Human Performance Deserves More Than a Review

Campaign/FTC disclosure: This is a sponsored blog post. I will or have received compensation for this post. I only work with companies I feel have great products, services, and offerings. In accordance with my blog disclosure statement, I will only work with and showcase products, events and/or companies I believe my readers will benefit from.  I am not formally employed by Trakstar. All thoughts and viewpoints are created and written by me. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

Of the many dynamics or tasks that have to be executed between employee and employer, performance reviews are probably the most hated. Over the past few years, there have been extreme calls to get rid of the performance evaluation. For this argument, there are two camps. The first camp is comprised of those who never saw a purpose for a once-a-year process that is labor-intensive as well as challenging. The second camp is made up of people who see it as a necessary evil that perhaps needs some reinvention. There are viable arguments on both ends and yet they all miss one important factor, we are dealing with humans.

It amazes me how often we forget the human factor whether we are talking about a new HR Technology or the discipline of HR on the whole. We serve humans and they serve us. When we design and develop policies, procedures, processes or technology based on the day-to-day needs and realities of our employees we garner compliance, trust, and a willingness to be a part of the solution. People are not merely a cog in the wheel or a means to an end for your company. They have shared their talents with you in an effort to:

  • Progress a specific career trajectory.
  • Sustain them financially, so they can live and provide for themselves and their families.
  • Test out the kind of work they are good at and also like to do.

Just for a moment, let us assume that everyone who you employ shows up with the intention to do their best daily. You expect productivity, engagement, and a genuine interest in the work being done at your company, but what is the emotional and physical ROI for those expressions? If I am diligently churning out quality work daily, I want to be able to connect the dots between my contributions and the effect they have on the employer’s mission and/or goals. Conversely, if I’m not performing to standards or am executing a task in a way that isn’t helpful or wanted, I would appreciate open dialogue about that concern rather than to find out a year later that I am being put on a performance improvement plan for an issue that could have been solved with direct communication.

Communication is a core challenge when we speak about everything from performance evaluations to succession planning. If I understand what is expected of me and there will be multiple checkpoints throughout the year for me to revise goals or have a discussion with my boss to discuss progress, there is absolutely nothing that could blind-side me during the performance process. Continuous communication makes it so that everyone is on the same page about goals, execution, and outcomes alleviating serendipitous and uneasy performance conversations later in the year. If I am made aware that I am being slated as a top performer for future leadership opportunities, I may reconsider looking elsewhere for the opportunities I seek. People can’t plan their lives let alone their careers when leaders neglect to communicate on a regular basis. Increasingly, your employees want their power back. By power I mean the ability to have a say about what they accomplished through their efforts, to be heard and acknowledged as someone who has contributed either individually or as part of the team to the success of your company.

How can you start to empower your employees from a performance perspective?

Here are a few tips:

  • Be upfront about how success will be measured. As mentioned before, no one deserves to be blindsided because you failed to communicate what is expected.
  • Where possible, give your employees the ability to craft their own goals in collaboration with you. If I am setting my goals, I will be a lot more inclined to rise to the challenge than if goals are forced upon me.
  • Start to review performance as a continuous cycle of learning and development for both you and your employee. No one is perfect. In fact, leaders aren’t perfect. We need to start assuming that people want to do the right thing as opposed to the wrong thing. Use continuous feedback and performance discussions to help people improve rather than to penalize them.

Pardon my next statement, but it needs to be said. There is no excuse to struggle through performance evaluations when various approaches to managing it are available such as technology. I recently had the opportunity to give a new performance management solution called Trakstar a try. What I loved about the solution was the ability to set clear and individual goals whether to assess the overall performance of an employee or to have a basis for evaluating project-based contributions that too often fly under-the-radar from a recognition standpoint. The entire solution encourages companies to get out of the mode of the once per year review and instead set up several touchpoints throughout the cycle so that no employee is ever left behind or lost in the abyss of the workforce. The most tedious aspect of performance is keeping up with the documentation of it. Trakstar makes this a completely online process and provides for user-friendly scheduling of performance discussions, check-ins, and authentic dialogue around productivity and performance.

