Thursday, October 28, 2010

10 Dysfunctional Characters at a Talent Review Meeting

A talent review meeting is an important part of any leadership development and succession planning process. It’s when a leadership team gets together to discuss the performance and potential of their organization’s employees. They often use some variation of a 9-box performance and potential matrix.

I usually have the managers fill out their grids independently (plot each of their employees on the 9-box), consolidate the results, and have them review the results together.

It’s a great way to efficiently and effectively calibrate the expectations and perceptions of any leadership team. A consensus top talent (high potential) list usually emerges, as well the identification of problem performers and everything in between.

It’s a deceptively simple and straightforward process. However, what can make it messy are the different dysfunctional characters (or behaviors) that can show up at the meeting.

Here’s my list, based on my experience from facilitating hundreds of talent review meetings (I’ve alternated genders).

1. The used car saleswoman.
The used car saleswoman shows up prepared to “sell” every one of her employees. She’s got a long list of overly positive, exaggerated claims, complete with 2-3 examples for each one. Any fault is masqueraded as a strength. After a while, the rest of the team just gets worn down and starts buying everything she has to sell.

2. The defense attorney.
There’s a time when the rest of the team gets to share their perceptions about another manager’s employee. If it’s anything less than 100% positive, the defense attorney will leap from his seat and shout “I object”! Each possible fault is torn apart and disputed, just like Johnny Cochran and a glove that doesn’t fit.

3. Your Grandmother
To your grandmother, everybody’s just wonderful, and nobody could possibly have any weaknesses. Constructive feedback or conflict is considered rude, and everybody is encouraged to play nice. At least she brings cookies to the meeting.

4. The toe tapper.
The toe tapper has better things to do than to sit around and talk about damn people. He’ll tap his foot like Thumper the rabbit, roll his eyes, and interrupt any discussion that threatens to prolong the process.

5. The wimp.
The wimp couldn’t take a stand if her life depended on it. She’ll have an employee in a 1A box – and drop them down to a 3C based on an innocent comment - and then back up based on the next. All feedback from the wimp is couched with disclaimers (Well, gee; I really don’t know them very well, but…”).

6. The invisible man.
The invisible man sits there and doesn’t say a thing – unless called on. Once his turn is over, he disappears again.

7. The mean girl.
The mean girl doesn’t just offer constructive feedback – she goes for the jugular. Comments about other manager’s employees are meant to ruin careers, not develop. She’ll spread gossip and lie to make her point.

8. The storyteller.
The storyteller seems to have at least one – sometimes more – long-winded yarn about EVERY employee. He’s the good old boy that knows everything about everybody, and loves to share, no matter if it’s relevant or not.

9. The process engineer.
The process engineer loves to take a simple and easy process and make it more complicated. Instead of 9 boxes, she’ll suggest it be broken down further, into say, 27 boxes, or 81. She wants to attempt to quantify the scales, and suggests that everyone comes to the next meeting prepared with “data”, not just subjective opinions. She gets so wrapped up in trying to make the process perfect she can't see the forest from the trees.

10. Jessica Simpson.
Jessica just can’t seem to understand the difference between performance and potential, and keeps getting the two mixed up. He struggles to follow where names have been placed and keeps yelling “bingo” whenever he has three employees in a row.

How about you? Have you met these or other characters at a talent review meeting (or any meeting)?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Are You a Talent Magnet or Talent Poacher?

Some companies consider it unethical and bad business practice to recruit out of a competitor’s talent pool. Others disagree, saying that it’s a legitimate and necessary part of doing business.

I’m no expert in external recruiting, so I’ll leave that debate to the experts.

However, what about the concept of “internal poaching”? What’s wrong with a manager hiring a star performer from another part of the business?

I think it’s a matter of courtesy, protocol, and teamwork.

If you’re a manager who has a reputation for treating your employees fairly and with respect, providing challenging development opportunities and meaningful work, and helping your employees achieve their career goals, then top performers are going to be more likely to want to work for you. That’s one of the rewards of being a good leader. You can attract and retain top talent. You’re a talent magnet.

The best managers also don’t wait for a position to open up to start recruiting. They are always on the look-out for top talent and rising stars. That way, when something opens up, they can just turn to their “virtual bench” and start making calls. Positions get filled quicker, and you have had the benefit of getting to know and assess the candidate well before the formal interview process.

