Archive for December, 2011

Performance management: Slow drip trumps the fire hydrant

You all know how it feels to have someone in your personal life tell you about a conflict they’ve been harboring long after it’s happened. You feel ambushed. More importantly, you feel powerless to correct events from the distant past, where any amount of explanation feels like a Herculean effort.

The same can be said of annual performance reviews, if they exist in isolation of any other strategic feedback and coaching expectations or formal reward and recognition processes. If the annual review is your only plan for recognizing or coaching your employees, then authors Eric Mosley and Derek Irvine would like to intervene. In their book, Winning with a Culture of Recognition, the authors weave in what they call MYTH BUSTERS to address common misunderstandings about recognition in the workplace.

Here is Mosley and Irvine’s MYTH BUSTER about performance appraisals:

The annual or biannual performance appraisal process is not the most effective means of conveying praise or constructive feedback to employees due to several limitations, not the least of which are:

1. Because of their infrequency, appraisals are usually a source of anxiety for both the appraiser and the employee.
2. Standard appraisals primarily offer the viewpoint of one person with no real benchmark beyond the immediate team.
3. Appraisals give an imprecise picture of performance.

Strategic recognition dramatically enhances the performance of employees by encouraging peers and managers to frequently and in a timely way acknowledge efforts and achievements that demonstrate the company values and contribute to company objectives. It is critical that the recognition come as soon as possible after the effort or achievement being awarded.

These “recognition assessments” and kudos then can be used during the annual performance review as additional data on an employee’s strengths (John has been recognized repeatedly for innovation) and even weaknesses (but John has been recognized only once for teamwork) and to identify potential areas of improvement. This presents a much more rounded view of an employee’s contributions, some of which may not have been seen directly by the employee’s manager. Moreover, since such a strategic recognition program is deployed company-wide, data can be gathered and used to benchmark and individual’s performance and demonstration of values in their work against direct peers, team members, the division, and even the company as a whole.

Once a year, once a month, or once a week. Which do you think is going to have a greater impact on your daily behavior?

Choose the “slow drip” recognition versus the once-a-year “fire hydrant” of feedback. The consistent, steady strategy recommended by the authors strengthens your annual review with anecdotal and quantitative information about the employee, thus diminishing the need to couch potential surprises. If given the chance, you’ll find that most employees correct their performance behavior long before the annual review and your bottom line will be better for it. Either way, you’ll have the data you need to act on your annual evaluation rather than ramping up to prove your case after the review.

See also:

This blog excerpts a Page to Practice™ book summary from CausePlanet. Learn more about our summary library for subscribers or summary store for single titles.

Winning with a Culture of Recognition

Fired Up or Burned Out

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Consensus among the ranks

One of the fascinating aspects of publishing CausePlanet is learning about the numerous perspectives each author has about what makes you a successful nonprofit leader. Even more compelling is when two or more authors, with completely different backgrounds, align in their thinking. I love to point out these moments because there’s nothing like consensus to instigate change.

In our December feature from 2009, 12: The Elements of Great Managing by Rodd Wagner and James Harter, the authors draw from The Gallup Organization’s database—which now includes 10 million employee and manager interviews—to give real-life examples of how managers from around the world epitomize each of the 12 Elements.

In addition to the Gallup data, the authors use the latest insights from brain-imaging studies, genetics, psychology, behavioral economics and other scientific disciplines to reveal what drives good managers. Wagner and Harter’s 4th element is the power of private and public feedback:

4th Element: “Recognition and Praise”: In the busy nonprofit world—with minimal resources and a greater need for resources—there will always be problems. However, without a conscious effort to maintain recognition and praise, the negative events will overshadow the positive ones. Managers who fail to use the power of positive feedback diminish both their managerial effectiveness and the power of the salaries they are paying. One of the most effective ways of improving recognition of employees is to discover the forms of feedback that mean the most to them, i.e. knowing who prefers public praise to private praise, and vice versa.

In our current feature, Winning with a Culture of Recognition by Eric Mosley and Derek Irvine, the authors created an entire book out of Wagner and Harter’s 4th Element of great managing. Their belief is that strategic recognition plays a critical role in every organization’s success. In fact, they claim that even in tough-minded cultures like the military, positive reinforcement is a powerful driver of a winning culture.

“U.S. Marine training might be strenuous and even abusive, but that initiation process is not the winning culture. The stress of Marine boot camp serves as much to identify Marines as to train them. Once established as a marine, an individual experiences profound recognition on a daily basis—reinforced by mottos, the uniform, the unit cohesion, the intense group loyalty. Marines display recognition for their service and sacrifice on their uniforms in the form of medals, ribbons, and rank insignia. All these inspire pride and internal reward. Marine culture is intensely about recognition,” say Mosley and Irvine.

