Archive: October, 2018

Post from Transformation Tom- Build a Network: Chapter from “The Transformation of a Doubting Thomas”

Posted by tomdowd - October 27, 2018 - News
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Brian Uzzi and Shannon Dunlap tell an introductory story in their study in the Harvard Business Review article, “How to Build a Network,” about the well known Paul Revere as an historic figure in America. They then ask the question about the reader’s familiarity with William Dawes. Apparently, he and Paul Revere rode from Boston on April 18, 1775 in separate directions with the same goal of letting everyone know about the beginning of the Revolutionary War. I say apparently because I had no idea who William Dawes was. The point the authors were making was how much more effective Paul Revere was in his networking ability.

Our society and culture have a great willingness to socially network through Facebook, LinkedIn, texting, and many other means. We have exponential links to good friends and colleagues, and are even willing to connect with many people we barely know—and in many cases people we don’t know at all. However, social networking has evolved into its own culture and comfort level for people of all ages. When it comes to networking within your own company, I have found an uncomfortable hesitation among the employee base. We are willing to socially network with virtually millions, but we do not go beyond our own boss or our boss’s boss when it could help our career immensely.

When discussing and presenting networking, I often ask how many are in mentor relationships. I usually get a decent response. When I ask the question, “How many of you have met with your mentor within the last month?” most hands go down. I think we feel the comfort of saying we have mentors, but many of these relationships quickly become inactive or dormant. We should maximize all mentor relationships as a networking springboard. Specifically, we should not only be gleaning advice and learning during these sessions, but we should always be asking questions, such as, “Who do you think I can meet with to learn about (fill in any subject here)?” and, “Do you think (fill in leader’s name) knows who I am?” If you have a mentor, make it an active relationship and use it to build your network. Why can’t we use the same tenacity for professional networking that we might with social networking?

I am not naïve enough to think that company employees do not sit around the water coolers and conference tables talking about people. Much of this conversation is comparing one person to another. Whether the judgments are performance based, potential based, or skills based, these conversations are happening daily all around us. This comment is not to make you paranoid about interacting with others or about being yourself. The comment is to make you realize that each day presents an opportunity for you to promote yourself in the eyes of the people making decisions. It does not mean doing cartwheels up and down the aisles to get someone’s attention, but it should cause you to realize that you have a professional obligation to represent the company well, and also present yourself in a way in which you can be recognized and grow. First impressions are lasting. Lasting impressions may be all someone has when your name comes up in a conversation. The key message is to take a proactive approach to building your network and making others aware of what you have to offer.

During one of my mid-year conversations, my manager told me about a conversation that had taken place around a conference table when names were being discussed for future positions. She asked me, “How many of the fifteen leaders around the table did you know?” I thought I did well when I said I knew about twelve of them. She said, “That leaves three leaders you don’t know.” She then asked, “Of the twelve people you do know, do you truly know them, do you know of them, or do you just know their names?” I said I truly knew maybe half of them. Therefore, my revised number was six out of fifteen people who could adequately make decisions about my future. She said I had work to do.

We continued the conversation. She reversed the questions and asked, “How many around the table know you well enough to speak intelligently about you and what you’ve accomplished?” The number was embarrassingly low. She emphasized a point I already knew: I had work to do. I instantly built time into my calendar to meet with a senior leader once a month. Every time I have done this, I ask who else I should talk to, and every time I seem to get at least three more names. My list is long, but the effort is worth it and has been extremely beneficial in my growth. I received more calls from senior leaders in the first year of doing this than I had in the previous nineteen years.

My boss shared this story because she was almost burned herself. Her mentor was in on one of those conversations about future moves and my boss’s name came up. When her name was mentioned, her immediate manager said nothing. An extremely bright and talented individual was about to have her moment in the sun dismissed either because the manager did not like her, was in a bad mood, was intimidated by her own peers, did not hear the question, or simply just because. We can continue with the excuses all day long, but the point is that none of us can leave all of our eggs in our manager’s basket, even if we have the highest regard for that manager. The mentor stepped in and sang her praises. Do you know what your manager would say about you if he or she had a chance? Are you sure? If you do not know that answer, or you are not sure, get to know the answer. There should be no surprises (good or bad). Communicate with your manager…often. What if your manager called out sick that day? Make sure he or she is talking with others about you, too. It is all right to ask this question, if you have built a strong relationship.

