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When Getting Bigger Isn’t Better March 14, 2010

Posted by David Dirks in business strategy, Diagnosing performance problems, Fixing performance problems.
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A recent headline in the Wall Street Journal: Monster to Acquire HotJobs.  As soon as I read that headline, I knew it meant trouble.  Let me put this headline into context for you: When companies run into major challenges (aka trouble) and can find few answers to meet those challenges, they resort to buying another big competitor.  Remember when HP bought Compaq a few years ago?  HP was trying to find it’s way through a dismal personal computer market and groped for an answer by buying Compaq, which was also groping along.  Two gropes do not make for a good business strategy.  Result for HP?  The CEO was ousted after the HP board ran out of patience waiting for good to come out of that mega-merger.

On the surface, its very tempting to buy a rival who sometimes can be bought cheaply…sometimes not so.  The typical formula is this:  merge – cut costs wherever possible during the merger + instant market share = profits that flow from being bigger.  Well maybe.  In too many cases, buying another competitor to gain market share and profits means more of the same problems just in a bigger package now.

Sears buying Kmart is another great example of when getting bigger is not better.  Sears has been looking for a purpose for decades now and was already sickly.  At the time of the merger, Kmart was just about on a death watch from a retailing perspective.  The result?  The disease never went away.  Sears and Kmart are just as dismal performers than ever.

The giant job search database called Monster has seen it’s market strength zapped by low-cost players like LinkedIn and by savvy recruiters who now use business networking and social media platforms like Facebook to find great job candidates.  More companies are providing financial incentives for their employees to enlist their help in the recruitment effort.  Monster, once the king of the job search road, has found itself searching for ways to grapple with declining revenues and aggressive social media competitors.  The landscape for job search databases is forcing change.

For its part, Yahoo is looking to shed assets for cash but ends up the real loser.  According to the WSJ, Yahoo bought HotJobs in the heat of the dot com era for $436 million and is now selling it to Monster for a mear $225 million in cash.  Nice going Yahoo.

Getting bigger as a way to answer for declining revenues and market share is generally not a good business strategy.  History is full of great examples of this strategy.  Despite the hindsight, companies continue to grope for answers by spending money that could probably be used elsewher

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Discovering a performance issue in a global team July 6, 2009

Posted by rickbron in Bronder On People, Coaching, Diagnosing performance problems, Fixing performance problems, Global communication, Global leadership, Leading globally, Performance issues.
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rick-picture

The Big Dogz know that the biggest problem with managing performance of a remote worker is to identity that there is a performance problem.  Time, culture and technology can mask the signs that a remote employee is having a performance problem. The effective global leader is aware of potential performance problem signals. What do you look for?

Here are some specific signals your global team member may send you:

  • Does not respond to email or voice mail
  • Does not make regular contact with you
  • Deliverables are late, does not notify you
  • Other members of your global team complain to you about the work products or delivery schedule
  • Does not participate in team conference calls
  • Misses status reports
  • Tries to redirect the performance conversation
  • Turns off the IM software
  • Is absent unexpectedly
  • Becomes defensive about questions
  • Updates are unclear or poorly worded
  • Claims computer systems problems keep from getting the work done
  • Describes problems in email rather than a phone call
  • Spending more time surfing the internet
  • Tell you everything is going “great”
  • Productivity is dropping
  • They are excelling at mundane tasks — ignoring major project tasks
  • They do not have awareness of project or company news

Observing these signs does not guarantee there is a performance problem. A general principle to follow is “Is there something unusual happening?” When you see behavior that is not normal, this is a good indicator that something is awry. If it is not a performance problem, then it is probably something you need to become involved with anyway.

The Big Dogz use these signs as guidelines — something to start investigating. As with all performance problems, you will first want to check the person’s ability to do the task assigned. Of course, the Big Dogz do that when they give a SMART objective; but if that assessment was incorrect, now is a good time to adjust. Use the performance feedback process to get the person’s action plan to bring performance back in line with your expectation. Include in your analysis, the workload, the priority in the team for this task and other factors that may affect the person’s ability to perform. Help the person to take action to fix these issues.