Employees that work for these managers tend to get promoted as well, which again enhances the manager’s reputation as a talent magnet.

So when does a talent magnet cross the line and become a talent poacher?

Back when I was an HR manager, a very angry executive showed up in the office of the executive I was assigned to support. My exec was new to the company, needed a top engineer, and reached out and made an offer to a hot prospect from another business unit. He did it without talking to his peer first. In fact, being new, he had never even met this other exec. He found out that this engineer was right in the middle of a critical project, and transferring that engineer would put the company at risk.

We were poachers. It was a painful lesson learned indeed. It was a source of friction between these two execs and it put the employee between a rock and a hard place.

I’ve also seen this happen when management teams conduct talent reviews and/or share their high potential lists with each other. When one starts hiring from the other and not giving up anything in return, they get a reputation of being selfish and not to be trusted.

If you’re going to talk to an employee about opportunities, you really should talk to the employee’s manager first. It’s considered common business courtesy. Most managers won’t block an employee from pursuing other opportunities, but they will always appreciate the respect you’ve given them. And you never know – there may be a legitimate business reason, or maybe even a performance issue that would make you reconsider.

Now if you post a position, and the employee applies, then all bets are off. Yes, some companies have a policy that says an employee’s manager has to approve before the employee can apply. That’s usually just to make sure the employee isn’t going to waste the hiring manager’s time if they are not qualified, or if they are having performance issues, or haven’t been in their current position long enough.

I know managers play games with this subtle difference. Sometimes, they will approach an employee first – and then try to cover it up by saying the employee made the first contact. You might get away with this once, but eventually it will catch up to you.

When it comes to high potential pools – consider them like kind of a co-op. You need to put in as much as you take out. You can’t be greedy.

What do you think? In the “war” for talent, is the concept of internal poaching outdated? Is “courtesy, protocol, and teamwork” just another way of describing “the old boy’s network”, or playing politics?

Or should managers be expected to work as a team and look out for the greater good of the organization?

Note: Inspiration for this post came from an exchange with productivity guru Laura Stack.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Using Reinforcement Well – In General, Be specific

Here's a guest post by New York Times bestselling author Tom Connellan:

The tendency for most leaders in this situation is to mention what’s good in general terms and be more specific about the faults. As in: “Overall, you did a good job on the presentation, Christine, but the first slide is really cluttered, and there aren’t enough graphics on any of the slides. Oh yeah, one other thing—you need to work on your punctuation.”

This approach doesn’t provide enough information, so Christine will be left feeling uncertain about how to improve the presentation. And even though it started with a compliment, the overall tone is negative.

If you use vague reinforcement like this regularly, it will condition Christine to wait for the other shoe to drop. After being told “It’s good, but . . .” too many times, she will stop hearing the positives and just brace herself for whatever comes after the “but.” Eventually, because she fears and expects the criticism, she will become unresponsive to compliments and immune to reinforcement.

Some managers – from a variety of functional areas still use the “sandwich interview” approach.

Christine and all her fellow reps will begin to assume that every interaction with you will be unpleasant. They’ll avoid you or tune you out. Maybe both. And you can’t help your sales reps improve their performance and boost sales if you can’t interact with them!

Although they will learn quickly what’s wrong about their work, they will never find out what’s right with it. For instance, because Christine doesn’t know what’s right with her PowerPoint, she has no model to follow, so she has nothing to emulate the next time she needs to put together a presentation. She will never become self-sufficient but will always depend on others for guidance.

So be just as specific about what’s right with a person’s work as what’s wrong with it. You might say: “Overall, you did a good job on the presentation, Christine. Let’s go through it pretty much screen by screen.” If it’s not even a good overall job, you can start with “You’ve got some good parts here and you’ve got some parts that aren’t so good. Let’s go through everything pretty much screen by screen.”

“The first page has a lot of text on it, which might make it hard for the customer to read. You handled the next few screens very well. I like the way you summarize the benefits of the Flambolwitz so clearly in bullet points. Double-check pages two through four, as there are a couple of punctuation errors on there, as you can see from my notes.

An additional graph as a summary slide comparing the features and benefits of our new product with our closest competitors would help the customer understand why ours is a better choice. Pages nine and ten are especially good at explaining why they should switch. Very persuasive.”