You need to set the tone for yourself on these types of settings to significantly increase your control of your own career. Most people are not doing enough to network because they are unsure of the value or definition. Networking is not “kissing up,” as some people like to put it. Networking is not even intentional job searching. Networking allows you to understand how to better maneuver through the complexity of the business and the culture by improving partnerships, building bridges, finding integration points, and sharing best practices. Additionally, networking is making you stronger in the eyes of the decision makers and leaders. Unfortunately, all of this takes time and energy. I have found that people begin this trek only after they see a potential job opening arise. By this time, it is often too late.

When I started my first job in which I had no one reporting to me, I enjoyed the freedom of being on my own—until I realized that I had limited power to influence unless I networked and built partnerships. My job was the task force to assess employee attrition. I had no choice but to see the value of networking to achieve my goals to retain more people. I had to hit the circuit and speak to as many managers and frontline people as possible to ensure that I understood their opinions and feelings. Networking was beginning to get fun. There were points of views I would have never come up with on my own. I needed networking, and together with the management team, business partners, and frontline associates in other areas of the company, we were making a collective dent in reducing people voluntarily leaving our company.

So, after you come to the realization that networking is beneficial, the natural question is, “How do you start a conversation with someone you don’t know? They’re going to think I am crazy. How do I start?” The answer is simple. Be honest and straightforward. Explain what goal you want to accomplish in the meeting. The person you want to network with should understand if your goal is to learn a different part of the business, to meet someone new, to job shadow, or to job search. The reasons may vary, and all are good for your growth. The constant, however, is always coming back to building an exponentially expanding network—make sure this is clearly stated to the person with whom you are meeting. Networking, if done right, can and should work for you after the meeting has ended.

Two things made the difference for me when I first started networking. The first two people I spoke with told me to contact them in a few months to give them progress reports. I didn’t believe them or think it was a real request. When that incredible but nagging boss of mine asked if I had followed up with them yet, I said that I had not. I called them both later that week, and found out they had truly meant it. When I did it, one of them said, “You made my day,” while the other said that he was excited about my progress and had already heard about some of my successes. The second thing that made a difference for me was when I thanked one of the people I networked with for his time and told him how much I had learned. He stopped me and said “thank you” to me for investing time with them. He told me that he got just as excited meeting someone new and adding them to his contact list. In addition, he told me how excited he was to share his business story with others. One of my first network contacts said to this person, “You should talk to Tom at some point. I think he may have something to offer to you.” He said, “I already did, and I hired him.” I was not shopping for a job.

I now understand that the nature of one person talking to another is really one person talking to many others. It is funny how things work when you are proactive and assertive, and even push yourself outside your comfort level just a little bit. Dots quickly get connected and people in your network connect with people outside your network to become a part of it.

 

Thomas B. Dowd III’s books available in softcover, eBook, and audiobook (From Fear to Success only):

  • Now What? The Ultimate Graduation Gift for Professional Success
  • Time Management Manifesto: Expert Strategies to Create an Effective Work/Life Balance
  • Displacement Day: When My Job was Looking for a Job…A Reference Guide to Finding Work
  • The Transformation of a Doubting Thomas: Growing from a Cynic to a Professional in the Corporate World
  • From Fear to Success: A Practical Public-speaking Guide received the Gold Medal at the 2013 Axiom Business Book Awards in Business Reference
  • The Unofficial Guide to Fatherhood

See “Products” for details on www.transformationtom.com.  Book and eBook purchase options are also available on Amazon- Please click the link to be re-directed: Amazon.com