If the cause of the performance issue is not ability, then explore the willingness or motivational component of performance. They may have a confidence issue relative to the task. Perhaps you will have to increase your relationship activity with this person, such as encouraging them.

Responding to remote performance issues requires the use of the same techniques and approaches you would use with a co-located performance issue. Of course it will take more time, require the use of technology and adaptation to some cultural issues. The Big Dogz know that paying attention to the potential performance issue signs will pay off in the long run.

Performance feedback September 22, 2008

Posted by rickbron in Bronder On People, Coaching, Diagnosing performance problems, Fixing performance problems, Management, Performance issues.
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p5130012.jpg Most of us are familiar with the adage, practice makes perfect. And, most of us would be wrong! The Big Dogz know that it is feedback that makes perfect and that practice makes permanent. There are two types of feedback that you provide to an employee. The first of these is behavior feedback — that is how an employee is behaving. You generally do not give behavior feedback unless the behavior is affecting an employee’s performance or the performance of others. If the behavior is not affecting performance, you may consider asking permission to give behavior feedback. It is like giving someone advice.

 

The most common type of feedback you give an employee is performance feedback. Not only do you not have to ask permission to give this type of feedback, it is your responsibility and obligation to provide this feedback. Here are a few fundamental principles about performance feedback:

 

  1. Feedback is always linked to an objective. It is about a specific result you have asked the employee to achieve.
  2. Frequency of feedback is dependent upon the performance level of the employee. When performance is low, feedback is more frequent.
  3. Feedback is most effective when it is balanced. This does not mean you give them the classic “feedback sandwich” — something good, something negative and something good. Most employees know that traditional management training recommends this approach — and they flinch when the manager gives them positive feedback because they know the “but” is coming. By balanced, I mean give positive feedback as often, if not more often, than you give corrective feedback.
  4. Timeliness of feedback has a direct correlation to the motivational value and the learning associated with the feedback. The closer you provide feedback to the actual result, the more effective that feedback is.
  5. Effective feedback is consistent. That means when you give feedback, you follow a repeatable process and your employees know what to expect. In fact, after a few iterations through your feedback process, they will be able to do it themselves. Here is such a process:

 

         State the objective and get the employee to agree that is their objective.

         Ask for their observation on how they are doing

         Give your observation of specific data related to the objective

         If this is corrective feedback, ask, “What are you going to do?” Stay away from “What can we do?”  You want them to own the action plan

         If the feedback is positive, then pursue how you could leverage this accomplishment for more visibility or opportunity for the employee.

         What help do you need from me

         Offer suggestions on how they can accomplish the objective

         Get them to summarize the action plan

         Set follow up meeting to discuss progress — to give them more feedback

         Ask them if there is anything else you they to know

         Encourage them

 

The Big Dogz know that by following this or a customized process like this one, your feedback skills will grow and you can help your employees become “perfect”.

 

Inaction breeds poor behaviors August 14, 2008

Posted by rickbron in Bronder On People, Changing behavior, Diagnosing performance problems, Effective meetings, Feedback, Getting what you want, Management, Management Principle, Performance issues.
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p5130012.jpg  Are people consistently violating your policies? The Big Dogz know that it could be caused by inaction. This is the principle the Big Dogz follow:

 

If you allow it, you encourage it!

 

Here is an example of allowing a behavior, resulting in encouragement. Let’s say you make an announcement that all team members will be in attendance and ready to participate at the scheduled start of team meetings. Rick casually strolls in 3 minutes late. You do not want to appear inflexible, tyrannical or picky, so you let it go. You have just sent the message to all the people who were on time, that it is OK to be late. You can be sure others will be late the next meeting and the degree of lateness will increase.

