How different would it look if…

How different would it look if…

Synopsis: short read on interpretation of performance and motivation. Deals with how to agree that someone is underperforming (there is no strengths based thinking in this blog, it’s about agreeing it is going wrong…)

One of the hardest challenges in organisations – and indeed society – is where two people have available the same information and draw radically different conclusions. It can be hard to fathom and hard to engage when your world view leads you to a (seemingly) unavoidable conclusion – yet someone else ends up somewhere else. Because for most of us perspective and emotion are layered over facts.

In work you see it in cases of fundamental attribution error/correspondence bias, where we allow far more leniency for context in our own performance but more readily assume that underperformance in others is due to character/capability. I also think people are often more likely to give some slack for context in our own teams than in others.

That doesn’t, however, mean that nobody is ever underperforming, but it probably means we need to do two things

i) be a bit harsher or clinical with ourselves in terms of appraising our own performance

ii) ensure that we have sufficient context to understand challenges facing others

It doesn’t mean that once you understand those challenges that people can’t be accountable for not surmounting them – but assessing work devoid of context is as unhelpful as not setting standards in the first place.

One of the questions I often ask is ‘How different would it look if… ‘

For instance if you have the same information about someone you think is underperforming as someone else (who thinks they are performing…) then ask

‘Once I’ve taken into account context… how different would things have looked if someone I did rate had completed the project/been in the role?’

This approach shifts the focus from the person to thinking about acceptable outcomes in context. It shifts the conversation, quite often, to not being an emotive one about whether the person is ‘good/bad/indifferent’ but a more constructive one about shared expectations and the gap to actual performance

  • What are the outcomes we can both agree we think could have been achieved in the situation?
  • Do we both think they’ve been achieved?
  • Why?
  • So what do we need to do?

I’ve written before about the mantra of ‘Cold assessment of the facts, warm development of behaviours’ and to do this we need to be clear thinking enough to understand acceptable levels of performance in context before we take next steps. And we need to be fair and open in the way we do that.

  1. Context – understand it
  2. Clarity – over what was achievable
  3. Contrast – with what was
  4. Constructive steps forward – to address gaps

Because people love lists that all start with the same letter.

The Milkshake Provocation

The Milkshake Provocation

Content: a short reflection on how being shouted at when younger still has a positive impact now. Even though I’d never recommend shouting

When I was about 16 I was working in a fast food chain that has a largely arch based logo. I had been told to fill up the milkshake machines with new mix – and then suddenly I was being shouted at. I was putting my second bag of mix in and one of the shift supervisors suddenly was shouting at me about costing the organisation thousands of pounds.

He picked up the ’empty’ milkshake mix bag and showed there was still more I could have squeezed out. He pointed out how many restaurants there were around the world and how often they would be using a bag of milkshake and if they all threw away as much as I did… Then just how much money did I think my laziness would cost the organisation each year? I just stood there. And then squeezed the hell out of every bag I ever used afterwards.

He taught me the value of not leaving money on the table. A lesson that has stayed with me throughout my career. Being shouted at in a giant fridge taught me that.

What’s interesting for me – and the more important provocation – is that I’d never advocate people shouting at each other and certainly not shouting at more junior members of staff in a contained area.

But like lots of life’s lessons I’m not sure that if it had been delivered in a less visceral way it would have stuck. I can still feel the emotions from that exchange. I’ve benefited from it every day of my professional life.

Like I say, I’d never advocate for that behaviour, but at the same time a two minute rant in a fridge has stuck with me for decades.

Welcome people well – then tell me

Welcome people well – then tell me

Synopsis: a short request for a practical change in language. Easy to make happen. Change ‘onboarding’ to ‘welcome’ then let me know.

In 2017 I wrote that there must be a better name for the process of welcoming someone to an organisation than ‘onboarding‘. Onboarding is a process. A welcome is something you experience. And I think we are possibly overusing using the word ‘experience’ at the moment – but it makes sense here and that is another blog.

I revisited that concept in a tweet last Friday and received this reply

I’ve completely forgotten how to embed tweets, so it says

in Spanish we say: “Plan de Acogida” which will be something like: Welcome Plan or Reception Plan…….!!

I love that because it does what it should do. It expresses a desire to welcome – then you just have to design/plan things congruent with that. I’d therefore like to encourage people reading this to stop using the word ‘onboarding’ and start talking about making people welcome. I’m encouraging you to actually make that change, not as a theoretical thing but as something you do this morning. You don’t get to talk about putting the ‘human back in HR’ or being more ‘user centric’ and keep using jargon.

Have you got their welcome sorted out? Will they feel welcome? If you think about it it touches on inclusion more than onboarding too. Will they feel welcome?

Obviously when I write here it isn’t with my work hat on, so this is encouragement from me, not my organisation.

I’d like – in fact I’d love – to tell our teams here that onboarding is out of touch and so we need to change our materials.

So if you do commit to make the change then drop me a note to say so… The first person has already signed up…



Unlimited Annual Leave

Unlimited Annual Leave

Contents: a short blog on why we need to keep a focus on the substance of what matters to people

I was on 5Live a couple of weeks ago talking about unlimited annual leave. When you give a radio interview broadly you get to answer the questions and then broaden things out a bit. Also if you are me you are very scared and slightly confused as to how you ended up on the radio.

We ran out of time so this is what I was going to say if the BBC hadn’t decided that somehow people would be more interested in hearing the national news at 10am rather than an extended interview with me…

“I’m glad more organisations are at least thinking about being more creative in the way they support their people. Of course I am. And I’m glad they are being more creative about it – and hopefully more trusting. These are good things. It would be cheap to knock them.

And yet… There is something gimmicky and headline seeking about things like this because all too often they are dealing with the frippery of people’s experience of work. They aren’t addressing the heart of what people would like improved. We live in a time of rightly heightened awareness of how unfair and dehumanising work can be – and so many examples of how it is for so many. A caller described this issue as a ‘middle-class problem’ and I’m inclined to agree.

It seems wrong to be talking about unlimited annual leave when so many people are working hard in unacceptable conditions with little job security and struggling to meet the rent or mortgage payments. It seems wrong to focus on annual leave when the duty of care for mental health and wellbeing that employers have is so manifestly not being delivered for millions of people.

So I can talk about unlimited annual leave and whether it is a fad or a good idea (or possibly both) but it isn’t the conversation that would concern most people. It isn’t the elephant in the room. People want fairness, dignity, security and transparency. That’s not about how many days they get off. It’s what happens on the days they don’t have off”

I’d have said that. But I didn’t get the chance so I’ll write it here.