Fearless Performance Reviews
By Jeffrey and Linda Russell
McGraw-Hill Education, 2012
List price: $18
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Brenda called consultants Jeffrey and Linda Russell, worried about her upcoming performance review. She distrusted her boss and feared he would ambush her. Then the Russells heard from Tom, a manager requesting their help with his review of a “volatile” employee whom he found “intimidating.” Tom was Brenda’s manager.
Fear of performance reviews—on both sides of the desk—is what the Russells set out to conquer in Fearless Performance Reviews.
What brings out this fear? The Russells show how reviews become “overly judgmental”—not just for the employee but also to the reviewing manager, who may hate judging others as much as employees hate being judged. The book examines how reviews make employees feel like they lack control over their work lives and supervisors feel like they lack control over the review itself.
These issues stem from what the Russells dub the my-way mindset. “Mindset matters because … each person’s mindset contributes to the quality of the connection,” they write. The my-way mindset undermines any real exchange of ideas because of beliefs such as “I’m right, you’re wrong” and “I am in charge, you’re not.” In this type of exchange, someone must win and someone must lose. While managers and employees would say they surely don’t think in those terms, this mindset is so ingrained that people don’t realize they have it—and that it helps them feel in control.
My-way behaviors include holding onto information and never admitting that the other person might have a valid point, because such an admission would mean the other person “wins.” My-way managers won’t explain themselves, even if doing so would help employees better understand what’s expected of them. My-way employees and managers focus on their own goals to the exclusion of all else. Managers might sugarcoat negative messages because they don’t want employees to get overly emotional.
The bulk of the book shows readers the benefits of reviews that use true collaboration. A fearless review has no “undiscussables” hovering in the air to make participants evade, withhold or sugarcoat problems. Performance improvement—not self-defense or self-justification—becomes the focus. “All of these ideal performance review outcomes are available to each of us at any time,” the authors write, without any new processes or even a change to the employer’s review forms.
Ways to make this possible include the following:
- Changes to both parties’ mind-set. The collaborative mindset accepts that there is more than one right answer. Disagreements can be opportunities for learning rather than just occasions to defend yourself. It’s OK to empathize with your manager or your employee.
- New behaviors anyone can adopt. Once participants admit to and identify their assumptions, they can be more direct and honest, suspending judgment and sharing their reasoning with others. Both sides in reviews need to develop mutually accepted meanings for key concepts. What does the employee mean when she says she needs support? What does the boss mean when she says she wants engagement?
- A shift away from negative my-way behaviors to collaborative ones. The authors describe how the review process can change from relying too heavily on some performance measures (such as the number of times an employee performed a task) to giving weight to measures often ignored (such as the quality of the work). Another shift is moving from a focus on filling in review forms to a focus on discussions that produce actions.
Readers learn techniques for defining performance outcomes, developing goals together with employees, and lining up organizational support so that changes needed after a review, such as more training or better sharing of customer feedback, actually happen once the review is done.
The Russells offer a profile of what makes a star performer successful (including initiative, creativity, risk-taking and a supervisor who is also a coach) and what problems are barriers to successful performance (unclear expectations, lack of performance feedback, lack of real rewards or real consequences, lack of skills, and more).
Readers get steps for successful reviews, including details about creating a performance log, a critical incidents log and a performance portfolio with “tangible evidence” of the employee’s accomplishments.
The Talent Equation
By Matt Ferguson, Lorin Hitt and Prasanna Tambe
McGraw-Hill Education, 2014
List price: $28
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CareerBuilder CEO Matt Ferguson and his co-authors use their extensive study of employers and resumes to find links among education, market performance and employee tenure.
The Talent Equation opens with a discussion of why HR needs “big data,” the kind of large-scale human capital research on which the book is based. Predictive analytics can help employers make choices about locations, markets and competitive hiring practices. It can also help HR contribute at an executive level.
The book examines today’s labor market and the skills gap that employers and employees currently face. Topics include what the gap really means, the roles played in the gap by compensation and lack of training and education, and how employers can handle the “short-term effects of job vacancies for skilled positions.”
