To understand the value of continuous improvement, you simply need to verify that you are always going in the right direction. I like the following quote by Lao Tzu, “If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.”
Many groups get stuck trying to anticipate all of the twists and turns that are possible. They end up spending inordinate amounts of time ruling out things that are not going to happen in reality.
Pay Attention to Where You Are Going
As I reflect on the issue of change and continuous improvement, I have an additional insight that may be helpful. We do not need to worry about the myriad of decisions required to get where we are going. Rather, all we need to do is verify we are heading in the right direction. That will free us from over-planning and allow our creativity to determine the exact pathway to our future.
The wonderful thing about a vision is that it pulls us along from one revelation to the next one. We simply need to remain true to the vision and verify that each decision points in the right direction. The rest of the journey will take care of itself.
What’s Important Now
Lou Holtz uses the word WIN, which stands for “What’s Important Now.” It allows him to focus on the vision and do the right thing at every step to take him in that direction. He does not worry or hope or fret about all the details, he simply asks if what we are doing right now is consistent with the vision. If it is, then the step is correct.
Continuous improvement is the same way. We do not need to psychoanalyze all possible avenues ahead of time. We can take actions immediately as long as we are pointed in the direction we wish to go, and we will eventually achieve our goals.
Avoid Analysis Paralysis
Some people will say, “Yes, but what if there is a better choice, then you might miss the opportunity to do that.” People who continually say “Yes, but…” can find themselves searching for the ultimate perfect path and die from analysis paralysis or starvation. It is far better to step out on the right path and keep moving toward the goal than spend years searching for the perfect route.
Example from Brian Tracy
In his video, “Success is a Journey,” the great Brian Tracy recalls how, as a young man, he traveled from Vancouver all the way to South Africa with some friends. It took them over a year to do it. The most harrowing part of the journey was when he crossed the Sahara Desert in Africa. For one 500 mile stretch called the Tanezrouft, the path was marked by oil barrels every 5 kilometers. It turns out that that is exactly the curvature of the Earth, so at any time he could see exactly two oil barrels: the one he just passed and the one directly in front of him.
As soon as he would pass one oil barrel, the one behind him would disappear and a new one would pop up on the horizon in front of him. The way he crossed the most dangerous desert on the planet was by taking it one oil barrel at a time.
It is the same with reaching any difficult goal. You can do it by simply making sure you are heading in the right direction and taking it one oil barrel at a time. I believe that is a good way to visualize continuous improvement and a great model for achieving your goals in life.
Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. .
I have made an observation after listening to people vent about problem individuals at work or at home.
It seems most people have a rather long list of things that other individuals must do to improve but a rather short list of things they need to change in their own behavior.
It is human nature to excuse or rationalize one’s own shortcomings while focusing on the obvious improvement needs of others. Since nearly everyone practices this little deception, the world must be rife with almost perfect people who wish the other people around them would shape up.
Hmmm – something is wrong with this picture? Here are a dozen tips that can change the pattern for you. Print them out and post them at work. Feel free to add more concepts of your own, and let me know what you add.
1. Reverse the Roles
The other day a student was venting about a particular individual who was a major challenge at work. The student described in gory detail several behavioral things the other person constantly did that drove him up the wall.
I asked him to write an analysis about himself from the perspective of that other person. In other words, what would the other person tell me about him if he had the chance.
That brought the student up short, and he admitted it would be a rather humbling exercise to do.
2. Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff
It is a well known fact that most married couples fight over the little things that become habitual annoyances on a daily basis. The position of the toilet seat is a great example. How come I can never get my wife to leave the toilet seat up?
It is not the 401K account that most couples argue about daily, it is who gets the remote control, or why the toothpaste tube is always topless. So, if we can just remember that the small stuff is really just that, then maybe we can relax a bit.
3. Live and let Live
If a cubicle mate hums when she is happy, it is no reason to have a coronary over it. This is her outlet and way to be cheerful.
