Analytics in the business world serve many purposes, and a survey by the American Management Association uncovered the top five reasons business leaders say analytical skills are necessary today.

Which of the following create the greatest need for analytical skills in your organization?

  1. Accountability for results 67.0%
  2. Competitive environment 61.6%
  3. Complexity of business environment 52.6%
  4. Increase in customer data 51.3%
  5. Risk management 50.7%

business analytical skillsI found the results intriguing, because while we say we need accountability first and foremost within our organizations, many leaders often do a poor job of actually communicating that need. Oh, they’ll tell people they need to be accountable, but when it comes down to time to measure performance, they’ll think about things that don’t really tie into accountability for results. Having analytics to drive those sorts of decisions will be a positive overall; however, it will also mean that leaders and managers can no longer rely on other unimportant “measures” of performance.

  • Bob has been in the office for fifty or sixty hours a week for the past few months. He must be doing a good job. [Is it possible that he’s just horrible at managing his time/workload?]
  • I know she doesn’t write well, but Mary responds to emails 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. She’s really dedicated. [If she’s not sending out the right message, maybe “number of emails sent” isn’t a good measure of her performance?]

In some positions, it’s relatively easy to measure outcomes (sales, for example); however, in others it’s more difficult. For instance, how do you tell your administrative assistant to be “nicer?” Can you quantify that? How do you get an engineer to work “harder?” Those subjective measures are a pain for managers to enforce and a pain for employees to have to ascertain. You need to give them some actual targets to strive for that they understand.

ROWE me, baby

I had a discussion recently with some friends about the ROWE (results only work environment) movement, and it was quite an interesting conversation. A ROWE is a workplace where you work when, where, and how you want, as long as you meet your business objectives/goals. It sounds nice, and I love the idea, but it’s not necessarily easy. The key to making this work is holding each person accountable not for how many hours they log in the office, how long their butt is in the chair, or how long they are logged into their work computer; it’s about the results they accomplish. Again, it sounds like an excellent idea, but managers quickly become anxious at the thought of removing some of the traditional barriers and measurements for employees, even though in the long run the focus is to get employees to focus on the one thing that actually matters: results! This conversation keeps leading me back to accountability, and I’d like to share a few resources with you on that front in case you, like those who answered this survey, are interested in moving toward a culture of accountability.

4 accountability examples, ideas, and suggestions

  1. How many times have you heard a leader in real life or fiction demand: “I don’t care how you do it. Just get it done!” Many times, organization charts and job descriptions push people to perform a set of tasks. This mindset leads people to believe that if they perform their functions they’ve done what they’re supposed to do, whether or not the result was achieved. Effective leaders operate on the premise that their people must focus on achieving results. They lead and inspire them to pursue results by creating an environment that motivates them to ask, “What else can I do?” over and over until the results are achieved. They manage their people so that their “job” is to achieve results. Each person’s daily activities must be in alignment with the targeted results.
  2. In the book Turn the Ship Around, we learn about David Marquet and his attempt to remove the leader/follower model from the operation of the submarine he commanded. When he first took command of the ship, nobody was held accountable for anything, which correlated with the ship’s poor performance record. He began taking steps to give people accountability and oversight of their own areas, freeing him up to be a commanding officer instead of a 24/7 manager of minute details. It’s a great book if you are interested in seeing how other leadership/management approaches work.
  3. Several years ago I wrote about asking better questions to get better results. It’s still one of the most popular pieces, and for good reason. People are hungry for ways to help drive accountability within their organizations, and simply asking different questions is an easy way to start moving into that sort of mindset. More here: Asking Questions at Work.
  4. Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton often talk about the data that drives great companies and great teams. After researching extensively, they developed a model that described how the best managers led their teams. The key elements? Goal setting, trust, communication, recognition, and accountability. So not only is it something that helps on a personal level, it also helps managers to get the most out of their teams! More of this found in The Orange Revolution.

 Wrapping up

Back to the study, I would be interested to hear your feedback on some of these items. Do you see any of these five areas playing a part in a need for analytical skills within your organization? Why or why not? What drives accountability in your organization? Is that driver toward an accountable workforce actually getting results?

This just in: group feedback isn’t the best tool in your performance management toolbox…

I was running through some old emails the other day and found an example I had to share. Several years ago I was working as a high school wrestling referee. It was definitely a tough job, but I learned some good stuff from the experiences (not getting overwhelmed when someone’s screaming in your face is an amazing skill).

One of the quirks of the job was that you’d get an anonymous/random evaluation on your performance once or twice a year. I never once received any specific, personal feedback on how I was doing other than informally from my peers. However, occasionally, the reviewer would send out group feedback notes like the ones below…

Overall the officiating has been good. Your hustle and positioning has been generally good. There are some opportunities for improvement. Stalling is still a problem. We need to get more aggressive in calling stalling to eliminate that from the sport. With tournaments coming up at several places, remember that it is your responsibility to ensure the restricted areas of the mat are clearly marked. Also remember that only two people are allowed in the corner and they are supposed to be seated in the chairs. Over the next three weeks, I will be looking closely at how you have responded to my comments from previous evaluation and in determining who should be recommended for the post season. We have several candidates in you Association. This is your time to convince me that you are the one who deserves to be selected.

Let’s imagine for a moment that this was a performance evaluation provided to you and your team on your collective performance. How motivated and engaged would you feel if someone sent you this group feedback in an email along with twenty of your coworkers?

Yeah, I had that same reaction.

I just wanted to share as a little reminder that despite all we know about leadership and effective talent management, there are still managers that need help doing the job of managing people. Wow.

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!