The writers delve into why people with less education struggle in today’s labor market and how earnings change by education level, college major, occupation and more. They look at education among managers, IT workers and manufacturing workers and conclude that “rising education attainment” generally benefits both careers and employers. But they also note that education isn’t the only measure of an employee’s value and ability, and they examine how job tenure affects market performance.
Employers can’t understand retention, turnover or career progression without understanding how tenure adds value in some positions but not necessarily in others, the book notes. Readers learn why average tenure is rising, why young professionals have lower tenure rates and what that means for employers, and the effect tenure has on an organization’s business success.
In particular, the studies find some unexpected connections between tenure and the value employees add in specific fields. For example, there is “no significant value-added effect” for keeping sales workers, manufacturing workers or management for more than five years. But in IT jobs and in customer service jobs, longer tenure creates higher value.
Recruitment and talent management issues include training and “reskilling,” continuous recruitment practices, and retention trends. A case study looks at how one employer’s effort to hire more veterans and reskill them could be a template for other employers trying to find and train workers—veterans or not.
The authors also raise a red flag: Training programs for most employers are either “a) non-existent or have been downsized … or b) primarily used to train workers only for basic on-the-job procedures.” Training in the United States does not mean “We hire people and teach them new skills”; instead, it means employers believe that the responsibility for skill-building belongs with would-be employees. But the authors hold that if companies aren’t finding employees with the right skill sets, the time has come for employers to start making hires and then “grooming” them as needed.
A section on job candidates advises employers on making the job hunt more attractive. Forty-eight percent of HR managers and 74 percent of hiring managers say they do not think their companies have a definable “employment brand”—despite years of “branding” as a chief topic in management books. Employers need to do better at giving candidates a strong brand and a good experience. The book shows how negative candidate experiences end up costing employers money and how employers can use five resources to communicate their brand effectively.
Other topics include the following:
- Using technology tools for recruiting, enabling “continuous recruitment” and matching jobs to candidates.
- Holding onto talent. The book explains why retention is HR’s top challenge, why employees say they leave and why some employees choose to stay.
- Using big data to identify skills shortages and their causes, and to determine how the HR department can become a “strategic consulting operation.”
By Dani Monroe
Palgrave Macmillan, 2013
List price: $30
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A hidden workforce lurks inside your organization—inside the very employees you think you know. These are your acceptable workers, the ones who get good assignments but not career-building ones. Some of them are above-average employees who have advanced well but seem to be stalled. All are employees whose managers figure that as long as things are going OK, there’s no need to get overexcited and start lighting a fire under anyone.
The hidden workforce tends to be underutilized, disengaged—and not using its talents. Author Dani Monroe wants employers to start tapping this source of potential to find great workers who are already on the payroll.
Monroe outlines why talent goes untapped. An employee might lack access, meaning he doesn’t get exposure to leaders other than his immediate boss and the boss doesn’t give meaningful feedback. Or her talents don’t fit with the organization so she’s seen as an outlier. Or he has skills that could have different applications from what he is currently doing. Or the employee just does not look like a traditional, mainstream leader in age, gender or race.
Monroe points out the unconscious biases that keep people from recognizing the talents of others and provides exercises for identifying and reducing those biases. Then she focuses on how to tap the potential of your workforce and get past unconscious bias: “Managers locked in a mental model of what a successful team member is or will be become committed to that model,” she says, and will decide on hiring, development and promotion based on that model.
Employers need to build a culture of “talent stewardship,” Monroe says, where leaders invest enough time to know the talent already in their organization. These leaders seek out untapped talent in different business lines, different locations and different functions and look several levels down and across their organizations. They take the risk of creating stretch assignments and ensure that they offer nonmonetary rewards such as challenging work and development opportunities.
Employees who are reservoirs of untapped talent may fall into the hidden workforce because they aren’t good at, or haven’t uncovered, the soft skills vital to success. Those skills include interpersonal skills (building relationships), cultural competence (accepting different views as legitimate) and political savvy (reading others and the organization well and reacting as needed). Monroe urges leaders and managers to improve soft skills in team members who might be untapped talents.