Your employees have a purpose in mind and a voice they wish they could express more at work. Implementing technology in lieu of genuine face-to-face dialogue is a step in the right direction of ensuring that you are in regular dialogue with your people even as you get caught up in the day-to-day.

To get some insight on how you can improve your own performance and feedback process, sign up for Trakstar’s live demo to see it in action and assess whether it is right for your organization.

The Audacity of No Rebuttal

I am no stranger to a good debate. In fact, I quite enjoy a healthy conversation comprised of fact, experience and well-placed opinion every once and again. The operative word here is healthy and by healthy I mean all parties in the debate are allowed their perspective and are illustrating a unique perspective rooted in actual facts.

I have often heard from colleagues, friends, and family that having conversations about inequality and racism are difficult. They have said it is an argument you can’t win and so they just don’t touch for any reason. Conversely, I have taken a different stance. I have an extremely difficult time seeing society run amuck with incorrect narratives about groups of people. I have an even harder time seeing how injustice doesn’t just stop at narratives and propaganda but extend to gross violations of civil liberties.

I have been increasingly outspoken about how we are all participating in this matrix of social constructs that oppress and label groups of people so we can perpetuate the lie that one group is more superior to another. After countless conversations, some solicited and many more not, I have come to a few conclusions about why it isn’t necessarily a good use of my time to engage in racial conversations.

Here are my conclusions:

  1. Most people have made up their mind about the history of events that led us here and why racism and inequality remain pervasive. In making up their minds, they have actively absolved themselves of any wrongdoing while making the assertion that every man has free will to overcome these significant obstacles that they intentionally created to have an enduring and lasting impact on the socioeconomic status of specific groups.
  2. I’m a black woman which makes almost anything I say dangerous and aggressive. If I sat around spewing fake news all day that would be simple, people would simply say my ignorance is just another example of why black people have found it difficult to reach the upper echelons of society. That I pride myself on being well-versed in the issues, history, complete with reasonable explanations for the usual rebuttals makes me a threat.
  3. Being a credible activist for what is right and just is exhausting. I’m not nearly close to fighting the good fight in the way that civil rights leaders did in the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s, yet there is a soul-deep lethargy that sets in when I find myself having to explain basic tenets of human decency, empathy, and fairness to people who see themselves as reasonably intelligent avatars.

I can’t help someone see beyond my color and the threat of my presence if they have decided that black means bad and white means right. It’s not always in my best interest to dialogue even superficially if you can’t separate fact from lies you have been indoctrinated with to preserve your social status. I am not your Racism 101 professor that you get to tap into because I appear to be tempered in my approach to the subjects at hand. I’m likely consumed by fire on the inside every time a white person finds my perspective unfortunate which is really code for I really wanted to like you Janine, but your desire to be forthright makes me uncomfortable.

As I mentioned in the last #BlackBlogsMatter post, my north star is peace. Don’t be shocked if my chatter sometimes goes quiet. I am tired for myself and for my ancestors. I have tried my best with some of you. Preserving me and addressing what I can fix among my own is starting to look like the best thing I can do for us all. Sometimes the loudest thing you can say is to say nothing at all.

#BlackBlogsMatter : Let’s Separate For Peace Sake

As I continue on my journey of life, I find the one thing I consistently seek is peace. I enjoy peace in my relationships, peace of mind, peace in matters of the heart, and just general equilibrium as much as possible with most things in my life. Please do not discount the effort it takes for me to create my little oasis of life. I do so amidst a country in civil and moral upheaval. I keep the faith alongside increasing numbers of reports where white people are beating up, shooting at or intimidating women, elders, men, and children who are otherwise seen as colored, unwelcome, and useless portals of life they have to live among.

I have never been one to argue with someone who doesn’t like me. If you don’t care for how I present or who I am, I see this as a matter of personal choice. I have absolutely no reason or right to convince you to feel otherwise. That I operate from a place of allowing others the latitude to exercise their free-will as it pertains to my existence brings up a conflict of interest for me regarding my work and interest in all things diversity, inclusion, and equity. How have I become a part of the D, I, & E movement which stands in stark opposition to allowing people to act as they choose?

