Monitoring and Tracking Performance

One of the most important aspects of being an SLII® leader is communicating clearly with people regarding their performance. After you’ve made performance standards clear so that each person knows what a good job looks like, you must closely monitor individual performance and provide frequent feedback. Monitoring and tracking performance is a key directive leadership behavior of an SLII® leader.

When you lead people who are working on a task or goal but not yet fully competent, you are there to help them in their development. You not only observe their progress and provide direction, you also listen to their concerns and answer their questions. They need praising when you catch them doing things right and redirecting when you see them beginning to go off track. They also need regular performance check-in meetings with you.

It’s important to schedule these check-in meetings in a frequency based on the individual’s development level on their current task or goal. When a task is brand new to a person, you need to meet often to give specific direction for the first few weeks. After they have a bit of experience behind them, the meetings can be twice a week or so to focus on the goal. As they become more confident and competent, once a week is probably enough and can involve mainly listening on your part. After the person is on top of the task, regular meetings may not even be necessary unless they choose to request your help.

An SLII® leader who works this closely with their team members may find it unnecessary to conduct a yearly performance review with each person. Why? Because performance review should be an ongoing process that happens during open, honest discussions leaders have with their people throughout the year. When check-in meetings are scheduled according to development level, open and honest discussions about performance take place on an ongoing basis, creating mutual understanding and agreement. If these meetings are effective, the year-end performance review would simply be a review of what has already been discussed. There would be no surprises.

The concept of development level-based meetings leads into one of the most important—and mutually fulfilling—parts of SLII® leadership: one-on-one meetings. The purpose of one-on-ones is for managers and direct reports to get to know each other as human beings. These regularly scheduled meetings between manager and individual performer are meant to continue year after year, indefinitely.

At least once every two weeks, managers hold a 15- to 30-minute meeting with each of their people. The manager is responsible for scheduling the meeting but the individual contributor sets the agenda. This is a time for people to talk to their managers about anything on their hearts and minds—it’s their meeting. In the old days, most businesspeople had a traditional military attitude of “Don’t get close to your direct reports. You can’t make hard decisions if you have an emotional attachment to your people.” Yet rival organizations will come after your best people—so knowing them and caring for them, beyond being an enjoyable part of your job as an SLII® leader, is a competitive edge. Too often, talented people report that their executive recruiter knows and cares more about their hopes and dreams than their manager does. Don’t let this be said about you. One-on-one meetings create job satisfaction and genuine, even lifelong, relationships.

There you have it! If you have been a faithful follower of my blog posts, you now know the fourteen all-important SLII® micro skills—seven directive and seven supportive leadership behaviors. These actions not only shape and control what, how, and when things are done, they also develop mutual trust and respect between SLII® leaders and their team members. If you’ve missed a few, please feel free to go back and read my previous posts at any time. And watch this space for many more leadership topics to come!

A Fresh Look at SMART Goals

If you are familiar with SLII®, our company’s leadership model for powering inspiring leaders, you know that effective SLII® leaders are highly skilled in the two primary areas of leadership behavior: Directive and Supportive.

We define Directive leadership behaviors as “actions that shape and control what, how, and when things are done” and Supportive leadership behaviors as “actions that develop mutual trust and respect, resulting in increased motivation and confidence.”

In my last blog post, I wrote about Listening, a Supportive behavior. This time I’ll be refreshing your outlook on Setting SMART Goals, a Directive behavior.

What is a SMART Goal?

The concept of SMART goals has been around for decades. Different people and organizations may have slightly different ways of explaining the letters in the SMART acronym. Our twist on this familiar concept is the order in which you should write the goals, which is: S, then T, then R, A, and M. I’ll explain as we continue.

S is for Specific. A goal should state exactly what you want to accomplish and when you want to accomplish it.

T is for Trackable and Timebound. Performance standards, including a timeline, must be in place to enable frequent tracking of each goal. Are you making observable progress toward goal achievement? What will a good job look like?

So first, you decide exactly what you want to achieve—S—and then determine how you are going to track or measure progress toward goal accomplishment—T.

Once the S and T are in place, use the other three SMART criteria—the R, A, and M—to check if the goal is truly SMART.

Relevant. Is this goal important? Will it make a difference in your life, your job, or your organization?

Attainable. A goal has to be reasonable. It’s great to stretch yourself, but don’t make a goal so difficult that it’s unattainable or you will lose commitment.

Motivating. For you to do your best work, a goal needs to tap into either what you enjoy doing or what you know you will enjoy doing in the future.

