Call Shari 303-863-0948 or Email Us

Contact us for virtual speaking and training!

Performance Management – Shorter is Better

No one (I know) enjoys writing, delivering or receiving performance feedback. It’s time consuming to write, challenging to deliver, and can be difficult to hear. Unfortunately, most performance management systems – goal setting forms, performance appraisal templates and online templates – don’t make the process easier. Instead, they make it harder. Short and simple is best.

When I started managing leadership development for a mutual fund company, I inherited a 12-page performance appraisal form and what seemed like 89 competencies. One of the business leaders I supported told me, “I’m not asking my people to use this form. If you can give me something that’s one page, I’ll have my managers use it.” That conversation sent me on a mission to make all performance management forms one or two pages. And really, why shouldn’t they be? People can only focus on leveraging and changing a few things at a time. Why give more feedback than that at any given time?

If you’re chasing people to use your performance management tools and templates, you have the wrong forms. In my experience, when people find something easy to use and valuable, they’ll use it. If something is difficult to use or doesn’t seem to add value, people drag their heels.

Here are a few ideas for making your performance management process easier:

Make your forms and templates simple. No performance management tool should be more than two pages.  In a performance appraisal – quarterly, annual, or otherwise – identify up to three things the person did well and a max of three things they can either do more, better, or differently next year. Anything more is overwhelming and a set up for disappointment, frustration, and overwhelm.

If you have additional areas for the person to work on, meet again in 90-days and assess how the person has done with the three pieces of feedback already provided. If they have made significant progress on the things they were already working on, add a few new things to work on. If significant progress hasn’t been made on the existing feedback, wait to add more.

I know your existing performance management templates may not allow for what I’m suggesting. If you’re working with a template that requires more input, write up to three clear, succinct, and actionable bullets in each required area and not more.  Bullets are better than paragraphs. Be specific. “Great job” is not feedback. Neither is, “needs improvement.” Give a specific example or two. No example, no feedback.

Resist the urge to write paragraphs of vague feedback or to accept that type of feedback in a self-appraisal. Paragraphs of feedback take too long to write and often say little. I’d suggest spending less time writing performance feedback and instead spend the time observing performance, asking others for input on the person’s performance, and writing three succinct, specific bullets that describe an action taken or outcome produced. Specific feedback is meaningful, useful, and received with less defensiveness.

Click below to see our suite of one and two-page performance management templates.

performance appraisals


Talk About Thanksgiving Dinner Now. Don’t Wait.

Thanksgiving is coming up. Many people will spend time with family and friends they haven’t seen in a long time. Some people will be indoors with a larger group than they’ve seen in almost two years. And many people are anxious about that.

The time to talk about what everyone needs to feel comfortable at Thanksgiving dinner is now. Don’t wait until Thursday. Consider what you need to feel comfortable and make requests today. Breakdowns are predictable. And what you can predict, you can often prevent.

How many people do you feel comfortable being in the same room and house with? Do all attendees need to be vaccinated? Do you want assigned seating so people sit with people they see regularly? Do you want people to take Covid tests before attending an event? You can likely have whatever you’re willing to ask for. But you likely won’t get what you don’t ask for.

You may be concerned that your requests are too much and thus you’re hesitant to make those requests. If you’re afraid to ask for something, feeling like it’s just too big of an ask, say that. Saying how you feel has a lot of power and is disarming. It could sound something like, “I’m feeling nervous about Thanksgiving dinner. I’ve been hesitant to say anything because I don’t want to offend you. Is it ok if I ask a few questions?”

“I haven’t been in the same room as a group of people I don’t know well in a long time. How many people are coming? What requests are you making of guests from a health and safety perspective? Are you comfortable asking that everyone be vaccinated and take a rapid Covid test before arriving?”

Sprinkle your questions into the conversation. Ask for what you really need. Asking these questions of the host before the dinner is a lot less confrontational than telling a guest they’re sitting too close to you and asking if they’re vaccinated. Thinking through your needs and making requests before an event is always easier than trying to change a situation. The best way to prevent an uncomfortable situation is to talk about it before it happens.


Self Confident People Admit Mistakes

When my son started pre-school and kindergarten, I went to new parent orientation. At those orientations I sat next to parents who told me their questions about the programs. But they never asked the people running the meeting their questions. They wondered in silence, whispering to seat mates who didn’t know any more than they knew. I’m always flabbergasted by these situations until I remind myself that people don’t like to admit they don’t know something. No one wants to look stupid.