Review someone’s work in the natural order in which it occurs, rather than puzzling over whether to talk about all the good aspects first then the bad, or bad then good, or alternating between good and bad. If you put a lot of energy into deciding which aspect to discuss first, the person will be trying so hard to figure out why you chose that order that she may miss the important feedback you are giving. If you’re talking about a pattern of behavior rather than a document, the beginning-to-end rule still applies; you review how the events unfolded, from start to finish.

About Tom Connellan:
Tom is a New York Times Bestselling author and keynote speaker whose clients include FedEx, Nieman Marcus, Home Depot, and Sony. His newest book is Turbulent Times Leadership for Sales Managers. More about Tom at

Thursday, October 14, 2010

A First Aid Kit for Managers

What would you stuff into a small backpack that would equip a manager to handle just about any management issue?

Below is my list, in no order of priority.

You can also use this list as part of an exercise for a management training program. Divide your participants into groups of 4-5 and have them prioritize the list (or make up your own), explaining their rationale. It’s kind of a variation of the old “Lost at Sea” teambuilding exercise. Be prepared to break up fights. (-:

1. A laminated card with the following contact information:
- Your HR representative
- Employee Assistance Program (EAP) hotline
- At least one experienced and helpful peer
- Your manager
- Your administrative assistance
- Your IT support person or help desk
- Security (or local emergence number)
- Your Mom

2. A few of your favorite leadership & management books.
- Art Petty’s Practical Lessons in Leadership
- Scott Eblin’s The Next Level
- John Baldoni’s Lead by Example
- Wally Bock’s Working Supervisor’s Support Kit
- Marshall Goldsmith’s What Got You Here Won’t Get You There
- Frances Hesselbein’s Hesselbein on Leadership

3. A box of Kleenex (for the regular doses of employee drama and tears).

4. A day planner or some other way to organize your time and to-do list.

5. A good smart phone, with all the bells and whistles.

6. A list of favorite coaching questions.

7. A dozen bottles of 5 hour energy drinks.

8. Hearing aids (to be a better listener).

9. Binoculars (for vision).

10. A conflict management box of band-aids.

11. Delegation ointment (to spread it around your team).

12. A file for each employee. Include all HR paperwork, performance notes, IDPs, 1on1 notes, and personal information (family member names, hobbies, motivators, etc…).

13. How to give and receive feedback job aid.

14. An Individual Development Plan (IDP).

The following items from the Wizard of OZ:

15. A heart;

16. A brain;

17. Courage.

18. A performance management/counseling job aid.

19. Your operating budget, Excel software, and/or a calculator.

20. A picture of your loved ones and favorite place to get away from it all (to keep it all in perspective).

How about you? What would you add to the backpack?

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Eager to Stay and Ready to Go

When it comes to career management, two things continue to amaze me:

1. People that don’t proactively manage their careers until they are looking for a job;

2. Managers who hold it against employees that are proactively managing their careers.

How could this be? It’s 2010, not 1970. However, I can’t tell you how many people I run into that don’t have an updated resume. Heck, a lot of them don’t even have a resume. Those are the same ones who I’ll get LinkedIn invites from after they’ve lost their jobs. I’m sure they learned how to set up their account at the outplacement workshop they just attended. My reaction is usually “nice to finally hear from you… so where have you been all these years?”

I’m not trying to be mean here – I’m just trying to help by opening up some eyes.

There are a lot of people that are very happy with their jobs. They might be long-time employees. They either don’t see the need, or see it the same way some managers do – that it would be disloyal or slimy to even be thinking about another job or employer. They think it’s like cheating on your spouse.

Look, being loyal and faithful is important in a committed relationship, i.e., a marriage. An employer is not your spouse. There’s no “in sickness or in health, for better or for worse” vow taken. It’s a job, and they will continue to employ you for as long as you can perform and they need you.

If I sound harsh, maybe it’s because I spent eight years at a large company where layoffs were a regular occurrence. Every year, usually around the year end holidays, I’d see good, solid, longtime loyal co-workers being walked out the door. Off they went to company sponsored outplacement workshops to learn how to write resumes.

Even if you work for the nicest boss in the world, in a company that’s never had a layoff – a truly great company – that same company could be acquired, and before you know it, you’re redundant. A competitor could invent some disruptive technology that turns your product into a buggy whip overnight.

