Change Management Plans and Performance Goals: Making the Right Diagnosis
Four Conditions of Underperformance
A few years ago, I wrote two chapters for the book You and Your Nonprofit Board: New Thinking from the Field’s Top Practitioners, Researchers, and Provocateurs. As I’ve reflected on one of the chapters, “Healing Governance Ills Requires the Right Diagnosis,” I’ve realized the same issues confront departmental managers who are faced with managing change and improving performance.
In the writing the chapter I pursued a light-hearted approach to the topic, I used a medical model of diagnosis of symptoms and prescription for treatment. Using that framework I went on to define four conditions using pseudo-scientific names: Benightedness, Phobia, Obliviousia, and Xenoskpeticosis. Over the next four posts I will tackle each one of these individually as they relate to a managing change and employee performance.
You’ve had two weeks to put together a simple project outline and you haven’t done it?
The first condition—which I address in this blog—I call Benightedness. It’s an archaic word that perfectly captures the nature of the problem. Literally it means “in the dark.” The symptoms of this condition are such that a manager might experience them as resistance or arrogance. In reality, the employee just doesn’t know what to do or how to do it. So, how does a manager figure out what’s really going on?
Let’s say a manager asks a new hire to create a project outline for a program that the team wants to launch. The manager has talked about it in meetings and the team agrees that it is something they want to try. The manager waits a week, and nothing. S/he sends an email, and the response is, “I’m working on it.” After two weeks the manager sets up a meeting with the new hire, ready to read the riot act about teamwork. So the conversation begins: Manager: “So, what’s going on?” New hire: “What do you mean?” Manager: “You’ve had two weeks to put together a simple project outline and you haven’t done it?” New hire: “Um…” The responses “what do you mean” and “um,” although irritating to a manager, are clear symptoms of the condition I call Benightedness. Or, in common parlance, cluelessness.
The Best Approach
It is highly unlikely that the new hire is going to self-diagnose and tell the manager that s/he doesn’t know what to do. Most often s/he will make up more excuses and say s/he needs a bit more time. Being more aggressive with this individual won’t be productive. The best approach for the manager is to shift gears, step back, and ask good questions. It is important not to put the new hire on the defensive—the individual will close down or be aggressive and that will be the end of it. Rather, start with a conversational tone to create a non-judgmental neutral zone.
The manager might proceed as follows: I know you are new to the organization, so let’s take a few minutes to talk about you. Tell me a little bit about yourself, your last jobs, what did you excel at? What projects have you managed? How did you approach them?
As the new report opens up and shares, shift the questions to the current situation: As you think about the current assignment, what do you see as the different elements of this project? How do you imagine a timeline, a sequence of activities?
I know you are new to the organization, so let’s take a few minutes to talk about you. Tell me a little bit about yourself, your last jobs, what did you excel at? What projects have you managed? How did you approach them?
If the new hire shows symptoms of: mild resistance, but cooperative behavior; confusion about what to do; some frustration at her/his own progress; and asking questions about what the manager expects; then the manager can diagnose it as Benightedness—s/he just doesn’t know how to proceed.
You might ask, how did this person end up in this job?! Well, I’ve found that there are many people with appealing personalities and polished presentation styles that slip through the interview process and end up in a job—without much of a clue on how to be successful. The challenge for the manager is to assess whether the person has the talent and intelligence to succeed as a mid-level manager. With the costs of hiring as high as they are today—this is a critical decision.
One approach would be to use an assessment tool like the Hartman Value Profile, which will give the manager a read on the individual’s management skill. Whether or not a manager chooses this route, I recommend supplementing with a thirty- to sixty-day intensive mentoring approach that is sure to provide the manager with the information needed to make a retain or terminate decision.
Though it’s going to take someone’s time to bring this new hire up to speed, the best treatment plan for Benightedness is to assign a knowledgeable colleague as a mentor to sit down with the new hire to assess her/his ability to step up to the task. It is important to intervene immediately. Don’t wait.
In introducing this approach to the new hire, the manager might say, “I’d like to team you up with one of our experienced managers to be your onboarding mentor. She will set you up with some tools and give you some guidance. We’ll start tomorrow.”
Role of the Mentor
Once assigned, the mentor needs to embark on an aggressive intervention/education action plan. The first task is to determine what the new hire knows and doesn’t know about project management. This might be a luncheon meeting with a carefully planned agenda, including detailed exploratory questions. It’s okay for the mentor to forthright. And it’s okay to name the stakes, “I’m here to help you onboard successfully, but you have to learn and move expediently, and quickly prove you can do it.” Next, the mentor needs to provide hands-on educational experiences for the new hire—possibly “interning” with someone already proficient.
The mentor should also direct the new hire to online learning presentations or videos, provide practical tools—such as models and templates, and be very clear about expectations—including what success is and is not. It is important for the mentor to follow up at least twice weekly—sometimes more frequently—with conversations—and good questions—that assess what the new hire has learned and assimilated, and whether s/he is developing the capacity to succeed. This is a process of intensive coaching and ongoing assessment—kind of like boot camp.
Making the Determination
By following this process, the manager can get a pretty quick read on whether the person is the right fit for the job. Though it is important to be fair and kind, it is not fair or kind to keep a person in a position where neither s/he nor the manager are satisfied. If an individual is not being successful, it is very likely that s/he is not happy—and the manager is only delaying the inevitable—at the cost of the team. As one CEO recently commented to me: “hire slow, fire fast.” That’s good advice.
In my next post I’ll discuss Phobia.