Microlearning

Sherrie Suski, Microlearning

Micro learning is the new buzz word in the Learning and Development Community.  It is defined as 3-5 minute short, focused learning sessions that are designed to meet a specific learning outcome.  As with many buzz words, the term is often misused and misunderstood. Many have taken it to mean that all learning should be conducted in bite sized chunks as demonstrated in the graphic below which indicates that humans have only 24 minutes per week to devote to actual learning, and that is based on a 40 hour work week, which is a thing of the past for many of us routinely working 60 hour work weeks.   Others will site the growth of the millennial workforce that will make up over 75% of the total workforce by 2025 and their much talked about short attention span of 90 seconds.

However, it is unlikely that complex new skills can be acquired in 24 minutes a week, but new skills acquired can be reinforced, practiced and lead to a performance gain in 24 minutes a week.  This is where micro learning really needs to be focused.  On the refinement and not on the acquisition.  Millennials, right alongside other generations, can be uber focused for longer periods of time when the content is engaging and rewarding.

Microlearning modules are best focused on moving right to the point without all the history behind the why, which should be captured in the original training.  Video should be an important and engaging component, as should real life scenarios.

Microlearning can be an excellent approach to training for simple tasks as it improves retention and fills in performance gaps and is certainly more cost efficient.  However, it should be used in conjunction with, not as a substitute for, more traditional types of learning as it is not suitable for complex tasks and can easily run the risk of seeming fragmented. 

Creating an Environment of Engagement

Sherrie Suski, Environment of Engagement

With the first quarter of 2017 only visible in the rear-view mirror, as unbelievable as that seems, it’s the perfect time to re-evaluate what we want to accomplish in our organizations by the end of this year.

Employee engagement continues to be the buzz word of the decade. Constituents quote the statistics that engaged employees are more than 3 times as productive than the unengaged or 10x as productive as the actively disengaged.

Creating an environment of engagement and learning

To understand this concept, we need to understand the true meaning of the word empathy.  Empathy, as defined by the dictionary, is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.   Borrowing a term from Big Data, it means focusing on the user experience or UX.  It will require designing work for the employee through the lens of user experience (UX) with the goal being able to help the employees feel good about the work they are doing and have a solid understanding of the connection to the greater organizational goals.

It has little to do with nerf guns, skateboards and other “tools” used to sell an environment of engagement and much more to do with spending the time to understand what is important to the individual actually performing the job.  Maybe it’s ergonomic, like a chair with better back support, maybe it’s auditory, like a pair of headphones to tune out the chatter around them, maybe it’s offering a rotation of job duties to stave of boredom and the repetitive nature of the job.

Adopting a Management Style that supports engagement

Equally important to creating the right environment is fostering the right management style to support a team environment. A team is a group of talented people who work together to accomplish something beyond their individual best. In order to work together they need to be supported by managers who allows them to thrive. This style is built by leaders who understand how to communicate the vision of the company in a way that engages and encourages everyone to work towards that goal.

Leaders who are effective communicators, develop a sense of community, and show authentic transparency and concern for others will be able to build high performing and engaged teams of talented people.”

Creating jobs that support engagement

Go beyond traditional training classes that support skills based on-the-job training and look for peer-to-peer opportunities.  investigate ways to allow employees to “try out” another position for a day or even a few hours.   This has multiple advantages.  Not only does it build a more well-rounded and cross trained workforce, but it circles back to our definition of empathy, to understand and share the feelings of another.  A workforce who has had the opportunity to “stand in another’s shoes” is a workforce that is better equipped to understand the full business cycle.

How to Properly Terminate an Employee

sherrie-suski-parting-waysYou may have done everything right.  You may have given verbal warnings, written warnings, worked through an honest Performance Improvement Plan and coached and counseled, but there comes time when it becomes obvious that your employee is either unwilling to or incapable of performing the essential job functions.  

It’s a hard decision to come to as all of would like to see our subordinates succeed and when one fails, it is a failure, of sorts, for you and your whole team. There are a few steps you can take, though to make it easiest on yourself and the employee you are separating.

 

No Surprises

If you have done everything right, it will not come as a surprise to your employee that the time has come for them to move on.  They may be sad, but they will not stare at you with a look of incredulousness.  If you believe your employee will be surprised, revisit your process, because you have not done all you should have.

Focus on Behavior, not the Person

This really does make a difference.  It is not the person you cannot tolerate (or if it is the person, then pretend that it is not) it is the behavior.  Acknowledge that not everyone is good at everything and that there may be positions where this person would be much better suited.

Be unapologetically Truthful

Be matter of fact when discussing their shortcomings.  Outline the reasons you have come to the decision to terminate their employment.  You don’t need to be sorry about it or apologize for your decision.  Although it may seem kind to leave the door open for them to appeal your decision, it really is not.

Offer to Help

Not that someone being terminated will usually take you up on this, but it’s a nice gesture.  You can offer to review a resume, assure them that only dates of employment and title of last position will be released.  Assure them that you will not contest unemployment, assuming you will not.

Don’t give References

Resist the urge to offer or agree to give them a reference.  Although it sounds odd, I have had more people than not ask for references, verbal or written, after hearing they will be terminated.  I usually tell them that they would not want the reference I would give.
Carried out correctly, although never pleasant, a termination does not have to be unduly uncomfortable.  I have gotten plenty of hugs and even a few Christmas cards from employees I have had to terminate.  It can be done with dignity and respect.

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!