Let ‘em know how they’re doing!

Remember former New York Mayor Ed Koch, who was fond of asking, “How’m I doin?! While Koch was more brazen than the typical modest Minnesotan, his need to know if he was measuring up to expectations is fairly universal. In the study of thriving workplaces that I’ve been writing about in this series on happy employees, offering performance feedback was identified as one of the four most important things managers should do.

The study authors Gretchen Spreitzer, professor of management and organizations at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, and Christine Porath, assistant professor at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, note in their article “Creating Sustainable Performance” (HBR Jan/Feb. 2012):

“Feedback creates opportunities for learning and the energy so critical for a culture of thriving. By resolving feelings of uncertainty, feedback keeps people’s work-related activities focused on personal and organizational goals. The quicker and more direct the feedback, the more useful it is.”

Once again, I think the good professors are spot on. While the annual performance review is an HR requirement, the best feedback happens in real-time (or as close to it as we can get). We do old-fashioned things like handwriting notes to congratulate a team member on a particularly job well done. But as a technology firm, we also enjoy using social media as a tool for feedback. We’ve set up a site, similar to Facebook but only for Intertech people, where we can post comments, questions, ideas and the like. I make it a point to “like” comments (when I actually do!) do everyone can see that I value their participation. This has become a very popular “social media” site at my company.

On a more formal basis, we employ KRAs — or Key Result Areas – as a tool for giving meaningful performance feedback. I can’t take credit for KRAs; that belongs to Dale Carnegie. But I can tell you that they’re a great tool for creating employee accountability. In my book, Building a Winning Business, I explain how we use KRAs to create alignment between an individual employee’s goals (and bonuses) and the company’s goals. Like company goals, each individual should have three to five KRAs for the year and they should be ranked in order of importance.

After defining KRAs, employees meet regularly throughout the year with their managers to make sure everyone is on track and has the resources they need to actually accomplishing their KRA goals. The beauty of this approach is that there are no surprises at performance review time. If someone has been missing the mark, KRAs allow for coaching and correction in real time.

Minimize incivility (and fire the assholes!)

“The costs of incivility are great. In our research with Christine Pearson, a professor at Thunderbird School of Global Management, we discovered that half of employees who had experienced uncivil behavior at work intentionally decreased their efforts. More than a third deliberately decreased the quality of their work. Two-thirds spent a lot of time avoiding the offender, and about the same number said their performance had declined.”

That quote is from the article, “Creating Sustainable Performance” in the current issue of Harvard Business Review. The authors—Gretchen Spreitzer, professor of management and organizations at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, and Christine Porath, assistant professor at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business—spent seven years studying what makes employees and organizations thrive. Minimizing incivility was among the four top things they found that managers could do to make workplaces more productive.

Civility is a big deal at Intertech. Not only does it make business sense, it makes coming to work a lot more pleasant! Civility starts at the top by setting an example.  I’m happy to note that Intertech partners and senior managers simply do not yell or browbeat people. We also make a practice of saying “please” and “thank you.”

But behaving nicely only goes so far. We’ve also institutionalized our behavioral expectations in a 15-page document called “Intertech Communication Guidelines.” This spells everything thing out so employees don’t have to wonder what is — and what is not – Ok.

Sadly, though, sometimes even the Guidelines are not enough to ensure civility and that’s when we let people go. Or, as I like to say, we fire assholes! If you know me, you know I don’t use that term often or lightly, but several employees over the years left me with no other adjective or choice. They were the “dogs” in my “Saints, Dogs and Stars” analogy (see Building a Winning Business if you have no idea what I’m talking about!). Essentially, they were exceptionally smart or gifted and believed that entitled them to treat others badly.

I hate to sound like a pessimist, but by the time someone is into their ‘20s, they’re about “98% percent baked” as a person. Data supports this statement, which means it’s pointless to try to reform an asshole. The best thing you can do is to show him or her the door. Similar to firing someone who’s nice but isn’t a performer, having the strength to fire an asshole is a test of your culture. If people who abuse others are permitted to stay, it won’t be long before the folks that they’re abusing decide to leave.  With nice people leaving and assholes staying, you’ve got a culture shift – and that’s something I never want to experience at Intertech.

Next time I’ll wrap up this series on employee happiness with a post on employee feedback.

Next post: Let ‘em know how they’re doing!

Let the sun shine!

Those in the news business are familiar with “sunshine laws,” which stipulate that government and other public institutions must openly share information about their operations, decision-making and financial expenditures. The idea is that “opening the doors and letting the sun shine” on government will foster honesty, good decision-making and public accountability.

It’s a concept that works well in the private sector too.

The study on employee sustainability that I’ve been writing about in the past several posts identifies “sharing information” as one of the four most important things managers should do to create sustainable workplaces with happy productive employees.

As the researchers, professors from two leading business schools, note: “Doing your job in an information vacuum is tedious and uninspiring: there’s no reason to look for innovative solutions if you can’t see the impact. People can contribute more effectively when they understand how their work fits with the organization’s mission and strategy.” (“Creating Sustainable Performance” by Gretchen Spreiter and Christine Porath, Harvard Business Review, January-February 2012).

I could not agree more, which is why Intertech embraces an open book management strategy. Specifically, every month, we share the following with all of our employees:  sales, cost of goods sold (COGS), gross profit, expenses, and post-tax profit. These numbers are important to our consultants because they each receive a year-end personal bonus based on utilization (i.e. how many hours they charge).  We apply a multiplier based on post-tax profit.

Our people can earn up to two times their year-end bonus based on company profitability.  In 2011, consultants received 50 percent additional year-end bonus payments based on profitability.  We call this our Profit Participation Program (PPP) and we share the PPP multiplier at the all-company monthly meeting as well.

While employees thrive for many reasons, I’m convinced that our open book approach has fostered a greater sense of employee ownership in our collective success.

Next post: Minimize incivility (and fire the assholes!)