A Sheep in Wolf’s Clothing… there’s no bite in a leader’s evaluation

By Kevin D. Rossevaluating_leaders_wolf_sheeps_clothing

I’ve never seen an annual performance evaluation that was worth half the time it took to fill it out. That’s especially true when it comes to evaluating the leaders in our organizations. Have you ever wondered why we even do them?

When we don’t assess a leader’s leadership, we continue to promote weak leaders that are doing more harm to our people and organizations than good. The evaluation is like a sheep in wolf’s clothing: weak and pretending to be something it’s not.

Most companies have an evaluation system to justify the subjective decisions the boss is going to make in the first place. HR may not like that statement, but damned near everything about an evaluation is subjective. What we measure is subjective, how we measure it is subjective, and how we weight that measure is subjective. And then we pretend to make turn it into something objective by assigning a number to it.

Then we use it, not for developmental purposes, but to justify a salary and an end-of-year bonus. We kid ourselves into thinking it’s meaningful for the receiver when it’s anything but.

evaluating_leaders_Except for the money it represents.

I only had to suffer through 27 of those evaluations in my Air Force career (along with another dozen “training reports,” equally as bogus), and not one of them made a bit of difference in my progression up the leadership ladder. And none of them gave me a single developmental goal for the coming year, and none told the whole truth about what an annoying SOB I was (they used words like tenacious). Most just said I didn’t get the soles of my boots wet when I walked on water.

Okay, that last part was because I wrote so many of them myself.

We all get asked for our self-assessment in preparation for our annual feedback session, so we provide the inputs in a format that exactly fits the form the boss has to fill out. Seems like a no-brainer. I once got a boss at the Pentagon to sign off on a bottom line that said, “This guy’s so good I should be working for him.” His boss gave it serious consideration.

Why can’t we just use the evaluation for what it is and grade what’s important for leaders in the first place… leadership?

Sure, there are areas we want a leader to be successful in like financial success, goal achievement, innovation, internal and external processes, etc., but where and how does a leader’s leadership get evaluated so that developmental feedback can be part of that dreaded annual meeting? Stop for a minute and consider your own process to see if you can find a real leadership measurement in the results.

Do we just give leaders credit for the successes of their teams? Probably. That’s how the system works… at leastevaluating_leaders that’s how I’ve always seen it done. And regardless of the number scale we use, there are only two possible outcomes: meets expectations or doesn’t.

The system won’t get better until we as the leaders’ evaluators are more involved (and I don’t mean in a micromanagement sense) in learning how a leader’s day-to-day behavior and performance affect the team’s performance. And how, leaders of leaders, do we do that?

By talking to people, that’s how.

I’m not suggesting a complicated and time-consuming method for collecting subjective “data” about the leader. I’m suggesting that we have a few 15-minute conversations with some of the people being led. We’ve written about Stop-Start-Continue before, and that’s a good method, but any way we can discern how their leadership behaviors – trust, ethics, integrity, communication, decision-making, inspiring others, etc. – are shaping their team and its success is better than what we’re doing now.

If we want to help a leader develop, we have to give him or her meaningful feedback about their performance as a leader. Sound pretty basic, doesn’t it?

I propose a leadership evaluation form that has two parts: meets or doesn’t meet expectations and developmental feedback. Tell him or her what behaviors they’re doing well and what behaviors could use some improvement. (And maybe set some leadership developmental goals for the coming year?) That would certainly be more useful that the way we do it now.evaluating_leaders_evaluation_form

That idea will never make it past HR, but it’s how we should help leaders lead and, in turn, help our organizations succeed.

Feedback? I’d love to hear your ideas.

Because it’s up to you, leaders.

 

Leadership and Healthy Conflict

Leadership and Healthy Conflict

Healthy conflict: Good.  Unhealthy conflict: Bad.  There endeth the first lesson…

The key, of course, is knowing the difference between the two.

I frequently say that when reasonably intelligent, well-intentioned people disagree, the organization is better served. leadership_and_the_health_of_conflict_intelligence-scaled.jpg

By reasonably intelligent, I don’t mean an IQ number — just that the person communicating has enough mental snap to understand and discuss the issues at hand. And by well-intentioned, I’m simply referring to those without some boneheaded personal agenda.

The latter, as you’ve likely surmised, is the tough one.

