March 2014

Here is a short but thought-provoking post on employee engagement.  It looks an awful lot like something I would have written, or have written, which is probably why I like it.  Plus its written by Beth Sunshine.  How could you not like something written by someone named Sunshine?  Below is a quick reaction.

When you place an individual in a well-defined role that matches their natural abilities, they will be better able to make a strong contribution to the company.

This takes work.  Employees are freqeuntly asked to conform to the work rather than assigning work according to their strengths.  You wouldn’t ask a car salesman to fix your car but we often ask employees to do work that they are not good at and the results suffer.

Reflect on your employees’ strengths.  Find out what they like to do at work.  Whenever possible, assign them responsibilities that match their strengths and interests.




This article is a great example of the need to include all levels of employees.  It shows that you get better results when include frontliners in the process of identifying and resolving performance issues.  I want to emphasize the role of the supervisor in this process.  Notice the process begins when “a supervisor facilitates the team to define a performance issue that is under the team’s control.”

Its not the Training department or the performance specialist who initiates the effort.  Its the supervisor.  This is evidence of an organization that is committed to performance improvement. The days of centralized training and performance improvement are long gone.  Markets and workplaces move too quickly to rely on a separate department to identify and address performance issues.

In other words, performance improvement is a mindset.  It’s either in an organization’s DNA or it isn’t. I’ve been doing this long enough to know that all the collaboration and development from the Training department (which is where the performance improvement specialist is often assigned) cannot change an organization’s culture all alone.  Supervisors and their upline have to make it a priority and look for opportunities to improve.

How do you instill this mindset?  First, performance improvement has to be a part of the everyday conversation.  Below are some questions you can ask regularly to get the conversation started.

  • What can we do better?
  • What are we missing?
  • Who else can we ask about this?
  • Where are your pain points?

The second thing to do is let down your guard.  Humility and a willingness to accept feedback takes practice.  Supervisors have to demonstrate this on a regular basis.  The best feedback hurts a little.  Sometimes it hurts a lot.  A little short-term pain is worth it if you really want to perform at a higher level.

Third, learn.  There is a direct link between learning and growth.  When a person stops learning or loses the desire to learn personal growth stagnates.  The same thing happens to an organization.  There is no shortage of things to learn in an organization.  There is a risk that you might be focused on the wrong thing to learn about.  It won’t take long to find out what is worth learning about and what isn’t.

Finally, maximize the resources you have.  Expertise is everywhere.  You just have to look for it.  Despite their day-to-day responsibilities, most people have skills that are un-utilized or under-utilized.  Tap those resources.  Many times you will find skills and perspectives you never would have known about.  A hidden benefit to this is increasing the satisfaction of the employee.  We all toil away at our job doing work we have to do to keep the operation running.  Giving someone a break to do something different feels like a reward.  For a few hours or days they get to do something they really love and are good at doing.  At the end, make sure to recognize their efforts.  That will motivate others and motivate others to share ideas to improve.

As you can see from the description above, performance improvement can become self-sustaining.  Employees have to feel that the people they report to are interested in their perspective and willing to act.  Once this gathers momentum the culture of an organization will change.  This sounds scary but it doesn’t have to be.  The change I am talking about is the atmosphere in the workplace.  Organization-wide performance improvement is empowering.  It puts a spring in people’s step.  It breeds confidence. It make people happy at home and at work.  Who doesn’t want that?

What do you do when you have competing deadlines?  How do you decide what has the higher priority?  Is it simply a matter of instinct or is there a way you can quickly evaluate a deliverable?

Over the years I have developed a system for determining priorities when I have competing deadlines or overlapping projects.  Its not fail safe but the process often enables me to see unique aspects of each project and helps me focus on the right project.

Dependence on others – Do I need input from other people?  If so, is there any work I can complete before I get their contribution?  If the answer to the first question is yes, I should move on to the next check point.  Sometimes there are factors that cause me to work ahead on a project (e.g., organizational priority) without input from others.  However, my efficiency and overall effectiveness increases if I do all the work together.

Criticality – This is not always clear.  Criticality can depend on organizational priorities, deadlines, or sensitivity just to name a few variables.

Potential impact – How great are the positive or negative consequences of action or inaction?  This is often overlooked and highly subjective but can raise the criticality of a project.  It is also a factor that many people overlook.  Showing that you can see beyond your personal workload to determine your priorities separates you from others.

How do you decide what to work on?