Accepting Uncertainty at GE

RE: GE Re-Engineers Performance Reviews, Pay Practices

So General Electric is going Lean? It’s exciting to hear they have hired Eric Ries as a consultant to shake up the emphasis on Six Sigma. If you’re a Manager Tools fan some of the changes at GE simply match good management.

That’s right: It shouldn’t take 5 months to write your annual review. And yes, the annual review shouldn’t be the linch-pin in your performance management system. You should be getting regular, quick, fine-grained performance insight from your manager and your peers. See Feedback and Peer Feedback.

I chuckled a bit at the comment from Janis Semper saying, “It’s not realistic to expect perfection anymore.” Anymore? Yeah, we should always have high standards. We should be disappointed when we miss them. And managers should know their people aren’t going to be perfect.

I actually interviewed a guy that said he had a perfect track record over decades in software of always hitting every deadline with quality. Maybe it’s me, but that actually made me trust him less. Perfection requires artificiality. (See Ian Malcolm, Jurassic Park — the book, not the movie.) You can’t really hit it. And if you do, how low are your goals?

It’s great to hear GE will be considering giving incentives closer to the time of performance. No more home-runs in February that have to wait until next January for a raise — or similar.

Offering managers the ability to give their employees time off as a reward? That sounds a bit like HR officially blessing what managers are already doing for their people. But I’ve never worked there. Maybe managers really don’t feel they could do that there already.

Overall, GE’s emphasis on learning and improving faster is a great application of Lean principles, and plain old management feedback.

On a snarky note: the peer feedback via a tool sounds just like what engineers would do. “I want to tell Bob he did a great job here, and might want to change this over here. If only I had a mobile application so that I could type that up and send it to him.” Yeah, what about just briefly and respectfully chatting with Bob?

It sounds like the mobile app’s real purpose is to achieve that ever elusive holy grail of performance management: managing my boss.

That’s right, the company is encouraging employees to give feedback to their bosses via the app. And employees are reluctant to do that. Rightly so.

A good manager has a relationship with his directs that allows them to give “insights” to him. But it’s naïve to assume that all of the managers in a company have that relationship. A program that pushes all employees to speak to bosses with an expectation that they will always be heard, never subtly penalized, and that the boss will change her behavior… a bridge too far.

After facilitated group sessions to gather feedback for bosses “the group is expected to hold the manager accountable for changing his or her behavior, through regular check-ins, but it is a work in progress.”

Yeah, that’s not going to work. Not unless the process involves the boss’ boss.

A group of directs can’t manage their boss. And even if it happens once, it’s not reproducible.

If you want the state of management to improve in a company then directors have to manage their managers for it. You can’t delegate that to the individual contributors.

Just my prediction.

So, yes. Please adopt lean. Please give regular feedback, not just once a year. Please collect information on how management can change. Don’t promise that a group can change their manager on their own.

Recommend: Effective Communicator and Interviewer Conference

Waking up in my own bed again after two days in Palo Alto for the Manager Tools training on DISC (Effective Communications Conference — ECC) and interviewing (Effective Interviewer Conference — EIC).

Bottom Line: I recommend them, both.

The Experience

The setting was intimate. There were 11 attendees the first day and seven the second. In a group so small with high-energy interactive training it is easy to become intimidated or threatened. Our instructors, Dani and Sarah, managed that very well by keeping it professional and low-key.

When I say, “professional” I mean Dani and Sarah stayed on their feet with clear voices, clear speech, varied tone and examples to make sure the subject matter was thoroughly explained and engaging. Every question was welcomed and answered thoroughly while staying fanatically on-time.

Before explaining, ”low-key” I need this set-up: as a long-term listener I was intimidated by my preparations for this conference. Mark Horstman is the voice of manager-tools and there are a lot of meticulous shows in the library covering grooming and social protocol. It’s all helpful stuff, but if you’re a rule guy like me it means, “Hey, that’s a lot of rules I might accidentally break.”

Dani and Sarah went out of their way to make me feel welcome. Each of them introduced themselves to me individually during early breaks in the conference. They made some small talk about things I mentioned in my brief attendee introduction. They took time to connect with me personally without making me feel processed.

I’m not naturally good at meeting new people. I had a goal to meet as many new people at the conference as I could. Dani and Sarah made that easy and I felt a genuine rapport with them.

The Content

A great deal of the conference material is covered in the free Manager-Tools.com podcasts. If you have limited resources you can go a long way through free (as in beer) self study.

If you do have the chance to come to the conference I recommend it.  You will hear things in person that you would gloss over in the podcasts. You will meet people that you want to meet. (That’s attendees and presenters.) These people share some important interests with you and you’ll be enriched by knowing them.

I myself have been a long term Manager-Tools.com listener. I started listening for free in 2010 because I knew my manager was listening to them. That became a great way to learn good things and connect with my manager.  I bought a personal license in late 2012 because I was applying for a management position and I wanted to be able to visually scan and review the show notes. This did a lot to prepare me for the interviews. In late December 2015 my current manager identified funds to send us both to ECC and EIC.

The January conference dates conflicted with a cornea transplant that I had to schedule six months in advance.  I was motivated enough to get there that I moved my cornea transplant up by 16 days so that I could be out of the two weeks of post-op recovery and attend.

Totally worth it.

No, it’s not magic. Neither is Apple, or the Super Bowl, or anything else that has fan boys. But I’m definitely a fan.

P.S. I already had received their most popular Effective Manager Conference materials via video. Recommend that as well. 🙂

Be Likable

Here’s a gem from the February 20th edition of Mad, Sad, Glad from ManagerTools.com:

This is a typical HBR article in that it’s long and academic.  The important part is that people would rather work with with someone who is incompetent than someone who is unlikable.  If you think that smarts are enough, refer to our very first podcast ‘Solution to a Stalled Technical Career‘.  Yes, HBR, we said it 10 years ago 🙂

2015-06-03 Unlikeable

What! I thought this was a meritocracy! Am I not hired for my mad skills?!

Well, yes. You are.

And contributing positively to a team is a skill. One the vast majority of us can’t succeed without.

Be likable.

Be a good, kind, and gracious person. People tend to like those.

No tricks. Don’t just gently imitate others like Andy Bernard from The Office. Trickery is icky and doomed to fail — if not professionally then ultimately in the shriveling of your soul.

Having an Open Door Policy

When you become a new manager you might want to say to your folks, “Hey, my door is always open.”

Then shoot them a crooked smile with your finger gun.

I know I did.

In the spirit of over-thinking everything I went further and posted a formal open-door policy.  As with many of my ideas, this one started its life in a Manager Tools Podcast on Open Door Policies.

Continue reading Having an Open Door Policy