So, we’re working on a complex project with a client. Opinions are buzzing around like mosquitoes during an August Houston evening. We’re cussing, discussing, arguing, persuading, etc. Generally a good time being had by all… and then it happens:

Unhealthy conflict rears its ugly head.

How do we know? Simple… conflict bridges from healthy to unhealthy when those involved in a difference are no longer willing or able to consider others’ views and alternatives, and thereby set up a win-lose confrontation. Enter emotion, stage right.

No longer willing or able to consider others’ views and alternatives. Even if baked in truth, simmered in fact, and stewed in verifiable data. In other words, we’ve begun using emotions alone to decide the fate of the discussion. Logic has left the building…

You know how you can tell? You hear phrases like, “Yea, well, I just don’t agree…” or “I hear you, I just believe you’re wrong (or whatever emotional outcome is desired).” These, and phrases/words like them, mean we’ve entered the unhealthy zone of conflict, and we’ve got to find some ways to get back to healthy conflict. For some methods and tools, see my BrazenLeader blog post, same subject.

leadership_and_the_health_of_conflict-scaled.jpgSo, who cares? Why bother? What does it matter? Why should we spend one whit of effort on addressing unhealthy conflict? Well, besides the fact I just successfully used “whit” in a sentence (my grandmother would be proud), there are three significant reasons we should be concerned about leadership and healthy conflict in an organization:

  1. Most conflict is born of miscommunications. That’s right — the vast majority of conflict we see and enjoy are driven by communications missteps, rather than an argument of facts.

That’s why the “Logic has left the building…” comment above. Factual arguments seldom lead to unhealthy conflict. Disagreements, yes. Arguments, maybe. Near-violent discussions, sometimes. But unhealthy conflict? Rarely, since the very basis of unhealthy conflict is an emotional attachment to a position. That attachment was probably solidified when someone challenged the position with opinion, not fact.

  1. Understanding needs versus wants is the key to resolution. Most of the time, conflicts occur when we focus on our wants instead of our actual needs. If both parties (or however many are involved) would instead determine and focus on their needs, we could make immediate headway.

“I need all deliveries to be on time” is likely a want. “It’s important that deliveries be made with enough time for me to inventory and prepare the parts for installation — about 45 minutes — prior to forwarding to manufacturing” is an underlying need that drives more timely deliveries. “On time” is a performance standard that doesn’t necessarily represent a factual need — a want. “In time to inventory…” is a need based on demonstrable fact. See the difference?

  1. Unresolved conflicts degrade trust. Always.

Sometimes we “get over” a conflict, meaning that we force civility, feign acceptance, and disguise acquiescence as agreement. But the conflict, yet unresolved, still exists. And as long as it exists between people, the level of trust will decline. Since trust is the very currency of leadership, and since enhanced levels of trust allow and encourage discretionary effort, these unresolved conflicts are damaging — to both the leader involved as well as the organization as whole. leadership_and_the_health_of_conflict2-scaled.jpg

When you see a conflict go to the dark side — unhealthy conflict — recognize it for what it is, and address as soon as humanly possible.

You’ll be better for it, as will others.

Exemplary efforts are what we do, as leaders. Critical here when dealing with unhealthy conflict.

 

 

Evaluating Leaders

I’ve never seen an annual performance evaluation that was worth half the time it took to fill it out. This is especially true when it comes to evaluating leaders in our organizations.

Have you ever wondered why we even do them?

When we aren’t evaluating leaders leadership, we continue to promote weak leaders that are doing more harm to our people and organizations than good. The evaluation is like a sheep in wolf’s clothing: weak and pretending to be something it’s not.evaluating_leaders_wolf_sheeps_clothing

Most companies have an evaluation system to justify the subjective decisions the boss is going to make in the first place. HR may not like that statement, but damned near everything about an evaluation is subjective. What we measure is subjective, how we measure it is subjective, and how we weight that measure is subjective. And then we pretend to make turn it into something objective by assigning a number to it.

Then we use it, not for developmental purposes, but to justify a salary and an end-of-year bonus. We kid ourselves into thinking it’s meaningful for the receiver when it’s anything but.

Except for the money it represents.

evaluating_leaders_I only had to suffer through 27 of those evaluations in my Air Force career (along with another dozen “training reports,” equally as bogus), and not one of them made a bit of difference in my progression up the leadership ladder. And none of them gave me a single developmental goal for the coming year, and none told the whole truth about what an annoying SOB I was (they used words like tenacious). Most just said I didn’t get the soles of my boots wet when I walked on water.