MP3 Downloads of “From Fear to Success:  A Practical Public-speaking Guide” are available at Apple iTunes, Amazon, Rhapsody, Emusic, Nokia, Xbox Music, Spotify, Omnifone, Google Music Store, Rdio, Muve Music, Bloom.fm, Slacker Radio, MediaNet, 7digital, 24-7, Rumblefish, and Shazam “From Fear to Success” MP3 on CD Baby

 

Post from Transformation Tom- Don’t Let People Leave Their Manager, or the Company: Chapter from “The Transformation of a Doubting Thomas”

Posted by tomdowd - October 27, 2018 - News
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Compelling research shows that people most often leave their manager, not the company. I spent almost two years solely dedicated to researching the topic of employee retention. I served on a one-person task force with a mission to “fix the attrition problem” we were having in our department of over two thousand people. As a call center, high voluntary turnover is somewhat expected, but my research found far too many easy ways to keep people. I invested a significant amount of time with management in the ten different sites in which we worked at the time. The goal was to ensure that I understood the root causes, and they understood the potential countermeasures to retain their people. It was clear that some managers needed to truly understand how delicate their relationships were with the people they worked with and how easily we lost good people. As an immature manager in my earlier days, I could empathize with a lack of understanding to the criticality of a strong bond.

Sometimes, managers of the people on the front line who deal directly with customers, for example, look only at their immediate team. If someone leaves, it’s no big deal—they will get someone new and move on. Outside of the investment expense and effort to retrain, however, we are at risk of losing the knowledge a person leaving had, and, worse, are allowing many of these great people to potentially move on to a competitor.

According to Leigh Branham in the book The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave, she writes, “89% of managers said they believe that employees leave and stay mostly for the money. Yet, my own research, along with Saratoga Institute’s surveys of almost 20,000 workers… and the research of dozens of other studies, reveal that actually 80 to 90 percent of employees leave for reasons related NOT to money, but to the job, the manager, the culture, or the work environment.” Beverly Kaye and Sharon Jordan-Evans stated in the book, Love ’Em or Lose ’Em that, “A 25-year-long Gallup Organization study based on interviews with 12-million workers at 7,000 companies also found that the relationship with a manager largely determines the length of an employee’s stay.” Both references clearly indicate how much impact a manager has on retaining an employee.

During my research, I found that employees typically don’t leave over an event, but add up multiple “little” events prior to making the decision to go. An employee may claim she left over a performance appraisal score, but it was most likely just the straw that broke the camel’s back. She was most likely formulating thoughts to leave long before that discussion. The decision to leave typically festers over time as people gradually change their thoughts of leaving into taking action. The time it takes varies from days to weeks to months, and is contingent on many factors, including the economy, presence of a reliable back-up plan, and the employee’s tolerance level with what is going on.

The employee often disengages from work responsibilities, culture, and management. This disengagement time frame will vary based on the severity of what the employee is up against, both personally and professionally. The responsibility clearly resides with the manager to identify the warning signs as far in advance as possible prior to a person making the commitment to communicate his or her intentions to leave. Once that announcement is made, it is most likely too late to save them. This is a key factor in knowing the people you work with and knowing when to intervene.

The organization has the obligation to invest the time and make the effort to save people who want to be there (and are performing or have the potential to perform). They obviously were good enough to hire, and deserve the effort. Sometimes, the person may just be in the wrong position. How many managers are willing to invest the time to find the right fit in the company? As an inexperienced leader, I remember saying, “Who needs that person anyway?” The company does. I have heartburn every time I think of the number of potential people who left the company on my account. I don’t think the number is too large, but anything more than zero is too many.

Once, a young woman said to me that she was having personal issues and needed to talk. I said that I would be glad to talk after I got back from my meeting. She said it was important, but I chose not to listen. When I got back from the meeting—which was not very important—the person quit, and I never heard from her again. She had been a consistent performer and needed someone to listen to her issues. I saw the obvious sign but did not attach the appropriate urgency to it. I’m sure a couple of minutes could have saved her.

