The Performance Improvement Process

sherrie suski-employee performanceThere are many philosophies and lines of thought on carrying out a performance improvement process with your employees. Probably as many as there are in terms of how to discipline your kids and, honestly, there is probably some overlap.  The root of a consistent, equitable, defensible performance improvement process is communication and documentation.

Document and communicate what you are trying to achieve

It starts with ensuring that you know what behavior and goals you are trying to achieve and that those are DOCUMENTED and then COMMUNICATED to your employees.  It would surprise you to know how often I hear that Susie is not following the rules or that Tom is not meeting his goals, when, in fact, the manager has never sat down with Susie or Tom to explain the rules to them, help them to understand the goals and ask if they have any questions.

Catch infractions early

The next part that always catches me off guard is when the manager comes into my office and is ready to terminate someone that day.  All of these offenses and infractions have been building up for months and now the manager simply cannot go another minute with this employee.  My first question is always “Have you COMMUNICATED these issues to the employee and DOCUMENTED them in writing.  Nine times out of 10, the answer is “no”.  Conflict is uncomfortable, but a necessary part of managerial life and especially necessary in a performance improvement process.  It doesn’t have to be exceptionally unpleasant or result in a screaming match; in fact it can be very matter of fact and held in a normal tone of voice.  If your employee is not doing what you need them to do, you have to let them know and the sooner the better.  Do yourself a favor and get into the habit of documenting your conversations so you will have notes to look back on.

Stay consistent

Most performance improvement processes consist of some combination of friendly reminders, verbal warnings, first written warnings, final or second written warning and terminations.  Exactly what your process is, is less important than two points 1) that you fully communicate the policy and 2) that you remain consistent.  Inconsistent application of your policy is the easiest way to lose in front of the EEOC or in litigation.  You may not mean to be discriminatory, but if you are not consistent, you run the risk of treating a certain protected class unfairly.

Follow up

Lastly, follow up. Similar to the first time you tell your child to pick up their clothes, unless you have the world’s most remarkable child, it isn’t going to happen the first time you ask and remain consistent for the rest of their life.  Just because you ask your employee to change their behavior, it is going to be necessary for you to remind them.  Compliment them if they are improving and bring to their attention when they start to backslide.

Performance Improvement is all about helping your employees to succeed and become valued members of your team!

Delivering an Effective Performance Appraisal

Sherrie Suski performance appraisalsSo, what you may have thought was the hard part of a Performance Appraisal and Merit Increase process is behind you.  You have written the appraisal for each of your employees and thoroughly thought about and distributed the merit increase amounts and any warranted market adjustments and promotions.  As much as you may want to just ignore this next step or to send your subordinate an appraisal by e-mail, resist that urge.  This is actually the MOST important part of the process. Below are some guidelines to help you deliver the most effective performance appraisals:

  • DO include examples and specific information under each assessment category
    • This will make it easier to stay on track and discuss all the pertinent points
  • DON’T use the canned verbiage- even if it is easy
    • It won’t effectively deliver your points and your subordinates will know that you did not take the time necessary to really think about them and their accomplishments
  • DO take the time necessary to do a thoughtful job on each appraisal
  • DO review each subordinates’ accomplishments
    • not just those that have occurred in the last quarter, but throughout the year.
  • Don’t rate everyone a 5 or even a 3 ( on a 1-5 rating scale).
    • It’s always easier to deliver good news than bad, but take your responsibility as a manager seriously and rate your employees realistically.
    • If you do need to rate someone a 1 or a 2- have specific examples ready to point to as the reason why you feel they are not performing adequately.
  • DO provide a copy to your subordinate and let them review it prior to meeting to discuss
    • This allows them time to digest and process your comments
  • DO leave time for questions and open discussion.
  • DO schedule uninterrupted time, usually an hour, for the discussion with your subordinate.
  • DO provide a summary at the end of the review that pulls all of the components together
  • Do talk about growth opportunities for next year and what you would like your subordinate to achieve, as well as goals they may have for themselves.