Okay, that last part was because I wrote so many of them myself.

We all get asked for our self-assessment in preparation for our annual feedback session, so we provide the inputs in a format that exactly fits the form the boss has to fill out. Seems like a no-brainer. I once got a boss at the Pentagon to sign off on a bottom line that said, “This guy’s so good I should be working for him.” His boss gave it serious consideration.

Why can’t we just use the evaluation for what it is and grade what’s important for leaders in the first place… leadership?

Sure, there are areas we want a leader to be successful in like financial success, goal achievement, innovation, internal and external processes, etc., but where and how does a leader’s leadership get evaluated so that developmental feedback can be part of that dreaded annual meeting? Stop for a minute and consider your own process to see if you can find a real leadership measurement in the results.

evaluating_leaders

Do we just give leaders credit for the successes of their teams? Probably. That’s how the system works… at least that’s how I’ve always seen it done. And regardless of the number scale we use, there are only two possible outcomes: meets expectations or doesn’t.

The system won’t get better until we as the leaders’ evaluators are more involved (and I don’t mean in a micromanagement sense) in learning how a leader’s day-to-day behavior and performance affect the team’s performance. And how, leaders of leaders, do we do that?

By talking to people, that’s how.

I’m not suggesting a complicated and time-consuming method for collecting subjective “data” about the leader. I’m suggesting that we have a few 15-minute conversations with some of the people being led. We’ve written about Stop-Start-Continue before, and that’s a good method, but any way we can discern how their leadership behaviors – trust, ethics, integrity, communication, decision-making, inspiring others, etc. – are shaping their team and its success is better than what we’re doing now.

If we want to help a leader develop, we have to give him or her meaningful feedback about their performance as a leader. Sound pretty basic, doesn’t it?

I propose evaluating our leaders in a simple form that has two parts: meets or doesn’t meet expectations and developmental feedback. Tell him or her what behaviors they’re doing well and what behaviors could use some improvement. (And maybe set some leadership developmental goals for the coming year?) That would certainly be more useful that the way we do it now. evaluating_leaders_evaluation_form

That idea will never make it past HR, but it’s how we should help leaders lead and, in turn, help our organizations succeed.

Feedback? I’d love to hear your ideas.

Because it’s up to you, leaders.

The Emperor Has No Clothes! …except for his socks

Disclaimer: The identities of the characters in the story below have been changed to protect the innocent from possible repercussions by her moronic boss(es).

The military has an acronym for almost everything… and for the rest, it has initialisms. Today’s acronym is BLUF (pronounced bluff) – Bottom Line Up Front. Often in military briefings, you give the boss the BLUF, so they don’t have to pay attention to the rest of what you say.

Today’s BLUF is: You don’t have to spend money to piss people off; weak leaders can do it for free.

When I was talking to someone I really care about (she’s the innocent I mentioned earlier), she told me about a token of appreciation she’d received at work that day. I asked her if everyone received the same token and if it made her feel appreciated.

Her answer was not surprising: Yes and no, respectively.

The token was, incredibly, a pair of socks with the company logo on them. Maybe not incredible to you, but I was certainly incredulous. I couldn’t help but share my initial impression of the token:

Who the hell thought this was a good idea?

I guess as God rains on the good and evil alike, so the boss gave socks to the high performers and the slackers alike. Heavy sigh.

Of the people I shared my initial impression with, only my friends in Corporate America agreed with me. Those in local government positions scolded me and told me it was the thought that counted, while those in federal government service made it clear they didn’t have the budget for tokens of appreciation. Why was I not surprised (again)?

Somewhere there was a chain of events that led enough people in this organization to convince the Emperor he would look splendid in a company logo-emblazoned pair of socks. And then they began to believe that after 18 months of working in the h—–care industry during a global pandemic, their employees deserved a pair of socks and would appreciate them because the Emperor already had a pair.

I’m a little disappointed for her that not once during the previous 18 months had anyone up the food chain expressed their appreciation to that someone I really care about for working in an environment with a high risk of exposure to COVID-19 – not even providing them with company logo N-95 masks – but they thought giving them a pair of socks was a good idea.

I must be missing something. Now of all times, leaders need to make their employees know they’re appreciated for the effort they’ve made over the last year and a half to keep the company up and running successfully. What follows are some nuggets I thought were intuitive but clearly aren’t to everyone.

