Like A Rock Star

Rock Star
It’s funny that people derive so much of their self esteem from others. 



If someone says something nice to/about them, then they feel on top of the world–full of worth, productive, successful, confident.



And when someone says something negative, then they get down in the dumps–depreciated, questioning, can’t do anything right, like a failure.



Yet, it the same person inside–the same heart, the same soul.



Of course, we are impacted by our behavior (when we do good and not) and people’s reactions to it–and we should be–it’s a helpful feedback mechanism to let us know when we are messing up or as reinforcement to continue doing good things. 



But at the same time, people’s feedback is not always correct or well-intentioned and certainly it doesn’t necessarily represent holistically who we are…it’s just a snapshot in time. 



So we need to take what people say and reflect back to us with a grain of salt–listen, try to understand, but also look at the bigger picture of you. 



You know yourself better than anyone else, so incorporate the feedback and use it to improve, but don’t get bogged down by any person, event, or cheap talk.  



Yes, you can be a rock star, by reflecting from what others tell you, but more importantly by listening to that voice inside that guides you. 😉



(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Starbucks – BYOF

Starbucks - Eating 2

Okay, this was the second week in a row at Starbucks that I’ve seen people BYOF.



BYOF = Bring Your Own Food.



This gentleman relaxing on a Sunday has brought his ziplock bag and with some nice looking pound cake at that.



Message to Starbucks…either your food is really bad, overpriced, or perhaps a little of both. 



You pride yourself on your coffee and everyone pays a premium for it, but you are slacking on the food side of the coffeehouse. 



Seems like a big opportunity–fix your food (finally!) and make gazillions of dollars more off the addicted masses that flock to your coffee havens. 



My consulting fee…we can discuss. 😉



(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

A Different Definition For IV&V

A Different Definition For IV&V

In IT circles, IV&V generally refers to Independent Verification and Validation, but for CIOs another important definition for leading is Independent Views and Voices.

Please read my new article on this: here at Government Technology — hope you enjoy it.

Andy

(Source Photo: here with attribution to Joi)

The Backlash Against Performance Reviews

The Backlash Against Performance Reviews

So there is big backlash against employee performance reviews.

Bloomberg BusinessWeek declares the annual performance review to be “worthless.”

The performance review ritual is traced back to the 1930’s with Harvard Business School Professor, Elton Mayo, who found that productivity and satisfaction of workers improved when they were measured and paid attention to. This was referred to as the Hawthorne Effect because the study was conducted at the Hawthorne Works of Western Electric outside Chicago.

Later in the 1950’s, the Performance Rating Act institutionalized mandated performance reviews for federal workers,

But studies in the last 2 decades have found employees (42%) dissatisfied with the process and even HR managers (58%) disliking the system.

Clinical Psychologist, Aubrey Daniels, call the process “sadistic!”

The annual reviews are disliked for many reasons including the process being:

1) Arbitrary, subjective, and personality-driven rather than objective, meaningful, and performance-based.

2) Feedback that is too little and too late, instead of real-time when good or bad performance behavior occurs.

3) A power tool that managers use in a “culture of domination” as opposed to something that really helps employees improve.

4) Something used to punish people and build a case against employees to “get rid of you” rather than to reward and recognize them.

At the same time, this week, the Wall Street Journal reported that Microsoft and other companies are getting rid of forced employee rankings.

The ranking system was developed by General Electric in the 1980’s under Jack Welch and has been referred to as “”Stack Rankings,” “Forced Rankings” and “Rank and Yank.”

Under this system, employees are ranked on a scale–with a certain percentage of employees (at GE 10% and Microsoft 5%, for example) ranked in the lowest level.

The lowest ranked employees then are either let go or marginalized as underperformers getting no bonuses, equity awards, or promotions.

“At least 30% of Fortune 500 companies continue to rank employees along a curve.”

Microsoft is dumping the annual quantitative ranking and replacing it with more frequent qualitative evaluations.