Example #1: A Personal Goal

The first example is from the book Fit at Last: Look and Feel Better Once and for All, which I wrote with Tim Kearin, my good friend and personal trainer. Although my initial goal wasn’t exactly SMART, it was specific: I envisioned going to my 50th class reunion at Cornell and hearing my classmates say, “You’re looking good!” My less critical goals were to be able to do the limbo and to learn how to tap dance. (Again, maybe not so SMART.)

Fortunately, Tim helped me write the following goal. It’s rather long but it is SMART and, I’ll admit, a big improvement over the goals I had written.

SMART Goal: In one year, through an effective eating plan and exercise program with guidance, support, and progress tracking from Tim Kearin, I will weigh less than 200 pounds. I will gain 1 inch in height through posture-specific exercises, reduce my neck circumference and chest circumference by 1 inch, reduce my waist measurement by 5 inches and my hip measurement by 4 inches—and get rid of my “fat pants”.

This goal is Specific (we knew what we wanted to happen and by when); Trackable/Timebound (I knew Tim would keep great records and set a reasonable deadline for completion); Relevant (health is more important than almost anything else in life); Attainable (I knew I needed help and Tim was the perfect trainer for me, and our numbers were realistic); and Motivating (I looked forward to feeling better, looking better, living longer, and having healthy numbers for future doctor visits).

Example #2 – Career-Related Goal

The second example is taken from a recent Indeed.com article and involves a person with their eye on a promotion.

SMART Goal: I will earn a promotion to senior customer service representative by completing the required training modules in three months and applying for the role at the end of next quarter.

This goal is Specific (the person knows exactly what they want and when); Trackable/ Timebound (completing training in three months and applying for job the following quarter); Relevant (important to rise to a new level and make a difference in income and stature); Attainable (training first will provide skills to qualify them for the promotion); and Motivating (exciting career move, new challenge, higher pay).

Example #3: An Organizational Goal

The third example of an effective SMART goal is taken from FitSmallBusiness.com regarding employee training.

SMART Goal: Confirm that 90% of team members have completed new inventory management software training by the end of third quarter.

This goal is Specific (the company knows exactly what they need and when they want it); Trackable/Timebound (90 people will need to complete training, deadline set for end of third quarter); Relevant (important for entire team to merge together to new platform, which is more efficient than current platform); Attainable (majority of people have completed training, which is web-based and easily accessible); and Motivating (eager for better overall productivity, motivated to get the rest of the team trained).

Remember—all good performance starts with clear goals. If you don’t know what you want to accomplish, there is very little chance you will get there. So whether it’s for your personal life, your work life, or your organization, make every goal a SMART goal. It’s the best way to ensure success!

6 Practices That Will Make You a Better Listener

As we begin to come out of the coronavirus pandemic and run smack into the turmoil around continuing racism in our country, I think it’s a good time to review an essential leadership skill: listening.

So often the key to overcoming a difficulty—whether it’s in the workplace or at home—is to stop talking and start listening. I often like to joke that if God had wanted us to talk more than listen, he would have given us two mouths.

Yet few people have mastered the art of listening. Why is this seemingly simple skill so difficult?

Research published by Wendell Johnson in the Harvard Business Review examined one way the listening process goes wrong. Johnson found that because of how our brains work, we think much faster than people talk. As we listen to someone talk, we have time to think of things other than what the person is saying. As a result, we end up listening to a few thoughts of our own in addition to the words we’re hearing spoken. Usually we can get back to what the person is saying, but sometimes we listen to our own thoughts too long and miss part of the other person’s message.

To sharpen your listening skills, learn to apply the following six practices.

  1. Resist the Temptation to Jump In. Sometimes people need time to formulate their thoughts. Particularly if you’re an extrovert, control the impulse to finish people’s sentences or fill silences with your own opinions and ideas.

 

  1. Pay Attention to Body Language. Listen with your eyes as well as your ears. Watch a person’s face and body movements. Are they avoiding eye contact? What about the tone of their voice—do you hear confidence, eagerness, or perhaps irritation? Be aware of clues that their silent behaviors provide, while being sensitive to your own nonverbal signals. For example, is your body language encouraging someone to continue with a conversation, or silently telling them to stop?

 

  1. Ask Questions. This is not about interrogation or control. Use well thought-out questions to seek information, opinions, or ideas that will help you understand exactly what is being said. Use open-ended questions to encourage communication; for example, “Can you tell me more about that?” Ask clarifying questions to check for understanding; for example, “When did this happen?” Ask prompting questions to encourage deeper thinking; for example, “What do you think caused this to happen?”

