Friday, November 26, 2010

Help Them Understand

So, you’re trying to present a proposal and a lot is riding on getting everyone on board. You think long and hard about what you want to say. That is probably your first mistake. The focus of your presentation should not be what you want to say but what you want your audience to hear.

Whether placing an order at the drive-thru, training a new employee or writing a quick memo about a change in procedure, it is all about getting the right message understood. Say it so the listeners understand it. Sometimes the message is important enough, practice and pre-written speeches are common. This is so the right context and words provide the best chance of success.

Looking at the bookstore or a quick search on the internet will reveal hundreds of books and articles describing the importance of the right words and methods. They teach how to achieve this goal. Common to most of these resources: Be concise, precise, and specific in choosing your words, regardless of whether you write them or speak them.

A few weeks ago, I was asked to present the eulogy at a funeral. Most of what I knew about the deceased was from a very narrow perspective. I knew one aspect of the man very well and could have focused the comments on that. However, the audience was expecting more than that. Tailoring my remarks to the needs of the audience was key. This is true for every situation.

Proper communication recognizes the importance of knowing your audience. Describing the new cutting edge technology to the finance department requires a different set of objectives than when you’re presenting the same equipment to the sales force. The information is completely different when the operators need to be trained. The more the message is tailored to the audience the better the point will come across.

Although the message sent is important, the message received is far more important. If you understand your audience, you can consider how they will interpret and filter what you say.

We all know to avoid using “big words” when talking to five-year-olds. They simply do not understand what we’re trying to say unless we use terminology they grasp. This same concept is true in the business world. We want to keep our vocabulary on the same level as the listener. Do not explain technology concepts to accountants using technical terms. Do not use a financial analogy to demonstrate a point to the creative department. Do not send a memo to your sales force explaining the importance of “keeping the time interval between customer-interface opportunities to a minimum.”

The best way to establish proper communication with anyone is to recognize who they are and how they process information, tailoring the message to them – focus on the receiver more than on the sender.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Managing to Manage

A few days ago I was talking with some of my cousins. One of the blessings of funerals is the family reunion. It would be nice if the family was to get together for something other than weddings and funerals but we seem to have become slaves to our work schedules. In any case, numbered among the participants of this conversation were a CEO, two CFO’s and a couple division presidents. The only thing our careers really have in common, though, is that we’re all managers. For a brief moment the conversation turned to business naturally progressing from a short discussion on the economy and the various ways we are all coping with these difficult times. The economy has had a way of forcing some changes at each of the firms represented by the different family members.

Recently, the first thing my cousin did when he promoted an accountant to Accounting Manager was to take away his calculator. It was his way of signally that as a manager he was not to be accounting anymore; his job was to manage. If a manager spends his time doing his subordinates’ work, he isn’t spending enough time planning, organizing, directing, and controlling. The conversation moved on to other family-centric subjects; however, the seed was planted.

Does a manager have to know how to do the all work he is managing? I think a general disconnect between what people understand of the roles between lead employees, supervisors and managers and effective use of these positions interferes with productivity and cost effectiveness of the organization

What is a manager and what does he do? There is both an art and a science to management. The art is making employees more effective than they would be without the manager. The science is in what it is you do to accomplish that. Stemming from this science of management are the four basic pillars of management, which are Planning, Organizing, Directing, and Monitoring.

If a group of employees can produce eight units of product x a day without a manager and production does not change after the manager enters the picture, what good is the manager? If productivity increases to 11 units a day, the manager has added value. The value of management is making the group more effective.


I was once told by one of my supervisors that a manager should spend 60% of his time planning. I don’t know if that is entirely true. What is true is that management starts with planning. Good management requires good planning. Proactive planning makes everything more efficient and helps avoid pitfalls that might negatively affect the business.

Without a plan, success will be hard fought, hardly attainable. In fact, achieving a goal without planning will be by luck or chance and can hardly be repeated. It is by establishing goals and planning - deciding the best course, correctly utilizing employee’s strengths and those of other resources - that success is recognized. A good plan recognizes many possible scenarios and provides alternatives. Work out the best possible scenario and plan for it but planning for the alternatives allows for quicker, less painful adjustments. Always remember one of the most overlooked and underused planning tool may also be your best – the people doing the work. Ask those who do the work for input.


Once you’ve completed the plan, it’s time to make it happen. Get everything ready so the group will have everything they need. Prepare the group. Prepare those receiving your work. Make sure everyone involved has the proper training. Help them be motivated. In short, do the legwork, making sure everything needed to execute the plan is in place or will be by the time it is needed. Check back regularly to make sure everyone understands their role and everything is still in place.


