7 Ways to Make Performance Review Discussions Easier… and More Effective

Performance management is a source of some frustration for most managers, especially having the “dreaded” review discussion. There are ways to make that conversation both easier and more effective.


It’s that time of the year again.  No, not the holidays.  Performance review and annual goal setting time. Many people dread performance reviews.  That dread is exacerbated this year by the exceptional circumstances we’ve all been living through.  It’s too bad this sense of dread is so prevalent. Performance reviews and feedback could be easier and more effective, if we reframe our thinking. Here are 7 tips to make performance reviews easier and more effective:

1. Change the label. The term “performance review” or “performance management” conjures up images of passing judgement on a person’s performance, on their worth. A “performance and development conversation” is a two-way dialogue. We are sharing perspectives, insights and ideas. It’s a partnership. How we talk with our team members can put people more at ease.

2. Change the focus. Make the review all about developing your team member. The focus of performance conversations should not be primarily about the rating we are giving someone or justifying a salary increase. It’s an opportunity to help this individual perform at the highest level possible, to build on their strengths and support their development. According to McKinsey, superior talent is up to eight times more productive than average employees.  The more time and sincere effort you invest in your employee’s development, the higher the return.

3. Start with empathy. Ask about the challenges and realities the person is experiencing – balancing work and child-care, caring for an elderly parent, managing remote or hybrid learning or just the loneliness of being remote. Ask at the beginning of the review. Even if you asked last week. You want to establish empathy as part of the review. Why? Besides being a good thing to do? Among employees who said they feel cared for by their employer, 94% say they feel personally engaged in their work compared to 43% of those who don’t. Furthermore, according to IBM research, organizations that score in the  top 25% of employee experience report nearly 3x the return on assets and double the return on sales when compared to organizations in the bottom 25%.

4. Simplify. Start with a high-level narrative that summarizes past performance, development needs and goals. Then launch into the review. But don’t just read it together. Instead, think about using these five questions to drive conversation:

  • What accomplishments are you most proud of?
  • How well are you achieving your current goals?
  • How do goals need to change to meet new business strategy or goals?
  • How are your actions aligning with our values and culture?
  • What do you need to continue doing because you are doing it well? What do you need to stop doing because it’s not effective? What do you need to start doing instead?
5. Redefine accountabilities. In light of the exceptionally difficult year, we will want to remember to reframe our expectations. For example, is it realistic to think a salesperson will have the same level of sales as they did last year? 

6. Talk about expectations and reality.  
Discuss how those expectations can be managed against the realities mentioned above.  Ask for the individual’s thoughts on it. 

7. Focus not just on what was achieved but how it was achieved. 
For example, in remote environments, collaboration is more important but can be more difficult. Make sure people are clear on what is important for success.

Performance Reviews: 4 Tips for Better Strategic Alignment

Most managers and employees don’t know their own organization’s strategic goals. So, whether you’re reviewing a middle manager or a front-line supervisor, there are good reasons to make the discussion more strategic.  For starters, you’ll have more productive and effective leaders on your team; along with higher engagement and retention of key talent.   Here are 4 ways to make that happen.

These tips are designed primarily for immediate impact with your team members in their upcoming reviews, not for how you conduct the entire performance management process.  But if you carry these ideas into your ongoing feedback and coaching regimen next year, you’ll continue to build a team that delivers more value for the organization and helps each of them build more fulfilling careers.

Make business strategy and priorities central to the discussion.  Even executives sometimes lose the forest for the trees when it comes to appraisals.  In a conversation there is a tendency to focus on specific goals or behaviors rather than how they contribute to achieving the strategy itself.  Create an opening narrative for your discussion that provides an overview of your team member’s performance in light of your organization’s strategy. Then keep referring back to strategy as you break into specific content.