Done correctly, the performance appraisal discussion can open the door for better year round communication between you and your team!

 

Writing a Performance Appraisal

 

sherrie suski_performance appraisalWhether they are anniversary review dates or focal review dates, many managers dread sitting down to write their subordinates’ Performance Appraisals.  They aren’t sure what to say, how to say it and don’t want to disappoint or to give undeserved praise.  Below are some tips for writing effective appraisals.

Think- Spend some time thinking about what message you want to deliver.  What were some of their major accomplishments during the last year?  How do they compare to others on your team or to others in the organization?  What would you like to see them improve on?

Use specifics– where you can, give specific examples to support your ratings.  All ratings that are above or below a 3 on 1-5 rating scale should have comments.  State specifically what the positive impact of a project was or the negative consequences of continuously missed deadlines.  Employees need examples that they can relate to before you know that understanding has taken place.

Don’t use generic verbiage– Many software programs today will allow you to pick your comments from a drop down menu.  Resist the urge to do this.  It sends the wrong message to your subordinates, that you didn’t take the time to think of something unique to say about them.  It doesn’t have to be eloquent.  It does have to be honest and professional.

Keep it Professional– This is a document that will live in the employee’s file.  It says as much about you, the manager, as it does about the employee.  Do not use inappropriate language and do not use words like “lazy” or “doesn’t care”.  Those are judgements and do little to help the employee know what to improve upon.

Give honest ratings– not everyone is a 5 on a 1-5 scale, nor is everyone a 5 in all categories.  As a rule of thumb, about 10% of your team could be rated 5’s.  If you have performance issues, now is the right time to address these.  Do not give someone a 4 on a performance appraisal and expect to terminate them for performance the next month.

Be confident– When writing your assessment, be confidant in the thoughts you want to express and the words you use to express them.  You are the manager and your team is looking to you for guidance.  

Offer growth- no one wants to be in a stagnant position.  Everyone deserves the right to have the opportunity to grow either within their position or within the Company.  Let them know what areas you see that they could improve in, or that you could offer to get them involved in, in order to broaden their skill set.

Spend the time to write an honest and thoughtful performance appraisal and you will be rewarded with a staff that is continually improving!

Staying Productive While Working From Home

sherrie suski work from home

Work-from-home days can be something to look forward to without all the distractions in the office. However, for some people, maintaining the same level of productivity that you would have in the office can prove to be a challenge.

The reality is that our brains are generally hardwired to think of our homes as places of rest and relaxation, so it can be hard to focus and be truly productive. But, that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to make your days working from home fully productive, fantastic work days. There a few tricks that you can use to make sure that you’re working at your fullest capacity at home:

Make a “Work” Space

This is especially true if you’re working a remote position. One of the most important parts of getting into work mode, is to make it feel like a place of work. If you have the space to do so, set up a desk or table to operate as your at- home office. Creating a separate space for work will help you to remove yourself from the “relaxation” feel of your home. Whatever you do, try not to work from your bed. Not only will you be tempted to sleep, but you will also be bringing work stresses into your resting space. No good will come from that.

Get into a “Work” Routine

Just because you’re home, doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t treat your day like any other workday. Wake up early (instead of rolling over and turning on your computer at 9am). Take a shower, eat breakfast, drink coffee, and most importantly get out of your pajamas. Staying in your lounge clothes will keep you in the sleepy, restful headspace all day long.

Consider Leaving the House

This may feel counterintuitive to the entire concept of “working from home”, but finding a different space to work could be hugely beneficial, especially if you don’t have the space to create a work station in your home.  Consider setting up shop in a cafe or coffee shop that has wifi. Surrounding yourself with other people who are working will push you to keep yourself on task, and it was found that

“A moderate level of noise not only enhances creative problem-solving but also leads to a greater adoption of innovative products in certain settings.” (source)

Communicate!

