Merge's Blog

Monthly Archives: February 2015

Ranking employees on a bell curve is a stupid practice!

BellCurveAs regular readers of the blog know, I am a huge proponent of measuring performance as a way to achieve goals. In fact, I shared my own personal experience about this last year in Want to achieve your goals? The answer lies in performance measurement. And so I am always pleased when leaders in organizations measure and track performance as a way to motivate employees and celebrate successes. But there is one aspect of the performance review process (particularly in large organizations) that drives me absolutely nuts. It’s this requirement in many companies that managers and supervisors fit their employees into pre-set slots on a bell curve.

In case you’re not familiar with the concept, bell curving has its roots in the educational system where the objective is to minimize or eliminate the influence of variation between different instructors of the same course, ensuring that the students in any given class are assessed relative to their peers. At the end, a bell curve ensures a balanced and normal distribution of academic results. The problem is that this simply does not make sense in a work environment. It basically forces a manager to say that a certain percentage of his/her employees are sub-par. Repeatedly. Every year. Continue reading

Encourage innovation by deliberately becoming less risk-averse

Take Chances“I want my staff to be more innovative” is a statement I hear from many leaders. And the question I always ask in response is “Is your culture risk-tolerant or risk-averse?” If you want to encourage more innovation, then your working environment needs to be tolerant of risk-taking and one that encourages and supports learning from failure. But unfortunately, the truth is that the culture in many organizations is still quite risk-averse. Yet, if you really want your people to more innovative, then they must be more comfortable taking risks and trust that failures won’t come back to haunt them. So how do you accomplish creating such an environment without opening the doors wide for high-risk decisions? Here are two ideas. Continue reading

If you’re not careful, past successes can prove to be decision making pitfalls

Good rule for decision making: what has worked for you in the past will not always work for you in the future!

Making Decisions Road Sign Clipping PathThere is a fine line between using one’s experience as an advantage and getting bogged down in it so that it becomes a disadvantage. The assumption most people make is that what has produced success in the past will generate success in the future. Ergo, use past experiences to make decisions about the future. And this can be an excellent assumption … most of the time! But just as easily, remaining locked in the past can also lead to terrible decisions! In fact, I’ve shared a couple of personal not-so-stellar experiences with decision making in past blog posts (see When things get tough, it’s easy to fall back to old habits and Old habits are not always the best solutions for new situations).

We run into trouble when we rely on old data or processes presuming that the situation or the working environment is the same. Continue reading

Insist that your employees be problem solvers, not problem identifiers

ProblemSolvingSome employees are serial “problem identifiers” – they’re very good at telling you what’s wrong. Whether they’re talking about a process, a person, another department, or even their own jobs, they’re adept at pinpointing and vocalizing what is amiss. But then the unspoken assumption is that it’s your job (because you’re the boss) to fix it. And unfortunately, many managers and supervisors blindly stumble into this trap (see Why do managers have a tendency to do rather than coach? and Do you tell or do you ask?). Don’t. Make it a point to insist that your employees bring you solutions, not problems.

Require that your people become “problem solvers” instead of “problem identifiers”. Continue reading

Why instant feedback is so useful

Recently, a family member suffered a partial lung collapse (it’s okay, she’s recovering 🙂 ) and part of her rehabilitation therapy is to practice breathing slowly and deeply through her nose. But old habits are hard to break, and she often forgets and reverts to rapid, shallow mouth breathing, which of course is not what anyone wants. So her medical support team implemented an instantaneous feedback system.

They hooked her up to a pulse oximeter and sat her in a chair so that she was facing the display screen. A pulse oximeter is a small non-invasive painless medical device, which when placed on a finger measures how well one’s blood is absorbing oxygen. Ideally, you want readings of 95 to 99 percent. When my family member does what she is supposed to do – breathe deeply and slowly through her nose – her pulse oximeter readings immediately climb to over 95 percent. But when she forgets (or dozes off) and reverts to shallow breathing, the readings drop and an audible beeping sound gives her an instant reminder to correct her breathing. Continue reading

The bottom-line impact of poor writing

HelenWilkieI’ve said it before – People judge you based on your writing skills. Turns out it isn’t just your character that is at stake, it’s also the bottom line profitability of your organization! Today I am fortunate to have my colleague Helen Wilkie guesting on the blog, writing about the connection between poor writing skills and lost profitability. Helen is a speaker and author of six books about communication at work, and I’m delighted that she’s agreed to share some of her insights with us today on the blog.

Employees’ writing skills — or the lack of them — affect the bottom line in ways you may never have considered. Here are just a few.

  • Badly written instructions can lead to incorrect procedures, lost time, damaged equipment, lost customers — and lost profit.
  • Ineffective email messages, which often took too long to write in the first place, can create a poor company image, wasted time, bad customer or supplier relations, lost customers — and lost profit.
  • Interdepartmental miscommunication — often through incomprehensible e-mail exchanges — can lead to fragmentation of the workforce, loss of corporate loyalty, missed collaboration opportunities, possibly lost employees resulting in more recruitment and training costs — and lost profit.
  • Cold, impersonal “boilerplate” letters in response to customers’ problems or complaints can lead to loss of those customers, bad news spread to their friends and colleagues, loss of present and future income — and lost profit.

Continue reading

Giving credit fairly in a collaborative work environment

One thing I hear often from both leaders and employees is how de-motivating it can be when credit (for an innovative idea, a successful project outcome, or just a job well done) is not given fairly. Invariably, as more and more work is done collaboratively in organizations, it’s hard to assign credit to a single individual; yet so many organizations still have systems that acknowledge and reward individual effort and success. I am often asked how to overcome this apparent contradiction – is giving credit in a collaborative work environment possible without causing friction and tension? The short answer is “yes”. While certainly not easy, here is one proven idea: tie individual recognition to group performance. When you link how you recognize an individual’s performance to how well his/her team overall has done, you are less likely to cause conflict within the team over unfair credit, and more likely to promote teamwork and collaboration towards better results. I have seen this work first-hand repeatedly in client organizations, but to prove my point, let me give you a much more publicly-known example. Continue reading

How a leader should handle workplace gossip

bigstock-bullying-in-the-workplace-offi-25457597Set a zero-tolerance policy around workplace gossip and you’ll quickly gain a reputation for leading a positive and productive workplace. Here is the rule to live by – “Don’t say anything negative about a person unless s/he is actually in the room.” That’s it! Faithfully and consistently stick to the rule yourself, and insist that your employees do the same. And when you hear someone start up with “Did you hear what he said?”, stop them, immediately, and repeat the rule.

When staff disparage or laugh at people who aren’t there; when they say “Did you hear what she did?” and it’s not a compliment; when they snicker about someone else’s faux pas – all they really mean is that they have nothing better to do than talk about other people. Continue reading