was working in health care. Physicians, nurses, providers, technicians, clinic staff all went into their roles to help people and thinking of their patients as “mere” customers was hard. Yet when we actually talked to our patients and asked them what was important in their health care they highlighted issues like:

  • timeliness
  • later office hours
  • making it easier to get a hold of you
  • clear and easy to understand information
  • friendliness
  • clear billing statements

They assumed we were good medical practitioners and wanted us to be better service providers. Leaders in higher education face the same issue. Students and their families count on us to provide a high quality education but what determines their loyalty and engagement with our schools is how they are treated day-to-day in all of their interactions with us. Certainly in the classroom, but also online, on the phone, through the mail and in person at the registrar, the advising office, the dorm, the student center, the billing office, the gym, the library, and on and on. We need to show we care and understand what is important to them.

Adam Toperek, in his book Be Your Customer’s Hero, describes “Seven Service Triggers” that you can use to examine your interactions with students, or any other customers, to identify where improvements are needed.

  1. Being ignored.
  2. Being abandoned.
  3. Being hassled.
  4. Being faced with incompetence.
  5. Being shuffled.
  6. Being powerless.
  7. Being disrespected.

Making a difference with the education and the service we provide can make us all heroes!

Todd Thorsgaard

What’s stopping you?

What’s stopping you from delivering excellent customer service? Is it long-held assumptions about your customers? Resistance to changing how you’ve always done something? Is it tied up with your organizational culture? Or something else?

In a revealing survey of higher education professionals from 79 institutions, Academic Impressions found that respondents did not give their institutions outstanding grades in customer service to students. That may or may not surprise you. Here are the common challenges they found that stop colleges and universities from delivering excellent customer service:

  • Faculty and staff don’t see customer service as necessary
  • Effective customer service training is not provided
  • Uncertainty or inability to audit their current service and identify bottlenecks/gaps

Authors of the study showcase various institution’s approaches to auditing and improving their services in enrollment, academic advising and student support services. For example, to begin identifying academic policies and procedures that impede student success, they recommend three key steps:

  1. Review student complaints as opportunities to identify and correct outdated policies or procedures, recognizing that recurring complaints may point toward a systemic issue.
  2. Survey students to help prioritize where you need to focus.
  3. Audit your academic policies for some of the most common inefficiencies.

In addition to addressing gaps/bottlenecks in service to students, it’s important to address our long-held beliefs and assumptions about students and how we do our work. As Rich Weems, AVP for Enrollment at Southern Oregon University says, “We need to stop thinking about service to the student as an interruption to our work. Service to the student is why we’re there. Your #1 priority is taking care of the student. Drill that in.”

Anita Rios

 

Serving each other

This week I am helping to host a group of students who are visiting from Thailand. They want to learn about US culture and practice their English skills.

I invited the students to visit my office in St. Paul. When I put out a call to my colleagues, several people stepped forward to give office tours. One of our administrative assistants put together bags of Minnesota State branded items for them to take home. Other people stopped to give a friendly welcome. The students had a great time.

Even though it wasn’t directly related to anyone’s job duties, I knew that I could count on my co-workers. We have created the sort of collaborative climate where we value providing good service to each other. Whether it’s an above-and-beyond event, or routine tasks like providing data or supporting someone’s project, we want to help each other succeed.

Our HR leadership team has worked hard to create this climate. They hold us accountable for collaboration and encourage cross-unit activities. Another practical thing that helps is our collaborative office space. We had an opportunity a couple of years ago to re-arrange the office and included a community gathering space. Rather than enter into a maze of cubicles, staff and visitors enter into a space with tables and a white board. Fairly often someone will bring in treats or start some sort of discussion on the board. A few months ago someone brought in several flavors of Oreo cookies and a pitcher of milk. We all voted on our favorite flavor. (The traditional cookies won.)

The gathering space is a fairly simple idea and it has made a difference in building a unified team across divisions. And knowing our colleagues better has helped us provide better service to each other. What have you done to promote collaboration among your team?

Dee Anne Bonebright

You can’t do that!

Give up your landline phone, stop wearing a watch, drive a car from the back seat, travel across the country without a map, buy a car without seeing it–these are all things we were told you can’t do.  Yet today people do them routinely. By ignoring assumptions and the status quo, people designed solutions and created new ways of doing things to meet the needs of customers today.