Staying in contact with your coworkers when you are out of the office is important. Make sure that you make the effort to touch base with the people that you work with a few times during the day. Every company has a different preferred mode of communication (Slack. Gchat, Skype, email, etc), and you should try to use multiple communication styles throughout the day. Not only will it keep you engaged with your coworkers, and keep you updated on the events of the day, it will also reassure everyone that you are readily available, even when you’re not in the office.

 

For more tips, check out these great resources on working from home: LifeHack.org, Forbes,  Inc.com

Find Success Through Better Time Management

sherrie suski time management world clocks

It’s no secret that time management is an important part of creating a happier, more successful life overall.  Everyone, no matter what their career path, will have a moment where they feel as though their workload is unmanageable or overwhelming. While that moment may be fleeting for some, it could very well be a persistent feeling for others. The key to finding success rests in how one responds to that feeling of inundation at work.

A healthy approach to time management will help workloads feel more manageable, instill a better sense of work-life balance, and ultimately lead to a more successful career overall.

 

Why is Time Management Important for Your Career?

For one, there’s only so much time in a day. Our time is limited, and it’s important to use available time wisely. Deadlines wait for no one, and superiors will make note of your ability to make deadlines within the allotted time constraints. When time is managed poorly, quality of work may suffer, or worse, work may not be completed at all.  It will be difficult to excel in any career path if you’re experiencing difficulty getting work finished.

Time management also allows for you to create a timeline to meet larger career-oriented goals. True success never happens overnight. Rather, success comes from careful planning and small steps that will eventually cumulate to become your end goals. Mastering time management is not only important when it comes to plotting necessary, smaller goals on a timeline, it helps you follow through with those goals in an efficient manner.

 

So How Does One Get Better at Managing Their Time?

There are innumerable lists of tips and tricks available to increase your ability to manage your time. But the most important thing to understand is that true time management comes from a complete change of perspective. In order to be successful at managing your time, you have to make a promise to yourself to remain committed to the changes you make. It’s about changing your long-term habits, and focusing on making a positive change. Keeping that overall change in mental state in mind, start with these two major steps to better time management:

Start Planning Your Weeks

There are certain things that we will always have to do on a daily (or weekly) basis. On Sunday nights, set aside some time to work on your calendar. Schedule out specific chunks of time for checking your email. (Once in the morning, once before & after lunch, and once around 3:30pm is a schedule that may work for you. Tailor this schedule to your specific job.) By setting aside specific times for your email, you avoid the timesink that can come from being constantly connected to your email. Schedule in lunch, coffee breaks, and any recurring meetings as well.  When all of the recurring tasks are blocked in, schedule in all of the tasks that you already know need to be completed that week. This may need to be adjusted based on what happens during the week, and that leads us to our next topic:

Learn to Prioritize

In most work environments, it’s easy to get caught in the revolving door of tasks that land on your desk. It’s important to determine which tasks are the most important, and stick to working on/completing those tasks first. Those crucial projects should never fall to the wayside of the smaller one-off tasks that come your way. Get the tasks with the highest priority checked off of your list of things to do that day, and work your way down to the smaller tasks.

Time Management is hugely important to your overall success. Start with these two steps, and then branch out. Find other tips that work for you, and then, find your success!


For sources and additional resources, please see the following articles: CreativityPost, Career Success , Forbes

TAH Human Resources 101: Establishing Your Core Competencies

sherrie suski business meeting

In our last article we discussed determining what the real purpose of your organization is, often referred to as your Mission Statement.  We emphasized how important it is for you and your employees to understand why your organization exists, what it does, who it does it for and how it does it.  This is the first stepping stone to building employee engagement and a productive workforce!

Once you have clearly defined and communicated your mission, your next stepping stone is figuring out a way to drive employee behavior in support of your mission.  One of the ways you can successfully do this is to create core competencies as a part of your overall Performance Management system.  Core competencies are particular behaviors that you want to encourage and measure in each individual in your organization.  You will want to think about 4-5 core competencies that are shared by all your employees.  These should be directly driven from your mission statement and the work you will do to support your mission statement.  