Have a conversation.  Shared responsibility for the discussion feels more engaging and will increase ownership of the results.  Asking questions is always an effective leadership skill.  Here it pays extra dividends.  How clear is your direct report on the business strategy and her role in making that happen?  What you’re looking for here is a way to frame up the discussion of their performance in a strategic way, even as you’re gaining information on how they perceive their performance and its alignment to strategy.

  • What business priorities do you think you made the biggest contributions to this year? Why?
  • Which of your goals do you feel was most aligned with (for example) client retention, and how so?
  • Which of next year’s business goals do you think our team will impact the most?  How do you see yourself supporting that goal?
  • What skill development would help you be a more strategic asset to the organization?
Make strategic alignment explicit.  That means drawing a straight line from strategy to business function to their role and finally, their goals.  For example… “John, you’ll recall that another one of our company’s biggest priorities this year has been to retain our biggest clients in the face of the pandemic.  One of our jobs was to provide systems enhancements that allowed for higher volumes of online traffic.  And I asked you to make that happen by getting your team to…”  Your most strategically plugged-in team members may require a lighter touch, but it’s important to be certain they’re fully aware how much their performance impacts specific organizational priorities.  And to keep it at the forefront of their mind.

Motivate with strategic involvement.  Explain how their future performance will impact their ability to advance to projects and roles that increasingly have more impact on strategy.  Link their ability to develop key skills to becoming a more valuable asset to the organization.  Ask them what part of the strategy motivates them the most.  Ask what roles, projects, and skills they think will help them get there.  Provide your input and agree to a plan.

You want your team to not only understand business strategy, and how it aligns with their work.  You want them to internalize it as part of what drives them to succeed.  You want to help them make it a part of how they develop skills and reach career goals.  This feeds into three of the biggest needs we all have… knowing what’s expected of me, knowing that my manager cares about me and knowing that what I’m working on matters.

7 Covid Agility Lessons We Can’t Forget

COVID has taught us that we can and must be able to change rapidly, to transform on the fly if need be. We’ve had no choice but to go more completely digital, transforming our customer, employee, student and supplier experiences. Truly listening with empathy, and being agile became key not just for leaders, but for everyone. Change can’t just be a priority for a few people at the top. It needs to be a priority for everyone. And, honestly, that’s kind of exciting.

Now as WFH is becoming ‘normal’ and some of us begin to  go back to the office, we hear that people are reverting to older ways of thinking and behaving. Employees are waiting before they invent or experiment. People are holding back new ideas. There’s a return to more rigid hierarchy. Leaders are beginning to do more telling and less listening. And that’s not good.

As we’ve talked with clients and colleagues, we’ve heard that building the capability for continuous change is more crucial now than ever. But old habits are hard to break.

We’re committed to helping you break those habits. Over the next several weeks, we’ll be sharing 7 tips to help you build a team with the continuous capability – and energy – for change.

 

Lesson #1:  Change Your Mindset – and Your Team’s

Most leaders and teams approach the balance between executing on today’s priorities and continuous change as a problem to be solved. However, it’s not just a problem. There is no single or easy answer. If we focus too much on executing today, we will lag behind where the market is moving. If we focus too much on change and innovation, we will not meet today’s priorities. What we are facing is a dilemma

In a dilemma, you have two, interdependent poles (or forces) that create a natural and ongoing tension. Choosing to pursue too much of one and too little of another doesn’t provide a long term solution and leads to additional problems. Instead, we need to find new ways to manage the challenge; one that leverages the advantages and mitigates the disadvantages of both. Rather than either/or, we need to think both/and. And unless we’re prepared to lead entirely on our own, we know we need everyone to be thinking the same way.

One way to operationalize both/and thinking with your team is to use a dilemma mapping tool. This tool provides a format to discuss and capture the advantages and disadvantages, allowing you to determine an approach that maximizes the positive aspects of BOTH while avoiding the disadvantages.

