Yet another high-level leader told me recently that she hasn’t had a performance review in 2 years. An executive I worked with a couple years ago told me he hadn’t had a performance review in 25 years. So it goes. Another client told me he is committed to “no surprises” and always shares feedback as close to the situation as possible (e.g., project, interaction, work product). I asked him why he is so committed to that (I want to bottle it!) and he said that he believes it is totally unfair to talk about “ancient history”, or things that happened months ago, at the end of the year. He also said that if as a leader you don’t bring it up as it happens, that is a missed opportunity. I would like to clone this leader.
If you read this blog you know I am thrilled that companies are finally changing their performance management system design. It is so long overdue. The thing I am curious about is, will it make managers more willing to provide real, timely positive and developmental feedback? I am not so sure. A fairly common leadership virus is “conflict avoidance at any cost”. For many leaders providing constructive feedback is uncomfortable. So they often diminish it, or communicate it in such a way that it is unclear. Through the years when I asked leaders about this the most common reason I hear is, “I don’t want to diminish [this employee’s] motivation.” Upon further inquiry, it turns out many leaders are either nervous about delivering difficult or negative feedback, or they are not very skilled, or both. So many leaders don’t give real, timely feedback because it makes them uncomfortable and that is one of the biggest and most prevalent stumbling blocks to real time performance management. So you can change the system and you still need to support leaders in having the conversations they need to have.
Let’s get back to my client who told me that she hadn’t had a performance review. My standard response is, “what is keeping you from writing your own?” Yes, you do need your boss’s input but if you make it easier for them, they will probably comment, agree, and hopefully offer other insights that you don’t have. I find the best way to get their take is to say, “I would rate myself an “achieved” on this project and here is specifically why. Given the outcomes, and what you observed from my performance, where would you rate me? I am asking you, because I genuinely want to continue to grow. You have more experience on this and I need your take.” If you set it up to “give them permission” you are more likely to get real feedback. There is no good reason why the boss should be the font of all wisdom. And truthfully, you should be scheduling a meeting to conduct a post-project review with your boss and team as a standard practice. We need to get better quicker – and each of us owns that – not our boss. It is our boss’s role to support our development, but I don’t buy the "parental model" of leadership. We are all adults and all employees can have the capacity to manage their performance. We need to provide learning, tools and support.
The same holds true regardless of whether you are moving to a more, quick, “pulse” performance feedback system. Leaders need to share both the outstanding, “positive with the why” and the “constructive with the why”. But if they don’t, help all your employees become more powerful and teach them how to get the feedback they need even from a reluctant manager.
And regardless of your level, if you want more feedback, go out and get it. If you are uncomfortable receiving difficult feedback, there is only one way get more comfortable hearing it – ask for it more often. When other people are brave enough to give you feedback, sit still, listen, breath and thank them. And you should be asking people beyond your boss. Ask peers, other superiors and “customers” with whom you work. You can choose whether you think the feedback is accurate or not, but be open to it and the patterns that emerge.
The bottom line – if you are not getting enough feedback, ask for it. You need to own your career trajectory and performance feedback is vital for development and to get a reality check on your reputation. If you don’t, don’t be surprised if your skills and career stall.
This is a different post for me and I feel compelled to write it anyway. It is important for executives to understand that if they want to be trusted, they have to act in trustworthy ways. If your engagement scores on trust are low and you wonder why, it is probably due in large part to people at the top saying one thing and doing or rewarding another. This can’t help but negatively impact the way your employees feel about working at your organization. When you are as large as Wells Fargo Bank, you need to act in ways congruent with your size and complexity, and subscribe to an even higher ethical standard if you want to ensure that your employees know you say what you mean.