Even though it curdles your skin when it goes on and on, why burst her balloon by pointing out her “problem”? If it is an unconscious habit, she will never be able to control it anyway.
Simply buy a pair of noise canceling head phones and play the kind of music you like. Let a happy person be happy or a miserable person be miserable. Focus your energy on creating your own sphere of cheerfulness rather than trying to change the rest of the world.
4. Punch Out Early, Don’t Punch Out the Person
Find some way to get away from the petty squabbles before they bring you to the snapping point. If you cannot actually leave without penalty, it does not stop you from mentally checking out. Just go for a little vacation in your mind.
Imagine smelling the giant pines if you love to hike. Feel the frost on your cheeks if you like to ski. Taste the chocolate chip cookie if you like to eat, or how about a relaxing hot tub while sitting at your desk?
Imagining happier places has kept many POWs alive for years; the same technique can keep you sane until 5 o’clock.
5. Share a treat
Just because someone drives you nuts by clipping his nails in the morning is no reason to hate him all day long. Find some symbolic olive branch and waive it around. Go get two chocolate bars and give him one.
Bring him in a bag of his favorite flavor of coffee. By extending kindness, we get kindness in return. Usually people know what they do drives us crazy.
If we change our body language rather than keep festering about “their problem” and learn to accentuate the positive, then the other person will likely respond in kind.
6. Extend Trust
The reciprocal nature of trust implies that you can improve another person’s trust in you by extending more trust to him or her.
When we build up a higher account balance of trust, the petty issues seem to melt away because we are focused on what is good about the other person rather than idiosyncrasies that drive us bonkers.
The best way to increase trust is to reinforce people who are candid with us about our own shortcomings. That takes emotional intelligence to do, but it works wonders at improving relationships.
7. Don’t Complain About Others Behind their Back
Speak well of other people as much as possible. The old adage “if you cannot say something nice about someone don’t say anything” is really good advice.
When we gripe about others when they are not present, a little of the venom always leaks out to the other person, either directly or indirectly. Never make a joke about another person at his or her expense.
A wise old pastor taught me that rule 40 years ago, and it is a great rule. If a person is doing something that really bothers you, simply tell him or her in as kind a way as possible why you find the action irritating.
8. Stop Acting Like Children
The lengths people go to in order to strike back at others for annoying them often takes on the air of a food fight in grade school.
Escalating e-mail notes is a great example of this phenomenon. I call them e-grenade battles. It is easy to avoid these squabbles if we simply do not take the bait.
When you find yourself going back and forth with another person more than three times, it is time to change the mode of communication. Pick up the phone or walk down the hall for a chat.
9. Care About the Other Person
If we really do care enough to not get bent out of shape over little things, then we can tolerate inconveniences a lot better. What we get back from others is really a reflection of the vibes we put out ourselves.
If we are feeling prickly and negative reactions from others, we need to check our attitude toward them. While it is convenient to blame them, often we are at least a partial cause of the negativity: they are simply a mirror.
10. Picture the other person as the most important person in your life
If all else fails, try to remember that life is short and to expend energy bickering and griping about others really wastes your most precious resource – your time.
How much better it is to go through life laughing and loving than griping and hating. We do have a choice when it comes to the attitude we show other people. Make sure your choice enriches others as well as yourself.
11. Have your own personal development plan
Start out each day with a few minutes of meditation on how you want to present yourself better to your co-workers. Have a list of areas you are trying to improve on.
This healthy mindset crowds out some of the rotten attitudes that can lead you to undermine the actions of others all day. Create a list of your personal improvement areas, and work on them daily.
12. Follow the Golden Rule
Finally, the famous Golden Rule is the most positive way to prevent petty issues from becoming relationship destroyers.
By simply taking the time to figure out how you would like to be treated if the roles were reversed, you will usually make the right choice for building and preserving great relationships.
Following these 12 tips will create a happier you and will mean that your interpersonal relationships will be much stronger in the future.