 

 

COVID has provided us with many dilemmas. I was recently speaking with a leader of a large learning and development organization about one of hers. When COVID moved people to work primarily from home, they needed to adapt quickly.  Her organization created a solution that maintained client relationships and drastically changed their delivery model to meet the new reality. They involved clients in the assessment and design of a new delivery model. They quickly triaged their development services, focusing on the most critical ones. That allowed them to transition to an all-remote-delivery process and speed up their program design cycle time. They also amped up the development and use of tool kits and tip sheets to fill in learning gaps that the COVID crisis had presented.

Harming their client relationships was not an option. Just delivering as they had been, but doing it remotely, also wasn’t an option because it was ineffective. They created a solution that maintained client relationships and drastically changed their delivery model to meet the new reality. Their approach modeled both/and thinking.

I’m sure that over the past few months, you’ve also had situations where you’ve needed to apply both/and. As complexity grows, so will dilemmas. Organizations that continue to apply both/and effectively will succeed not only during a crisis, but on an ongoing basis in our fast-paced world.

 

In this podcast, Change Management Review Editor-In-Chief Theresa Moulton interviews Edith Onderick-Harvey, Managing Partner of NextBridge Consulting, LLC.

 

As change leaders and change professionals, you naturally embrace, engage in, and affect change. Personal leadership and engagement, however, is not enough. You need to help leaders engage their teams in new thinking, creativity, and innovation. Innovation only happens when people are able to work in the gray space — where ambiguity is okay, risk is essential, and business principles, rather than hard and fast rules, apply. How can you help create a culture of change makers?

Based on her Harvard Business Review online article 5 Ways to Help Your Team Be Open to Change, Edith Onderick- Harvey will discuss 5 daily practices you can put in place to inspire, enable and accelerate a culture of change makers.

 

Does Your Onboarding Experience Still Work, Post-Covid?

How are You Onboarding (or Re-boarding) Post-Covid?

One of the challenges of having so many people working virtually is creating and keeping a vibrant culture that helps everyone feel connected and driven by a shared purpose.

Among the earliest experiences our people have with the culture is during on-boarding.  Working in the COVD and post-COVID environment, onboarding needs to be different.  By assessing what works and what doesn’t in your onboarding, you can design an experience that’s adapted to a virtual environment and reinforces culture and connections.

Late last year – pre-pandemic – we helped a client design an onboarding process.  The design focused on making the process a more powerful tool for creating culture in a dispersed team that had grown 200% in the previous 18 months. While few companies are experiencing that kind of growth now, the lessons are relevant in today’s environment, too.

This biotech’s culture was a key differentiator for them in terms of how they achieved results and how they attracted high-caliber talent in the market.  Facing a period of unprecedented growth with geographically dispersed offices and remote employees, they were seeing a higher attrition rate, especially among employees who had been with the company for a short period of time.  They were concerned that they were not creating an effective new-hire experience. After creating a highly experiential new-hire orientation program, our client believed there was still something missing for their recently added team members — the onboarding experience onto the new hire’s team.

The first phase of our work together was to assess:
  • how onboarding was approached across the various functions/departments within the company
  • the perception of how effective onboarding was
  • how well it aligned with their corporate onboarding and overall talent strategy.
We conducted interviews with functional leaders and focus groups with recently hired team members. Our findings indicated:
  • A much more consistent and robust functional onboarding experience was needed
  • The process needed to be scalable and adaptable
  • We needed to develop resources that could be accessed by a dispersed workforce during onboarding and beyond.

During phase two, the client wanted to introduce gamification technology to deliver onboarding, manager support, and other HR practices. Our challenge was to create a functional onboarding design that worked within this platform. We knew this approach had to be highly interactive, feel personal, and provide information in bite-sized chunks across multiple formats.

