Tag Archives: Performance management

It’ll Be Remembered Longer On Paper

Paper lasts the test of time. We have printed documents dating back over two millennial that can still be read and enjoyed today. No system upgrades or hard drive crashes can prevent us from going to a museum and seeing the original Dead Sea Scrolls or Vitruvian Man.   But the timelessness of paper is not reserved for the world’s great masterpieces.  It can be just as important – and practical – for management tools, instruction manuals and employee communications.

Lessons they won’t forget

Let’s face it, you can provide the best training in the world, but if your team doesn’t understand and retain the core concepts or policies, you’ve wasted your time and your investment.

Online programs are one effective training method and can be rolled out to a large workforce simultaneously.  In-person sessions, aided by PowerPoint or other electronic presentation tools are also good ways of getting a message across.  But once your people walk out the door, how sure can you be that they’ve really absorbed your key messages or that they’ll remember them when they need them?

As handy as it can be to have a website with your programs and policies, it’s not always easy to stop what you’re doing, boot up the computer and start searching for an online reference.  This is especially true for managers and employees in retail contexts or for sales forces that are regularly on the road and may not always have easy web access.

Providing after-training materials in a print format is one way to ensure that your team always has important information on hand.  Personally, I often find it easier to flip open a manual, run my finger down the table of contents and find the info I need or quickly refer to a “cheat sheet”.  Many experts will also tell you that it’s not only easier to navigate a printed document but that we actually learn better from print than we do from something on-screen.

Some of these experts argue that it’s because print carries a certain “authority” compared to online information, which makes our brain take it more seriously.  Others attribute it to the ease of navigation of a paper report compared to scrolling (as per my point above).  And yet others say there is a cognitive link between understanding and the physical nature of the printed word.  Whatever the case, the effectiveness of print is something to keep in mind when considering the best method to deliver your important messaging.

Keeping track of your day

When you’re a busy manager, you have a lot to remember.  Every day, we juggle meetings with our staff, bosses, consultants or new customers, not to mention retain a slew of family and private commitments.  The arrival of the electronic scheduler has been a boon in many ways, but it’s also given other people access to our calendars.  How many of us get up in the morning believing we have a relatively free day, only to get to the office and find out we’ve been booked with wall to wall meetings?

A lot of people, myself included, end up printing out their schedule and carrying it around with them to ensure they can keep track of where they need to be, when and with whom.  We often don’t have the opportunity to get back to our desk for hours to check our calendar.  And as much as I love the convenience of my handheld, it’s a lot more subtle sneaking a glance at my printed schedule in a folder than scrolling down its mini-screen to figure out where I have to be next.  Plus, I can just recycle my printed sheet at the end of the day!

A few things worth remembering

So despite my appreciation for the wonders of digital communication, paper continues to play a very important and practical part in my daily role as a manager – whether I’m at a training session, at the office or on the road.  Interestingly, I’ve learned that there may be some science behind my faith in the power of print.

Here are some examples of the thought-provoking conclusions surrounding the power of print to facilitate understanding and information recall.

  • Paper is a better tool for fully assimilating information because you read “more deeply” in print.  This has been attributed to factors such as the ease and speed of visually/spatially locating content on a printed page compared to a screen and the distractions of reading online.
  • Paper matters.  The feeling of literally being in touch with the text is lost when your actions – clicking with the mouse, pointing on touch screens, or scrolling with keys or on touch pads – takes place at a distance from the digital text, which is somehow, somewhere inside the computer, the e-book or the mobile phone.  Less focus speaks to a lack of full understanding and compromises long-term retention of information.
  • Paper is friendly. In a survey of MBA students, 75-80% said that they would not recommend an e-reader for in-class learning because it was too rigid for use in the fast-paced classroom environment.  They noted that you can’t move between pages, documents, charts and graphs easily enough compared to the paper alternatives.  They also pointed out that it’s harder to go back and refer to e-materials later in case you forget a detail.
  • Paper is permanent and portable.  In a very literal and physical sense, paper lasts.  While technology evolves at a dizzying rate, you can keep a printed manual or fact sheet as long as you want and carry it with you just about anywhere.  Plus, it can be easily recycled once it’s served its purpose, which isn’t the case with a lot of electronics.

Based on this work of researchers from around the world – not to mention my own personal experience – I like to draw a parallel between the relative permanence of paper and the longevity of the memories we keep.  While the screen is by nature more temporary, paper can leave a truly lasting impression on your team.

By guest blogger Kathy Wholley | Director of Advertising & Communications at Domtar. In this role, she is responsible for the marketing communications and advertising functions of Domtar’s pulp & paper business.  Additionally, she manages environmental communications on behalf of the business, which includes the Domtar EarthChoice® brand.  Kathy is also responsible for Domtar’s paper advocacy campaign known as “Paper Because”, which was launched in 2010 and was meant to demonstrate paper’s value to businesses and people that use paper every day. Kathy has 21 years of experience in the paper industry in a variety of sales and marketing positions with Willamette Industries, Weyerhaeuser and Domtar. She has a Bachelor of Science degree in Marketing from Clemson University.