The preceding information was adapted from the book Leading with Trust is like Sailing Downwind, by Robert Whipple. It is available on http://www.leadergrow.com.
Robert Whipple is also the author of The TRUST Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change. Bob consults and speaks on these and other leadership topics. He is CEO of Leadergrow Inc. a company dedicated to growing leaders.
Preparing and giving performance reviews has historically been one of the most difficult functions for a supervisor. In this article we will discuss several ways to prevent this important function from being a huge chore and also note some mistakes that inexperienced supervisors often make.
For this article, I will focus on the typical pattern of feeding back performance in an annual review. I recognize that some organizations are moving away from the rather arcane process of an annual performance appraisal, but my observation is that the majority of organizations still use some form of it.
If your organization has moved on to more progressive ways to deal with performance feedback, consider yourself fortunate. You may still find some of these tips to be helpful regardless of the pattern your organization uses.
Here are seven tips for creating more constructive and easier performance reviews with employees. Feel free to contact me with other ideas you have on this topic. The potential improvements are almost endless.
1. Create an easier discussion
The formality of the supervisor’s office and a piece of written paper that contains information that has a material impact on the employee’s well being (read that “pay”) can be terrifying to the person.
Some supervisors ask employees to jot down notes in preparation before the performance review is written, so at least the employee has a sense that he or she had some input to the document.
The meeting itself should not be a surprise. Let the employee know at least a day before that you will have a performance review discussion on a specific date and time but don’t make it sound like a command performance at the police station.
Keep the conversation light and show by your body language that this will be a non-threatening meeting.
Say something like this, “The meeting is just a time for me to thank you for your good performance this past year and an opportunity for both of us to explore how you can take the next step.”
2. Do your homework
The appraisal must be fact-based and have specific examples for areas where performance improvement is indicated. Make sure the observations are your own, and do not use any information that is hearsay.
Don’t use a little black book where you jot down notes all year about the sins of the past. People will quickly catch on, and you will lose credibility.
The idea is to have the corrective feedback come via verbal input throughout the year, so there is no need to write down every issue. The exception to this rule is where the problem is large enough or the pattern is habitual, in which case the issue should be documented formally in the employee’s personnel file. That way the supervisor doesn’t need to remember what was said on any particular day of the year.
3. Keep it short
While the discussion may have a lot of words going back and forth, the actual written detail in the performance review should be succinct.
Get the information down and then edit it until it is readable, clear, and easy to digest. Avoid trying to sound professorial by using big or fancy wording. Keep the vocabulary at a level where the person being appraised can understand the written input without referring to a dictionary.
4. Show Respect
Since this input is of critical importance to the employee, give it the proper respect. Make sure your interview does not have any interruptions.
Turn off your phone and absolutely refrain from scanning your inbox or cell phone during the conversation. It is also a good idea to refrain from looking at your watch every few minutes.
Give every signal possible to demonstrate that the employee is important to you and that the conversation has your highest priority at the moment.
5. Watch the Body Language
The employee will be sending signals constantly that will tell you his or her level of comfort, if you are alert to the signals. Watch for wringing of hands, shifting in the chair, loss of eye contact, sweating, or other signs of anxiety and seek to reduce the anxiety by your words and your own body language.
Be aware that you are also sending body language signals to the employee. Try to keep a pleasant and caring demeanor even when the topic may be challenging.
Don’t raise your voice even if the employee does. Keep calm and in control by showing a gentle, yet professional facial expression.
6. Let the employee talk
Do not rush through the material and then ask at the end if there are any questions. It is a good idea to pause at several spots to let the employee get a word in edgewise.
Seek to have an even level of input from both yourself and the employee. Make sure to listen with high intensity to every word that comes back to you. If the employee wants to refute or mitigate a statement you have written, be sure you document his or her point exactly on the form.