The design of the functional onboarding included:

  • Video welcomes received prior to start dates
  • Visual tours of departments and office spaces
  • Videos describing each department’s purpose and responsibilities
  • A manager toolkit to lead conversations with new team member within 2-3 days of start and at Day 14.
  • Day 14 online check-in for the team member to complete
  • Gamified introduction to the company culture and how it looks in our department
Through this process, we were able to design a solution that would: 
  • Create a unique and engaging new-hire experience that more effectively integrates new hires into the culture and their specific teams.
  • Utilize technology to enhance the onboarding experience for all team members – HQ-based, field-based and remote
  • Allow for adaptability and scalability as changes impact the organization
Covid19 has changed the business reality of virtually every organization.  A winning culture attracts and integrates top talent and, post-Covid, that requires a new onboarding process that leverages technology while creating a highly personalized connection to the organization.

 

Top HR and Talent organizations, not only recognize the need for a vibrant new onboarding process, they are spending the time to assess and design a powerful experience for all internal clients.

The More Things Change… the More We Need to Lean on the Fundamentals

I recently came across this article written nearly 10 years ago. In some ways it felt a bit quaint, but I was struck by how applicable the ideas were to not only this decade, but to our current Covid business reality. Enjoy.

Results-Based Performance in a Virtual World

This posting is co-written with my colleague Stefanie Heiter, CEO, Bridging Distance.

In the emerging virtual workplace, do you miss the comfort of walking by an employee’s desk and feeling confident she or he is working hard and doing a good job? If you can’t see them working, do you wonder what they are really doing? Are you baffled by how to set expectations that will drive results when you are not working in the same place? Are you concerned about whether your talent has the right competencies to hit the ground running when it all turns around?

Today’s workplace is characterized by people working in dispersed locations, within matrixed structures, with colleagues from multiple functions – even multiple organizations. Gone are the days when high performance was assessed by how much time someone ‘put in’ at the office. We are less likely to be ‘going to work’ and more likely to be ‘working’. Technology affords 24/7 access from almost anywhere. ‘Do more with less’ is now a mantra heard across countless companies via all communication media.

Despite these changes, managers are still expected to manage performance, regardless of location, time zone, function, or even language barriers, and often in the face of decreased budgets and reduced labor force. Successful managers have learned to overcome the challenges of virtual leadership, and move to results-based performance management. Here are strategies and tips successful virtual leaders use to create an effective results-based performance management approach:

Focus first on intentional, consistent relationship building. Create presence with employees by checking in (not checking on) frequently. Use more real-time technologies like telephone, instant messenger, chat, or text. When you check in, ask questions focused on getting to know their locations, resources that are needed, what else is happening, sharing information and decision-making whenever possible, and asking about their lives. Presence involves being available to people so they don’t have to make up reasons to be in contact.

Slow down to speed up. Take time upfront to define how you are going to stay in touch, share status, keep people in the loop, and when and how you will ‘meet’. Considerations here are protocols for high use technologies such as email (i.e., names in ‘to’ line means action required whereas ‘cc’ line means information only, when to ‘reply’ versus ‘reply to all’). It means agreements about when and when not to use technologies, defining who should be included and NOT included in particular categories of information and meetings.

Discuss both the ends and the means. Clearly understand the expectations you have of the individual. What does success look like? Make sure your definitions of success focus on the results the individual is achieving, not just the activities. Think about using the SMART criteria – specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time bound – to both set and communicate goals. A goal of “Have 5 customer satisfaction meetings each month’ focuses on what you want someone to do. The goal “Increase annual customer satisfaction by 10% through improvements identified in customer satisfaction meetings” focuses on the result.

Another thing to think about is how the individual will achieve the goal. What behaviors will they exhibit? When people work virtually, they don’t have the opportunity to learn the culture and the way things get done. Explicitly help them understand what works and what doesn’t in your organization. How are people expected to behave? How should they be working with others to meet their goals? Sharing stories of how others have been successful is a powerful tool for communicating expectations. It paints a picture of the type of results and behaviors you expect.