Kathy is an experienced manager who also heads Domtar’s Paper Because initiative which highlights the key role paper plays in our lives and the reasons why it’s an environmentally sound choice.

Activate, Accelerate, and Advance Learning Curves

We all know that people learn in different ways.  Acquiring and applying new skills and knowledge is not done by every person the same way.

On the most basic level, you probably know people who hear something once and remember it years later.  You may also know someone who can’t remember something you told them 10 seconds ago. Memory is an important component of learning. The trick is to be able to take in information so it is stored in short-term memory and then ensure it is converted into long-term memory, making it accessible at a later date.

If you think back to your elementary school years, you may recall weekly spelling tests and the workbooks where you wrote out the spelling words in lists, in sentences and in various other exercises.  You may also remember using flashcards.  Your teacher probably had you write out vocabulary words and their meanings or multiplication tables or other facts.

Your elementary school teachers may not have seen the latest scientific research, but they had evidence to show that the act of writing something down helps cement it in your memory.  Both the repetition of the information – first you read it or hear it, then you write it, then you repeat it – and the physical process of writing helps move information from your short-term memory to more permanent storage.

Since the focus of this blog series is about improving management performance, you’re probably waiting for some connection between spelling tests and daily effectiveness at your job today.  While some of us have trouble finishing all the things that need to be done each day, others of us have trouble maintaining focus on the key activities that should be the day’s top priorities.

Studies show that the act of writing about something (making a list, creating a reminder note, scheduling or assigning tasks) causes the writer to focus on that activity, use greater concentration and more effectively ignore distractions.  The brain science tells us that writing things down creates an imprint on the brain – engaging the “reticular activating system” which aids the learning process and the creation of working memory.

It’s often the daily distractions that keep us from being able to recall information. The process of writing increases the accuracy of our memories or learning – meaning that we are more likely to store, recall, and focus on those activities or priorities and get them accomplished instead of getting distracted by other concerns.

Finally, there is information to suggest that writing helps reduce stress by boosting overall cognitive capacity and increasing coping ability to deal with stressors.  Stress can certainly be a daily distraction, so if the act of writing can help control stress and increase focus, improved performance is a reasonable and desirable by-product for every manager.

By writing something down (and unfortunately studies indicate that typing doesn’t seem to have the same effect), you improve your ability to recall and focus on the items you have identified as important for your day.  This means better performance – for you and your team.  Use a daily planner or other tool to write down your priorities today and see if you agree that writing improves your ability to retain, learn and apply your management skills and help you to better achieve your daily goals.

By Nancy Lane, Director of Human Resources, Red Book Solutions

Performance Lever 7 Knowledge and Skills & Performance Lever 8 Capabilities

When this blog series began on December 15, 2010 a scenario was presented:  

Study a hundred organizations of diverse size and industry with the objective of answering one question, “What factors are most driving and detouring the performance of frontline employees?”  What would you discover? 

Since then we identified 6 factors driving and detouring performance:

Performance Lever 1: Strategy and Goals

Performance Lever 2: Workflows or Processes

Performance Lever 3: Expectations

Performance Lever 4: Feedback

Performance Lever 5: Resources

Performance Lever 6: Incentives

Performance lever 7 (knowledge and skills) and performance lever 8 (capabilities) however stand in contrast to performance levers 1-6.  Performance levers 1-6 are environmental and reside outside people.  They make up the systems or environment people work in.  Performance levers 7 and 8, on the other hand, are individual and reside inside people.  They make up the abilities people bring to work.      

Knowledge and skills, performance lever 7, provides managers the understanding and abilities they need to perform their job. 

Obviously, every manager needs job specific knowledge and skills.  But few performance problems involve knowledge and skill deficiencies alone.  Attempts to provide managers needed knowledge and skills should be combined with other performance levers. New knowledge and skills with good or modified workflows and clear expectations limits a manager’s effectiveness.     

When knowledge and skills are needed a systematic approach to training increases employee on-the-job retention. This approach must be a facet if managers are to consistently perform at high levels, knowledge and skill solutions.  This training is a cycle of practice, feedback, and then corrected practice. 

Effective training includes:

  • Presentation of new knowledge and skills
  • Practicing the new knowledge and skill with the guidance of a subject matter expert
  • Independently practicing the new knowledge and skill
  • Feedback regarding progress
  • The opportunity to practice the knowledge and skill again  

Capabilities, performance lever 8, is also an individual performance lever that resides in people.  Capabilities involves innate capabilities that people possess and change little over time.

