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Annual performance reviews roll around once a year (obviously), but for many leaders it’s once a year too often. The mere thought of sitting down formally with an employee to critique their performance and discuss their progress in a constructive manner can strike fear into the heart of even the most seasoned and successful leader. Writing in the Harvard Business Review, James Heskett, went so far as to suggest that the task for employees and managers alike, is comparable to a root canal. At the core of this reluctance is a fundamental leadership failure; most leaders struggle to provide meaningful and regular feedback to their employees on an ongoing basis year-round. As a consequence of this troubling fact, annual performance reviews can often become the sole time each year when a manager sits down and constructively discusses performance, progress and career development with their people.
It is not uncommon for the prospect of an impending performance review to bring greater anxiety to a leader than the review recipient
Formal performance reviews should bring few surprises to both manager and employee. Surprises in as performance review are a sure sign that feedback throughout the period under review has been sparse, misaligned with performance targets or simply absent, period. As Helbig (2014) warns, employees are not mind-readers and if there is an absence of feedback throughout the year, anything raised in a formal review will be a surprise, whether good or otherwise. Likewise, if the performance ratings and supporting comments noted by an employee stray far from those of the reviewing manager it is another strong indicator of poor or little feedback throughout the preceding period.
It is not uncommon for the prospect of an impending performance review to bring greater anxiety to a leader than the review recipient. Again, this suggests that too little time has been spent providing solid feedback throughout the period under review. Likewise, anger or discomfort within the review itself indicates that matters are being brought to the attention of the employee for the first time and that prior feedback has been minimal, if existent at all.
So, what is the trick to making performance reviews less confrontational, stress free and a productive encounter for both manager and employee? Feedback. Regular, targeted and timely feedback goes a long way to aligning employee self-assessment with their manager’s assessment and lays the foundation for a productive and harmonious annual review. Sure, there will always be exceptions to this, but the guarantee is that a leader who gives year-round feedback gives themselves a fighting chance come annual performance review time.
This morning, along with millions of others around the globe, I read of the sudden passing of comedic genius and Oscar-winning actor Robin Williams. In a tragic irony, a man known for giving multiple generations the gift of laughter across decades of work in film, television and stand-up comedy reportedly succumbed to depression and is believed to have taken his own life at the age of 63.
Whilst mainstream media will run hot in coming days, speculating and reporting on every aspect of this sad event, it is not my desire to say much more specifically. Rather, I feel compelled to draw on this sad end to an incredible life as a means to highlight the underlying vulnerability of the human condition and the debilitating nature of depression which robs from so many of us.
In Australia alone it is estimated that more than 1 million people live with depression, whilst tragically suicide is the leading cause of death for Australians aged between 15 and 44. Statistically today alone, more than 5 Australians will have taken their own lives, while another 200 will have tried. Blunt and sobering facts, but sadly they are still facts.
Depression traverses every social divide. Depression does not discriminate on the basis of age, gender, wealth or success. Depression strikes those from all walks of life, not only robbing people of joy but bringing inescapable pain.
And what is the greatest hurdle to overcome in the battle against depression? Awareness. Awareness and a community conscience that says through both words and action that it is okay to reach out for help and it is right to ask someone if they are doing okay. The stigma associated with depression and indeed all forms of mental illness continues to be the greatest obstacle to us confronting and battling this insidious disease with a united resolve.
Vale Robin Williams and may the great many of us touched by your work on screen over the years seize this day to acknowledge the tragic disease of depression and never be afraid to reach out for help or help those who find it too difficult to ask.
If you, or anybody you know needs help, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 (Australia only)
Saturday night just gone I headed down the coast to catch a footy game with a mate, along with his son and mine. Now I’m one of those rare species who follows teams loosely, but I’m never too upset with the result either way; I just like watching the game and with great company and a good game of footy it turned out to be a great night.
Only one thing detracted from the night and it wasn’t the result; our team won. No, the sour note came from the lady directly behind me who was following the opposition. She was vocal from the outset, but so was everyone else. Not being a mad keen supporter either way, I always get a laugh from some of the comments and chants that get hurled onto the field by high-spirited supporters so it wasn’t their yelling that bothered me. Her yelling rapidly digressed, becoming more like whining. First she was into the opposition, then it was the umpires who copped her wrath and then she started accusing officials of pocketing kick-backs. It was everyone and everything at fault for her beloved team being beaten. Within a couple of quarters of football she went from vocal to downright irrational. She simply couldn’t see that her team wasn’t playing as well as their opposition and that was the sole reason they were losing.
