I was reading through this piece by Kris Dunn and it made me start thinking about something we all face at work. Here’s the quote:

So anyway, you’ve got a merit matrix in play at your company for one of those reasons.  With that in mind, your managers deliver an above average review to multiple employees, at which point they are forced to have to tell the employees that equates into a 3.2% raise.

The employee appears unimpressed, and the smart as #### ones get vocal.

At which point your manager utters the words, “I’d like to give you more, but I can’t.  This is all they’ll let me give you.”

“They” means “You” – the HR pro or the company.  It’s called the “manager pass-through”, and it erodes trust and confidence from the employees towards all parties involved.  The manager.  The company. The HR pro.

Those conversations are happening every day.  Find another way soon – because it’s killing you, whether you know it or not.

Most of the time I’d like to think my managers would have my back and take ownership of the process. That’s one thing I tell all of our supervisors: you have leeway in pay, performance, etc. of your people. That’s what we pay you for!

Get managers to take ownership!

There are two basic ways to respond to the top performers mentioned in the quote above:

  • Right: We get x% to spread around, and you’re worth about y% of that. Here’s how you get to be worth more than that…
  • Wrong: Well, HR only gave me this much so I can’t give you any more. If you have a problem, talk with them.

When employees come to me, I almost always go back to their manager to circle back on the issue, check for a satisfactory conclusion, etc. I partner with the managers to ensure that together we are serving our staff well.

However, I know there are probably some out there that are of the mindset that Kris mentions in his article (statistically, it’s bound to show up sooner or later). They are eager to throw the “blame” back on HR, management, the owners, or whoever else happens to be an easy target–as long as it’s not them. Why? Because the manager has to see and work with that employee on a daily basis, and if the employee realized the actual level of involvement and discretion on the part of the manager, that buddy-buddy thing would be out the window.

Anyone have ideas for how to resolve this? I know how I handle it internally, but I’m always open to ideas that might help with these recurring issues…

People perform better when they feel a sense of control over their surroundings. That also ties into what I mean when I bring up the topic of a person’s locus of control. When people feel empowered, in charge, and in control, they typically do better than when they feel the opposite (powerless, uncontrolled, chaotic, etc.). Here’s the backup:

Research by BI WORLDWIDE  found that those who set their own goals perform 37% better than those who are assigned goals.

“Allowing your employees to select their own goal doesn’t mean that they select it from an entire universe of options,” said Tim Houlihan, vice president, Rewards System Group at BI WORLDWIDE.

In this study, participants were shown three levels of performance – all above their current run rate and were allowed to select which goal they were shooting for from among those three options.

We’re getting to our annual goal setting and performance review process in the next month or so, and I’m going to use this to help managers develop employee goals. We already let employees set their basic foundational goals based on career development choices, personal/professional interests, etc. Then the manager has the option to tweak or add additional content to ensure the employee is meeting the overarching business goals as well.

Using the ideas above, managers can create 2-3 “goal paths” for employees to choose from. At the end of the review period, instead of wondering how things went, the employee will have a great idea already of how well they are doing based on which set of goals they chose.

Another idea that goes hand in hand with this is setting goals almost to the level of a behaviorally anchored rating scale (BARS). Yeah, that term takes you back if you haven’t read a textbook in a while! Basically a BARS allows each job to have its own specific goals, targets, measurements, etc. It’s definitely more labor intensive, but it also spells out very clearly what expectations are for employees, what levels of performance are acceptable/unacceptable, and how the ratings will be given. Much less subjective than traditional appraisal methods, but again, it also consumes more time.

Maybe it’s a pie in the sky silly idea, or maybe (more likely) it’s used specifically for high performers to challenge them and allow them to really push the envelope with their performance. It’s hard to know at this point, but it’s certainly something worth considering.

Do you allow employees to select some or all of their own performance goals? Why or why not?

Recent news about JC Penney color cording their employees has garnered some interesting commentary. Here’s a snippet:

JCPenney has split up its associates into categories based on their performance and abilities, according to sources inside the company.

The move has employees worried.

Sources told us that on a broadcast to supervisors and managers in January, JCPenney VP and transformational talent leader Michelle Steitz said they were to categorize their associates into one of three categories:

  • Red — Remove from company
  • Yellow — Coach up or out
  • Green — Go forward

They were also told to “be prepared to make decisions” in the months ahead, according to a JCPenney executive.

“Not only were we supposed to do this with our team members, but as a Store Leader I had to categorize my entire team,” explained a JCPenney store manager.