For example, every job requires certain innate capabilities.  If the job calls for lifting 75-pounds and an employee is unable to do this, he or she has a capability deficiency and will not perform to expectations. Many believe that things such as customer service or multi-tasking are innate capabilities that workers cannot adopt later in life; they either have or do not have these capabilities. If these innate capabilities are critical job requirements, then the people you hire should possess them. There is no easy way to evaluate whether there is a capability deficiency when addressing performance problems but this possibility always needs to be considered. 

As we’ve presented in this series, understanding these eight easy-to-leverage performance drivers — both environmental and individual — can serve two critical and difficult functions.  It will guide diagnosis of performance deficiencies and recommendation of effective performance solutions. Look for our next series from the Better Managers Blog coming to you soon.

Tim LaMacchio, Business Performance Engineer, Red Book Solutions

Performance Lever 6: Incentives

People 101: The consequences, incentives and disincentives, that follow everyday actions strongly influence whether those actions will actually take place again.

Whether the consequences that follow a manager’s behavior are intentional or unintentional, the likelihood that the behavior will occur again is increased or decreased.  This cause effect relationship can have subtle results.

Consequences may modify a current desirable behavior, create new undesirable ways of working that have delayed consequences, eliminate a desirable behavior or maintain the status quo.

When organizations or managers maintain a narrow definition of workplace incentives and ignore powerful but difficult to detect everyday consequences, it becomes impossible to align everyday consequences with desired performance.

Most workplace incentives or consequences are typically seen as having financial impact.  Observations would quickly reveal, however, that many consequences are a natural part of the way work is accomplished.

Powerful disincentives come in many forms including:

  • Shooting the Messenger: The messenger of bad news, difficult to accept information or perspective that challenge the status quo is the recipient of disapproval.
  • Unclear or Constantly Changing Expectations: Employees founder and lose motivation when expectation and strategy are undefined.
  • Flawed Systems: To avoid time-consuming or inefficient work, “workarounds” are developed.
  • Unproductive Conflict and Communication: These time and energy wasters create disengagement and extinguish the pride people want to have in their work.

When these and other incentives and disincentives prevent desired everyday performance, the larger picture of performance is compromised.

If incentives are to align with business results, a number of characteristics must be present:

  • Organizations objectively seek to understand information and perspectives contrary to their current view.
  • Expectations and direction are clearly defined and effectively communicated.
  • Systems and processes are fixed to eliminate the need for “workarounds.”
  • Effective feedback systems are in place so that impact on behavior is known and addressed.

As a review:

8 Levers That Drive Manager Performance

Performance Lever 1: Strategy and Goals

Performance Lever 2: Workflows or Processes

Performance Lever 3: Expectations

Performance Lever 4: Feedback

Performance Lever 5: Resources

Don’t miss the conclusion to this empowering Performance series being released next week, Performance Lever 7: Knowledge & Skill and Performance Lever 8: Capability.

Tim LaMacchio, Business Performance Engineer, Red Book Solutions

Performance Lever 3: Expectations

What would you discover if an unbiased observer spent an afternoon walking the halls of your company asking each manager, “What expectations does your boss have of you?” 

What might the observer hear? Perhaps the manager would respond with a vague “They expect me to serve customers.”  Maybe they would give a hesitant, “I am not exactly sure” or a vague answer that includes a shoulder shrug? 

Providing managers clear expectations, as to what must be accomplished and how it is to be accomplished, serves a valuable function. Clearly articulated expectations give managers direction and focus in situations of uncertainty. They guide everyday work and decisions. 

If managers are to fully contribute to organizational goals and optimize everyday workflows, they must clearly know what is expected of them. When a manager’s everyday work is focused through guided intent more will be achieved.  A manager’s day should be framed in a way that eliminates  confusion about priorities, what the rules are for completing work, those things open for discussion, and what will be used as evidence of progress. Managers should not have to “read minds” or guess.  This leads to unaligned efforts that take the company in too many directions. Not effective, as you can imagine. 

Managers lack the focus they need to be effective and drift from one immediate crisis to another when clear expectations are absent.  Setting expectations that are reinforced across all managerial directives is the critical link to companies’ general objectives.  By illustrating the path through tools that derive specific actions the manager must accomplish on a day-to-day basis, a business’ mission has a much higher potential to be reached. 

If managers are to achieve expectations and perform at high levels, a number of behavioral characteristics must be present.  These include: 

  • Expectations are clear, specific and documented.
  • Expectations address what must be accomplished and how it must be accomplished.
  • Expectations are linked to organizational goals.
  • Expectations guide everyday work and decisions. 

What would that observer find in your business?  Would managers have a clear understanding of your expectations and priorities? 

