The Puzzle Of Performance Goals

Over the years managing people I have frequently encountered confusion about what the goals for a particular individual should be. Some people pushed for purely performance based goals like “Ship product xyz on February 2nd,” or “Write an article about performance goals that is 500 words long by the end of the week.” Some people pushed more for developmental goals like “Improve your language skills,” or “Learn how to use MS Excel.”

How do you approach setting goals for your team? What is the right mix of these goals and why are they important? In my mind you can divide the goals or objectives into three categories

  • Performance goals (things you need to get done to fulfil the scope of your job)
  • Professional developmental goals (things you need to learn to be able to do your job; usually more so called hard-skills, depending on the job)
  • Personal developmental goals (things you want to learn to be a better person; usually more focused on soft-skills and dealing with others)

Performance Goals

These are the things you need to achieve as a part of your job. Why are they important? Well, without clear goals you don’t know what to do and you have no way of knowing how you will be evaluated. It is important to set these goals regularly for yourself and your team to set expectations. Do this and that by this time. It is important to say not just what needs to be done but how it will be measured or what will be the criteria telling you whether you succeeded. “Hire the team of developers by the end of the month,” sounds reasonable until the end of the month comes and you have five people on board feeling happy while your boss frowns and tells you he expected at least twice as many.

But the performance goals are just the beginning. The one thing you need in pretty much any job is a trust. You need to trust your team that they will do a good job. You need to trust to your boss that he knows what he is doing when tasking you. Trust depends on two principal items: competency and character. Competency tells you whether someone has the knowledge to do the job. Whether he is “technical” enough. Character tells you whether he will do the job to the best of his abilities, whether he will do it the right way, and whether he will strive to be better and better at what he does. These two aspect needs to be addressed by professional (competency) and personal (character) developmental goals.

Professional Developmental Goals

Many of us need to learn new skills to be able to get our job done or even more often to prepare for the next job. We need to constantly use new tools, new technologies and techniques. There are always ways how to be more productive, get more things done and do them better than in the past.

Are you aspiring to lead a team? There are tons of skills you need to learn to be successful at that job. Some of them are more “technical” and some of them more “soft”. How do you hire people? How do you set the tasks? How do you evaluate the results? How do you provide feedback, perform one-on-one’s, or direct meetings? These are goals that are a bit trickier to evaluate but are important developmental steps to get to the next level. If you don’t discuss with your team their developmental goals you are most likely not providing feedback that would help them grow in their careers.

Personal Developmental Goals

Then come objectives like learn to listen, accept feedback and act on it. Things like being able to make tough decisions, being able to coach and mentor people around you. You may want to push the limits of your own abilities, you want to see the world around you, get new experiences to enrich yourself, or you want to get more comfortable in standing by your own values and opinions. You need to have solid values and live them, and you need to play nice with others. These are usually very “soft” things that are very personal. To learn them usually means changing a bit who you are. These are things that no external observer can evaluate, or at least not easily. It is usually only you to decide what you need to work on and whether you are succeeding.

The sad thing is that these are usually the most important goals because they set the foundations of who you are and how you act. They are also most often overlooked in performance discussions because of their inherent touchy-feely nature and difficult measurement. If you want to help your team members with these goals you need to be a coach or a guide who will show them the journey so they can identify these needs for themselves and then be the mentor who will help them work on improving and be better human beings.

In a correctly set performance management you need to deal with all three types of goals. If you overlook one part you will struggle in the other two areas too. So next time you have your performance evaluation or you talk with your boss or your team about the goals make sure you discuss not just what needs to be done to fulfil your job duties but also what needs to be done for you to become better at your job and at the end also a better person.

More on topic of goals and productivity:

Delete Your Calendar At Least Twice A Year

How To Make SMART Goals Smarter

Getting Stuff Done: The Right Attitude

Getting Stuff Done: The Right Priorities

Getting Stuff Done: The Right Tactics

 

How do you set your own goals and the goals for your team? Do you make a clear distinction between them? Along what lines?