 

Overlooking an infraction because it is minor or because you don’t want to ruffle feathers is a sure fire way of seeing that action more frequently. This principle does not require you to make a big deal of the situation or to mete out Draconian punishment. A gentle reminder to the person that the behavior is not appropriate will work. Say something like this, “Rick, please make an effort to be on time to our meetings.” Don’t get into an argument about justification. If need be, have a conversation about his lateness outside the meeting.

 

If the reminder does not work, then you will need to escalate your actions. Most of time, people do not want to violate your policies. Give them the opportunity to learn! If you do not take action on this policy, people will start to think you are not serious about your other policies. Now, you can get into some serious trouble!

 

In the One Minute Manager, Ken Blanchard talks about “Catching them doing something right.” That concept applies doubly in this situation. First, we want to catch them when an infraction occurs. Bring it to their attention, publicly if appropriate. Encourage them to behave in the way you want. When you see them make an effort to adhere to your policies, take the time to thank them. In the above scenario, I might give Rick a compliment for making the effort to be on time. At the next meeting, he is there, on time and ready to go. I would walk by him and in a low voice say “Thanks for being on time.” Again, no need to make a big deal of it since it may embarrass him.

 

Whatever actions you allow on your team, the more of those actions you can expect to see. Over the next 30 days, look around at your team and decide what actions you want to reduce or eliminate. Now start holding people accountable in a firm supportive way. The Big Dogz know you will see a significant improvement.

 

Please let me know how this suggestion has worked for you.

Diagnosing and fixing performance problems June 6, 2008

Posted by rickbron in Bronder On People, Diagnosing performance problems, Fixing performance problems, Performance issues.
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p5130012.jpg Want to fix performance problems? The Big Dogz know how to diagnose and then fix performance problems.

 

Performance problems are caused by one of two major dimensions of human behavior — ability or willingness. Ability is knowing how something could be done; and willingness is the desire to do it. Willingness can be either a confidence issue or a motivation issue. Most managers attribute a performance problem with willingness or attitude. We tend to think this person has a bad attitude and does not want to do the job. Studies have shown that for the large majority of the time, performance problems are a matter of not being able to do the job. So what do the Big Dogz do when they encounter a performance problem?

 

First they check ability. You can do this by asking some of the following questions:

  1. What process are you using to get this done?
  2. What have you accomplished so far?
  3. What obstacles have you encountered? What are you doing about them?
  4. Who have you talked with concerning this task?
  5. What tools are you using?
  6. How long do you think this task might take?

 

Explore the person’s awareness of the task and how to get it done. Answers to these types of questions will give you insight into how much this person knows about this task. If there is a knowledge gap, figure out how to close the gap. Will you provide personal coaching? Pair them up with a subject matter expert? Give them a step by step set of instructions? I can hear some of the concerns some of you may be having. Shouldn’t they already know how to do what I ask them? Well, perhaps they should; I am not going to argue that point. The real issue is you have an employee not performing and it is costing you money. It is in your best interests to get this person up to speed and productive.

 

Once the Big Dogz are confident that the person knows how to do the task, they check for willingness by asking questions like these:

  1. How do you feel about this assignment?
  2. How would you assess your skill level to complete this assignment?
  3. Is this assignment something that motivates you?
  4. How confident are you that you can complete this task?
  5. What benefit do you see for yourself in completing this task?
  6. What help do you need to get his done?

 

Probing for confidence or motivation issues will allow you to quickly solve the problem. Encourage those who have a low confidence level. Help them gain confidence by giving them constructive feedback on their progress. If the issue is a motivational one, then look at why you gave this task to this particular person. If you thought it was a task that would motivate them, explore further why this is a problem. It could be that you misread the motivation needs and gave them an assignment that was de-motivating. Sometimes, you need to be honest with an employee and let them know that they will do the task whether they like it or not. It has to be done and they are the one who will do it. I always encourage managers to use personal power rather than position power, but sometimes you need to do that.

 

The Big Dogz know that the first place to investigate a performance problem is ability, then to look at willingness. Take a closer look at some of your performance issues to see if ability is the root. The ability issue is easier to fix and has a long term benefit for both you and the employee.