Now, indulge me for a moment and let me talk about a simple prayer. Regardless of religious predisposition or atheism even, this prayer is possibly the most known set of spiritual words across the globe; the serenity prayer.
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
Whilst there is some debate about the origin of this simple prayer, the most commonly attributed author is Reinhold Niebuhr, an American theologian who was said to have first uttered the words to conclude a sermon in the early 1940’s. These twenty-five simple words, regardless of who crafted them, convey an elementary message; if there is something that bothers you, change it, if you cannot change it then accept it and be wise enough to know the difference between these two.
If you’re a parent like me you would have seen the blame game play out many times. Somethings broken and when mum or dad ask who did it, fingers shoot in all directions with the young ones pointing at anyone but themselves. Finally, the culprit is found and before the inevitable confession comes the excuses start rolling from their tongues with ease and speed. But how often do we see the same thing play out in the workplace? Something goes wrong and the fingers shoot in every direction as everyone shifts blame, makes denials and constructs excuses. It’s an organisational culture of blame taking hold, but it doesn’t have to be that way.
An organisational culture of blame, is retrospective, problem-focused and divisive, driving counter-productivity at best and toxicity at worst. Blaming, coupled with the closely associated behaviours of denial, cover-up and excuses, inevitably leads to staff disengagement, poor productivity and shackles an organisation to indecision and reduced creativity.
A pervasive organisational blame culture runs deeper than just some finger-pointing in a meeting and the symptoms are rarely hard to spot. In the affected organisation, meetings are littered with emotive and personal language and attacks, while decision-making itself stagnates as management and staff take conservative positions fearful of being at the wrong end of a pointed finger if something goes wrong. Fearing a wrong decision, risk-taking evaporates, while effort is shifted from creativity and delivery to conservatism and self-protectionism. Transparency and knowledge-sharing dries up as staff become fearful of someone knowing too much of what they do and uncovering an issue for which they will ultimately be blamed. Trust evaporates at all levels and when something does go wrong it’s a question of who rather than what and why? Policies and procedures are rapidly criticised and redrafted while process and system issues are largely ignored.
Message received is often not message sent: the potential for confusion is significant. In fact, getting your message across is a significant challenge through any channel. I’ve spent the week sharing ideas with a great group of people: we build a shared understanding around a lot of key areas, but i was still amazed when various of us had that moment when we ‘got it‘, when we saw through all the words and found the meaning.
It turns out that volume of words isn’t what drives meaning: it’s clarity and shared understanding. Indeed, confusion often hides behind volume.
Working on the clarity of our stories, on the simplicity of our language, on ensuring our stories resonate with the audience, all of this can help us communicate more effectively.
Communication is an expressive activity, a creative one. We choose how to share stories, using words, print, pictures…
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Sometimes thinking the worst brings us exactly that. The challenge is to enter every situation with our eyes and ears open and our mind free from assumption
There’s a tale older than I and recounted by many others that I have always enjoyed, not so much for the narrative itself but for message within. The story goes that a farmer is repairing a boundary fence when he breaks the handle of his trusty shovel.
“Not to worry,” thinks John the farmer. “I’ll borrow Mick’s from next door,” and off he sets on the ten-minute walk to his neighbour’s place with nothing to do but think along the way.
“Maybe he won’t let me borrow his shovel afterall all,” John begins thinking. “He’ll probably laugh at me for breaking mine.”
A little further down the road and John is thinking even more. “Perhaps he won’t lend me it ’cause he can be a bit funny like that.” The more he walks, the more he thinks, “He’s a miserable old bugga at times, he’ll probably say no.”
As he reaches and turns down Mick’s driveway, John’s thoughts are crawling with presumption, “He’s a cranky old bugga that Mick. He’ll tell me I can’t borrow the shovel and then laugh to himself as I walk all the way back home empty handed. Then I’ll have wasted all this time walking over here”
Finally, John reaches his neighbour’s door and convinced it has all been a twenty-minute round trip to futility he hurriedly raps on Mick’s door, more than a little agitated.
Mick finally opens the old farmhouse door, but can’t even get a word out before John blurts out, “Well you can shove the shovel you miserable old bugga, I don’t want it anyway!” Resentful and boiling with rage, John turns on his heel, stomps off the verandah and traipses off down the driveway a beaten man.