 

  1. Reflect FeelingsAcknowledge any emotions the person is expressing and show them you understand by restating their feelings back to them in a nonjudgmental way. This demonstrates that you not only understand their message but also empathize with their feelings.

 

  1. Paraphrase. Again, resist the temptation to respond with your own thoughts. Instead, restate in your own words what the person said. This demonstrates that you heard what they said and assures that you heard them correctly.

 

  1. Summarize. State in a nutshell what was communicated during the entire conversation. Don’t worry about repeating the exact words. What’s important is to capture the main points and general sequence of what was said. This is where you want to reflect the speaker’s conclusion back to them to indicate that you understand.

 

These practices are not easy—they require time and effort to master. But once you do master them, you’ll build more satisfying relationships. You’ll also avoid a lot of the errors, frustrations, and inefficiencies that come from unclear communication. Think of how our homes, workplaces, nation, and world could change for the better if we all learned to listen to one another.

Listening is one of the seven supportive micro skills of an SLII® leader. Over the next few weeks I’ll be exploring more of these micro skills, so stay tuned!

 

 

Let’s Celebrate Love!

I love the month of February because on Valentine’s Day, we officially celebrate love.

A few years ago, my colleague Michele Jansen sent me a wonderful thing. A group of professional people posed the question “What does love mean?” to a group of children. The answers they got were broader and deeper than anyone would have imagined. See what you think:

“Love is when someone hurts you and you get so mad, but you don’t yell at them because you know it would hurt their feelings.”

“Love is when you go out to eat and give somebody most of your French fries without making them give you any of theirs.”

“When someone loves you, the way they say your name is different. You know that your name is safe in their mouth.”

“When my grandmother got arthritis, she couldn’t bend over and paint her toenails anymore, so my grandfather did it for her all the time, even when his hands got arthritis, too.”

“Love is the first feeling you feel before all the bad stuff gets in the way.”

“If you want to learn to love better, you should start with a friend you hate.”

“When you tell someone something bad about yourself and you’re scared they won’t love you anymore, but then you get surprised because not only do they still love you, they love you even more.”

Aren’t they wonderful, all these great sayings from kids about love? “Your name is safe in their mouth.” “Start with a friend you hate.”

Love is essential to good leadership. As my wife, Margie, often says, “Leadership is not about love; it is love.” When love enters into your decision making, you’re on the right track.

For too long, people thought love and business were mutually exclusive. Nothing could be further from the truth. When love extends to your mission, your values, your people, your customers, and the products or services you create, you make the world a better place.

So, let’s celebrate love this month—and every month!

When Is it Time for a Career Coaching Conversation?

My wife, Margie, says managers have three roles—doing their own job, working with people to help them develop and accomplish their current goals, and talking with people about their career aspirations.

The third role Margie cites is one that is often either forgotten or squeezed in at the end of an annual performance review meeting. As a manager, why would you want to talk with your people about their career aspirations? It’s not necessarily because you have a promotion in your back pocket. It’s because you care about them and want to know where they see themselves in one, three, or five years—where they would like to be in their career.

Career coaching is an organizational strategy that retains high performers and increases bench strength over time. Why? Because people get energized when their manager wants to talk about their future—it shows them their manager is interested in them and it makes them more willing to share their thoughts and plans.

Several signals can indicate that it’s time to start having career conversations with a direct report:

  • When they continually exceed expectations
  • When they ask for more responsibility
  • When they bring up the topic of their career aspirations
  • When they have mastered the basics of their current role

Some managers are hesitant to have career coaching conversations with a valued team member because they fear losing the person to another department or organization. But consider this: research from world-renowned coaching expert Marshall Goldsmith shows that one of the most common reasons people leave a company is because nobody asked them to stay. Look at each coaching conversation as an opportunity to let your direct report know how much you appreciate them and their work.

Another reason managers are hesitant is because they don’t have a potential promotion to offer or a good idea of new opportunities in the organization.  The idea is to have the conversation without thinking either of you have an answer—yet.  One of the questions you could ask is What are two or three positions in this organization that might be of interest to you in the future?  The person’s reply may give you clues about their general interest or intent. It may even lead to a conversation about how they can find out more about those positions.

Managers, I urge you to sit down and discuss career aspirations at least two or three times a year with each of your direct reports. A regularly scheduled one-on-one meeting is a perfect time to bring up this topic.

People need their managers to be interested in their future as well as their present—and career coaching conversations are a great opportunity to show your direct reports you really care.