Monday, March 28, 2022

Free Onboarding Workshop

This Wednesday, March 30th, at 11:00 Central Time, I will be leading a free onboarding workshop online. 

The workshop is hosted by ELGL, a name you might recognize from my guest appearances on their GovLove podcast. The event will be recorded and available to people who register for a few weeks, and it will be available permanently for ELGL members. 

The workshop is free of charge thanks to the generous support of Whispir, a multi-channel automated communication workflow solution.

I hope to see some readers at the workshop!

Monday, March 21, 2022

Feedback: When Employees Overcorrect

Actions to take: Prepare for the fact that employees will take your feedback too far in the other direction from time to time. When it happens, simply give them new feedback about the new issue it is creating. advocates for casual, frequent performance feedback using the following formula: 1) ask if you can provide feedback; 2) provide feedback using the format "when you do X, it has Y impact"; 3) finish with a question asking them to change or an affirmation that they should keep it up. Feedback is short, simple, and can be about any work behavior. All posts about feedback assume this formula and strategy.

Let's say you've got an employee who never contributes during staff meetings. Totally silent. You know they have opinions. You've seen them express opinions and have ideas outside the meeting. You give them some feedback: "Hey Ben, when you don't share your thoughts during staff meetings, a couple things happen. We don't get to have as robust a conversation. Communication can drag out because you save your thoughts to share another day, which slows down decision making. And to be honest, it makes you seem a little disengaged from the team. Can you work on it?" 

Oh boy do they work on it. Next team meeting, your employee shares their thoughts. And shares. And shares. Maybe they are making a passive aggressive point at you. Maybe they're terrified of getting the same feedback again, so they go all out. Maybe they just think this is what you meant. Whatever the case, your employee has taken over the meeting. The pendulum got thrown in the other direction, and you've got a new problem on your hands. What do you do? 

The answer is obvious. When an employee overcorrects after receiving feedback, you simply give them more feedback. Bosses are uncomfortable with this answer for two reasons.

The first reason they probably wouldn't like to admit: the boss is embarrassed. "I told my employee to do this, and they did it, and now I have to tell them to do the opposite? I'll look stupid." I understand this feeling. We all get this feeling sometimes. The solution is to accept that communication isn't perfect and move on. You can play the hindsight game all you want, thinking through how you should have given the feedback this way or that way or had a longer conversation about what the employee should or shouldn't do, etc. Or you can just acknowledge that most messages don't make it from one brain to another perfectly on the first try. 

The other reason bosses don't like to give feedback after an overcorrection is that they're worried about how the employee will react. Maybe the employee will react badly. You give them feedback about how they need to make room for others' thoughts, and they get frustrated. "Last week, you told me to speak up more. I did! Now you're telling me I spoke up too much. Make up your mind!"

Be prepared for the possibility that an employee will respond to you in this way. Help them understand the situation with the analogy of the bowling ball. Imagine a bowling ball rolling down its lane. The lane is one of those starter lanes with bumpers blocking the gutters on either side. The bowling ball is rolling down, but it is off course. It hits the left bumper. The left bumper sends it back the other way as it goes down the lane. After the bowling ball crashes into the right bumper, it looks at the left bumper in frustration. The ball says, "It's your job to help me get to the end of the lane, but instead you sent me careening into the right bumper!" The left bumper responds, "It is my job to make sure you don't end up in the gutter. It is your job to get to the end of the lane." 

The left bumper is the feedback that the employee needs to share their thoughts more. The right bumper is the feedback that the employee needs to leave room for others' thoughts. The end of the lane is the sweet spot of effective behavior. When a bowling ball hits one bumper hard, we're not surprised if it ends up hitting the other bumper on its way down. It's just physics. When an employee gets struck with feedback, we should not be surprised if they go all out trying to correct it. It's just human nature. 

Monday, March 14, 2022

Managerial Delusions: One-on-Ones are Micromanaging

Most managers don't manage. 

The concept of the manager being actively involved in the employees' work is foreign to most people. Some will be so baffled by the idea of a weekly one-on-one that you can see it on their face. Upon suggesting that managers should meet with their staff every single week, I've received looks that plainly say, "You can't be serious." 

I get it. My younger self would have been among these skeptics. For most of my work life, I only had two kinds of conversation with my boss: "Hi, how's it going" at the beginning of my shift, or "You messed up and we need to talk about it." That's normal. That's expected. Proposing that a boss should do more than that is a little creepy, a little tone deaf. 

Here's an analogy. People who come from families where you never talk about your feelings cannot imagine the point of doing it on a regular basis. Even more, they find themselves feeling superior to families that do routinely check in with each other. "Our love is understood. It is so strong that we don't need to constantly remind each other of it. If you need to talk about your feelings all the time, it must be because you are weak." 

"The job is understood. My people are so on top of their work that I don't need to constantly check in on them. If you need to touch base with your employees every week, it must be because you are a weak manager." 

This is a delusion, and a very powerful one. It has a certain undeniable logic. But it is the logic of bravado, not the logic of results. Every study of effective management bears out the same result: more communication equates to more effective teams. The origin for this delusion, like so many managerial delusions, comes from our own history of having bad bosses. If you see your boss as a roadblock to getting your work done, it is impossible to imagine a world where weekly one-on-ones are useful. You can only feel horror and dread at the idea of walking your boss through your current work and asking advice. With that kind of boss, asking for advice is about as helpful as trying to write a report without using the letter "e." It can be done, but why add the complication?

We can't imagine the point of these meetings as the employee, so we don't even consider doing them when we are the boss.

There are some lucky few of us, however, who have had a different kind of boss. We had a boss who was an asset to getting our work done. Our conversations with that boss were collaborative rather than authoritarian. Every time we came to them with questions about our work, the boss helped us develop our plan. When we came to them with new ideas, they explored ways to make it work rather than immediately shutting them down. 

When you can see your boss as someone who assists your work rather than blocks your work, it becomes very easy to see the value of one-on-one meetings. The meeting is just a way to build all of these helpful, beneficial conversations into the routine of the work week. When the boss "checks in on your work," they aren't checking to see if you screwed up. They're checking to see how they can help. When they need to give you negative feedback, they do it matter-of-factly without judging you personally. When they ask how things are going, there is no hidden agenda. 

We could go on. It boils down to this. Yes, if your current horrible boss added one-on-one meetings without changing anything else about their management, it would be worse than your boss doing nothing at all. You won't break free of the delusion that one-on-ones are micromanagement until you can imagine a world where the boss isn't out to get you.

Monday, March 7, 2022

Week Off

Better-Boss is taking the week off. No particular reason aside from modeling a healthy work-life balance. You don't need a reason to take a week off.

We'll be back with a new entry next week.

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