As for the Neanderthal managers that brand their employees with a scarlet letter if they want to apply for even an internal job posting – stop being such selfish jerks! As a leader, you should be encouraging your employees to manage their careers and stay marketable. For every employee you may lose to a better opportunity, you’re going to have six more knocking at your door because you’re known as a great leader and company to work for. In fact, leaders (and companies) should feel morally obligated to help their employees prepare for new opportunities while they are working, not just after the axe falls. That was supposed to be the replacement for a promise of lifelong employment. For many, it’s been a broken promise.

With all of that being said (wow, what a buzz kill), here are 10 career management strategies for those that are currently employed and satisfied with their jobs. Managers should embrace every one of these strategies as well.

1. Update your resume once a year.
Use your annual performance review as a reminder. As you are documenting your accomplishments for the year (um…, you do document your accomplishments, right?), see if there are any that are “resume-worthy” (you should strive for at least one per year).

2. Create a LinkedIn profile and keep it current.
While I think some people go a little overboard on LinkedIn (I really don’t need to hear from you every time you get on a plane or read a book), you should at least have an up-to-date profile and professional picture.

3. Build your network.
Networks need to be constantly added to and maintained. Everybody you meet is a potential valuable contact. Make it a habit to offer to “Link up”. Go out of your way to help others in your network. Networking isn’t just about looking for people that can help you – it’s about helping others. You never know – that same person you assist could be the person who makes that all important connection for you when you need it.

4. Keep up to date on career management strategies and tools.
There's a ton of good stuff out there. SmartBrief on Your Career, Brazen Careerist, Anita Bruzzese's 45 Things, Lindsey Pollak's blog, the WSJ's Careers site, and HRPeople are some of my favorites.

5. Build marketable skills.
Every job and every project is an opportunity to learn. A good rule of thumb would be for 20% of your job to be new and different each year. Work with your manager to develop an individual development plan (IDP) that provides you opportunities to stretch and grow.

6. Know what’s marketable.
See #5. Not all new skills are marketable. Subscribe to job alerts in your field and read the position requirements. Be building the skills on your current job that employers are looking for.

7. Be nice to recruiters.
Return their calls, help them if you can (see #3), and offer to send them your resume (see #1). Talk to them as if you are interviewing for a position – make a good impression. See #3 – offer to connect via LinkedIn.

8. Be a speaker at conferences in your profession.
Treat every external presentation as an audition. The same goes for your behavior as a conference attendee. True story: I actually met two future employers at the same networking event. Weird.

9. Build your personal brand.
It used to be the only way you could get known outside your company was to speak at a conference or get published. Now, with blogs, Twitter, Facebook and online communities, everyone has the opportunity to have thousands of people get to know them. Just be careful – exposure can hurt you as much as it can help you.

10. Manage your finances wisely.
They say it takes 3-6 months to find a job, maybe longer. Make sure you have a nest egg built up to weather the storm, no matter how secure your job is. And don’t put all those eggs in the same basket – your own company stock. Diversify.

Let’s face it, when something happens, only the big dogs get the “golden parachutes”. The rest of us need to proactively manage our careers.

What else would you add to the list?

Saturday, October 9, 2010

What Keeps Us From Doing What Already We Know How to do?

Here's a guest post world-renowned performance coach Alan Fine:

A nine-year old tennis student stands on the court completely astonished. Until now, this shy little girl has only been able to hit the ball over the net six times in a row. But she just made fifty-three successive, successful hits. That’s a 1000 percent or “10X” improvement. How did she do it?

Let’s look at another example.

In the final round of the 2006 World Match Play Event, professional golfer Stephen Ames loses to Tiger Woods “nine and eight” (almost as badly as it’s possible to lose in match play). One month later, he surges six strokes ahead of his closest competitor (and fifteen strokes ahead of Tiger Woods), to win the Tournament Players Championship and take home the biggest check in golf history at the time ($1,440,000). How did he make it happen?

The managing director of a multi-million design and manufacturing business in China shifts the defective product percentage from nine percent to less that one percent. The manager of a call center in a major U.S. corporation watches his unit surge from bottom performing group to second place in only two weeks. A regional manager for a training company exceeds the challenging revenue goal increase he was given, retains his company’s position with a customer who cut every other program, and doubles the company’s income from that customer—all in the midst of a very difficult economy.

What is it that enables each of these “performers” to achieve such dramatic improvement? And how can the answer to that question enable you to improve not only your own performance, but also the performance of any individual or team in your organization or your entire organization?