UCLA Professor, Samuel Colbert, says this is long overdue for a yanking at companies and managers’ jobs is “not to evaluate,” but rather “to make everyone a five.”

While this certainly sounds very nice and kumbaya-ish, it also seems to reflect the poor job that managers have done in appraising employees fairly and working with them to give them a genuine chance to learn and improve, before pulling the rating/ranking trigger that can kill employees career prospects.

A bad evaluation not only marginalizes an employee at their current position, but it limits their ability to find something else.

Perhaps, this is where the qualitative aspect really comes into play in terms of having frank, but honest discussions with employees on what they are doing well and where they can do better, and how they can get the training and experience they need.

It’s really when an employee just doesn’t want to improve, pull their weight, and is undermining the mission and the team that performance action needs to be taken.

I don’t think we can ever do without performance reviews, but we can certainly do them better in terms of providing constructive feedback rather than destructive criticism and using this to drive bona-fide continuous improvement as opposed to employee derision.

This is possible where there are participants willing to listen to a fair critique and work together on getting to the next level professionally and for the good of the organization. 😉

(Source Photo: here with attribution to Mediocre2010)

Sears Couldn’t Sell An Appliance Let Alone A Rolex

Sears Couldn't Sell An Appliance Let Alone A Rolex

So I was amazed at the depths to which Sears will go to try to save their horrible brand.

The Wall Street Journal (21 July 2013) described how Sears online has started a marketplace where they are now hosting the selling of high-end goods at their low-end department store site.

Sears which normally sells kitchen appliances, tools, and crappy clothing is now trying to market $33,000 Rolex watches and $4,400 Chanel handbags.

Good luck to that after their failed 2005 merger of Sears and Kmart–as if combining two lousy companies make one good one.

Since 2005, the company revenue has steadily declined about 25% from $53 billion to $39.9 billion and they lost $4 billion in 2011-2012. Yeah, that today’s Sears!

My own horrible experience with Sears:

I went online to order a range, and Sears botched the order over and over again and kept me holding endlessly throughout the miserable process and at each stage asking for my feedback and apparently doing nothing with it.

Problem #1: It started out pretty simply–I asked for some guidance comparing a couple of models, chose one, and they entered my order. However, when I looked over the order, they had entered the incorrect delivery date–when I wasn’t available. So I contacted Sears back to correct the mistake, but they couldn’t get their system to reflect the correct date–it would only show the original incorrect date–and this is a multi-billion dollar company? But I shut an eye when a supervisor finally assures me that it will arrive on the correct date.

Problem #2: The next day or so, I get a call from a Sears customer service representative who asks me whether I am the Andy located in XYZ (some G-d forsaken location)–ah, no! Well, they explain that’s where they have my order shipping to. They can’t explain how that happened, but promise Sears will fix it.

Problem #3: This time, I get a call from the Sear’s installation company. They are demanding that they will not come out to do the install unless I pay them a required inspection fee. But I explain that my order from Sear expressly states that shipping and installation are FREE. Sorry, they tell me free is not free, and if I have a problem, here’s a number to their national whatever line.

Three strikes, Sears is out–I contact them to review what had happened and to cancel this order. They refuse to cancel it–again, I think to myself this is a multi-billion dollar company? Over and over again this goes on, until finally they agree to cancel the order and refund my money.

All this nonsense literally wasted hours of my time.

Sears is no longer that brilliant mail order catalog of the early 20th century; now they are a dumpster diving junk company trying to sell brand stuff, but they are laggards to the brilliant Amazon and eBay retailers–and soon Sears will be out of business headed to the big retail trash bin of history.

The Rolex watches and Chanel bags are just another Sears circus sideshow. 😉

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

From Happy To Glad

From Happy To Glad

So I heard a new saying: “From Happy To Glad.”

I asked some folks “What is that was all about?”

They explained that it applies to when you give someone something to review and they make really minor, nit-picky edits.