Modulate the pace of the discussion so that it is a natural conversation between two adults. Take the time to consider the feelings of the employee and ask for reactions so you do not create an appearance of rushing through a difficult chore you want to cross off your list for the day.
7. Document any points of improvement
Every performance review ought to have the flavor of a conversation truly aimed at helping the employee. If there are areas of specific improvement, be sure to identify how the employee can make those improvements.
There may be a course to take or an article to read. There may be some group work you need to do with the entire team. At the end of the conversation, you want to leave the employee with a feeling of a fair evaluation and a positive path forward.
In addition to these seven tips, there are many things to avoid doingin a performance review.
1. Avoid surprises
Whenever a person receiving a poor performance review is surprised, it is a sign the supervisor has not been doing her job well all year. Performance feedback is best when there is a continual flow of information in both directions. The employee gets positive reinforcement when things are going well and constructive coaching when things need improvement.
If an employee hears in a performance appraisal for the first time that his tardiness and the number of smoke breaks have been hampering productivity, the supervisor needs some coaching.
The first rule of a performance appraisal is that the feedback should be a review of information that has already been shared specifically along the way.
2. Avoid making small talk
The employee knows he is there for a performance appraisal and is on edge. Trying to make things better by talking about the ball game or the weather does little to make the employee less nervous.
It is far better to conduct the interview with a pleasant tone of voice and some friendly body language than to try to make the meeting something it is not.
Forget the cotton candy and get down to business, but do it with a smile.
3. Avoid using the “Sandwich” Approach
There are numerous courses for supervisors. In most of them, one of the techniques advocated is called the “sandwich” approach.
The typical approach when a supervisor has a difficult message to deliver is to start with some kind of positive statement about the employee. This is followed by the improvement opportunity. Finally, the supervisor gives an affirming statement of confidence in the employee.
Some people know this method as the C,C,C technique (compliment, criticize, compliment).
The theory behind the sandwich approach is that if you couch your negative implication between two happy thoughts, it will lessen the blow and make the input better tolerated by the person receiving the coaching.
The problem is that this method usually does not work, and it often undermines the credibility of the supervisor. Let’s examine why this conventional approach, as most supervisors use it, is poor advice.
First, recall when the sandwich technique was used on you. Remember how you felt? Chances are you were not fooled by the ruse.
You got the message embodied in the central part of the sandwich, the meat, and mentally discounted the two slices of bread. Why would you do that? After all, there were two positive things being said and only one negative one.
The reason is the juxtaposition of the three elements in rapid fire left you feeling the sender was insincere with the first and last element and really only meant the central portion.
The transparency of the sandwich approach makes the employee cringe when he hears the first bit of praise because he can sense there is a “but” coming. In fact, it is a good idea when proofreading a performance appraisal before the interview, scan and eliminate every use of the word but.
It is not always wrong to use a balanced set of input, in fact, if done well, it is helpful. If there really is some specific good thing that was done, you can start with that thought. Make the sincere compliment ring true and try to get some dialog on it rather than immediately shoot a zinger at the individual.
Then you can bring the conversation to the corrective side carefully. By sharing an idea for improvement, you can give a balanced view that will not seem manipulative or insincere. Everyone’s performance is a combination of positive activities and improvement opportunities.
4. Avoid the final “pep talk”
Try to avoid the final “pep talk” unless there is something specific that you really want to stress. If that is the case, then it belongs upfront anyway. The supervisor may be tempted to say something like, “With all your skills, I am confident you can solve this little problem so your amazing performance in other areas will shine brighter.”
If that kind of drivel does not cause your employee to throw up on your desk, consider yourself lucky.
The very best advice for any supervisor giving a performance feedback interview is to use the Golden Rule. Just before the meeting, ask yourself how you would like the interview to go if the other person was the supervisor and you were the employee. Being kind and considerate will pay off, and using these do’s and don’ts will help, if you remember to use them.
Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading withTrust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 500 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at http://www.Leadergrow.com, firstname.lastname@example.org or 585.392.7763