Many associates don’t know that they’ve been graded and placed into these color categories — m ultiple JCPenney associates we corresponded with were still in the dark about the red/yellow/green system. source

Hint: this is not new

We hear this sort of discussion often, but the terminology usually refers to “A” players, “B” players, and “C” players. The tendency is to see this as a negative practice, but it’s really a way for companies to determine where to spend their limited training and development budgets. The practice also plays a role in succession planning.

Do you spend additional money on a “C” player who is disengaged and actively looking for another job? Would it be better spent on an “A” player who is a superstar performer? Making that determination in itself is another discussion entirely, but there’s nothing inherently wrong with differentiating performance.

I’d also point out that not differentiating employees based on performance is how you create a culture that supports and encourages poor performance. If you don’t treat the “green” employees differently from the “red” employees, the good ones will naturally trend lower with regard to performance. It’s not rocket science.

Check out the video below for more on the topic. I’d love to hear some ideas on how they might have handled this differently or if you think it was the right way to go. Subscribers click through to view.

Check out the video

Want more? Check out the free employee performance management guide!

Get the Free Employee Performance Management Guide!

So you’ve been thinking about your staff lately. Namely, employee performance management. When you work with people, there is never an easy answer for handling performance issues, negative feedback, etc. It’s just one of the more difficult parts of being a leader.

employee performance management coverBut you aren’t in this alone.

I work with managers every day who are dealing with employee issues surrounding talent. Some are looking for ways to get their staff to improve or leave. Others are working to align their top performers more closely with organizational goals. It’s a complex topic.

So I reached out to a few contributors to help me develop the guide: Employee Performance Management-How to align goals, leverage talent, and avoid an organizational train wreck. 

In this guide you’ll find great conversations on employee performance management, and you’ll learn a thing or two as well. If you’ve been searching for fresh ideas on the topic, you’ve come to the right place. A few concepts covered inside:

  • Do A players really exist? Is it worth our time to segment our employees that way?
  • Can music impact employee performance? How?
  • The one word you must avoid in performance discussions
  • Can you “hire” performance as a shortcut?
  • And more!

Click here to download the free guide

I want to thank the contributors for offering up some great, useful content: Jennifer V. Miller, Robin Schooling, Trish McFarlane, Steve Boese, Sean Conrad, Tim Gardner, Tim Sackett, and Michael Haberman. You can find links to each of their websites within the guide. Whenever I create one of these tools I reach out to the best and brightest in the industry, and these great folks all answered the call. They want to share their own expertise and insight to make your job easier, but just like me, they are continuously learning as well.

Check it out and let me know what you think!

Employee productivity management is normally seen as a manager’s job, and that might be a good thing. Recent research has shown that some managers can achieve up to 10% increases in productivity among their staff.

In the video below I discuss this phenomenon and what it means for HR professionals and business leaders. I also talk about a book that has some crossover between the research on employee productivity management and how it actually played out in another study of manager impact on employee engagement, performance, etc. The third piece I discuss is a philosophy of author/speaker that HR’s last great unexplored frontier is employee productivity and how to get more from our staff. I think that’s a key piece of why engagement has become the hot buzzword in recent years (it sounds cooler than employee productivity management), but they both mean basically the same thing: how can we get more work out of our people for the same amount of money?

If it was an easy answer, we’d have answered it already. The book that I talk about in the video covers some amazing concepts for how to develop a culture of belief that is so strong that it drives employee engagement and profits. I highly encourage you to check it out if that’s something you are interested in.

Check out the video and let me know what you think!

Employee productivity management show notes


So, what do you think? How can HR professionals best impact employee productivity?

Want more? Check out the free employee performance management guide!

How internal talent management keeps you competitive

internal-talent-managementWe need the right people sitting in the right seats.

If you’re familiar with the phrase, then you know it’s all about finding the right talent fit for your organization. This discussion shifts from the external focus to the internal talent management process. The reality is that we don’t always have the right people sitting in the right seats when we decide to get serious about the process.

So… What now?

Well, you have a few options. Continue reading

flexible work schedule policy

Wishing I was this flexible

I have a lot of things I’m proud of accomplishing at work, but it’s the sum of them and the trust that my leaders and staff place in me that have the most impact on me. Below you’ll learn about one recent example of how I was able to stand up for our staff and keep a misguided manager from implementing a decision that would have had a negative impact on the culture and employees. It’s the little things like this every day that make me glad that I’m in HR.

Recently we had a discussion about moving from our current flexible schedule policy to a core business hours work arrangement. Some of our management team looked at the decision as a way to force everyone to be in the office at least part of the day in order to make sure everyone is staying on task and accomplishing their work. (Click here for the tools I use for work/life flexibility.)

However, I was more than a little bit perturbed by the idea.

See, I have this funny, old-fashioned notion that managers are there to… well, manage. Continue reading