Ed: This article assumes you’ve read Part #1.
The first article finished with the big Rands revelation that it’s the manager’s job to figure out how to give Fez a swift kick in the butt. Yes, Fez needs to have the brains to listen and react to constructive advice, but that’s his deal. If I’ve done everything I possibly can to illuminate a path of growth to an employee and they’ve chosen to hang out in the dark, well, ciao Fez… unemployment is a terrific motivator.
Let’s start with the bad news. There’s no silver bullet to solve the Fez issue. Solving Fez is going to involve strategy, effort, inspiration, luck, and, lastly, a bit of time. You won’t solve it in a moment and you won’t solve it in a meeting.
There is a convenient yearly inflection point where everyone panics about their careers. Annual reviews. I’m going to construct this article around annual reviews, but I don’t want you to think that performing an annual review will solve the Fez. If you worry about career development once a year, you’re screwed. As you’ll see below, avoiding the Fez is a full time job, but since you get actual allocated time to stress about employee development why not stress in a constructive manner?
A BRIEF SIDEBAR ABOUT ANNUAL REVIEWS
People do care about cash. When that annual review begins, your employee is hanging on every word… carefully listening to your tone wondering, good review or bad review? If it’s sounding good.. that must mean cash; and cash rocks. If it’s sounding bad, they stop listening and start pre-bittering themselves for hating you for the next month since you clearly have NO IDEA where they ADDED THEIR VALUE this year.
Compensation adjustments are the result everyone cares about, but does anyone actually know how they’re calculated? What happened over the previous 365 days to result in a BIG CASH WINDFALL or an INSIGNIFICANT PITTANCE?
If you don’t draw a concrete line between a coherent understanding of an employee’s performance and their reward/punishment, you are only adding more fuel to the argument that “Managers sit around doing nothing all day”.
FIRST, GATHER YOUR THOUGHTS, BUT DON’T THINK (YET)
Here’s the deal. If I asked you right this second to tell me about your particular local Fez, you’ve already got a strong opinion, but it’s an opinion of the moment. It’s the latest three interactions you’ve had with your Fez and while those are relevant, they hardly represent a complete picture of the past year.
When you’re assessing an employee, you need to assess against their job, not the work they’ve done over the past two months. This is hard because this is the Silicon Valley and no one knows what happened two months ago… GOOGLE IPO THEN IPOD PHOTO THEN CHRISTMAS, RIGHT? DID I MISS ANYTHING IMPORTANT? IS TIGER OUT YET?
You did. Every month, your team produced something and it’s your job to document that production. I do this by spending an hour a month jotting down reflections of the team for the past 30 days. What stands out in my mind… What’d we do? Who rocked? Don’t get hung up on documenting every single event or talking about every single person… just type. Even if you miss massive contributions by a team member, the act of capturing your thoughts at the time they were happening creates a handy mental bookmark. This bookmark captures not only what you wrote, but everything else hiding around it so that when you go back and read the last summer’s terribly small entry:
“This month blew. No time to write.”
You’ll not only remember that y’all were on a death march, but you’ll also remember that Eddie the QA guy was there with you that weekend and, oh hey, he’s been here every single weekend and, wow, why aren’t we promoting him?
Regular snapshots of your team’s work will construct an impression of your team that you are incapable of constructing in the moment because, in the moment, you’re cranky about not getting coffee this morning, stressed about your product review next week, and DON’T GET ME STARTED ABOUT THE 300 MAILS I HAVE YET TO READ. How can you create an objective opinion of someone’s performance with all this crap in your head? You gotta step back, take a deep breath, and reflect.
As you sit there staring at the ceiling chewing on a year of thoughts, an overall impression is going to form… you can’t avoid it, but I’m asking you to ignore it for now. I’m going to distract you by proposing a model that you could use to look at your employees and begin to understand what exactly are their career needs. The model is Skill versus Will.
SKILL VERSUS WILL PLUS EPIPHANIES
It’s a simple graph. One axis is skill — how much skill does the employee have to do their job? Are the qualified? Over qualified? How long have their been doing it? When is the last time you know they learned something new? How quickly do they handle tasks compared to their peers?
The other axis is will — this is where we measure the employee’s desire. Do they like their job? Really? Have they told you that? Are they viewed as energetic by their team? When is the last time they generated a great idea that blew your mind? Are they talking in meetings or listening? Are they EVER talking? Are they ALWAYS talking?
This graph is not a precision instrument. It’s a tool to better define the impression you’re constructing of your employee. Once you’ve placed someone on the Skill/Will graph, you can begin to consider what your full time job is… constantly and consistently pushing your employees to the upper right quadrant… high skill (I’M GOOD AT WHAT I DO) and high will (I LIKE WHAT I DO). This mental map is your first step in constructing a Fez avoidance insurance policy.
“Rands, um, what exactly am I pushing constantly and consistently?”
Worst case scenario. You’ve ignored everything I’ve said so far. You’re spending fifteen rereading your Fez’s review from last year… spending another fifteen throwing together this year’s review by cutting and pasting the one and only review you wrote for all your employees… making it unique by inserting their full name and project name. Dear Lord. You’ve really blown it.
Yet, you haven’t fully blown it. A complete fuck up is when you take this pathetic excuse for a review and present it. You say, “Employee 629, here is your review. You did this well, you did this poorly. Here’s your 4% increase and here’s your indecipherable objectives for next year. BACK TO WORK.”