I vowed to never let that happen again. A couple of years later, I received a message that a woman who had worked for me for a short period of time had quit without notice. She had come in to let us know and had already left. I took a chance and ran down to the Human Resources office and found she was wrapping up with them. I asked for a couple of minutes with her—a couple of minutes I could not have bothered with years earlier, when I chose to ignore another pleading person. We spoke for a while. She was having personal issues at home and also felt she lacked the appropriate support at work, since she was only an average performer. I knew she could perform well if she was focused. I asked her to go home and commit to coming back the next day, and we would work out a plan together. The honest and mutually direct conversation built a bond that grew as time went on. She became a consistent performer and eventually moved on to another line of business in which she became a top performer. I see her in the halls every once in a while and I burst with pride. I am proud of her staying with the company for an additional twelve years and still going. I am proud that I refused to allow my stubbornness, at the time, to allow her to leave. She was good for the company then, and is great for the company now. I just didn’t know how much at the time.

Whether it is moving the person to another area, moving them to another manager, or working on building the relationship between yourself or an employee, the tough part is being attentive enough to see the signs and courageous enough to take action to save them. It is too easy to say he or she is just having a bad day and we’ll talk later or, worse, we’ll get another good person. Before you say, “Oh, well, ” you might want to first contact the people who need to invest in the recruiting to get them, the trainers who will teach them, and all of their new surrounding teammates who will invest time in bringing them up the learning curve. Make the effort to retain and save good people. The relationship between managers and employees is critical to everyone’s success.

 

Thomas B. Dowd III’s books available in softcover, eBook, and audiobook (From Fear to Success only):

  • Now What? The Ultimate Graduation Gift for Professional Success
  • Time Management Manifesto: Expert Strategies to Create an Effective Work/Life Balance
  • Displacement Day: When My Job was Looking for a Job…A Reference Guide to Finding Work
  • The Transformation of a Doubting Thomas: Growing from a Cynic to a Professional in the Corporate World
  • From Fear to Success: A Practical Public-speaking Guide received the Gold Medal at the 2013 Axiom Business Book Awards in Business Reference
  • The Unofficial Guide to Fatherhood

See “Products” for details on www.transformationtom.com.  Book and eBook purchase options are also available on Amazon- Please click the link to be re-directed: Amazon.com

MP3 Downloads of “From Fear to Success:  A Practical Public-speaking Guide” are available at Apple iTunes, Amazon, Rhapsody, Emusic, Nokia, Xbox Music, Spotify, Omnifone, Google Music Store, Rdio, Muve Music, Bloom.fm, Slacker Radio, MediaNet, 7digital, 24-7, Rumblefish, and Shazam “From Fear to Success” MP3 on CD Baby

 

Post from Transformation Tom- Have the Right Priorities: Chapter from “The Transformation of a Doubting Thomas”

Posted by tomdowd - October 21, 2018 - News
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Ask yourself if what you are so worried about at this very moment is the highest priority? Priorities are funny things. There are differences between urgent and important matters. There are fires that have to be put out, and people are busy and stressed and have to get stuff done yesterday.

I worked with a manager peer once who was obsessed with what people were wearing to work. He was the unofficial dress code monitor. At the time, we had a dress guideline, and not necessarily a dress code. However, he managed his work environment with the unwritten code of men being required to wear ties. He kept bringing the same person into his office to address why the employee wore a sweater over his dress shirts as opposed to wearing a tie. He had this conversation many times with the same individual. The sweater guy either chose not to conform, could not afford to conform, or just didn’t understand the feedback (I doubt this was the case). The person was dressed nicely, but was not dressed the way his manager felt he needed to be. The amount of time and energy spent on monitoring what was worn and the wasted conversations could have been targeted toward higher priority issues. For example, there were employee dissatisfaction concerns and morale issues caused by being micro-managed for lower priority things. The person he was hounding was a decent performer and could have done without this type of counseling. Sweater Guy had no desire to move up from where he was and was content with coming into work every day, apparently prepared to mentally torment his manager. The irony is that the dress code changed a few years later to casual dress, including jeans. Now the person who received the feedback is overdressed compared to his colleagues.

