Performance Management Leadership Org Culture

We recently interviewed Bill Dann on his tips, tricks and lessons for managing your employees. His answers were terrific, and have been converted into two blog posts.  Here is the second of Bill’s thoughts on managing well. To read through the first set of questions, click here.

Question: Where do you see the most challenges in the organizations you work with – what level, what skill, what is missing?

Answer: Probably the biggest failing that I see is with managers at all levels, particularly middle, not understanding the need for communication to the employees that work with or for them. There was interesting research done years ago that found that the number one gauge employees use for satisfaction on their job is the extent to which the organization engages in two way communication with them.  This means that, as a supervisor, when you are engaging in two way communication, you are communicating that it is important for staff to know about the organization, and that their perspective/opinion is important. This is demonstrated by your behavior, not just by giving them a paycheck. Most mid-managers do a terrible job of communicating, which leaves the employees who are closest to the customer knowing the least about what is going on in the organization and why. The majority of managers do not understand the importance and power of communication. Further, top managers don’t hold middle managers accountable for passing on communications. I advise CEOs to do “management by walking around”, to ask what questions staff has of them. When the CEOs get the answer to that question, they will know how well their middle managers are communicating.

Question: The 7 questions tool is your approach to a performance evaluation that is truly unique. It is as much an evaluation of the supervisor as it is the employee, the end result of which is that both the supervisor and the employee are able to improve. Which of your 7 questions is the most challenging and why?

Answer: The first question, “do you know what is expected of you?”  It is challenging for 2 reasons.

  1. As the first question, it sets the tone for a conversation that will be like no conversation most employees have had with a supervisor. Employees are not accustomed to being asked questions that will reveal how their supervisors are doing at their job.
  2. Which introduces the second challenge, how to answer the question. If the employee is going to be really honest, one of 2 things is true a) they don’t know what they are doing, which is hard to admit, or b) supervisor hasn’t done their job well. They don’t want to communicate that, at least not to the supervisor.

It is very tough to get an honest answer to this question the first time through, which is why it is important to cycle back to this question more than once. Most supervisors have found that they need to cycle back anyway. Supervisors have sometimes asked their subordinates to think about the questions over the weekend and come back.

Ultimately, the goal of the 7 Questions is to get to certainty for the employee, because the more certainty they have about what is expected of them, the stronger their performance. When an employee has certainty, they won’t hesitate, won’t have doubt, and will be more productive and more satisfied at work. Could you be more certain on what is expected of you? Most of the time that answer is yes because there are nuances to what is expected.  Keep cycling back to question 1 until you are satisfied that your staff know what is expected of them.

Question: What do you find yourself using the most/relying on now in leading?

Answer: My maturing as a leader has been the growth of my willingness to let others do it their way. Formally, I was too much a practitioner of “Yes, but…”.   Employees only hear the “but”. This has been a challenge for me, because I have pretty high standards. The best learning comes when people insert the “but” themselves. They try first, then we look together on how it could have been better.  It is easy to profess letting go, it’s harder to do. I think the way I am learning that profoundly now is through my trying to slowly exit and cut back at PGS.  I have to do that, to let go. I am learning now that it would have been more productive had I done more of it earlier.

Conclusion: And with that, we close out the interview with Bill. Action points you can take now:

  • Communicate all that is appropriate for your employees to know and understand about the organization. Holding information back unnecessarily is both demoralizing and threatens the productivity of your workforce.
  • Make sure your staff know what is expected of them and make it clear that their questions for clarification are not a hindrance or a reflection of their abilities.
  • Let go when it is appropriate and allow your staff the autonomy to grow and learn through their own decisions.

Do you have some questions on managing for Bill or any of our other team members at PGS? We would love to answer them for you. Email us to join the conversation.