Most of us aren’t eager to admit when we don’t know something, need help, or make a mistake. We fear these things will damage our reputation and make us appear less than to others. But neither are true. It takes strength and self confidence to admit mistakes, accept feedback, and ask for help. Strong, self-confident people do all of these things.

When someone who works for me is willing to admit mistakes, I think more of them. When employees ask for help rather than spin their wheels unnecessarily, I’m appreciative. When they’re open to feedback, I’m grateful they’re easy to work with. And the same is likely true for you.

 

Before launching Candid Culture, I worked with a CEO who frequently lead with, “I may not be the smartest guy in the room, but…” The CEO was trying to appear humble and relatable, but he was the smartest guy in the room and we all knew it, thus his attempts were false and came off as such. Arrogance masquerades as self confidence. People who are arrogant come off as strong and self confident, but it’s a façade.

It may seem like your personal power and reputation will be diminished by admitting mistakes and accepting help. But this couldn’t be further from the truth. It takes strength to say you don’t know how to do something, to embrace feedback that stings, and to admit bad choices. And strong, self-confident people do all of these things, regularly.

You won’t lose credibility or damage your reputation by being humble, instead you’ll be seen as real, relatable, and willing to admit a lack of perfection. And all of those things take strength that ingratiate you to others. So be yourself. Don’t pretend you’re better or more knowledgeable than you are. Authenticity goes a long way.

self confident


Giving Feedback – 3 Funny Examples of Giving Employee Feedback

Get the words to say the hardest things in two minutes or less. If you work long enough, you’ll eventually be confronted with these situations. Giving feedback doesn’t have to be hard.


Get Help When Giving Feedback

Last week one of my friends was concerned about something happening at her son’s school. She wrote out what she planned to say and sent it to me to read. Her notes were long, with lots of unnecessary details. I read five paragraphs before understanding what the situation was even about. I revised the notes. My notes were three sentences and easy to write. Why? Because it’s not my child, not my situation.

What makes giving feedback and making requests particularly difficult is our emotional involvement. We’re connected to the outcome. The stakes feel high. And that emotion makes everything harder.

If you’re struggling with a message you need to deliver, get some help. The person who helps you craft a succinct, specific, and unemotional message doesn’t have to be a feedback expert or a manager. The person just can’t be involved. As long as the person isn’t emotionally involved, they’ll be helpful.

When you ask for help, don’t ask for advice. Instead of asking a friend or colleague, “What would you do in this situation,” ask, “What would you say?” These are very different questions. You want the specific words to resolve whatever you’re struggling with.

Asking someone for help planning a challenging conversation or message begs the question, isn’t asking for that type of help a form of gossip? It could be. So be careful who you ask.

When asking for help planning a message or conversation, ask someone in your organization who is at your same level or above (title-wise) or ask someone outside of the organization. Change the names of the people involved; protect people’s anonymity. And be clear if you are asking for help to plan a conversation or if you are venting. They are not the same.

The most effective feedback and requests are unemotional, factual, and succinct. Sometimes we need other people who are not involved to help us get there.


Increase Your Job Satisfaction – Ask for What You Need

So much has changed in the last year and a half. And what you need to be happy at work may have changed too. The question is, do the people you work for and with know what you need now?

You aren’t likely to get what you don’t ask for, but most people don’t ask for very much. We assume that the people we work with will do the right thing without prompting. We’ll get the recognition and compensation we deserve at work because it’s the right thing to do. We’ll be included in important meetings and decisions regardless of from where we are working.

If you read this blog regularly, you already know that I’m a proponent of setting clear expectations and asking more questions before problems occur. Consider what you want and need, anticipate what can go wrong, and plan accordingly before problems happen. Doing that sounds great in theory, but how does it work in practice?

Here are five ways to increase your job satisfaction:

Increasing your job satisfaction tip one:  Be honest with yourself about what you need to be happy at work. Rather than tell yourself you won’t get what you need or try to convince yourself that you shouldn’t need something, just admit your needs to yourself.

Increasing your job satisfaction tip two:  Share your needs with people who can help you get those needs met. Don’t make people guess. Chances are they won’t guess at all or will guess wrong.

Increasing your job satisfaction tip three:  Don’t assume things will go well and just wait and see what happens. Instead, set clear expectations at the beginning of new projects and working relationships.

Here’s how that could sound: “We’re going to be working together for the next six months. Let’s talk about how everyone likes to communicate, what people’s pet peeves are, and the kind of information each person wants to receive.”