For example, they said, when someone “just has to say something” or “they can’t let it go.”

This was interesting to me, because I find it really helpful to solicit feedback and vet things with a smart, diverse group–and when you do, invariably you get a better product.

For example, with a document, the best feedback is substantive feedback about content, followed by solid edits to things like style, formatting, and of course spelling and grammar gaffes.

The goal is to have a clear, concise, and consistent communication that is either informative or action-oriented, and with a good executive summary and enough supporting detail to answer key questions.

Of course, this is very different than “Happy to glad” feedback–where you’re getting someone who possibly is wordsmithing something to death, can’t make up their own mind, wants to show how smart they are, or are just trying to drive you nuts.

With happy to glad, sure it’ll satisfy the occasional control freaks and the ego-chasers.

But the changes you’ll want to actually make are from the really smart and experienced folks whose input makes a genuine difference in the end product and your and the organization’s success.

So ask away for input, make meaningful changes, but don’t get snared in change for change sake alone. 😉

(Source Photo: here with attribution to Zentolos)

Bathroom Kudos

Bathroom Kudos

Going to a restaurant the other night, I stepped into the men’s room for a minute and noticed this sticker on the right of the mirror that said “Great Work” in big yellow letters on the red background.

I wondered what a strange sign to put in such a private setting as if we need applause for going to the bathroom or washing our hands.

Then again, if you’ve seen many men’s bathrooms, it could certainly be a time for kudos when it is kept clean and people use good personal hygiene–hence, the other sticker on the left, “It’s cool to care!”

The frog sticker in the middle, he’s just keeping an eye on things and thanking everyone for the job well done.

This is a funny commentary on our society these days where people seem to need a pat on the back for everything–even the highly mundane and personal.

Presumably, going to the men’s room will never be the same boring, uncaring event again–at least at this fine eating establishment. 😉

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Difficult Employees x 7

Difficult Employees x 7

So I was learning about some management best practices in terms of there being 7 major types of difficult employees:

  1. Challengers–employees that are oppositional; they resent authority, are disrespectful and confrontational.
  2. Clingers–people who are overly dependent; they are uncertain about what to do, fearful of making a mistake, withhold their opinions and may harbor deep resentments.
  3. Drama Queens/Kings–these folks crave attention; they can be found spreading gossip and rumors and making dramatic pronouncements both professional and personal.
  4. Loners–people who like to be left alone; they tend to hover over their computers and avoid personal interactions.
  5. Power Grabbers–staff that tend to get into power struggles with their boss; they ignore instructions and resist direction.
  6. Slackers–those who don’t do the work they are supposed to do; they tend to linger on break, calls, or the Internet or be out of the office altogether.
  7. Space Cadets–employees whose minds and discussion always seem to be in la-la-land; they tend to be off topic and impractical.

Obviously, each presents a unique set of management challenges, but one of the most important things a manager can do is focus on specific behaviors and the impact of those on the quality/quantity of work and on the organization, and work with the employee whether through coaching, counseling, mentoring, or training on how to improve their performance.

It should never be about the manager and the employee, but rather about the results and the outcomes. Keep it objective, be empathetic, document the issues, and work in earnest with the person to improve (where possible).

Difficult employees are not evil characters (or villains) like in the James Bond movies, but rather humans being that need inspiration, collaboration, guidance, feedback, and occasionally when appropriate, a change in venue–where a square peg can fit in a square hole. 😉

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Big and Small–Who’s Who?

Father_and_son

Yesterday, I go into a store with my daughter to shop for a new iPhone case.

A clean-cut kid–maybe 13 years old–comes out from behind the counter and asks me what I’m looking for.

I chat with the boy for a few minutes about their products and the prices of the various items–and I was genuinely impressed with this kid’s “business savvy.”

Sort of suddenly, a larger man emerges, whom I assume to be the boy’s father.

Making conversation and being friendly, I say to the man, “Your son is a very good salesman.”

The father responds surprisingly, and says, “Not really, he hasn’t sold you anything yet!”