Create a game plan. Once you’ve set clear expectations, staying connected and establishing accountability is essential. Specifically discuss which technologies you will employ for different communication needs. Is status best delivered through email? Do you utilize Sharepoint as a repository for different types of documents? How should time sensitive conversations occur? How should the individual communicate with others on the team? When should they make a decision on their own and when should they make sure the two of you talk first? Determine the most effective mix of ‘old’ and ‘new’ technologies.  A client recently shared that their geographically-dispersed sales team is using a private Twitter site to share product information, market intelligence and sales tips in real time. They credit the site with increasing the effectiveness of their sales efforts. Determine what suite of technologies you will use to assess progress against goals. Real-time conversations will be part of it but also consider the use of technologies that allow for asynchronous communication.

Create a feedback and coaching loop. Feedback on performance is most effective when it is timely and about performance that you’ve directly observed. In a virtual world, the ability to physically see someone’s performance is not always possible. Create processes that allow you to gain meaningful information about an individual’s performance. For example, a sales director uses a survey with customers to get input into a sales person’s performance. While she created the survey to get direct feedback from customers who interact with her salespeople in live situations that she is unable to attend, it has created better customer relationships. The customers have told her that they are thrilled to be asked because it allows them to be heard. Also use technology to coach. For example, virtual meeting software could allow a less experienced team member to simulate a client presentation to you, providing you with the opportunity to coach them in real time.

Maintain the relationship. Our first tip was about relationship building. Once you’ve built the relationship, take steps to maintain it. When we primarily use technology to communicate, we often feel like we need to have a reason to communicate.

Develop a culture that says it’s ok to just check in – not check up on – by calling or initiating contact without a specific need. Make it clear that you don’t see this as a sign that someone doesn’t have enough to do. Also, make a point to communicate the positive.

Say thank you, recognize an individual’s achievements and results. If we are in the habit of using technology as a vehicle for only task oriented communication, we miss an opportunity to use it as a vehicle for building capabilities and engagement. Model this behavior with our team and you’ll find that when you do need to communicate because of a specific need, those conversations are more productive.

Effectively leading performance in a virtual world is similar in many ways to effectively leading performance in a more traditional workplace. Leaders need to communicate expectations, monitor behavior and results, and establish an effective relationship so that we can work through the invariable issues and problems that arise. In a virtual world, we have an ever growing toolkit to help leaders be more effective. By understanding how to use each appropriately, leaders can get strong performance in any of the many work arrangements we find today.

Let’s Change the Change Paradigm

“We, as humans, are built for positive disruption.”

That’s how a speaker at a recent virtual conference described change.

Is that how you think about change and disruption?

At about the same time, I read an article in Talent Quarterly by Joe Folkman about research into the push and pull approaches to leading change. When leaders use the push approach, they set a target, and create stretch goals. They then initiate new processes and procedures, and hold people accountable with incentives and discipline. In the pull approach, leaders articulate a north star – a vivid picture of the future. They engage people to adopt it as their goal and lift their aspirations to achieve it. Positive reinforcement helps the organization to accomplish the goal. Until now, I think we’ve relied too heavily on push and too little on pull.

Together, these two thought leaders confirmed something I’ve thought about for a while now. We need to change the change paradigm.

  • We currently define how we think about change into a few common phrases.  Change is hard. People resist change. Change is overwhelming. Change is scary, even when it’s good for us.
  • For decades, we’ve talked about the change acceptance curve  – awareness, questioning, despair, acceptance and, finally, commitment. The curve reinforces those ideas of change being hard and representing loss rather than representing growth and opportunity.
  • I recommend we take the change curve and, literally, flip it on its head, changing the language we use to talk about change.

This re-envisioned change curve looks at change as growth. When we are learning – experiencing that positive disruption I talked about – we are motivated to master the new rather than pine for the past. For example, when we start walking we don’t look back and miss when we were only able to crawl. When we learn to drive a car we don’t fondly think, “Oh I wish I could go back to only knowing how to ride a bike.” We see change as additive instead of the loss of what we had before.

We start at a place of inexperience.  Because we are inexperienced, we need information, support and encouragement. We need the opportunity to “try things on” and have some ownership of how we integrate the new way into our work and our lives. We see that the end is a worthwhile place to be and we pursue it.