Originally posted at LinkedIn.

The Pyramid Of Leadership

Leadership Pyramid

Pyramid. One of the most stable structures in the universe. With a broad base it is very difficult to topple. So how can you take this concept to the world of leadership?

It all starts with self

It starts with you and your ability to exhibit the traits you want to impart on the culture you are creating. If you want to create a culture of honesty and openness you need to be open, honest and trustworthy yourself. If you want your team to follow up on promises and get things done, then again you need to exhibit, live by and belief in these values yourself. Your values and principles are the tools you will use to build the rest of the pyramid. If those tools are broken, or unknown to you, then you cannot expect to build a solid product on top of it.

And we are not talking about fulfilling promises you give to others, but rather fulfilling promises you give to yourself. Being honest with yourself, trust in your own opinions and abilities. Knowing that when you say to yourself “I will do this,” you will actually do it.

Then come the relationships

Life is about communication and relationships. How do you relate to others around you, being it your family, friends, colleagues, customers, is defining the outcomes. This is the part of the pyramid where your internal values exhibit externally. This is where promises given to others should be fulfilled, where you create an image of someone who is trustworthy.

If people around you cannot understand what you want, expect, need, or if they don’t know what your values are and if you are unpredictable, they cannot trust you and will have hard time following you. You cannot build the rest of the pyramid if the basic interactions between the stones, the relationships, are broken.

Then the team

This is your role as a manager. If you have made a pact with yourself, you have well set relationships with people around you, you can then build and lead a team. The values and principles that guide yourself and your interactions with people around are also a good basis for building a team. People already know the framework set by the relationships so it should be relatively easy for them to form a group that works towards the common goal.

Your task is to make sure that the team lives the basic set of values and understands the principles. If there is someone on the team whose values are against the common goal then chances are he/she won’t last long. If more people are getting lost and struggle with the values upon which the team is build it is your task to educate, guide and explain how the underlying values transform into everyday job.

And finally the organization or society

The last one is your place in the universe. People who are happy have very often managed to align their personal values to the values of the environment. They are happy with the way their family lives, they participate in the work the local community does and they believe in the mission of the company they work for. This total alignment is what makes the whole pyramid indestructible.

On the other hand if the values of your company contradict to who you are chances are that whatever you do and whatever amount of energy and flexibility you spend you will never feel truly at home and you will never be able to utilize your whole potential.

Twitter summary: “Leadership starts with self and relationships. By building a solid foundation you can build the rest of the building.”

What are your basics of leadership? What is the single most important aspect without which you cannot have a solid leadership?

Originally posted at LinkedIn.

Communication Shouldn’t Be Efficient

We live in a modern fast moving world. We are trying to manage more and more. We are trying to be as efficient as possible. Efficiency and effectiveness has become a mantra to live by in the business world. You hear these words all the time and they are more or less synonyms (even according to Merriam-Webster), expect that they are not. There is an instance where they mean something very different and that is a communication with other human beings. According to Merriam-Webster:

efficient

producing or capable of producing a desired result <that manual lawn mower is not a very efficient tool for doing a huge yard>

effective

  1. producing or capable of producing a desired result <an effective treatment of the once-dreaded disease>
  2. having the power to persuade <made an effective argument in favor of the proposal>

Let us translate this to the world of communication and see how efficient and effective communication can look like and then consider how you usually communicate.

Efficient communication

One of the most efficient ways to communicate is e-mail. You can write down couple of sentences, punch a send button and in couple of seconds the information spreads to hundreds of people. A bit less efficient but still pretty good is recording a voice message or a video of what you want to communicate and post it on youtube or at least corporate intranet.

Both of these are very common in corporate environment and with both of them you have to ask a very important questions: “Who actually read the email or saw the video? And how did they understand the content?” Hundred percent for efficiency, zero percent for effectiveness. You communicated what you wanted but you have no idea whether you actually communicated anything at all.