Cathy N. Davidson in her new book, The New Education: How to Revolutionize the University to Prepare Students for a World in Flux, suggests that in order to succeed leaders must be aware of their legacy assumptions and challenge them. By examining and giving up assumptions, leaders can leverage new models and develop new solutions based on different assumptions that are relevant today.

Some assumptions in higher education that she believes need to be challenged include:

  • Lectures are an effective learning method
  • High-stakes, end of semester, summative testing accurately measures and promotes learning
  • Cost of higher education delivers value
  • Traditional faculty, professorial, tenure and apprentice models develop effective faculty members
  • Discipline majors prepare students for success

Challenging our assumptions is hard but necessary to find solutions to the complex problems leaders face today.

What assumptions are holding you back?

Todd Thorsgaard

 

 

 

Stealing from the classroom

What can leaders learn from college faculty about customer service? I was pondering this question as I participated in our annual Academic and Student Affairs/Equity and Inclusion conference two weeks ago. After listening to LuAnn Wood, Student Success Coordinator at Century College, describe the work she is doing at their Institute for Culturally Responsive Pedagogy (ICRP) my answer is yes! Similar to faculty needing to change how they teach to ensure the success of students from all cultures, leaders need to change how they lead to support the success of the ever increasing diverse population of employees.

In the book, Culturally Responsive Leadership in Higher Education, leaders are challenged to change their leadership practice to meet the needs of all their employees, regardless of their diverse cultural backgrounds. They identify nine key activities that leaders can use to examine and develop their leadership to be more culturally responsive.

  1. Initiate and engage in critical conversations with individuals from different cultures and who have a different point-of view.
  2. Choose to use a critical lens and examine multiple cultural perspectives when making decisions.
  3. Use consensus building decision-making and consciously acknowledge stereotypes.
  4. Use research-based information to better understand differences between cultural groups and outcomes.
  5. Honor all members of your constituencies.
  6. Lead by example to meet the needs of different cultures.
  7. Take on the responsibility to bring cultural issues to your stakeholders to get resolution.
  8. Build trust with stakeholders who are not yet culturally responsive.
  9. Lead for the greater good of all cultures.

Where do you have an opportunity to be more culturally responsive?

Todd Thorsgaard

 

 

Don’t surprise your customers. Delight them!

According to Thomas A. Stewart and Patricia O’Connell, authors of Woo, Wow, and Win: Service Design, Strategy, and the Art of Customer Delight, “Customers don’t want to be surprised, they want to be delighted!”

While I work in higher education, I am also a customer of higher education. My youngest daughter Sophie is entering college in the fall, and I can tell you that we have both been delighted by her new school.

Every communication with students and parents has been designed to welcome her and help her navigate the transition from high school to college. Her initial visit to the college wowed her with a tour of the program and demonstrations from current students in the architecture program. Upon acceptance, Sophie received a welcome package, complete with a swag bag of college-branded goodies to get her excited.

The school connects students with potential roommates and helps students register for dorm rooms online. With the help of social media, Sophie has been communicating with all the girls on her dorm floor and feels that she already knows them pretty well. Amazing, huh? I can tell you that she feels far more comfortable entering her freshman year than I did at her age when I knew no one.

As a parent, I’ve been completely informed about the admissions and orientation processes all along the way and I’ve recently been invited to join a Facebook group of parents for the class of 2022, where the current conversation among parents is “what type of computer is required for my son/daughter’s course of study?”

Just before Sophie graduated from high school, the college even sent her a branded top for her mortar board. What fun! And how delightful!

In their book, Stewart and O’Connell outline five principles of excellent service design, one of which is “Customers Want to Be Delighted.” To do that they recommend that you:

  • Meet their expectations with no guesses or surprises by providing an overall satisfying experience.
  • Define the delight you deliver to customers. Delight represents your customers’ experiences (how good were they?) multiplied by your “technical excellence” (how well did you deliver them?)
  • Ensure that customers know what to expect as they move from one touchpoint to another.

The authors say, that “such delight will “woo, wow, and win” customers.” I can certainly say that Sophie’s new college has wooed, wowed, and won me over completely through absolute delight!

What can you do to delight your customers?

Anita Rios