In this paradigm, change is something we embrace and seek. Even when we make mistakes, when the change doesn’t work as anticipated, or we hit roadblocks, it doesn’t mean the change is bad. It doesn’t cause us to stop changing. Go back to the bike analogy. When we are riding our bike too close to a curb, hit the curb and fall off, we don’t decide to never ride a bike again. We pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, get back on the bike and ride… knowing that next time we’ll avoid that obstacle.

When we think about change this way, we become engaged. We are achieving successes – sometimes small, sometimes large – which are motivating us to pursue more success.  We actively seek out additional opportunities to gain more experience, experiment, and learn. We see value in this new way.

In mastery, what was the change is now completely the normal. And, when we stay at mastery too long, we get bored and it’s time to pursue something that brings us back to that feeling of growth and learning.

And that’s the new paradigm – that we see change first and foremost as growth and opportunity and that when we, as leaders, engage people in that way, change is interesting, exciting and something to be pursued.

Why Is It So Hard To Get My Organization To Change? And What To Do About It.

Why Is It So Hard To Get My Organization To Change? 

You know that change is hard. You’ve experienced it. Often, leaders feel that, with all the day-to-day demands on them, they just don’t have the time to be working on how to get to the future. It could be that the team is faced with a challenge so complex that it seems un-manageable, so they don’t face it head-on. Or it can simply be that assumption that people really don’t want to change.

Close-Up Radio

Recently, I had the pleasure of spending 30-minutes with Jim Masters on the difficulty of change and related topics. We also talked about what leaders and organizations need to do to thrive through continual change, why we call our firm NextBridge and how I came to this place in my career.

Listen to the interview.

What Role Does Purpose Play In Being Agile?

Being agile means asking people to step out of their comfort zone and into uncertainty. That can be a scary proposition. Purpose is the north star of an agile organization. Purpose creates the guardrails for action.

Trends, Bends and Opportunities

Dr. Loren Murfield, Pat Lynch and I discuss this topic and how to create agility in your organization. This daily Facebook Live podcast is a learning opportunity that helps you navigate your business in a rapidly changing environment. We discussed practical information everyone can use today to build agility and stay ahead of the competition.

 

What’s Next? Saving 2020

Congratulations on getting through the past three weeks! We’ve just been through the early days of the biggest social and economic disruption of the last 50 years. We don’t have a rule book, so we’ve been figuring it out as we go along.

Honestly, many of us have been focused solely on what’s in front of us, on what’s happening today and tomorrow. That’s completely normal in this kind of situation. Unfortunately, that’s not enough. These aren’t normal times. Now that we’ve started to settle in, we should be asking ourselves “Now what?”

We need to be thinking about how we will pivot to save Q2, where we need to be six months from now, and how we will be ready to succeed when we are at the next new normal. 

It’s not either focus on today or focus on what’s ahead. We need to do both – focus on today and prepare for what’s next.

Managing that balance – between today and the future – doesn’t have to be a daunting task. Engaging your team for just a few hours a week to start with will have a huge payoff. Emotionally, it will help people feel there is a greater purpose. They will have a sense of control over the future. It will also give your business a significant competitive advantage. You will be positioned and ready to restart as soon as you’re able, putting you ahead of the game.

 

Here are some ideas to get you started: 

1. Set Expectations. Tell everyone that we all are responsible for adapting as rapidly as possible to changes – not just as individuals but as a team and a business. Survival and future success depends on it. We are all in this together.

2. Keep Everyone Focused on the customer, employees and what they can control.

3. Engage Everyone In the Conversation. Certain people may carry through on the tasks that come out of the conversations, but great ideas will come from everywhere.

4. Set up a cadence for communication. What was your cadence up to this point for team and individual meetings. Keep that. What else do you need to add? This is a rapidly changing situation. At a minimum, daily updates, should be the norm until the pace of disruption slows down. The length of the updates can change, but the regularity shouldn’t change abruptly.