  • If we want to know what makes our teams feel appreciated, we have to have heart-to-heart conversations with them and actively listen to discern the answer… or we can ask them directly. There are ways to do both more effectively than guess, and it takes time, trust and approachability or we’ll never get the answer.
  • If we give the same token of appreciation to everyone, it’s not a token of appreciation, unless we’re just thankful that people still choose to work for us. It’s one thing to give everyone the same kind of shirt with a logo to wear at work or elsewhere (that’s called marketing and brand recognition), but socks? Give me a break.
  • If we have money to spend on worthless trinkets for everyone, we have money to give something meaningful to a few (hopefully our top performers).
  • Just because our boss (that’s the moron I mentioned earlier) thinks it’s a good idea – or even just an okay idea – we don’t have to hold our tongues and embolden them to convince the Emperor he/she will look good in their new socks.

Bottom line: You don’t have to spend money to piss people off. I suspect someone I really care about will put the socks in the company logo backpack they gave her a couple of years ago, and I’ll never see them again.

Do you know what makes your team feel appreciated?

It’s up to you, leaders.

So, What’s Next? — Navigating the NOW normal

Being normal is an overrated concept. No one actually fits the definition, since we all have our own, so no one is really normal. We’re all just somewhere on the continuum of abnormality. Some of you are much higher on the spectrum than others (you know who you are), but we’re all in this crazy, non-normal environment together.

And that was even true before the apocalypse. Look at us now… normal is such a distant memory, I’m not sure we’d know it if we could touch it. And since we can’t, there’s no since in lamenting its loss.

Since, even when things were normal… they actually weren’t. Follow me here, I promise I’m going somewhere.

There’s lots of talk these days about “returning to normal,” and “getting back to normal,” and “I can’t wait until it’s normal again.”

Therein lies the problem – it was never normal to begin with.

By that, I mean that if normal is (according to Webster) an adjective, then:

nor·mal | \ ˈnȯr-məl  \  Conforming to a type, standard, or regular pattern:

characterized by that which is considered usual, typical, or routine; “normal

working hours” “under normal circumstances” “It was just a normal, average

day.” “He had a normal childhood.”

“Conforming to a type, standard, or regular pattern.” Actually, we’ve never had much of that, if you really think about it. The organizations we serve, well, they’re always trying to grow and improve – to get better. All of that requires change, which by definition, doesn’t fit the description of “normal.”

According to that definition above:

  • Change isn’t normal.
  • Growth isn’t normal.
  • Our families aren’t normal (Welcome to the dysfunctional zone).
  • Our hobbies aren’t normal. (Ever hit the exact same golf shot twice? On purpose?)

All in all, “normal” is something of a myth; a bill of goods we’ve bought into so we can complain when things start changing and we have little control over the change.

Ahh, now it’s starting to make sense. We’re ok with change that we can easily predict and/or control – that seems normal to us. We’re ok with change that provides us a benefit, even if we didn’t see it coming – that seems normal also.

What we don’t like, and what we view as total out of the normal, is change that we neither control nor benefit from, especially when it’s taking us to places unknown. That intense discomfort we feel inside, that absolute lack of control or expectation, has us wishing for the “good old days” when we could see that predictable, expected, beneficial change coming down the highway.

Well, I hate to be the bearer of the obvious, but this apocalypse took us so far from our comfort zone that we long for the days of old – the days of comfort – not really the days of “normal.”

So, when we find ourselves pining away for “back to normal,” realize what we’re really asking for: constant, never-ending change that we either can control, reasonably expect, or personally benefit from. You know, the stuff we used to have.

This is significant for leadership. From our perspective, things were normal before March 2020. Lots of changes – some good, some bad; some expected, some “what the hell…!?” But it was our normal. Then.

The apocalypse hit – now we had new normal. Masks, physical distancing, hospitalizations, elbow-bumps, vaccines, handwashing (does it bother anyone but me that handwashing was a new thing for so many?). These things became our regular pattern; things that were considered usual, typical, or routine. You know… normal.

Today, and going forward, we have normal again. It’s the Now Normal. Different from the pre-Covid normal, which wasn’t really; different from the pandemic operations normal, which wasn’t really. We have our Now Normal, which isn’t all that normal. But it’s a more comfortable set of changes… a more expected routine or set of activities.

And we seem to be pleased it’s coming our way, though I’d caution that all normal, including this Now Normal, have their share of “oh shit” experiences.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you…

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