If you haven’t heard about this story, here is a good run down:
Carrie Tolstedt, the former Wells Fargo consumer banking chief, retired with $124 million in stock, options and restricted Wells Fargo shares. If she’d been fired, the company could have clawed back $45 million. Shareholders will need to pony up the $185 million in settlement fines. Upon her retirement in July, after the organization was already under investigation and many employees had already been fired, the CEO, John Stumpf, called her “a standard-bearer for our culture” and “a champion for our customers”. Wow. If the Wells Fargo culture is defined by:
Don’t be surprised if your culture sucks and your reputation takes a major hit.
Senator Elizabeth Warren is correct, accountability means that someone at the top should have lost their job – that’s what happened to 5300 employees and that is what should have happened to the executive in charge of the area and probably the CEO. Wells Fargo touts that they put stronger mandatory ethics training in place to counter the problem of employees opening accounts without the client’s consent. But if you are an employee and your manager threatens you for not making your sales goals (and thus putting your job and paycheck in jeopardy), don’t be surprised if your ethics training misses the mark. “Accountable” should at least include sacrificing part of the pay the executives earned due to the increases in the stock price gained during the time period. Regulators estimate that as many as two million accounts may have been opened without customer’s consent. As a leader you don’t get to say that you are accountable unless you are willing to have skin in the game and own the consequences.
These types of scandals are big moments for us consider what kind of a United States we want to live in. I have a vision that all Americans have a fighting chance to have a roof over their head, enough to eat and a safe place for their children to grow.
Watching the CEO of Wells Fargo, with whom I have two accounts, makes me angry. As a shareholder, I am on the hook for paying the fine. As a student of leadership and practitioner who wants to support organizations to become better and more successful, my heart breaks. Firing 5300 employees, many of whom earned about $12 an hour, and expecting that to fix the problem, seems naïve, stupid or dishonest. When you make as much money as Ms. Tolstedt and Mr. Stumpf, then the least you could do is offer some of your own pay to balance the fine that the shareholders must pay. If 5300 employees were involved in the scandal (and of course there were more), there is something wrong in the system. In my experience, system wide issues almost always involve more powerful people at the top. It is shameful when they don’t own it.
Collaboration has improved in many organizations. Still, many companies struggle with silos. Most of us know or have experienced what it is like to work in a silo. Silos typically limit the flow of information, resources, knowledge, and rewards across team or functional boundaries. They also limit our access and understanding of other parts of the business other than our own. I see silos even in organizations that have lots of matrix structures. The thing I am most struck by about silos is how expensive and inefficient they are. Where you see siloes, you see lots of redundancies-both process and people.
Much of a silo mentality can be fixed by your recognition systems and how you incent your leaders. If leaders (and their teams) are rewarded for doing what is best for the enterprise, they are willing to sacrifice what might be best for their team (and bottom line) but sub-optimal for the organization. Changing your recognition systems, rewarding the leadership behaviors you want more of and truly having consequences for the ones that you want to diminish, is the quickest way to create a more collaborative organization.
In absence of that, or in addition, I recommend that clients build organizational leaders and model the behaviors they would like to see from their teams and others. You can do this in big and small ways. It won’t be easy because sometimes you will feel like you are holding up the sky. One organization leader (she is a natural) told me recently that she gets tired of everyone coming to her for development. “Why can’t they go to their direct manager?” When I asked her if she knew the leadership and coaching skill level of the manager in question, she told me, “I think you already know the answer to that.” Of course employees across the organization come to her. She is an excellent executive and coach: she’s smart, demonstrates care and has a strong reputation. Employees aren’t stupid – they always seek out the best, most skilled leaders in any organization.
So here are a few tips on becoming a more organization-focused leader:
No doubt some of you reading this are already organizational leaders. I find them to be rare. Leaders are so busy. So often this takes extra effort and time. The effort is worth it, especially if you want to lead a division or company some day. To lead larger divisions or whole organizations, you have to be able to see and understand beyond your own function and expertise. Organization leaders break down siloes, positively impact their businesses and build their own brand and reputation.
Welcome to Moira's blog. I write a (mostly) monthly post about the work of building better work places: people strategies, systems, teams and leaders.
©2021, Leadership Consulting Parters, LLC