5. Ask Pivot Questions. These questions get us out of our normal way of thinking about a situation. They could be questions like:

  • What if we could start from scratch? What would we do?
  • What are our customers going to need when the economy rebounds?
  • How would someone in another industry approach this
  • Why this and not that?
  • If you were CEO /head of the business unit / functional EVP for one day, what would you do?
  • What are our assumptions? What is the complete opposite?

6. Develop Potential Scenarios based on answers to the questions.

7. Create a Regular Cadence of future-focused conversations – at least once a week for an hour.

This situation isn’t permanent. It will end, even if it doesn’t feel that way. But it will be different. You and your team should start creating that future now.

Are you ready to focus on what’s next? Do you need some help figuring out how to get your teams to pivot?

Call us at 1.978.475.8424 or email us: e.onderickharvey@nextbridgeconsulting.com.

10 Tips to Help Your Team in a Disrupted Environment

Coronavirus is creating more disruption than many of us have ever experienced. It impacts our personal lives and professional lives. It’s doing the same for everyone around us. The situation changes daily with closings, cancellations, and now, decisions to have many people work from home.

Working from home may be a new way of working for some people or old hat for others.  Either way, it’s now a reality for everyone. Here are some tips to help you successfully lead your team as they adjust to working in a new way, in a new location, in a world of disruption.

1. Reflect. how are you feeling about what is going on? How do you feel about the remote work? In times of uncertainty, your team largely will calibrate their response to the uncertainty based on your response. Set up routines for yourself to help you ‘keep calm and carry on.’

2. Show empathy. people are experiencing everything from minor concern to outright fear, not to mention disruption on multiple fronts. In addition, people may not be able to create the most productive work environment. Schools may close. They may have older relatives they need to check in on. Their ability to shut it all out may be taxed. Talk about Feelings First.

3. Move off email, communicate real time. Even in the most email-driven organizations, we see each other all the time. When everyone is remote, we don’t. Relying only on email can feel isolating. Pick up the phone. Get on Skype. Make a live connection.

4. Set up a cadence for communication. What was your cadence up to this point for team and individual meetings. Keep that. What else do you need to add? This is a rapidly changing situation. At a minimum, daily updates, should be the norm until the pace of disruption slows down. The length of the updates can change, but the regularity shouldn’t change abruptly.

5. Check-in, 1-on-1. do personal check-ins with each person. Make sure they are adjusting well and have what they need to succeed. Ask questions. Actively listen.

6. Collaboratively create contingency plans. There are lots of unknowns and risks right now.  What contingencies might your team need? For example, how will the team adjust if members become ill and are out for several days? What if someone has an ill family member they need to care for? Working collaboratively on these plans will create buy-in and better solutions.

7. Create a virtual break room.  Create ways that team members can catch up with each other and chat. It can be as simple as having each other’s cell phone numbers to send texts, hop on Skype/Facetime or actually call each other.

8. Focus on engagement. It’s really easy to feel disconnected when everyone is remote.  Key drivers of engagement are helping people feel they are part of something bigger, the ability to make progress and feel competent, and the ability to make decisions about how one works. Make sure your team members are feeling good about these factors.

9. Break the tension. This entire situation can be nerve wracking.  If your team is not dealing directly with the health crisis, building in some fun could help bring some relief.  A silly contest, posting pictures of your ‘home office’(which may be the kitchen table!), a rotating responsibility to share a dad joke everyday could be just what the team needs.

10. Review the week. Whether on shared drive, Slack, or a live meeting, review the week with everyone. What did we accomplish? What issues are we having? How is our communication cadence working? How is everyone feeling?

One of your goals is to create a level of predictability for your team in a highly unpredictable situation. The more quickly you can use some of these tips consistently, the quicker you will all create a rhythm that works for your team.

