Stop Evaluating People and Start Holding Them Accountable

In recent months, smart companies are finally seeing the futility of the old, outdated rule-based, bureaucratic “evaluation systems” of performance management. Many organizations I work with are abolishing their “rank and yank” systems that assign employees a performance score relative to their peers, while punishing or firing those with low grades. Other organizations are wisely rethinking their practices. Whether you agree or disagree with UCLA researcher Samuel Culbert’s assessment that performance reviews are “a curse on corporate America,” it’s nonetheless clear that performance reviews and evaluations are finally losing their appeal.

Why Performance Management Fails

First, the world has changed. Today’s employees want open communication and collaboration with their peers and with their bosses. They want partnerships, not parents. Today’s employees are also far more apt to want to know more immediately how they are doing and if they are meeting expectations and heading in the right direction. The world isn’t on an annual cycle any more for anything.

Second, being evaluated is demeaning. It’s based on an outdated parental, parent/child model of supervision that is founded on the belief that because a person is given a title they have authority over people. What right does anyone have to evaluate another person? No wonder performance reviews breed all kinds of unnecessary fear, resentment, and resistance. Leadership today is about service, not submission, supervision, and self-centeredness.

Third, if organizations want to develop highly engaged, contributing performers, managers must be equipped to coach and empower them. Today’s workers don’t see their managers as experts in specific subject areas the way their predecessors did. After all, the information they think they need is readily available to them online. Instead, they look to their managers for coaching and mentorship and find purpose through learning, contributing, and growing on the job.

The truth is that employees don’t need annual performance reviews to know how they stack up against their peers. Companies need to stop merely managing performance and start actually developing it.

The Alternative: Accountability Agreements

Instead of evaluating people, start holding them accountable. Here’s how:

Step 1. Build trust. Accountability without trust is compliance. Make the connection. Be trustworthy. Keep your promises. Be accountable. Genuinely invest in people lives. Be interested in what matters to them, what motivates them, and how you can support them to grow. People need to feel safe so they can be honest without fear of punishment. The key is not just walking around; it is opening up, paying attention, and being in touch. People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.

Step 2. Engage. Accountability without passion is drudgery. Do all you can to help and coach your employees to find their unique abilities, passion, and goals and how work fits into the context of their life. Be sure you have done everything you can to help them find a fit. Fit people; don’t fix people. Stay away from evaluating people and focus on how to support each other to grow and achieve clearly defined success.

Step 3. Clarify Expectations. Ambiguity breeds mediocrity. People need to be clear about what is expected and how success is defined. Clarify operational (competency) expectations, as well as describing in behavioral terms the kind attitude that is required and what results are promised. Before you make an agreement, be sure the willingness, the resources, and the capabilities are in place.

Step 4. Clarify Agreements. A request is not an agreement. If you want to hold someone accountable, you must get their full 100% agreement. If you don’t get an agreement to a required request, then go to Step 6.

Step 5. Clarify Support Requirements. To be committed and engaged, people need to feel that they can talk openly about the support they require to achieve their accountabilities. They need to feel that you are committed to do all you can to help them find the resources and capabilities to do their job and grow in the process. What support is needed? Your employee’s negotiated support requirements will be your accountability to them. The support requirements of your employees will be their accountabilities to you.

Step 6. Clarify Consequences. With no consequences there will be no accountabilities. Always start with positive consequences (motivators). Motivators are the internal or external results of delivering on your accountabilities. Motivators are meant to inspire you to achieve your accountabilities. If these don’t get the job done, then go to negative consequences.

Step 7. Follow up. Follow up means a clear understanding of a plan for follow-through, including how often you need to meet and with whom to ensure that you hold yourself and each other accountable for honoring the promises you have made to each other.

Is Your Boss A Bully? Or Just A Poor Communicator?

In recent months the topic of bullying has surfaced in my leadership development programs. Although I haven’t thoroughly researched the topic, my observation is that there is an increase in abusive and bullying behavior in the workplace. Perhaps it is related to the economy, increased stress at work, or maybe people are getting more courageous, bringing it to the forefront and are no longer willing to be abused. Even if you are not experiencing bullying, I hope the following will help you to communicate in any of your relationships.