As a review:

Performance Lever 1: Strategy and Goals

Performance Lever 2: Workflows or Processes

Next week I will present Performance Lever 4: Feedback

Timothy E. LaMacchio, Business Performance Engineer, Red Book Solutions

Do your Performance Measures Measure Up?

In many organizations, managers are either wrapping up or preparing for annual performance reviews with their employees.  Managers at employer-of-choice companies most likely have had performance conversations frequently, be they formal or informal in nature. Whatever performance support system a company has elected to implement, some conversational basics can make for increasingly more effective and engaging sessions.

  •  Remember this is a conversation.  Managers should spend as much time listening to the employee as they do speaking. If your employees aren’t used to contributing to the performance conversation, you can prompt them with questions like: What worked well? What obstacles did you encounter? Did you meet your performance goals? Do you have any development needs? What kind of career path do you have in mind?
  • Eliminate employee performance surprises.  Clear expectations should be provided annually through a tool such as a scorecard and managed on a regular basis depending on the metrics defined. Deficiencies should be identified and addressed as they arise.  Successes should be recognized and rewarded in a timely fashion as well.  Having good performance data makes this conversation easier.  If you don’t have good, measurable performance indicators, set some up so people can know whether they are on target or not.
  •  Don’t forget to focus on the future.  Past performance deserves review, but be sure you’re set up for future performance to ensure measurable success.  Have you established new performance goals that directly align with the company’s mission?  Have you reviewed existing goals to be sure they are SMART (Specific, Meaningful, Attainable, Realistic, Timely)?  Do you have and employ a system for measuring performance and providing regular actionable feedback?
  •  Make the evolution of your performance system standard practice. Is this the time to provide rewards? Does your organization connect performance reviews with salary increases?  Are there other ways to recognize strong performances?  Establish and communicate career path opportunities and develop succession plans. Consider upgrading job responsibilities, title changes, participation on committees, access to training or development activities or other low-cost rewards.  Consider whether you can find other opportunities to reward or recognize strong performance in addition to your formal review sessions.
  •  Verify engagement levels.  If your employee didn’t hold up their end of the performance conversation, is it because they have “checked out?”  What’s behind their lack of engagement?  When top performers stop performing, there is valuable data in there you should catch and act upon in case it could be a larger problem that may affect others. Ask whether the employee has adequate access to information or resources about their job or the company’s initiatives.  Ask if they get to do their best work every day and whether anything interferes with that effort. 
  •  Performance reviews are not necessarily a zero-sum game.  You aren’t measuring people against other team members, but against your performance targets or defined ranking system. Typically employees performance fits in a bell curve with 10 percent of people at each extreme (top performer to low or non-performers) and the remaining 80% falling in the vast average grouping. You can heighten overall company performance more rapidly by focusing your efforts on providing the 80% field with the appropriate, interconnected resources to become top performers.

Your people are one of your most valuable assets. The human factor plays an essential role in your company’s profitability. Managers cannot only make performance conversations more pleasant by keeping the above items in mind, but increase the effectiveness and improve the outcomes of those conversations as well.  Effective management of performance conversations will support performance improvement for employees.  The positive outcomes of these measures will reward your entire organization and build a strong performance-based culture.

Nancy Lane, Director of Human Resources, Red Book Solutions

Performance Lever 1: Strategy and Goals

All organizations exist for a specific reason providing “something” of value to someone willing to pay for it.  All organizations achieve this “something” of value by expending energy and resources.

This customer value and the resources used to achieve it are defined in the organizational strategy and goals.

The organizational strategy and goals tell the entire organization, but more importantly the manager, what is most important and where to focus. Without strategy and goals managers would lack a compass for everyday work. The strategy and goals provides a target that communicates critical messages to the manager: What is most important?  Where to focus?

When this map and target are undefined or ambiguous they cannot guide everyday actions. The result is work, but work in the wrong direction – fruitless efforts that do not meet objectives. In other words, performance is deterred not driven.

If the organizational strategy and goals are to guide, unite, and focus managers and employees on business performance, then a number of behavioral characteristics must be present. Some of these are as follows:

  • The organization has one to three goals that measure their success.
  • The goals are clear and easy to understand.
  • The organization has a clear plan by which to reach the goals.
  • Leader’s often reference and talk about the goals and strategy.
  • Managers and employees are frequently informed about progress or lack of progress toward the strategy and goals.

Clear strategy and goals create everyday work that is aligned with what is most important: the external customer. Clear strategy and goals resolve and expedite the contradicting priorities and difficult decisions managers face everyday. Clear strategy and goals give managers and employees a uniting “battle cry.”

What are the key points to take away?

  1. Focus on what is most important.
  2. See number 1.

Although clear strategy and goals are necessary to drive performance they are not sufficient.  Next Thursday, I will present Performance Lever 2: Workflow or Processes.

Timothy E. LaMacchio, Business Performance Engineer, Red Book Solutions