I would call this convergence on strategic recognition consensus among the ranks. Don’t forget to recognize your employees today.

If you’re interested in discussing these book ideas and others with fellow nonprofit leaders, consider registering for a new virtual book club called Management Café, presented by the Nonprofit Cultivation Center. CausePlanet’s Page to Practice™ summaries will be the foundational subjects for facilitated discussions each month. You’ll have an opportunity to connect with your peers on hand-selected book topics from January to June 2012. Space is limited so register sooner than later.

See also:

Winning with a Culture of Recognition

12:The Elements of Great Managing

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Going upstream: Engaging nonprofits in public policy issues

Suppose there is a river with a strong current that washes people downstream if they fall into it.  Upstream is an old bridge with broken railings.  You could spend a lot of time and effort pulling everyone who falls into the river to shore.  Or you could fix the railings so that fewer people fall into the river in the first place.

Pulling people out of the river, which is absolutely critical, is similar to what many nonprofits that provide direct services do.  Fixing the railings so that fewer people fall into the river in the first place is analogous to enacting more effective public policies.

Merle Chambers, a noted Denver philanthropist, uses this simple example to illustrate the importance of going upstream to change public policy as a way of addressing community problems.

Public policies often have a significant effect on the lives of many of nonprofit clients and the resulting demand for services nonprofits provide. With their unique insights and knowledge about how current policies are working, nonprofit organizations can help craft more effective policy solutions to improve the lives of their clients and, in the process, enrich the policy debate.

Yet many nonprofits shy away from getting involved in the public policy process. Oftentimes this is due to the controversial nature of public policy debates and the complicated and messy process of setting public policy. However, if approached with care and solid planning, nonprofit organizations can successfully navigate the public policy process while avoiding most of the downside risks.

Over the past four years, the Bell Policy Center has had the opportunity to work with a broad coalition of groups to change the public policy around payday loans.  This coalition included more than 40 nonprofit organizations, including the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, Colorado Catholic Conference, Habitat for Humanity and The Gathering Place.  These groups serve many low-income Coloradans – the primary customers for payday lenders.  Actions taken by the nonprofit groups to support the legislation including their clients testifying were critical in enacting these policy changes.

As a result of the payday lending law enacted in 2010 and preserved in 2011, we estimate that payday borrowers will save $52 million per year in loan charges.  These savings will have a broad and lasting effect on the low-income people served by the coalition’s members and will reduce the demand for many of the services they offer.

While the payday lending legislation is an example of a positive outcome with a big payoff, nonprofit organizations need to be aware of the risks involved in engaging in public policy debates.  First, public policy issues can be controversial and result in push back or negative reactions from donors and supporters.  It is possible that people may come to see the nonprofit in a different light – instead of being viewed as a friendly soup kitchen, the organization could be perceived as just another “special-interest group” down at the capitol fighting over funding.  Taking stands on public policy issues could win supporters, but it also could turn others off.

Second, effectively engaging in policy making requires time and resources.  Identifying, understanding and deciding which issues to engage in requires staff, board and volunteer time.  Taking action such as writing letters, calling lawmakers, monitoring the status of issues takes additional time.  Nonprofits might have to develop or enlist new expertise, such as someone to testify at the legislature or lobby policymakers.  If issues are not selected with care or if policies adopted are ineffective, the time spent could be viewed as wasted.

However, if chosen wisely and carried out effectively, efforts to change public policy can have an impact far beyond what nonprofits might accomplish through direct services.  Said another way, by taking steps to fix the bridge, you often can help far more people than can be fished out of the river.
In addition, by engaging in highly visible public policy issues related to their mission, nonprofits can gain new supporters and help the broader community work to solve problems.

In terms of the public policy process, nonprofit groups bring real-world experience in how policies affect their clients.  Legislators, for example, always want to know how programs are “really” working and what can be done to improve them. Many times, nonprofits can involve their clients in the policy making process – allowing people in need to join the discussion.  These actions enrich the debate and provide policymakers with a wider range of viewpoints and information they can use in shaping policies.

The following actions can help nonprofit organizations more effectively engage in public policy issues:

1. Examine thoroughly the costs and benefits of engaging in public policy issues and proceed forward only with broad-based support from the organization’s donors, board members and staff. It is important that donors and others are comfortable with the organization’s involvement with public policy issues.

2. Know what you can do as a nonprofit in terms of public policy advocacy and scrupulously adhere to these rules.  The Colorado Nonprofit Association provides excellent materials and training on public policy advocacy that clearly lay out the legal guidelines.

3. Determine which types of public policy issues to engage in.  For example, an organization might limit its involvement to those issues that directly affect its clients and its ability to fulfill the organization’s mission.