It is important to have shared core competencies to ensure that each of the employees are moving in the same direction and the same behavioral attributes are being rewarded across the organization.  Examples of these core competencies might be “Results Management” or “Critical Thinking”.  Competencies that are important for everyone in your organization to excel in.   You might also think about whether core competencies by function are important.  An example of a core competency by function might include “Attention to Detail” for your Accounting team, while an example of a core competency for your marketing team might be “Creativity and Innovation”.  If you are going to create these by function, try to limit it to another 4-5 so that you end up with no more than 10 total.

Another decision point is whether you want to level these core competencies to account for the differences in expectations between, for instance, an AP Clerk and a Dir., of Accounting.  In general, I feel it is important to use leveling as our expectations of one position are different than of the other.

There are many excellent Performance Management systems that exist on the market today.  Many will give you a list of core competencies to choose from, as well as letting you create more custom varieties for your own individual organizational needs.

Think about engaging your workforce to help choose the core competencies, especially those by function.  This will encourage both buy-in to your Performance Management process, as well as drive employee engagement.

Next time we’ll talk about developing goals which you will incorporate into your Performance Management system.

Finding the Right Mentor

sherrie suski mentorship

In this blog post, I highlighted the importance of mentorship in your career and professional life. Mentors provide much needed support and direction as you navigate within your network and work to establish yourself as an expert in your industry. The question that always comes up after someone determines that a mentor is the vital key that they are missing is, “How do I find a mentor?” Finding a mentor is not as simple as walking up to someone at a networking event, and asking “Will you be my mentor?”.  Mentoring is about a relationship; it needs to be organic and should grow out of real interactions between people who are already familiar with one another. Here are a few bits of advice to keep in mind when you’re looking for a mentor:

Make Yourself Mentor-Ready

You will not be able to build a successful relationship with a mentor if you don’t know what you want. You need to take the time to reflect, and create a working outline of your needs and professional goals. This doesn’t have to be a list of things that are set in stone, but you do need to know what you want, so you can seek out a mentor who  aligns with your aspirations.

Relatedly, work towards being someone that anyone would want to mentor. Do work to establish yourself as much as possible within your field; know what your strengths and your weaknesses are. Work to associate with the right people, create meaningful work, and be a professional that other professionals want to work with.

Start Networking

As I mentioned earlier, mentoring is born of real relationships. Very few people are willing to invest their time in a stranger. Work to build meaningful connections, both online and in person, and get involved with others through as many different avenues as possible.

  • Get active on twitter, and follow people that you admire. Look at who they  interact with, and follow them too. Read the content that they produce, and maybe even reach out and comment on something they’ve written. Do the same on Linkedin.
  • Go to networking events and make real connections with people. Websites like meetup.com have endless options of meetup groups and events where people are eager to make connections and build up their network as well. Find conferences where people you admire are speaking and don’t be afraid to walk up and start a conversation.

In the beginning, avoid the “I need a mentor”conversation. Instead, work on getting to know these various individuals you’ve brought into your life. Exchange emails, meetup for coffees and lunches, and ask questions. Feel out these interactions, and if over time you think that someone may be a good fit, then ask them if they would be interested in being your mentor. Many believe that the official question will be unnecessary, because the organic relationship that you’re working on will naturally shift into a mentor-mentee relationship on its own. 


For the sources used in this post, and even more resources on the mentorship process, check these sites: Forbes, Fast Company, The Muse

 

TAH Human Resources 101: Consciously Created Culture

 

sherrie suski brainstorming image

What is culture?  Culture is casually defined as the beliefs, customs, behaviors, etc., of a particular society, group, place, or time.  So, just like each society has its own culture, each Company has its own culture as well.  In each company a culture exists – whether or not it is consciously created.  It is created by the way management treats the employees, by the way employees treat each other, and by the way the organization treats its customers.  It is created by the behaviors and attitudes that are rewarded and those that are penalized.  So, if you want to instill a particular culture within your organization, you need to consciously create it, and the sooner you do so, the better.  If you are so fortunate to have come into a blank slate, it is much easier to create a culture from scratch rather than to try and change what already exists.