Monroe shows how the characteristics of resourcefulness, resilience and resolve often are present in the hidden workforce but aren’t drawn out by their work.
Leaders and managers can tap into resourcefulness in employees by challenging them to take risks and possibly fail; showing them the long-term big picture so they see where they fit in the organization; ensuring that they have access to resources and especially people who can help and challenge them; and giving them learning experiences, including ones that aren’t necessarily related to their current assignments.
Monroe guides leaders on how to spot employees’ resilience skills and build those skills by gradually pushing performance goals to keep challenging employees. Building resolve in employees includes focusing on the process and not just the results—letting employees know that working their hardest and best demonstrates real resolve.
(Forget a Mentor) Find a Sponsor
By Sylvia Ann Hewlett
Harvard Business Review Press, 2013
List price: $20
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Mentors matter and you need them, but they are “not your ticket to the top,” author Sylvia Ann Hewlett tells readers in (Forget a Mentor) Find a Sponsor.
Mentors counsel, listen and offer advice altruistically—to help. But sponsors are influential people who further your career as an investment in their own careers, Hewlett explains. Sponsors invest in you while expecting a payoff eventually, and if you play your part, you get advancement out of the relationship. Hewlett’s book guides employees on how to find a sponsor and advance both your careers.
She also covers how women and minorities in particular can benefit from sponsorship—and why mentoring programs have not done enough to help those employees, while white men have benefited most from real sponsorship over the years.
Hewlett notes differences between sponsors and role models, mentors and other supporters. Sponsors are senior leaders with the ability to affect your pay raises, your assignments and your promotions. A sponsor believes in you and goes out on limb, taking risks on your behalf. She advocates for your next promotion and, importantly, she provides “air cover” for you to take risks. Sponsors also connect you to other senior leaders and promote your visibility.
The protégé has to “deliver high-octane support” for the sponsor. A protégé must have high performance and deep loyalty to the sponsor and the organization. Hewlett says protégés must cover their sponsor’s back, help build the sponsor’s team and “burnish the brand” of the sponsor in the organization.
- Figuring out what you really need and have to offer. Hewlett gives readers questions to ask themselves about their own dreams, drives, accomplishments and brand, and she advises working with a mentor at this stage to do self-assessment.
- Finding and connecting with a sponsor. Get tips on identifying possible sponsors, what makes a person a good bet as a sponsor, and how to approach that person to show you’re a good investment. Learn why a role model is not necessarily a good sponsor, and why your boss may not be one either. Line up a second sponsor, too, because “in this economy, your sponsor is vulnerable to churn” and might not be there when you need him most.
- Increasing your visibility. Hewlett’s tactics include leading an internal network (such as a women’s group or black executives’ group), leading a company philanthropic project, asking for mentorship or asking for introductions to senior leaders.
- Ensuring that your sponsor knows you are exceptional. Ask for help before you’re in trouble. Take on work outside your job description. Don’t wait to be asked to make things happen for your sponsor. A protégé must come through for the sponsor on performance and loyalty every time.
- Setting yourself apart. Make sure your bosses and your sponsor know your talents. (You speak Spanish? Volunteer to help out on the initiative to establish new locations in Mexico). Learn on your own. Help your sponsor by using your skills that he or she doesn’t have (like the employee who was an Internet whiz and helped a not-so-tech-savvy boss).
- Avoiding pitfalls. The appearance of a possible sexual relationship can undermine both parties’ careers. Hewlett provides tips for ensuring the protégé-sponsor relationship is clearly professional for all to see. Another pitfall for minority professionals is the problem of “downplaying their differences” yet being “made invisible by their conformity.” She adds that “would-be sponsors of color … hesitate or outright avoid allying themselves with minority up-and-comers” too often, while those minority up-and-comers often distrust potential sponsors to reward them fairly.
- Exhibiting “executive presence.” Hewlett describes how action (gravitas), communication and appearance contribute to a protégé’s success and how you can develop those attributes.
Compiled by Leigh Rivenbark, a freelance writer and editor in Vienna, Va.