4. Use board members and senior staff to assess public policy issues including identifying your positions on them and the actions you will take in response and report this information regularly to your board.

5. Require super majority approval by the board before deciding to engage in a public policy issue. This ensures that the organization weighs in on matters only where is there is broad agreement among your major supporters.

6. Participate in coalitions or join other groups that work with similar clients or face similar policy challenges. This can help reduce the time and costs of assessing issues, plus it can expand your reach and influence.

7. Identify a current supporter or donor that has expertise in the public policy process, such as a lawyer or lobbyist, who would be willing to provide their service as an in-kind donation.

8. Engage clients in the public policy process by eliciting their views on how current policies affect them and how they would like to see the policies changed.  Hosting tours of your facilities, having clients talk with lawmakers and even having clients testify before legislative committees are powerful ways of getting your message across to policymakers.

By working to improve public policies, nonprofit organizations can significantly help the people they serve and improve the overall quality of life in Colorado. If we can fix the bridge, there will be fewer people to fish out of the river.

See also:

The One-Hour Activist

Forces for Good

Do More Than Give

Image credit: Kimberly Kingsley



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Discover the power of real-time performance management

Many of you are wrapping up your fundraising goals this month. If you are on a fiscal year, you’re at the halfway point. While your eye may be on the waffling donor who’s considering their year-end tax-deductible gift, don’t forget to take this opportunity to recognize your staff. Winning with a Culture of Recognition demonstrates how important authentic recognition is to your team loyalty, productivity, and bottom line. Co-author Derek Irvine had this to say when I asked him why he wrote Winning with Eric Mosley.

CausePlanet: Hi, Derek. Thanks again for this interview for our readers. What inspired you to write this book?

Derek Irvine: This book was an opportunity for us (co-author Eric Mosley, CEO of Globoforce and me) to share recognition best practices we’ve seen working with some of the world’s most successful and admired companies. Our ambition for this book is to change the way company leaders think about recognition. With recognition, HR and business leaders today can elevate employee engagement, increase employee retention, manage company culture and discover the power of real-time performance management.

The authors weave insightful “Myth Busters” throughout their book. I’ll do my best to share some of them this month in our weekly blog since there simply isn’t enough room in our Page to Practice book summary to include them all. Here’s the first of many memorable myth busters:

MYTH BUSTER: Are you only retaining employees or are you creating loyal employees? What’s the difference?

“A survey by the Center for Work-Life Policy, an American consultancy, found that between June 2007 and December 2008 the proportion of employees who professed loyalty to their employers slumped from 95 percent to 39 percent; the number voicing trust in them fell from 79 percent to 22 percent. A more recent survey by DDI, another American consultancy, found that more than half of respondents described their job as ‘stagnant,’ meaning that they had nothing interesting to do and little hope of promotion. Half of these ‘stangators’ planned to look for another job as soon as the economy improved. People are both clinging on to their current jobs, however much they dislike them, and dreaming of moving when the economy improves. This is taking a toll on both short-term productivity and long-term competitiveness: The people most likely to move when things look up are high-flyers who feel that their talents are being ignored. Employees agree to be retained in tough economic environment or in other situations in which options may be limited. But if you’re not fostering employee loyalty, as soon as more options become available, you will see your employee retention numbers plummet.”

In Winning, Irvine and Mosley cover many nuances of successful recognition programs, including the differences between recognition and incentives, and the importance of timing. The holidays are a great time to reflect on your employees accomplishments throughout the year. If not now, kick off 2012 with recognition plan. You’ll thank yourself when the economy improves.

See also:
Page to Practice book summary of Winning with a Culture of Recognition

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Overcome employee discontent to gain competitive advantage


For the second year in a row, 84 percent of American workers intend to actively look for a new job, according to new research by Right Management. Workplace incivility is also on the rise.  According to research presented at the 2011 American Psychological Association annual meeting, up to 80 percent of workers have experienced incivility.   Workers are struggling and have been for some time.  In 2009, The Conference Board published a report with the subtitle “America’s Unhappy Workers.”   The report concluded that employee satisfaction was at its lowest point since The Conference Board began surveying it more than 20 years ago.

The good news is that is doesn’t have to be this way. Leaders can develop workplace cultures that engage people. There are three types of workplace cultures: Dog-Eat-Dog Cultures, Indifferent Cultures (cultures that are indifferent to people and treat them as human doings), and “Connection Cultures” where people feel connected to their organization’s identity (i.e. mission, values and reputation), where they feel connected to their colleagues and supervisor, and where they feel connected to their role in the organization (because it fits their strengths and provides the right degree of challenge).