Effective communication

If you really want people to hear what you are saying, understand it right and take action you need to take a bit less efficient but more effective approach. What is the mysterious way to get your point across? Just pick up a phone, or get out of your office and walk to their cubicle and talk to them! Talking may not be the most efficient way how to spread information but in the long-run it saves you time in a form of less confusion and less misunderstandings.

Talking will provide you with several benefits you wouldn’t get by the other more efficient means:

  • Feedback (people have a chance to provide you with feedback and potentially improve on your original idea)
  • Clarity (people may ask questions that will make you clarify things even for yourself thus leading to better understanding)
  • Buy-in (people will feel involved and thus will be more willing to act upon the requests you made)

So which one do you chose? It really depends on what you are trying to achieve. If you just want to “spread the word” and you are not particularly interested whether all the parties get the information then you go for the most efficient option. If it is important to you that the information is received, understood and acted upon you want to go for effectiveness over efficiency. Simply put, the way how you communicate is equally important to the content of what you communicate.

Twitter summary: “Forget efficiency when communicating important information. Go for effectiveness.”

Other articles on topic of communication:

One Question You Should Never Ask

The Power And Danger Of Using Humor When Leading People

If I Were 22: Life Is About Communication And Attitude

The Real Leadership Shows When You Are Not The Boss

Coaching 101: What To Ask?

How do you usually communicate? What form of communication works for you the best?

Originally posted at LinkedIn.

Fortune Favors The Well Prepared

7PSince I can remember I had this life motto: “Fortune favors the well prepared.” Living by it enabled me to achieve many things that I thought I’m not capable of achieving. Curious thing I was told on numerous occasions, is that I’m really good at improvisation, that I can come up with good ideas on the spot, I can talk on a topic without giving it much thought or make a decision without over-analyzing. It might sound a bit paranoid but the reason why it may appear this way to the outside world is that I most likely already thought about these scenarios in the past and I’m prepared to deal with them. So what may appear as improvisation is in fact just a good preparation that was done in the past.

Always be one step ahead

Be future oriented person. Don’t live in the past. Always try to see what is coming and be prepared for it. A lot of training I went through was like this. It wasn’t much focused on what I needed at that point of time but rather on what could be useful mid-term or long-term. Whether it was my MBA education, coaching training, participation in Toastmasters sessions or even writing this blog today it was always done with the idea that I may need the skills at some point down the road. This is a strategy that pays off if you have a clear idea on where you are going, what is your goal and also what are your life values. When then opportunity present itself, or you create one, you are ready to dive in and be successful. It could be summarized as “always train for the next job and not the job you have”.

Important note here. I’m not saying you shouldn’t live in present and enjoy what you have today. No, if you want to be happy you must be able to live in the moment and enjoy the small things as they are coming. At the same time you need to take steps to ensure these small happy moments will keep coming also in the future.

Always be prepared

If you want to consistently perform at the highest level it means a consistent preparation. If you are really good at your job you can occasionally get away with improvisation but you cannot do it all the time as you could end up being inconsistent in the way you communicate, in the priorities you set and in the way others would perceive you. Being prepared is the easiest way how to build an image of a good manager and a leader. Being prepared means that you always know what is going on, you always have your facts straight, you always have an opinion, and you are consistent and reliable.

For example, imagine just a simple meeting. If you have your agenda ironed out before the meeting and you have couple of talking points for each of the topics you will be able to focus on the important issues, you will make sure to deliver your message in a really organized and impactful manner and you will be seen as a strong leader who knows what he is doing, who is confident in his or her own abilities and in the direction he or she proposes.

Don’t get surprised

I hate surprises. At least in my professional life. Surprise means that I didn’t expect something happening, that I didn’t plan in advance for it, that I didn’t pay attention or I didn’t communicate well enough. I make it a point that I keep good enough communication with my team, and I constantly keep in touch with important stakeholders in my life to ensure that very rarely I get really surprised. Yes, from time to time there is a slight surprise but usually along the lines of something happening a bit faster than expected. A true leader should never be caught by surprise as I wrote in One Question You Should Never Ask.