A coaching client shared a recent experience with her boss that went something like this:
“My boss asked me to come to her office. As soon as I sat down she laid into me about how unproductive I was, how my performance had slipped drastically in the past six months, and how I needed to step up my performance or in my next review she would start to document my work with ratings that would put my future career in jeopardy.”
While this behavior is obviously indicative of a controlling, bullying person, how do you determine if this is a bully or a boss that doesn’t handle stress well and is a bad communicator?
Following is a process that I suggest you can use to find out.
Step 1. Don’t communicate when you are in a high emotional state. As I learned from my colleague and friend, Valerie Cade, an expert in workplace bullying, “to be honorable, you have to meet dishonor with honor.” Getting angry or defensive in response to destructive communication is only throwing fuel on an already damaging fire. If you are hurt, angry, or in any way upset by this kind of feedback (and who wouldn’t be), take a few more moments to listen, then give yourself permission to say something like, “Thank you for the feedback. I want to get to the bottom of this, and in order to do so I need to step away and get some perspective. Let’s come back when we can problem solve this rationally and strategically.” Then politely excuse yourself.
Step 2. Get support from a confidant. Allies are trusted friends, colleagues, or coaches who provide perspective, wisdom, encouragement, support, and honesty. It is vital, in the work of leadership, to know we aren’t alone. The most important kind of allies are confidants: people in your life who create a safe space to be who you are, who will listen to your truth and will, in turn, tell you the truth and help hold you accountable. Confidants ask questions like, “What’s going on? What can be learned from the mistakes and failures? Can you learn something for the future? What are your options?”
Step 3. Once you let go of the emotional reaction, schedule a time to meet with your boss to problem solve a solution that responds to their concerns. When you meet next, bring a notepad and ask only one question, “What do you need from me to ensure that I get my performance right, so that you will never again accuse me of these things. I want to understand exactly what I need to do to turn this around.” Then sit and listen and make notes. You don’t have to agree or disagree. The goal is to understand what your boss is asking for. If they need more time to clarify this on their own, then of course, give them the time to do so.
Step 4. If your boss starts to attack you, stop and ask them to clarify what behaviors they are expecting. Reiterate that you are here to solve the problem, to be a part of the solution moving forward, not the problem going backwards. In any of these steps, do not allow yourself to be put into a situation where you are being criticized, demeaned, or bullied. Take charge of the conversation to shift it from criticism to identification of solutions or requests.
Step 5. Once you hear your boss out and list the behaviors they are asking you to change, then negotiate an agreement between you. Conflict comes from unmet needs. You don’t resolve conflict with more conflict. You resolve conflict by getting to the root of the problem. The negotiation process may take a few meetings. Give yourself and your boss the time and the space to carefully clarify the expectations, agreements, and needs for support from each other.
Step 6. Assess Intent. This is the step where the rubber hits the road, where you assess if your boss is a bully. Bullies have no intent to work toward a solution. Bullies have themselves been bullied. They have no interest in problem solving, in helping you find a solution, and in helping you succeed. They only have interest in criticizing, controlling, and manipulating with the intent to bully. You can assess their intent by giving them (with an open mind and a spirit of generosity) a few chances to move toward a solution. Give them the benefit of the doubt in the first meeting. Maybe they are just stressed and are communicating poorly. But if after a few tries they still have no interest in moving toward a solution and helping you understand and change your actions, take the appropriate action toward taking care of yourself. If they are, in fact, a bully, here are a few options to consider:
a.    Get support from a trusted outsider – either an HR manager inside your organization or an outsider who specializes in bullying. Don’t ever attempt to deal with a bully who has positional authority over you on your own.
b.    Take full responsibility for your willingness to work on a solution, and be honest about what you are up against.
c.     You may have to consider leaving your organization. Be sure you have  covered all your bases, documented all of your interactions and done everything possible on your end to resolve the issue.
Please note that these are very general points. If you need support with any of these steps, contact our office for a confidential and complimentary half hour consultation, and we’ll help you find the resources and support that you need.

A RESPECTFUL WORKPLACE – Holding Each Other Accountable To Create One

Just about every organization will have respect, in one form or another, as one of their espoused values. We are told that a respectful workplace is one where all employees are treated fairly, diversity is acknowledged and valued, communication is open and civil, conflict is addressed early, and there is a culture of empowerment and cooperation. This all sounds wonderful, but there still remains far too much bullying, intimidation, and incivility in workplaces where people spend much of their lives.

So what is your process of ensuring that the value of respect is actually manifested in your culture? Respect is one of those platitudes that receive a great deal of attention, but are you ensuring that it is actually lived – both at work and in your family?

I have a passion for accountability and below is a suggested process for holding yourself and others accountable for living any value that you wish to instill in your organization. I’ll use respect as an example.

Step 1. State your intent. When I open a workshop I make it very clear that respect is a value that I hold to be vitally important in my work. I then state that if anyone perceives in any way that I am not respectful of any person within the group, they can call me out on it – either personally or publicly. As a positional leader, you have to lead the way to make your intention clear. You set the tone. You must model the way.

Step 2. Turn values into behaviors. Unless you can clearly measure a value, you can’t hope to hold anyone accountable for living it. And a way you make a value measurable is to describe in precise terms, the exact behaviors that demonstrate the value, along with the results that the behaviors should bring about. In my workshop example, I tell participants that, “all my behaviors need to leave you feeling 1) safe – free to be who you are, and 2) better about yourself. If you don’t feel safe, and if your confidence is not enhanced by our time together, then I am not living the value of respect. And if this is the case, I invite you to bring it to my attention at any time, either privately or publically. I promise no repercussions for having the courage to do so.”

