Archive for February 2011

Follow Your Instincts When Deciding To Terminate A Poor Performer

February 28, 2011

Escalation of commitment is the tendency for people to continue to support previously unsuccessful endeavors. With all the talent decisions leaders make, it is inevitable that some poor decisions will be made. Of course, the logical thing to do in these instances is to change that decision or try to reverse it. However, sometimes leaders feel compelled not only to stick with their personal decision, but also to further invest in that decision because they have made a commitment; never is this more apparent than with a hiring decision gone bad.

If your instincts, observations, and development efforts to date clearly indicate you made a mistake, fight the emotion to invest further time and energy in a direct report that is not going to work out.  We all make mistakes, that’s how we learn.  The key is understanding the mistake, cutting your losses, and fixing it.

When you have a poor performing direct report and you know they need to be let go, put together a specific 30 to 90 day performance plan.  Make sure your direct report understands they will be asked to leave if the plan is not achieved.  Hold them accountable to the performance plan and holding yourself accountable to following through on the dismissal, learn from your mistake, and move on.  Escalating your commitment and trying to make an unwilling or incompetent direct report better just makes the termination harder when your finally come to terms with it.

Empower yourself to overcome the natural tendency to unnecessarily work through a poor hire, and your team will be more successful.

Leverage The Problem Solving Strengths Of Your Team Members

February 20, 2011

All problems are different and, therefore, all problems are not solved in the same manner.  The approach to solving the problem varies based on the type of problem.  Complex problems require a calculating, diligent approach.  While, urgent problems require quick, determined, and decisive approach.

Understanding the personal styles of your team members can make your problem solving challenges more effective.  If you have a complex problem requiring careful considerations involving multiple inputs, the less dominating team members are better suited for working on those problems.  These reflective, conservative types are best at breaking down the components of the complicated problem and working with others in a methodical, deliberate manner to get things done.

If you have a burning, critical problem requiring immediate action or attention, the more assertive, challenge-oriented team members are better suited for working on those problems.  These bold, take-charge types are best at acting quickly and driving through issues, vigorously getting things done.

Using an assessment tool can help leaders better understand their team member’s problem solving approaches allowing them to assign resources as the situation dictates.  Empower your team to leverage their problem solving approaches based on the type of problem, and you’ll experience more success.

Avoid The “Halo/Horn Effect” In Performance Evaluations

February 12, 2011

Cognition, the act or process of thinking, enables us to process vast amounts of information quickly. As we are consciously thinking about one specific thing, our brain is processing thousands of subconscious ideas. Unfortunately, our cognition is not perfect, and there are certain judgment errors that we are prone to making, known in the field of psychology as cognitive biases. They happen to everybody regardless of age, gender, education, intelligence, or other factors.  For leaders these errors often impact their leadership effectiveness.

One of the challenges leaders face is the Halo/Horn effect cognitive bias when conducting performance evaluations.  The Halo/Horn effect is the tendency for an direct report’s positive or negative trait to “spill over” to other areas the evaluator’s perceptions of them. This bias happens a lot in employee performance evaluations. For example, if a direct report has been late to work for three days; you may remember this and conclude that they are lazy and don’t care about their job. There are many possible reasons for this, perhaps their car broke down, their babysitter did not show up, or there has been bad weather. The problem is, because of one negative aspect, we may assume that the direct report is a poor worker and that may unfairly influence our overall evaluation of them.

Empower yourself to document all the behaviors of your direct reports for the whole performance evaluation period. Review those notes when preparing their performance evaluations and try not to let recent or singular events influence your evaluation.  You’ll then have more successful direct reports.

(source: Science & Nature – Top 10 Common Faults In Human Thought)

“First Who, Then What”

February 6, 2011

We have all known a leader who’s struggled trying to fill an open position because they wanted the perfect combination of hard skills and really weren’t persuaded by exceptional soft skills.  These leaders are holding out for a candidate’s work experience which includes a particular previous employer, or an unusual technical skill, or a certain project experience.

Surprisingly, when these same hiring managers are asked whether or not they would have been better off hiring a smart, energetic person to whom they could teach the hard skills, they answered “yes”  — especially when they’ve been waiting for those elusive hard skills for months.

To make matters worse, in almost every case in which a hiring manager was seduced by some particular hard skill for which they’ve hired, they fired for misaligned soft skills.  When was the last time you heard someone being fired for not having a hard skills they professed to have?  Yet, how often have you heard someone fired for poor work ethic, no initiative, poor people skills, or they just don’t fit?

So why are hiring managers still so hung up on searching for candidates with ideal hard skills when they know most (not all) critical hard skills can be learned?    One reason is these leaders aren’t sure how to screen for those soft skills.  Another reason may be the IBM syndrome: the leader stands a better chance of being criticized for taking a risk on an unknown than for going with someone who has a “proven” track record.  The flaw in that reasoning is we don’t know if the candidate’s perceived success is due to their own skill, others on their team, the environment, or just a perception created by this candidate.

When reviewing candidates, challenge your bias towards hard skills and ask yourself what can be learned by someone with good soft skills.  One of Jim Collins’ most important leadership principles is “first who, then what.”  Empower yourself to focus on the “who” and the successful “what” will come.