I once had a boss who gave me a goal to recruit and hire twenty people per month for our department. I lived in a somewhat sparsely populated area and recruiting was often difficult. My team managed to hire about fifteen to eighteen highly qualified people per month and felt proud of our efforts. I realize the importance of goals and the need to exceed them. However, this particular goal was set because it was a nice round number, not because it mathematically met the business needs. Each month my pride would be crushed because I was a couple of people short.

The number twenty became my manager’s priority, and he lost his perspective relating to the quality of the hires and the impact his aggressive goal would have on stealing recruits from other departments we worked with. I had to make marginal hires to meet the number. These couple of extra hires per month met the goal, but caused heartache for the trainers because of some borderline attitudes, marginal performance, and higher attrition that had to be dealt with.

As recruiters, we became overly competitive and were internally fighting to make sure we got a candidate that was breathing. The extra pressure we put on achieving our own goals soured our relationships with other recruiters and our HR partners. I wish I was strong enough at the time to set the appropriate priorities by setting the appropriate goal based on our actual business need and capacity. I also could have stood up to my manager by presenting these facts and ensuring he noticed the teamwork needed to accomplish the goal, and emphasized the quality of the people hired was first and foremost the top priority. I identified what our priorities were, but I needed to effectively communicate them to my manager.

Alternatively, one of my favorite managers was considered a leader in the industry in his field. He was bright, communicated effectively, and was clearly leading his team to many wins. He found out that his mother was dying and only had a few months to live. During those few months, I was amazed at his willingness to drop everything to ensure that her last days were happy. He flew her on a long journey to visit with family for the last time, and made many visits during work hours to her home and hospital—both were over an hour away. I instantly gained more respect for his ability to realize that the job would go on without him. He made himself available for urgent matters, but knew he would never get that time back with his mother. By making himself available for urgent matters but giving us a clear direction to keep the business moving, we knew he trusted us to get the job done and that he was there for us. His mother died with dignity and respect, and with the pride that she raised a great son. He had the right perspective to not just say that his family was important, but lead by example for all to see. He taught us to set the right priorities and to have the right perspective.

 

 

Thomas B. Dowd III’s books available in softcover, eBook, and audiobook (From Fear to Success only):

  • Now What? The Ultimate Graduation Gift for Professional Success
  • Time Management Manifesto: Expert Strategies to Create an Effective Work/Life Balance
  • Displacement Day: When My Job was Looking for a Job…A Reference Guide to Finding Work
  • The Transformation of a Doubting Thomas: Growing from a Cynic to a Professional in the Corporate World
  • From Fear to Success: A Practical Public-speaking Guide received the Gold Medal at the 2013 Axiom Business Book Awards in Business Reference
  • The Unofficial Guide to Fatherhood

See “Products” for details on www.transformationtom.com.  Book and eBook purchase options are also available on Amazon- Please click the link to be re-directed: Amazon.com

MP3 Downloads of “From Fear to Success:  A Practical Public-speaking Guide” are available at Apple iTunes, Amazon, Rhapsody, Emusic, Nokia, Xbox Music, Spotify, Omnifone, Google Music Store, Rdio, Muve Music, Bloom.fm, Slacker Radio, MediaNet, 7digital, 24-7, Rumblefish, and Shazam “From Fear to Success” MP3 on CD Baby

Post from Transformation Tom- Be Flexible and Adaptable: Chapter from “The Transformation of a Doubting Thomas”

Posted by tomdowd - October 12, 2018 - News
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Built to Last is a book about eighteen “visionary companies.” These admired companies were recognized for their ability to “prosper over long periods of time, through multiple product life cycles and multiple generations of active leaders.” The authors, James Collins and Jerry Porras, wrote, “Indeed, all of the visionary companies in our study faced setbacks and made mistakes at some point during their lives…Yet…visionary companies display a remarkable resiliency, and ability to bounce back from adversity.” Companies that failed to exhibit flexibility may have had short-term success, but lacked sustainability. I’m sure it’s not hard to forget the dot-com era.