Step 3. Turn behaviors into agreements. Accountability is the ability to be counted on. By making an agreement that you will act with respect in the behaviors you described, you create a condition for success. What you agree to must be perceived by everyone as acting in alignment with your espoused values (in this case, respect). This is why every agreement must be accompanied by a support requirement. The support you require is that people bring it to your attention if there is a perceived incongruence. To cultivate accountability, you have to make it safe for people to have conversations.

Step 4. Continually reinforce your intent. If you are serious about creating a respectful workplace, then shine a light on respectful actions whenever you have the opportunity. Catch people being respectful. Describe what you saw in their behavior that was respectful and how it aligns with what you are committed to build. Before you start your next meeting, take five minutes to hear a story about how someone on your team acted respectfully. You, as a leader, will need to model the way by wandering around and identifying and tracking respectful behavior. Lead by telling the story first, until others have the trust and confidence to start sharing what they observe.

Step 5. Follow through. There is a difference between value statements and values. With no consequences, there can be no accountability. With no accountability, all you have are empty value statements, but no real values. Recently I was helping an executive team write their value statements. Respect was on the top of the list. We then clarified exactly what respect would look like on this team, what we all agreed to do to act respectfully, and what the organization could expect – and require – in terms of respectful behaviors. We then started to talk about one of the senior sales people who out sells everyone but is the most disrespectful person in the organization. After considerable discussion, I explained, “You don’t have to fire him, but if he continues to behave disrespectfully, and you keep him on as a sales person because of his sales competence, I suggest you cross off the value of respect and replace it with profit, because that is what you are telling your organization you ultimately value.”

Everyone wants a respectful workplace. Using these five steps can get you there. It’s imperative to remember that a respectful culture begins with self-respect. Anyone who abuses others doesn’t value himself or herself, and people who respect themselves have no tolerance for disrespect.

Most importantly, leadership means making it safe to have the conversations while ensuring there are no repercussions. Being respectful isn’t about being perfect or pretending to be flawless. Instead, it’s about acknowledging mistakes and being willing to talk about perceived incongruences. Respect means supporting each other to grow and develop in an environment that fosters mutual learning. Remember, we all have bad days or moments when we need the occasional reminder to stay vigilant.

HAVE VALUES LOST THEIR VALUE? When Can Respectful Be Disrespectful?

If you have walked through the hallways of many corporate offices these days, chances are you have seen a nice set of value statements or guiding principles proudly hanging on the wall. The problem with these fancy value statements is that what is so often misunderstood is that there is a difference between a value and a value statement.

For example, you may have had the experience of staying in a hotel where somewhere in the lobby there is a statement that in effect says, “our number one value is our customers.” And then when speaking to the front clerk you wonder if she even read this statement recently.

It’s relatively easy to develop a value statement. I’ve been hired to help write many of them. To develop such statements, most leadership teams go to a retreat center where they can get some inspiration. They then bring them back, and, like Moses, roll out their inspiring “ten commandments,” putting them on the walls, website, and computer screens.

But what’s important is not how inspiring your values sound, but how soundly your values inspire others. In other words, how are you holding yourself and each other accountable for turning these “statements” into real values? How are you making the values real? How are you getting those decorative statements off the wall and into the hearts of every employee? How are you making sure that no hire makes the cut unless they prove that they live the values? How do you ensure that no one gets promoted unless they clearly demonstrate the values in their leadership? If there are no consequences for not living the values or recognition or incentives for living the values, then you don’t have values; you only have statements.

Let’s use Respect as an example…

If you have seen a set of these value statements, you will in all likelihood have seen the word “respect” somewhere on the list.

I measure respect in two ways. You are welcome to borrow or steal my way of determining whether a leader is respectful. After all, I likely stole them from a leader I respect. Alternatively, you can come up with your own measurement. What’s important is that everyone in your organization understands precisely what respect means in their specific world and everyone is expected to live that way.

First, I expect myself to act in a way that you will feel safe in my presence – both psychologically and physically. You can define safe in any way you want, but I am accountable in all my relationships to create a place where people feel safe to be honest, to make mistakes, and to be who they are. If you don’t feel safe in my presence – for any reason – then I am not acting with respect.

Second, I expect myself to act in a way that when you are around me, you feel better about yourself. If you feel worse about yourself in my presence for any reason, then I am not being respectful. And anyone, at any time, can come and address their lack of concern without repercussions.

While I claim to have a sincere desire to act respectfully at all times, I also know that I’m human and am not going to be perceived as being respectful all the time. And I expect to be challenged by the people in my life when I’m not respectful.