For example, in project management it is a good habit to always keep track of risks (and probability of them occurring). When managing software development projects you should always want your team to analyze the current status of the project and come up with three risks with biggest impact and three risks with highest probability of occurrence. If the team couldn’t come up with three you should still push for it so they really think hard. And when the worst risk that you see is something like “we may run out of coffee and get sleepy” that is the time you know the project is pretty safe.

Have a Plan B

As the old saying goes: “If you don’t have a plan B you don’t have a plan at all.” When it comes to critical or important things in life you should never rely on one option, one person, one idea or one goal. As you would do with your money, diversify your portfolio to remove or at least limit risks and negative consequences. You will always have a preferred option what to do or how to do it but there might be other options close enough so you should never close your mind to them. This applies especially to situations when you don’t have things under control, when there are external forces that may impact your efforts. And yes, you should put all your energy and focus to achieve the primary objective. The Plan B just gives you a way out when all your efforts failed so you can easily cut your losses and start in a new direction without much fuss.

You don’t need to have your plan B figured out in all the details but you must be able to turn to it fast enough when things go wrong. Typically in business you would have your disaster recovery or business continuity plans. They are usually pretty high-level as the chances you will need them are slim but when the time comes you and your team need to be able to act on them pretty fast. When your office catches fire or gets flooded you need to have a way to continue the business without significant interruption.

Don’t give up

I love the concept of 6P believed to originate from the British army at the time of WWII: “Perfect Prior Preparation Prevents Poor Performance”. There are different versions from 5P to 12P but the 6P is easy to remember and goes nicely with my life motto. To make sure this concept really delivers on what it seems to promise I would add one more “P” – Perseverance. It may not rhyme with the rest but it is a key component. When you decide to do something then do it and do it consistently. Don’t give up until you achieved the goal you set to achieve. I’m not saying that you should be stubborn or inflexible. Of course, if the circumstances changed then you should re-evaluate your goal or the strategy to reach it. But if the only reason for giving up is your own excuse like “I don’t have time,” or “I’m too lazy today,” then you need to remind yourself of the seventh P and persevere. The reward will eventually come in the form of you achieving of what you set you want to achieve.

 

What is your way to build new skills? How do you ensure you reach your long-term goals? And what is your leadership motto?

Where To Outsource? This Is What You Should Consider

We live in a global and connected world. When you work for any sizeable company you will at some point consider expanding out of your country. The reasons might be numerous from expanding your sales force to new markets, thought tapping a larger and more diversified labor pool to lowering your labor costs. When you decide to expand the operation you need to make a decision between building your own captive center and outsourcing to some external partner. I won’t focus on what should drive your answer to the question whether outsource or not. At least not today. I want to talk about what to consider when you make the decision to outsource. There is a list of questions you want to ask yourself and get some answers to.

How will you manage?

You may outsourced some of the work but that means you can ignore it completely. How will the interaction with your outsourcing partner look like? What time will you still need to invest? How will you ensure that you are getting what you expected?

Where do you go?

Why are you outsourcing will define where should you go. Do you want to outsource your payroll to an external provider because you don’t have competence in-house? They you can stay in the same city. Do you want to outsource your software development because you run out of talent in your town? Then you can still stay at least in the same country or continent. Do you want to outsource your technical support because you want to lower the costs? Then you may need to go offshore.

How do you find the right partner?

The same way you find anything else these days. You ask around, find references, and search on the Internet and compare. It is important to realize that every company has different needs and unique way of operating so what worked for your neighbor may not necessarily work for you.

What are the risks and questions to ask?