My father worked for Sears Roebuck & Company for over twenty-five years. I grew up with the story of the stability of a company that thrived in the retail business for many years. I remember growing up with my Christmas holidays revolving around the Sears catalog. I remember conversations with my father about the history of the catalog and how it was here to stay. I also remember how long they took to adapt to using credit cards outside their Sears card or making decisions to sell other brands besides their own. Their inability to change with the times and their insistence on sticking with tradition cost them profits and many people lost their jobs as business models changed in the 1970s and 1980s in the retail space. Their business model was caught up in tradition and lacked the flexibility to adapt with the times. Sears has since adapted in many ways, but they are in a much more competitive retail environment with the likes of Walmart, Target, and now Amazon and other online retailers everywhere.

I personally have averaged about a year and a half per position within my own company. I always wondered if people really wanted me or if they just wanted me to move away. I have come to the realization that it was a little of both, depending on where I was in my maturity, my job knowledge, and my ability to help the business. In my constant changing of positions, I always found my adaptability to be one of my strengths.

As a child growing up, my family moved out of state on eight occasions. My ability to integrate myself into a new environment grew easier over time—first in school, and then professionally. When someone recommended The First 90 Days by Michael Watkins, I was instantly hooked on the idea of how methodical Watkins’s message was with respect to what needs to be accomplished when taking on a new role. According to Watkins, it is important to “promote yourself,” “accelerate your learning,” “secure early wins,” and many other key tenets. I realized that I was forced to transition so many times in my life that I had gotten used to living in a flexible manner, but probably not in the most efficient or effective way. I liked having the reference at my fingertips, so I pinned the book description up in my office, which contains a “roadmap for creating your 90-day acceleration plan.” I refer to it often when I need a clear plan of attack in a new role or a new assignment, which has been often. I have recommended this book to everyone I have known who was taking on a new job. The message in the book is clear as to how much a company and an individual can lose if the transition to a new job fails. The book emphasizes the acceleration needed to be nimble as you begin your new adventure.

It is sad but true that people come and go in any company. In smaller companies, there may be less movement between roles and positions over time. However, people move out of town, employees retire, some quit, some are laid off, and others are unfortunately fired. Being prepared for new situations is important for anyone’s success.

As mentioned in the introduction, “Change is inevitable, growth is optional.” How you react to the employee movement—the constant movement in some cases—can make or break your ability to grow professionally. You may grow despondent because you have lost close friends, you may be frozen because there is too much work to do, and you may get tired of teaching new people what needs to be done. All of these examples are the negative approaches to change. Your personal growth comes in your ability to transform yourself to meet the challenge head-on.

As you begin to ebb and flow with the changes, you, too, will be seen as a go-to person in times of crisis and change. If you have close friends who may have left the company, you can seek out their assistance as outside mentors and seek their objective point of view. If there is too much work to do, put together the business case for more resources, find efficiency opportunities, and find effective ways to delegate and spread the work. If there is a constant influx of new hires, come up with a clear plan of action to rotate the responsibilities, tighten up the training guides, and enjoy the fresh perspective staring you in the face.

I have been through multiple jobs and managers. My former company has gone through multiple CEOs and has been through multiple acquisitions prior to me losing my job due to cost cuts. All were potentially traumatic events for me personally, and for any company as a whole. I know for a fact that I have come out stronger because of them, and because I adapted my attitude as the events were happening. I am convinced that if any of these events occurred in my first five years, I would have reacted differently, including overreacting with a negative approach. You may have heard the phrase often said in business, “If you are not moving forward, you are moving backward.” You have a choice to keep going with the flow, or stay behind. Your ability to be flexible and adaptable is critical to your success.