Almost as abruptly, he turns and stumps away back behind the counter.

I look back over at the kid now, and he is clearly embarrassed, but more than that his spirit seems broken, and he too disappears behind the counter.

My daughter and I look at each other–shocked and upset by the whole scene–this was a lesson not only in parenting gone wrong, but also in really poor human relations and emotional intelligence.

As a parents, teachers, and supervisors, we are are in unique positions to coach, mentor, encourage, and motivate others to succeed.

Alternatively, we can criticize, humiliate, and discourage others, so that they feel small and perhaps as if they can never do anything right.

Yes, there is a time and place for everything including constructive criticism–and yes, it’s important to be genuine and let people know when they are doing well and when we believe they can do better.

I think the key is both what our motivations are and how we approach the situation–do we listen to others, try and understand their perspectives, and offer up constructive suggestions in a way that they can heard or are we just trying to make a point–that we are the bosses, we are right, and it’ll be our way or the highway.

I remember a kid’s movie my daughters used to watch called Matilda and the mean adult says to Matilda in this scary way: “I’m big and your small. I’m smart and your dumb”–clearly, this is intimidating, harmful, and not well-meaning.

Later in the day, in going over the events with my daughter, she half-jokingly says, “Well maybe the kid could’ve actually sold something, if they lowered the prices” 🙂

We both laughed knowing that neither the prices nor the products themselves can make up for the way people are treated–when they are torn down, rather than built up–the results are bad for business, but more important they are damaging to people.

We didn’t end up buying anything that day, but we both came away with a valuable life lesson about valuing human beings and encouraging and helping them to be more–not think of themselves as losers or failures–even a small boy knows this.

(Source Photo: here with attribution to Allen Ang, and these are not the people in the blog story.)

Feedback, Can’t Live Without It

Feedback

Whether you call it feedback or performance measurement, we all need information on how we are doing in order to keep doing better over time.

Wired (July 2011) reports that there are 4 basic stages to feedback:

1. Evidence–“behavior is measured, captured, and stored.”  
2. Relevance–information is conveyed in a way that is “emotionally resonant.”
3. Consequence–we are provided with the results of our (mis)deeds.
4. Action–individuals have the opportunity to”recalibrate a behavior, make a choice, and act.”
The new action (in step 4) is also subject to measurement and the the feedback loop begins again.
Feedback plays a critical role in helping us achieve our goals; according to psychologist Albert Bandura, if we can identify our goals and measure our progress to them, we greatly increase the likelihood that we will achieve them. 
Thus, feedback is the way that we continually are able to course correct in order hit our targets: if we veer too much to the right, we course correct left; if we veer too much to the left, we course correct right. 
Feedback loops “can help people change bad behavior…[and] can encourage good habits.
From obesity to smoking, carbon emissions to criminal behavior, and energy use to employee performance, if we get feedback as to where we are going wrong and what negative effects it is having on us, we have the opportunity to improve
And the way we generate improvement in people is not by trying to control them–since no one can really be controlled, they just rebel–instead we give them the feedback they need to gain self-control.
These days, feedback is not limited to having that heart-to-heart with somebody, but technology plays a critical role. 
From sensors and monitors that capture and store information, to business intelligence that makes it meaningful in terms of trends, patterns, and graphs, to alerting and notification systems that let you know when some sort of anomaly occurs, we rely on technology to help us control our often chaotic environments. 
While feedback can be scary and painful–no one wants to get a negative reaction, criticized, or even “punished”–in the end, we are better off knowing than not knowing, so we have the opportunity to evaluate the veracity and sincerity of the feedback and reflect on what to do next. 
There are many obstacles to self-improvement including disbelief, obstinance, arrogance, as well as pure unadulterated laziness. All these can get in the way of making necessary changes in our lives; however, feedback has a way of continuing to come back and hit you over the head in life until you pay attention and act accordingly.  
There is no escaping valid feedback.