Here’s another example of how that could sound: “I’m excited to work on this project with you. There are a few things to know about me that will help us work well together and deliver timely results. I ask a lot of questions. Let me know if this frustrates you. I’m not questioning you; I just have a need to understand why we do what we do. And I work best with a deadline. I am happy to be available off hours, but you probably won’t hear from me before 9 am. You will get messages and work from me at night and on the weekends. Just let me know if you’d prefer I schedule messages to go out during regular business hours.”

People might give you what you need if you ask, but they likely won’t if you don’t. Train others how to work with you.

Increasing your job satisfaction tip four:  Agree to talk about things as they happen. Don’t wait until you’re about to explode to speak up.

That could sound like, “I want us to work well together, and things will go wrong. Can we agree that we’ll provide feedback as things happen so we can make timely adjustments?”

Increasing your job satisfaction tip five:  Renegotiate when you need to. If you realize you need or want something that you didn’t ask for, go back and ask. It’s never too late.

Here’s how that could sound, “We touch base about once a month and I’m realizing that if we could talk for about 20 minutes once a week, I’d be able to get more done. Can we make that happen?”

Job satisfaction and happiness don’t just happen. The people you work with are not you and they don’t know what you need. Make a regular practice of identifying what you need, making those needs known, and then speaking up when things go awry. You won’t get what you don’t ask for, but you will get what you allow.

 


Talk About Life – at Work. It’s Time to Get Personal.

It’s been almost two years that we’ve been looking into people’s homes on Zoom. Life and work have changed, and people have a variety of feelings about those changes. Some people miss working in person and can’t wait to go back to the office. Some people love working from home and never want to go back. What’s important is the ability to talk about how we feel and what we need from work – with the people we work for.

Most people suffer in silence, concerned to ask for what they want or need at work. Managers find out their employees are unhappy when they come across employees’ resumes on the internet.

The world has changed and how we interact needs to change to. Your manager may not be able to allow you to work from home all the time, but she certainly won’t if you don’t tell her what you want.

We need to cross the line, having conversations that perhaps we haven’t had in the past.

Managers, in addition to checking in on work progress, talk about how employees are doing and what they need going forward to be satisfied and do their best work.

Questions to ask during regular check-ins:

I’m not a fan of asking, “How are you doing?” It’s a vague question, and vague questions produce vague answers. But many employees will go their whole career without being asked how they’re doing. It demonstrates caring. It’s a place to start.

Here are some better questions to ask employees:

  • What’s changed for you in the last 18 months?
  • What have you learned about yourself in the last 18 months?
  • What has changed about what you need from work, if anything, in the last 18 months?
  • What would you tell me if you weren’t concerned about how I would react?

Managers, even if you ask these questions, employees may not feel comfortable answering. Managers can lead by example by talking about themselves. Share how your life, needs, and desires have changed. Share your own constraints. When managers show vulnerability, they convey it’s ok for employees to do so as well.

Also, tell employees that you really want to know the answers to the questions and assure employees there won’t be negative consequences for speaking candidly. Projects won’t be taken away. Careers won’t be impacted. You’re just talking. If employees never want to come into the office or travel, or want to work part-time, yes, jobs and careers may be impacted. But a conversation is just that, a conversation.

You won’t get what you don’t ask for.


Working In Person? Set Expectations Now.

Perhaps you’re going back to work in person part or full time and you’re nervous. Will people sit closer than you’re comfortable sitting? Will people wear masks? Will someone ask you to wear a mask when you don’t think it’s necessary? Yes, yes, and yes. All of these things are likely to happen. And addressing each situation will be uncomfortable. The good news is, if all of these events are predictable, they’re also preventable.

The time to talk about how people will behave in the office, is before people return to the office. Preventing a breakdown is always easier than addressing one.

Managers, get your team members together via phone or video and outline the organization’s expectations around masks, physical distancing, etc. Be explicitly clear. “Everyone is expected to be courteous and use common sense.” is not clear. My definition of being courteous and using common sense is different from yours. Follow the meeting up with written expectations that reiterate what you outlined during the meeting.

Direct reports, speak candidly with your managers about what you need. If you’re not comfortable working in an open floor plan, talk about it before you go back to the office. If you’re not comfortable attending a meeting with others in a conference room, have the conversation before the first in-person meeting. It’s ok to have concerns, and it’s ok to talk about them.

Teams, get together via phone or video before you go back to the office and agree on the practices you will follow. For example, if your organization’s policy is to wear a mask and a team member’s mask is below their nose, everyone on the team has the right to ask the person to pull it up. If a team member feels people are sitting too close, it’s ok to ask for space.