 

 

Thomas B. Dowd III’s books available in softcover, eBook, and audiobook (From Fear to Success only):

  • Now What? The Ultimate Graduation Gift for Professional Success
  • Time Management Manifesto: Expert Strategies to Create an Effective Work/Life Balance
  • Displacement Day: When My Job was Looking for a Job…A Reference Guide to Finding Work
  • The Transformation of a Doubting Thomas: Growing from a Cynic to a Professional in the Corporate World
  • From Fear to Success: A Practical Public-speaking Guide received the Gold Medal at the 2013 Axiom Business Book Awards in Business Reference
  • The Unofficial Guide to Fatherhood

See “Products” for details on www.transformationtom.com.  Book and eBook purchase options are also available on Amazon- Please click the link to be re-directed: Amazon.com

MP3 Downloads of “From Fear to Success:  A Practical Public-speaking Guide” are available at Apple iTunes, Amazon, Rhapsody, Emusic, Nokia, Xbox Music, Spotify, Omnifone, Google Music Store, Rdio, Muve Music, Bloom.fm, Slacker Radio, MediaNet, 7digital, 24-7, Rumblefish, and Shazam “From Fear to Success” MP3 on CD Baby

 

 

Post from Transformation Tom- Be Aware That “Nobody is Not Trying”: Chapter from “The Transformation of a Doubting Thomas”

Posted by tomdowd - October 1, 2018 - News
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I actually had someone say this to me after I made a disparaging comment under my breath about someone I believed was not giving their best. I realized the passive-aggressive comment was not professional, but I felt like I had done everything I could do and the person was not listening. What I realized was that that person’s definition of working hard and my definition of working hard were different. The individual calming me down at the time slowly convinced me that no one wakes up in the morning and says, “Today, I will refuse to work hard and I will not try.” He simply said, “Nobody is not trying.”

I began to understand that discrepancy in what I wanted and what some people wanted to give. I wanted a top performer out of everyone. I needed to understand that everyone was giving their best and it was my job to work closely with the individuals to figure out what needed to be done to get them there. I felt obligated to maximize the effort and performance, and to drive greater consistency. As I learned over time, effort and performance are like opinions, and they will often differ.

Many times, the effort and performance can be sporadic in some individuals, while you watch the solid rocks of your teams perform day in and day out. If a consistent performer is struggling on that rare day, it typically becomes very obvious. As a leader, we should work with the person to understand the root cause of these short-term struggles and offer our support. Many times, there is no need to micro-manage a person like this. The attention given asking, “Are you all right,” may be enough. Providing assistance may also be as easy as letting someone work through it on their own and letting them know you are there to help, if needed. Performance managers should not allow this to be the easy way out every time. However, if you know your people well enough, you will develop a good sense of when to interject and when to just check in. The message is to ensure that you are not blanketing everyone with the same type of feedback.

You can also never go wrong with extra encouragement. It is the individual’s ability to cope and break through that may make the difference. Individuals respond to certain methods differently and how you have built the relationship is important. Please note that this does not have to be a manager-employee relationship. It can be peers we work with, in whom we have noticed a dip in performance.

The key is to understand what the root cause for the variation in performance is, and what we can do to fix it. It is important to understand as early in the given day as possible if you feel someone is not performing at his or her best. Neither of you want the whole day wasted. I have seen too many managers wait until the end of the day to say something because they didn’t notice until the end-of-day statistics came out, or felt too busy to offer a simple encouraging word or tap someone on the shoulder and let them know they were there for support. In these cases, eight hours could have gone by causing a non-productive day that must now be written off. Even if the effort was there but the performance was not, the lack of attention during those troubled times may hurt the overall team, and may cause further frustration for the person and send them into a longer slump.

If I am dealing with a person who consistently struggles, I need to better understand what motivates the person, what his or her skill set is, and change the way I am working with them. If I have gone to the same well over and over, I need to ask what I can do differently. Notice that I said what “I” can do differently. I may bark the same instructions or use the same canned motivation to drive the person. If it is not working, I need to change. Creativity is important. I can’t give up on them. I personally see it as my own failure if someone struggles with his or her performance, and it is my obligation to fix it. Early in my career, this perspective was because I thought I would be looked at negatively by upper management. As the years went on, I felt the challenge of breaking through with all performers and building each individual relationship as my own motivation.