 

To a large degree, this is the fortunate position we have found ourselves in.  We are hiring a large group of people over a short period of time and have the opportunity to instill our culture from the ground up, at least in the corporate office.  To quote a popular and excellent author, Simon Sinek, we started with WHY.  Why does our company exist?  There are many versions of this; some call it a vision or mission statement, which some use interchangeably although they are different.  Others call it Go-To statement, but it is, basically, all driving toward the same outcome.  How do we all align toward a common goal at the highest level.  Once the common purpose is hammered out and disseminated throughout the organization, which is an article in and of itself, it becomes time to figure out how you will put that purpose in place.  This is a good time to involve the rest of the organization, especially if you are working toward a more collaborative culture.  Create cross functional focus groups, brainstorm ideas on whiteboards or through interactive AV technology.  Work with them until they feel right, like they echo the essence of what you are trying to achieve.  There may be as few as five or as many as a dozen.  From there the real work starts because now each organization has to grapple with what they need to do in order to bring this cultural initiative to light.  These will become the performance metrics used to drive not only your culture, but the performance of your organization.

As a side note, culture can and should be drive by initiatives, performance metrics, goals and other measures, but culture also needs to be driven by the less tangible, kindness, compassion and empathy.  Cultures are driven by the words used and the deeds carried out every day.  They are driven by doing what is right for your employees as human beings.  By bringing in flowers on Mother’s Day, by handing out Good Gotcha’s, by taking the time to listen and to genuinely care.

Next time we’ll talk more about tying Performance Management in an organization to the cultural initiatives and then about metrics and measurements tied to the performance management core competencies and goals.

The Importance of Mentorship

sherrie suski startup

No matter what industry you are in, finding a mentor will be one of the most valuable career moves you can make. It’s almost difficult to drive home the importance of finding an individual to act as your mentor (no matter what stage you are in, in your career). A mentor-mentee relationship is one of trust and mutual respect, and a (good) mentor will be able to create opportunities that the mentee would never have had access to otherwise. Almost all successful entrepreneurs and business moguls have had mentors to help grow them into the powerhouses that they are today.

 

Mentors Will Have the Experience to Challenge You

Mentors will often have several more years of industry experience than you do. All that they’ve seen and learned in those years is invaluable information that you now have access to. Mentors have likely experienced situations that you haven’t even dreamed of yet, and they will be able to prepare you for them preemptively. A good mentor will also use their experience to push you beyond what you think you’re capable of. They will be able to guide you through situations that may be out of your comfort zone, simply because they have experience that you have not gained yet.

 

Mentors Have Extensive Networks

One of the most important things in terms of career growth is increasing your network. Yes, you should absolutely be learning to network on your own; having your own network of contacts is hugely important. But the truth of the matter is that a mentor will likely have a more extensive and better established network than you, simply because they have had more time to curate their connections. A good mentor will be able to connect you to people you wouldn’t otherwise be able to interact with, and set you up with opportunities that wouldn’t be available outside of their personal network.

 

Mentors Will Be Able to Provide the Insight & Advice That You Need

It’s important to have someone to bounce ideas off of. A valuable mentor will be able to provide you with advice that is backed with actual experience and information. Good advice is invaluable, and if you can look past your own ego and pride to listen to someone else, your mentor will be able to provide you with exactly what you need to hear. (Note: Make sure your mentor has the ability to provide constructive criticism and feedback. You’ll need to know when you’re wrong.) This doesn’t mean your mentor will know all; but it is likely that they will have insight far beyond your years, and that’s wildly important when trying to establish yourself in any career path.

 

To see some of the articles that inspired this post, click here: Inc., Forbes, & World Economic Forum