My point isn’t which Covid safety practices to employ. My point is to have the conversations before you return to the office. Anticipate every possible outcome. Talk with friends and colleagues who are already working in person and ask for the pitfalls and breakdowns they’ve experienced. Set clear expectations with your manager, peers, and internal and external customers. Then agree to talk about breakdowns as they happen. If you can predict it, you can prevent it.


Set Expectations and Be Happier at Work

People are not us; they do things their way, not ours. This is so obvious. Yet violated expectations are consistently a source of lots of frustration and upset, both personally and professionally. “How could you not check your work before submitting information to a client?” “What do you mean you didn’t call that person back?” “You said what?!”

The most frequent request we get at Candid Culture is for feedback training. The call usually goes something like this, “The communication isn’t great at our company. Managers don’t give a lot of feedback. People don’t talk directly to each other when there are problems, they talk about each other. Can you help?”

Sure, we can help. But once we’re having this conversation people are already frustrated. Trust has been violated and relationships and reputations have been damaged. Instead of waiting for problems to occur, expect the unexpected. Set clear expectations before people don’t proofread reports, miss deadlines, and do other things you wouldn’t dream of doing.

How to avoid violated (often unstated) expectations? Ask more questions.

Here are seven questions you should ask every person you work with to set expectations. And if you do, your workplace will have fewer frustrations and violated expectations:

  1. What’s most important that you’re working on right now? What are your goals this quarter?
  2. What are we both working on that we can work on together? Or what should one of us stop working on?
  3. How do you like to communicate? Phone, video, in-person, by appointment, or impromptu calls?
  4. How do you like to receive information – email, voicemail, text message or instant messenger?
  5. If I need information from you and I haven’t heard back from you, what should I do?
  6. What are your pet peeves at work? How could I annoy you and not even know it?
  7. How do you like to be interrupted? (You’re going to be interrupted. You might as well have a preference.)

Here’s the philosophy and practice: People aren’t you. Anticipate challenges, breakdowns, and violated expectations, and talk about them before they happen. Make requests. Ask questions.

It’s always easier to ask for what you want than to give feedback.

set expectations


Giving Feedback – Short and Frequent Feedback Is Best

If you want to freak out the people you work with, tell them, “We need to talk.” If you really want to freak them out, say those four magic words on a Friday, or even better, the day before someone goes on vacation. “We need to talk” is rarely followed by, “and you’re awesome.” People know bad news is likely coming, and they’ll inevitably be on edge.

The antidote to asking for time to talk is to create opportunities to give feedback regularly.

There are many reasons giving feedback is hard. One of them is we wait too long. Something happens. We know we should address it, but we don’t want to. So, we wait to see if the behavior is really ‘a thing.’ Then it happens again. And now we know it’s ‘a thing.’ But we still don’t want to address it. Then the situation gets really bad, and now we have to say something. The conversation then takes 90 minutes, is painful, and everyone goes home unhappy.

Here are two keys to make giving feedback easier:

Giving feedback strategy one: Debrief everything.  Do a quick plus/delta on a regular basis to assess how things are going. Plus – what went well? Delta – what would we change if we could/what did we learn?

I recommend doing a quick debrief at the end of important meetings, hiring processes, projects, and when anything changes. Conduct a short debrief when you have staffing changes, gain or lose a client, launch or eliminate a product or service, etc. Change is an opportunity to evaluate how you work and to make appropriate adjustments.

When you debrief important events, you tell people that feedback is important and that it’s ok to be candid. Conducting regular debriefs also gives employees a chance to practice giving feedback, which is a hard skill. And like anything, the more we give feedback, the easier it becomes.

Conducting short, regular debriefs is one of the easiest ways to learn from the past and become a more candid culture.

Giving feedback strategy two: Schedule five to fifteen minutes each week to talk as a team or with direct reports. When you know you have time each week to talk with your manager, direct reports, and/or team members, you never have to ask for time to talk. Issues don’t build up or linger. Breakdowns and frustrations are discussed within of few days of their occurrence, and no one is on edge that bad news is coming at their end of their vacation.

The key to being effective at giving feedback is to give feedback regularly. Short, frequent feedback conversations are much more effective than infrequent, long conversations that everyone dreads and leaves feeling exhausted and demoralized.

Debrief everything meaningful. Meet with people weekly. Ask for and give feedback as things happen, and watch your culture change.

Giving feedback chapters

 


Sign Up

Career tips
you won't get
elsewhere. Sign up
to get a free
tip card.