Once everything is planned and organized the manager’s job is much like that of an orchestra director. Everyone understands their part of the plan or has the sheet music in front of them and are ready for the direction, when to go. Like the conductor directs each section, the manager provides the cue that helps groups know when they start their part.


You have to keep your eye on everything to make sure everything is going according to plan. When reality doesn’t match the plan, make the necessary adjustments. Just like the conductor, you’ve got to adjust the tempo, make changes.

No matter how well planned and organized, problems will happen. This is why the plan included contingencies. As the manager, you need to maintain awareness so you can make the necessary adjustments. The Iterative Process is the plan established for bringing everything back into sync after problems arrive. Adjust the plan, organize the resources, direct the adjusted plan and continue to monitor.


Early in my career, a mentor told me a manager leads people and manages product or processes. Leading people and managing the processes established to help ensure good productivity is not easy. When done successfully, it is very fulfilling. Management is a skill that needs to be honed continuously through study and practice. It can be very rewarding.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Use an Employee Self Evaluation

Self Evaluation Enhances the Performance Evaluation Process

So, it is time for the most intriguing aspect of employee development – the evaluation. How can you encourage your employees to take a greater role in the evaluation and embrace some form of career planning? Whether you are using the traditional, annual performance appraisal or a more aggressive performance management process, an employee self evaluation should be an integral part.

What Does an Employee Self Evaluation Do

A self-evaluation provides an employee the opportunity to respond to a series of questions, helping to evaluate his or her performance during the evaluation period. The process sets the stage for open conversation between the employee and the supervisor during the performance appraisal meeting. It also helps the employee take the necessary time to introspectively review personal career goals, evaluate progress, and review areas for growth.

Why Evaluate Performance

The performance evaluation encourages communication with an employee about his or her performance. This is also an excellent opportunity to discuss the following with the employee:

  • Role related accomplishments,
  • Business goals for the quarter or evaluation period,
  • Goals for performance enhancement and improvement, and
  • The next steps for your personal and business development.

  • An Approach to Employee Self Evaluation

    Use questions to prepare for the performance review and evaluation meeting. This will help to ensure the employee does the following:

  • Spends time thoughtfully considering job performance since the previous performance evaluation.
  • Thinks about their work, career, and personal development progress since the last performance evaluation.
  • Thinks about work, career, and personal development goals the employee would like to achieve during this evaluation period.
  • Determines areas for improvement and growth
  • Prepares the for an interactive performance evaluation meeting – a conversation rather than judgement.

  • What Should a Self Evaluation Include

    The employee should review his or her job description to assess the following:

  • Identify any components of the job description that are no longer part of his or her job or that take additional time to accomplish.
  • Describe new responsibilities or additional challenges the employee feels has become a regular part of his or her job since the most recent performance evaluation – specifically identify additional decision making, responsibility, accountability or oversight of other employees’ work.
  • Identify what the employee likes most about his or her current position.
  • Identify the aspects of his or her job that he or she would most like to change or eliminate, giving reasons for why this is the case.

  • The employee should review his or her achievements. The following aspects of those achievements should be part of the review:

  • What achievements and contributions have been the most important.
  • What goals did the employee wish they had met but did not.
  • What interfered with meeting these goals.
  • What other major projects did the employee participate and contribute.
  • What work is the employee performing that is outside the scope of his or her current job description.

  • The Self Evaluation should also include goals the employee sets. The employee should include the following goal related information:

  • The job-related goals the employee would most like to accomplish in the next evaluation period.
  • How the employee’s supervisor can help him or her achieve those goals.
  • What additional support the organization should provide to accomplish the goals.

  • The employee’s self-evaluation should include an outline of professional development – what the employee plans for his or her future might include the following:

  • Professional career growth goals the employee hopes to achieve within three years.
  • Resources and support the employee wants from the organization to help meet the professional career growth goals.
  • Professional and personal goals the employee feels with help him or her improve or develop performance in his or her current job.
  • The additional support the organization can provide so the employee is able to accomplish these goals.

    What next?

    When the employee is finished with the self-evaluation, a copy of it should be sent to the supervisor and human resources prior to the performance evaluation meeting. The supervisor has an incredible tool to use for helping the employee develop into a better resource for the company. Including the insights the employee reveals as part of the performance review will give him or her a feeling of importance and worth. They have a stake in what is going on. The whole experience will be more meaningful.