Do you need some help getting your head wrapped around what to do with your group, specifically? Do you want someone to help your group exceed expectations in a very difficult environment? Call Edith at 1.978.475.8424 or email her at e.onderick-harvey@nextbridgeconsulting.com.

Keep Your Team Focused on Shifting Priorities

When is the last time that you felt like things were comfortably status quo? Changing business strategies, morphing project parameters, and turnover that leaves you short-staffed are more the rule than the exception these days. So how do you ensure your team stays focused in an environment of ever-changing priorities? Clear communication with your team and proactive change leadership are key to keeping your teams engaged and on track. Here are three strategies you should employ on a regular basis.

Strategy 1: Talk About Priorities Regularly

Setting priorities doesn’t come naturally to everyone. The good news is that it’s a skill that can be learned relatively easily. Start by making it a part of your ongoing conversations with your teams. Yes, work with them regularly, in a structured way, to help them establish and revise priorities. For more on that, Derek Lidow outlines “A Better Way To Set Strategic Priorities” in this Harvard Business Review article. But it’s also important to engage the leaders who report to you in general, ongoing conversations about their priorities. It helps them become more fluent in the language of managing priorities and it conveys the importance you place on that fluency. And it helps you to gauge how closely their priorities are in step with yours and the organization, and where their prioritization skills need to be improved.

A lot of leaders struggle with how to engage in everyday conversations with their direct reports about priorities. Here are some questions to start the conversation:

Strategy 2: Get Ahead of Changes in the Workplace

When teams get hit with unanticipated changes, it can feel like “here we go again… another fire-drill.” Well, preventing fires is a lot more effective than putting them out, especially when they seem to crop up on regular basis. Not only is it a more efficient approach, but it keeps the level of frustration down when people don’t feel blindsided.

As soon as you anticipate changes that will affect your part of the organization, reach out to your direct reports (or your leadership team?). Apprise them of what you know and ask them questions. You want them thinking about this… really engaging in the challenges ahead. The earlier they’re involved, the better their responses will be. And they’re also likely to provide food for thought that will help you manage the change upward.

Consider these conversation starters to help make the inevitable transition happen more smoothly:

  • What obstacles do you anticipate with the upcoming change?
  • What knowledge and skills do you think will need to be shored up to make this change work?
  • Which of your team’s current priorities can take a backseat while we’re transitioning?

Strategy 3: Teach Your Team to Shift Gears On Their Own

Ideally, you want your teams to be able to shift their priorities effectively with only the lightest of steering on your part. That leaves you more time to focus on strategic issues. The challenge? Too many managers have been taught by their organization and past bosses to take direction on prioritization.

If you’ve been leveraging the first two techniques, this third one will be easier. Some things to keep in mind:

  • First, make sure they’re well-acquainted with your organization’s business strategy and goals. They provide a framework for them to understand what their priorities should be.
  • Second, in the simplest terms, what are your highest-level priorities? “Client problem resolution will always be my number one concern.”
  • Third, what are your expectations on the latitude they have for changing priorities and how to communicate with you about them?

If you want them to better manage their own priorities, never, ever tell your direct reports what you want right away. Encourage them to present you with their ideas first. Probe for why they’re thinking the way they do. Test their assumptions. Here are some effective conversation starters for setting parameters and promoting self-reliance:

  • Let’s talk about our organization’s goals and how they should be reflected in our department’s priorities. How do you see them aligning?
  • If you were in my shoes, what would be your biggest priority? Why? How will you reflect that in your priorities over the next quarter?
  • On a regular basis, you’re more than capable of managing your team’s priorities. Here’s what I want you to do any time you’re on track to miss your monthly goals…

Once upon a time, managing priorities was a standard, quarterly process. Now shifts happen too often and too quickly for such a static approach. In my Harvard Business Review online article 5 Behaviors of Leaders Who Embrace Change I talk about how critical it is for every leader to integrate change leadership into the very fabric of who they are and what they do on a daily basis. An essential part of that is guiding your team leaders’ ability to re-prioritize.