You deserve every single Fez that you get. Please stop reading and move to a Red State. Thank you very much.
If you’ve taken some time to reflect on the full year… if you’ve mapped your employee against Skill and Will, you’ve probably had some epiphany regarding the Fez. You’ve realized, “Wow, they’re bored” or “She really has no clue how to architect software”. Great, an epiphany… it’s a start, but it’s not a finish. You are not the one who needs to have the epiphany — it’s your employee who needs it.
I’ll explain via the real fictional Fez. Go back and think about where you’d put him on the Skill/Will graph.. Your gut might say, well, he’s worked a lot of years, so he’s high skill and he’s just bored, so he’s low will
Nice try, but you don’t have the 12 months of fictional notes that I have. See, Fez’s skill used to be high, but it’s fading… it’s middle of the road skill now and the slow reduction is also affecting his confidence… his will. His diminishing skill is diminishing his will which, in turn, further diminishes his skill because he has zero confidence to go gather new skills. Yikes. A Skill/Will negative feedback loop. Didn’t see that coming, did you?
Here’s the upside. Just as Skill/Will fade together, they also rise together. If you focus on one, you often fix the other. It’s a brilliant management two-for-one.
Back to Fez. Let’s say your epiphany is to get Fez some technical training… send him to a C++ class and WHAM he’s going to be happy. HURRY, write that down as an objective because WOW you’ve really nailed that Fez problem.
Easy Eager Manager. Slow down.
ANOTHER BRIEF SIDEBAR — ASSERTIVENESS
I’ve got a a task for you and I’m going to ask you in two different ways. You tell me which request you’re going to actually do:
Request #1: You — go fix that bug.
Request #2: Hey, can you look into bug #1837?
The difference between these two requests is a management style which shows up in every personality test. You, Mr. Manager, are either ASK assertive meaning that you ASK in order to get stuff done or TELL assertive which means you TELL to make progress.
There are a great many charismatic leaders who’ve made billions by only telling folks what to do… I am not one of them. It’s not that I’m conflict adverse or that there are not times that I’m an incessant dictator, it’s merely I hate being told what to do, so I treat others like I’d prefer to be treated.
Telling your Fez what the problem is without belief on their part that a problem exists is tantamount to a personal attack. “You, Fez, are doing a poor job and I’ve decided that objectives x, y, and z are the only way that we’re going to save your job.”
I exaggerate for example, but I’ve had ten plus years of reviews and I’ve had some phenomenal managers turn a review into a speech about me… without involving me… and, well, I happen to be expert about me, so can I please be involved in the discussion?
An annual review is a discussion, not a speech. The goal of the discussion is to, first, agree that the review is in the ballpark. Remember, you’ve been thinking about the review for weeks because you’ve got a deadline… Fez is seeing it for the first time and he needs time to mentally digest. It’s very hard to be mentally nimble when you’re manager is staring you down asking, “Any questions?” It’s doubly hard when they’ve just told you you screwed up for the past year.
Rule of thumb. If you’re delivering big bad news, schedule TWO meetings. At the first meeting, you’re presenting the review… not the objectives. They’re going to want to know about compensation and you’re going to want to say it, but don’t. The moment you say “No increase”, the review is over, the employee is pissed and you’re going to be on the defensive. The meeting has become a mental fight and fights only prove who can punch harder.
It’s the second meeting where everyone involved has had time to digest the review. You can have a discussion about objectives because Fez drove home the prior night wondering, “My manager is telling me that I’m getting stale and I vehemently disagree with that… buuuuuuuut maybe there’s some truth in what he’s saying… Hmmmmmmm.”
With just a smidgen of agreement that the review is fair combined with you and your Fez agreeing about his place on Skill/Will, you can start talking objectives. What can do we to increase skill or will? New job? New tasks? Training? Maybe move him off that team of pessimists so they can spread their wings with some optimists?
Maybe get them out that the job of nay sayers so they can spread their wings with some optimists?
I don’t know what is up with your particular Fez, so I can’t advise specific objectives, but here are some high level thoughts about the extremes on the Skill/Will graph:
- High skill, low will. Boredom is imminent — needs a change of scenery/responsibility. Stat.
- High will, low skill. Needs training, needs mentorship. Needs management. The good news is they really really want it. Savor this because as soon as the skill kicks in, they’re going to start wanting your job.
- Low will, low skill. Boy, did you screw up. It takes a fairly concerted effort to ignore the needs of your employee so long that a) they no longer have the skills necessary to do their job and b) they don’t want to do it. Roll those sleeves up, pal. You’ve got work to do.
- High skill, high will. Great job, ummmmmm, guess what? No one stays here long.
Fez is career drift.
You’ve got some Fez in you right now. You may be the rockstar of your company right now, but you have no clue that three guys in a garage in San Jose are spending every waking hour working to make you irrelevant… they call it the New Whizbang and you’re going to hate the New Whizbang when it shows up because you know it replaces your corporate relevancy.
Your manager is not going to hate the New Whizbang because she doesn’t feel personally threatened by it. She is going to see you Fezzing out about it and, hopefully, she can figure out to trickle objectivity into your indignation.
I have a simple way of managing against Fez. I tell everyone I hire the same thing, “I hired you because you’ve got enough skill and enough will to have my job one day… whether you want it or not.” This statement tells those I work with that I expect them to succeed and reminds me to keep moving because there is nothing like having bright people nipping at your heels to keep you running.