You can divide all the potential risks and questions to investigate into several buckets. Let’s call them: Resources, Environment, and Costs

Resources (talking about people here) are why you are outsourcing, so you need to be pretty sure you get what you need:

  • Availability of resources – will the partner be able to provide the resources you need and may need in the future?
  • Cost of labor – what will be the impact on your cost model and how will it most likely evolve in the coming years?
  • Ramp-up time – how quickly can you get the resources? Does the partner have some people sitting on a bench or will everyone be hired from outside?
  • Ramp-up scalability – you need a team of five today, what if your business takes off and you will need a team of one hundred?
  • Cultural compatibility – where will the team sit and how compatible they will be with your culture? (And I mean both national and company culture.)
  • Educational standards – what are the educational standards in the country in question? Let’s not make any assumptions that the bar for basic education in the workforce is the same as in your country
  • English language proficiency – or any language proficiency for that matter. Will you be able to communicate with your partner team? Will the team be accepted by your customers?
  • Multi-lingual capabilities – what languages can you get in that country and that particular partner? (If that is important to you at all.)

Infrastructure and environment may not always be visible at first glance but can have a serious impact on your business long-term:

  • Geographical accessibility – how easy it is to get to the location of your partner? (airports, roads, visa policies)
  • Government support & subsidies – may not be too relevant when deciding on pure outsourcing relationship but will play big role if you would decide to build your own captive center
  • Bureaucracy – again hopefully not a big impact for outsourcing since in reality the only thing you should be responsible for is some sort of contract or master service agreement and then statements of work Corruption level – again more relevant to building your own captive centers but even when outsourcing to a country with high level of corruption you may find yourself in situations where you cannot get good transparency into what your partner is doing and it may backfire one day in case they get into troubles since your company’s name will be associated with them
  • Legal maturity and legal implications – obviously you want your contracts with the partner to have some meaning and be enforceable
  • Political stability – military coups, wars, or frequent changes in government can have really negative impact on your business. What if your partner company comes tomorrow and says “government just closed us down”?
  • IP protection – in some industries (software development being one of them) the protection of intellectual property is rather important and in fact it can be one of the key assets your company has. The same goes to security of your data and data of your customers or clients
  • Tax implications – for an outsourcing relationship there shouldn’t be a big difference in which country the partner sits, something that can be very different the moment you would decide to open a captive center there

Direct and indirect costs associated with outsourcing will differ wildly based on what function you want to outsource by the list below should cover majority of concerns:

  • Pricing model – many different options here and you should always consider what the right thing for your business is and not what the outsourcing partner will push towards you. Is it beneficial to have a fixed-price contract (FP) or pay for time and material (T&M) or reimburse the costs with some fee on top of it (CR)?
  • What is/is not included in price – make sure you understand what is not covered by the contract and may pop up as additional costs. Travel or some special equipment comes to mind
  • IT Infrastructure – what is the IT infrastructure at the partner? How will it integrate with your own (if needed)? Will there be additional charges you will be asked to cover?
  • Security of data and systems – how are the partners systems being secured? Will you data be in safe hands? What is the impact on local privacy laws?
  • Collocation with employees working for other clients – this is again a security issue. Will your team sit in the same room with teams working for other clients? What if they work for competitor?
  • Development processes used – when it comes to software development you want to understand the impact the partnership will have on your development process (suddenly you have a remote team) and whether the partner processes align with the industry standards
  • Management maturity and daily supervision – what is the experience of the top management of the company and who are the middle managers you will be dealing with on daily basis? Will you be able to work with that team?
  • Working time (shifts, overlaps) – where are they located and in case of different time zone from your own how will you interact?
  • Attrition level – what is the attrition level in the country and the partner? If you would be training new team every half a year because the old one left you may find yourself spending lots of time and money and getting little in return
  • Escalation paths – how will you escalate any issues with the team or deliverables? How do you ensure that any issues are being handled promptly?
  • Flexibility in contracts – what wiggle room you and your partner have in the contract? What about non-solicitation clause? What is the exit strategy if things don’t work out?

As you can see there are many things to consider when trying to outsource a piece of your business to someone else. However, when done properly it can have a tremendous positive impact on your ability to execute, scale and give you the flexibility needed in times of uncertainty.

 

What are your thoughts on outsourcing? What are your primary drivers and what are the things you focus on when making the decision?

Originally posted at LinkedIn.