Connection is the force that transforms a dog-eat-dog culture into a sled dog team that pulls together. Without going too far into the psychology of connection, let me just summarize by saying simply that we are humans, not machines. We have emotions. We have hopes and dreams. We have a conscience. We have deeply felt human needs to be respected, to be recognized for our talents, to belong, to have autonomy or control over our work, to experience personal growth, and to do work that we feel is worthwhile in a way that we feel is ethical. When we work in an environment that recognizes these realities of our human nature, we thrive. We feel more energetic, more optimistic, and more fully alive. When we work in an environment that fails to recognize this, it is damaging to our mental and physical health.

And when you think about it, that makes sense. Let’s consider how this plays out in the workplace. When we first meet people, we expect them to respect us. If they look down on us, if they are uncivil or condescending, we get upset. In time, as our colleagues get to know us, we expect them to appreciate or recognize us for our talents and contributions. That really makes us feel good. Later on, we begin to expect that we will be treated and thought of as an integral part of the community.

Our connection to the group is further strengthened when we feel we have control over our work. Connection is diminished when we feel we are being micro-managed or over-controlled by others. If we are over-controlled, it sends the message that we are being treated like children or incompetents, and it’s a sign that we are not trusted or respected.

Connection is also enhanced when we experience personal growth. In other words: when our role, our work in the group, is a good fit with our skills, providing enough challenge to make us feel good when we rise to meet that challenge (but not so much challenge that we become totally stressed out). Finally, it motivates us to know our work is worthwhile in some way and to be around other people who share our belief that our work is important. To the extent that these human needs of respect, recognition, belonging, autonomy, personal growth and meaning are met, we feel connected to the group. When they are not met, we feel less connected, or even disconnected.

The bottom line is that connection plays a critical part in improving individual performance. People who are more connected with others fare better in life than those who are less connected. Connection, because it meets our human needs, makes people more trusting, more cooperative, more empathetic, more enthusiastic, more optimistic, more energetic, more creative and better problem solvers. It creates the type of environment in which people want to help their colleagues. They are more open to share information that helps decision makers become better-informed. The openness that emerges in a trusting and cooperative environment creates a robust marketplace of ideas that stimulates innovation. Connection among people improves performance in an organization and creates a new source of competitive advantage.

See also:

The Connection Culture

Fired Up or Burned Out

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Fired up or burned out?

You’ve all heard the phrase “You should never judge a book by its cover.”

The truth is we all do.  In this particular case, I looked at some of the great management books we’ve featured at CausePlanet over the years. One of them caught my eye because the cover’s so great. But the more intelligent answer you’re looking for is that it contains a terrific amount of sage advice for managers. The book is called Fired Up or Burned Out: How to Reignite Your Team’s Passion, Creativity and Productivity by Michael Lee Stallard. December feels like an appropriate time to take a pulse and see if you fall into one of these “fired up” or “burned out” camps. In either case, you’ll find Stallard’s approach worth your time.

Stallard talks about the notion that connected organizations are more productive, more innovative and more profitable. Conversely, a lack of connection will gradually burn employees out. Stallard makes the case for increasing connection at work and shows you how to build a “connection culture”—a culture that increases connection among people—by increasing the elements of a connected culture: vision, value and voice. Paying attention to these so-called “soft” aspects of the work environment will help increase employee engagement and, in the end, will make your organization more successful.

Research by the Gallup Organization shows that fewer than three in ten Americans are engaged in their jobs. Gallup also estimates the annual cost to the American economy from the approximately 22 million American workers who are extremely negative or “actively disengaged” to be $250 to $300 billion every year. Unless people in an organization feel a strong sense of connection to their work and colleagues, they will never reach their potential as individuals, and the organization will never reach its potential.

A “connection culture” is a culture that embraces the beliefs and behaviors that enhance connection among people and meet their basic human psychological needs for respect, recognition, belonging, autonomy, personal growth and meaning. There are three elements of a connection culture that meet these basic needs: vision, value and voice. Leaders who intentionally foster these three elements will reap the benefits of a connection culture. The connection culture formula can be thought of in the following way:

Vision exists in an organization when everyone is
• motivated by the organization’s mission;
• united by its values; and
• proud of its reputation.

Value exists in an organization when everyone
• understands the basic psychological needs of people;
• appreciates their positive, unique contributions; and
• helps them achieve their potential.

Voice exists when everyone
• seeks the ideas of others;
• shares ideas and opinions honestly; and
• safeguards relational connections.

A good way to remember these elements is to remember this formula: Vision + Value + Voice = Connection. When all three elements are in place, it’s a win-win for individuals and organizations.

See also:

Michael Lee Stallard’s website,
Stallard’s new eBook, The Connection Culture
Fired Up or Burned Out Page to Practice™ summary

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