I banged my head on the wall about a particular individual who seemed to not get it. His frustration level and constant low performance made it look like he wasn’t trying. He simply froze when speaking with customers on the phone. He said he wanted to do well, but his efforts did not exhibit this. The individual said he felt that he wasn’t getting answers to make him better and felt he lacked direction from me. I felt like I had invested far too much time with him and it was time to put my efforts elsewhere on the team. We were at an impasse. I knew I did not want to give up on him, but I felt I could not sacrifice the rest of the team for this individual. I almost did give up. I tried to get him into another department, and asked if he really wanted to be with the company.

I woke up one morning and said I was going back to basics. I decided to try a different tack. I started asking him more open ended questions. I know he mentioned that he wasn’t getting enough direction from me, but I decided to provide him with even less. I needed his buy-in. I asked what he thought his issues were by asking him simpler questions. I had previously been too targeted with my questions, many of which were assumptive in nature. I assumed I knew the issue and thought I was providing remedies to my self-diagnosed symptoms. What I failed to accomplish was getting to the real root causes.

I began to ask if the struggles were in the phone conversations themselves. Was it the selling to our customers? Was it the computer system? I knew he may not be able to put his finger on it, but I could act as a detective to diagnose where to start—but only after I had his buy-in to be part of the solution.

It is easy to have the poor performer sit next to other top performers and say, “Do what I do.” People learn at different paces and in different ways. Some like classroom learning, others like visual stimulation, while many just like to be thrown in and just start doing it themselves. We can’t blanketly teach each person the same way. In that case, the two of us began to rearrange how the computer system looked on the screen. We put certain applications in the front that he seemed to reference more often and placed other applications in the background that he didn’t use as much but could get to quickly, if needed.

We both had an immediate epiphany. He had been overwhelmed with his own system set-up. His frustration translated into mincing words with customers because he was worried about where to go next on the screen. This impacted his ability to sell the most suitable products to meet the customers’ needs. This simple change in his screen set-up created an almost immediate superstar top performer. His confidence level climbed and he significantly exceeded his performance expectations. He was making a difference on the team and was quickly becoming a leader. He came from the verge of elimination to the top of the podium.

Each individual is unique and needs to be driven, inspired, and motivated differently. Each person’s ability to try and succeed also varies and needs to be understood at an individual level. If you think someone is “not trying,” take a different, creative approach. We need to be patient when someone is not performing, since some people break out of it more easily than others. I am now convinced that most people can do it with the right coaching, leadership, and support. I have learned that I can’t offer solutions until I can identify and fix the symptoms first. I realized I had to try to understand the cause first. The person may be having personal issues or may not be feeling well, but I am confident that he or she did not wake up and say, “Today I’m going to intentionally have a bad day.”

 

Thomas B. Dowd III’s books available in softcover, eBook, and audiobook (From Fear to Success only):

  • Now What? The Ultimate Graduation Gift for Professional Success
  • Time Management Manifesto: Expert Strategies to Create an Effective Work/Life Balance
  • Displacement Day: When My Job was Looking for a Job…A Reference Guide to Finding Work
  • The Transformation of a Doubting Thomas: Growing from a Cynic to a Professional in the Corporate World
  • From Fear to Success: A Practical Public-speaking Guide received the Gold Medal at the 2013 Axiom Business Book Awards in Business Reference
  • The Unofficial Guide to Fatherhood

See “Products” for details on www.transformationtom.com.  Book and eBook purchase options are also available on Amazon- Please click the link to be re-directed: Amazon.com

MP3 Downloads of “From Fear to Success:  A Practical Public-speaking Guide” are available at Apple iTunes, Amazon, Rhapsody, Emusic, Nokia, Xbox Music, Spotify, Omnifone, Google Music Store, Rdio, Muve Music, Bloom.fm, Slacker Radio, MediaNet, 7digital, 24-7, Rumblefish, and Shazam “From Fear to Success” MP3 on CD Baby