Until that day on the court as I was coaching the “10X” girl, I had believed—as most people do—that the best way to improve performance is through the “outside-in” approach. If you want to get better, read a book, take a class, or hire an expert. There’s some bit of knowledge “out there” you don’t have, and if you can just figure out how to get it, you performance will dramatically improve.

But as I had begun to realize, if knowledge really were all it took to be a high performer, then all any of us would have to do would be to read that book or take that class and we’d all be winning championships. We’d all be incredible managers, great teachers, phenomenal parents and performance. But we’re not. Why?

Because the biggest obstacle in performance isn’t not knowing what to do; it’s not doing what we already know.

So what keeps us from doing what we know? Typically, it’s interference—or more often, interFEARence—created by those external and internal factors that slow us down, immobilize us, and keep us from performing at our best. That day on the tennis court with the 10x girl, for example, my well-intended instructions (“Shake hands with your racket.” “Hit the ball on it’s way down.” “Hit the back side of the ball) were not only not helping her; they were actually getting in the way of her performance because she was focusing on trying to remember everything I said instead of on her own experience and what was happening in the moment.

The same thing was happening with Stephen Ames at the World Match Play Event. His brother Robert, who was also his caddy, had been feeding him information on yardages, advising him on club selection and helping him read the putts. While the information was accurate and would have been useful to many players, it was unintentionally creating interference for Stephen and causing him to doubt his own instincts.

In both instances, as we were able to help these athletes shift what they paid attention to and how they paid attention, the resulting performance improvement was dramatic. Using the same strategy, managers and leaders can significantly improve the performance of individuals and teams throughout their organizations.

Alan Fine is the author of the book, You Already Know How To Be GREAT, world-renowned performance coach to high-profile leaders and athletes, popular trainer and speaker and also Founder/President of InsideOut Development. Considered by many to be one of the fathers of the modern executive-coaching movement, he helped develop the basic performance model known as GROW which is now a gold-standard approach used by executive coaches and organizational-design experts around the globe. Alan has spent the last 25 years as a mental performance/focus coach to top professional tennis players and golfers, musicians, and corporate executives.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Business Case for Leadership Development

If you happen to work for a great company, then chances are you won’t have to spend a lot of time and effort convincing anyone how important leadership development is. The primary reason your company is so successful and admired is because you already are.

Good for you! You can spend time actually developing your next generation of leaders and making your current leaders even better.

However, if you’re not so fortunate, and you’re not willing to let your company go down the tubes without a fight, then here are 7 compelling reasons to take seriously, to invest in, and to put priority on leadership development.

Note: Credit for these goes to Morgan McCall, from one of my favorite leadership development books, High Flyers, Developing the Next Generation of Leaders. We actually used them in a former company to help turn the tide.

1. Leadership makes a difference.
The more change that lies ahead, the more important great leadership will be. The quality and quantity can be improved through development.

2. Companies can’t always find outside or buy the leadership they need.
If they do, it is expensive and does not come with a money-back guarantee. Sports teams can rarely buy a championship through free agency. In business, success in one company does not always translate to success in another.

3. Derailments are expensive.
The higher the level, the more expensive they are. Costs include wasted salary, relocation expenses, finding and installing a replacement, buy-out packages, damage to morale and productivity, and a slew of other intangibles.

4. Survival of the fittest is not the same as survival of the best.
Leaving leadership development to chance is foolish. There just are not enough potential leaders around to allow most of them to drown with no assistance.
Side note:  A cockroach is one of the most adaptable creatures on the planet. That's survival of the fittest. Do we want our organizations led by cockroaches?

5. Most of the cost of development is sunk.
Leadership development is already taking place within any organization (job changes, stretch assignments, making mistakes, and role model bosses). Not to reap a return on the investment is bad business.

6. Creating a learning environment is consistent with business strategies that involve having employees take on more responsibility, assume more risk, and solve problems.

7. It's good business practice.
Investors consider the quality of a corporation’s management. Talented people prefer to work for companies that invest in their development. Customers prefer to work with companies that can solve their problems. Companies like that have strong cultures that place high value on leadership.

Make this your elevator speech to your top executives (OK, you might have to accidentally hit the stop button). Memorize them, enhance them with examples and data from your own company, and recite them with conviction and passion.