It’s disrespectful to claim to be respectful and then not respect people for talking about a perceived lack of respect. There is always a gap between what an organization claims to be and how people actually behave. The key isn’t about perfection or even trying to be perfect. Instead, it’s about an open conversation when there is a perceived gap.

Until you can clearly measure your values with defined behaviors, until you can have respectful conversations about a perceived misalignment of values, until you can hold yourself and others to account for their choices, and actually have some defined consequences for not living the values, you haven’t got values. You only have statements.

What is your process for holding yourself and others accountable for living your espoused values? Drop me a note: http://www.davidirvine.ca/contact/ I can help you with that.

How To Build A Respectful Workplace: It’s Not A Program

I recently overheard a manager talking with a colleague about how he was being sent to a “Respectful Workplace Program.” I couldn’t help but interrupt and ask him about it.

“Yes,” he explained. “Everyone in our company is required to attend a one-day training seminar on how to build a respectful workplace.”

Be assured that I am respectful of whoever might, with good intentions, be running a workshop on building respect in an organization. And even without any knowledge of what will be presented in the workshop, I’m sure that this program will undoubtedly bring valuable information.

But with all due respect (pun intended!), respect can’t be taught like mathematics. Building a respectful workplace, like building respect in your home or community doesn’t come from a training program. Respect isn’t about speaking to each other nicely or holding hands or hugging each other. While we could all use a refresher in good manners, respect goes much deeper than techniques or even behavior.

If you want improve a disrespectful workplace you have to get to the root cause of the problem. A respectful workplace is achieved – and sustained – through one critical element: respect for yourself. When you have self-respect you won’t tolerate bullying, inappropriate, disrespectful comments, or people acting unprofessionally. You have the same standards for yourself as you expect from others. When you have respect for yourself you don’t demean others or act in ill-mannered ways. You have better things to do with your time, and you have no interest in being disrespectful to others. You won’t find yourself entangled in hurtful, useless and hurtful arguments. And you won’t let others disrespect you.

Here are four strategies for increasing your level of self-respect. Just as anyone can be a leader, anyone can put these into practice, beginning today. As you do, notice the positive impact and benefit to your workplace by increasing the respect around you.

  • Never make a promise you aren’t prepared to keep. Self-respect, like confidence, is an outcome of right choices, not a prerequisite. Learning to keep promises, whether it is to your child to attend his baseball game or to yourself to keep up good health habits, results in personal integrity. Keeping promises to yourself and others, even in the face of discomfort and the tendency toward complacency, gives you confidence to get through the hard times. As the late Stephen R. Covey used to say, private victory precedes public victory.
  • Create focus in your life. Clarity around your highest values, a sense of purpose, daily disciplines around your health, and an ongoing personal development plan are all ways that contribute to how you feel about yourself. People who respect themselves take care of themselves. And they spend their time being of service to others. When you start paying attention, you will notice that people with focus and clarity in their lives aren’t part of the gossiping crowds. They don’t have time for complaining or blaming others or being a part of disrespectful conversations. They are too busy focused on being useful in the world.
  • Take the high ground. If you are wondering why people yell at you or degrade you or act in disrespectful ways, it’s simple. Because you let them. You don’t have any obligation to tolerate disrespectful behavior. You don’t have to become lazy even if the people you work with are lazy. You don’t have to get involved in ill-mannered arguments. A leader I have high regard for told me once, “Never argue with an idiot because they will bring you down to their level and beat you with experience.” Live on the foundation good principles, even if the people around you don’t appreciate it. Do the right thing, because the right thing will make things right inside of you.
  • Be a light, not a judge. The disciples of a Hasidic rabbi approached their spiritual leader with a complaint about the prevalence of evil in the world. Intent upon driving out the forces of iniquity and darkness, they requested that the rabbi counsel them. The rabbi’s response was one that can help us all come to grips with the malevolent forces of darkness that at times seem to surround our world. The rabbi suggested to his students that they take brooms, go down to the basement, and attempt to sweep the darkness from the cellar. The bewildered disciples applied themselves to sweeping out the darkness, but to no avail. The rabbi then advised them to take sticks and beat vigorously at the darkness to drive out the evil. When this likewise failed, he counseled them to again go down to the cellar and to protest against the evil. When this failed as well, he said, “My students, let each of you meet the challenge of darkness by lighting a lamp.” The disciples descended to the cellar and kindled their lights. They looked, and behold! The darkness had been driven out.

Self-respect doesn’t guarantee that others will treat you with respect. What it does do is guarantee that you won’t tolerate disrespect. When disrespect is no longer tolerated, it will soon cease to exist.

I’d love to hear from you about some of your organizational challenges if you are working in a disrespectful workplace or relationship. Send me your thoughts on my contact page. I’d be glad to schedule a complimentary ½ hour session to discuss your situation.