Let’s examine. Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity say I, as a woman of color, should be accepted as a whole person regardless of my physical and unalienable attributes. It tells white people that I should be included in everything from employment to society equally when they can manage it. It also says that when white people think it is reasonable, they should do their “best” to see that I am treated equitably by ensuring I receive not only what I earn, but what would be offered to anyone similarly-situated. Even if I could convince white people that I am worthy of such treatment I have to also prove that I positively impact their bottom-line.  If my presence and contribution don’t make dollars and cents this whole diversity and inclusion thing is nothing more than charity and we all know you’d much rather make a charitable donation than contribute to real and sustainable change.

Can we be honest with one another? The issues as it pertains to people of color and white people aren’t human issues, they are hate issues. It was fear and hate that had white people enslave, kill, torture countless groups of humans throughout our history and it is still fear and hate that causes them to want to thwart even our best efforts to elevate ourselves now. It sounds nice to say we are better together and that the problems we have would be better solved diplomatically in unison. The reality is separatism is what many white people want. They want access to us, our ideas, our culture, and labor, but it ends there. Sadly, I think it is people of color who are pining for white people to love and include us, not the other way around. From a conditioning standpoint, it is hard to break free from a group of people who pride themselves on the fact that they somehow liberated the heathens of us from the animus of the wild and primitive living to the so-called free, societally-acceptable, unequal, and semi-liberated lifestyles so many of us cling to today. We people of color need to get right about why we so love the very same people who wouldn’t think twice to kill us in cold blood or to harm us. It’s kind of masochistic this relationship we have with one another.

Honestly, I could take some time away from having to fit my aesthetic into an overall narrative that was never meant to include me. I would be immensely happy to live among my own in peace never having to explain to another white person why they are racist or how they can stop their own lab-made disease. Nothing would make me happier to live among my own, thriving with lucrative businesses, education for our children that was designed for them to succeed rather than to fail, and a return to our spirituality that is rooted in existential truths rather than man-made rules created to scare and control people. We could celebrate each other and create an agenda for our people to thrive. Future generations would have a blueprint for success. Our skin color would be praised and looked upon in the streets with love and adoration instead of contempt or met with questions masked as insults.

I can think of no better existence than to live among my own in peace if it means I never have to explain why my existence matters to another white person for as long as I live. White people are humans. They bleed, defecate, pee, die, and dare I say sin like anyone else. I will take being separate from them happily if it means we as black people and other people of color never degrade ourselves again by proving our worthiness or take instruction on how to be a human from a group of imperfect mortals.

Let’s separate for peace sake. You go your way and we will go ours. I’d rather you live freely as you wish than to convince you of the universal truth that all humans are one and better together. You can hire whomever you want. You would never have to worry about our social welfare or us infringing on your ability to amass all the riches. Separate works for us, just know we get to take all the inventions, art, music, medical advances, entertainment, agriculture, and more we have contributed willingly throughout the ages. This is a fair dissolution of toxicity don’t you think? Our ancestors deserve to see us bring another Black Wall Street to fruition.  Truthfully, it’s not you, it’s us. We’re just kind of tired being in this toxic relationship with you. Our issues are beyond therapy and reconciliation, it might just be best; for peace sake.

#Unleash18 Humans + Bureaucracy: Control No More

“Bureaucracy is a global thing. “ ~ Gary Hamel, Professor at London Business School

I had the opportunity to sit in on a Q&A session Day 1 with Gary Hamel, Professor at London Business School at Unleash 2018 in Vegas. Long before this Q&A, he had wooed me with his words and refreshing perspectives on the disease of bureaucracy as it pertains to the workforce.

One of the reasons why I believe I was unable to flourish in Corporate America was because of my disdain for bureaucracy and politics. “Disdain” is a strong word, but completely applicable here. It wasn’t that I was beyond adhering to the structure or constructs that existed in the organizations that I worked for. It was that those constructs and structures always felt constricting and for all intents and purposes they didn’t appear to have a positive impact on the workforce.  To this point, Gary shared in our session that he thought “Very few businesses worry about the environmental costs of bureaucracy and CEO’s only recognize the cost of bureaucracy vaguely.”

The reason why businesses can’t bother to care about these environmental costs is that the function of bureaucracy is to control and maintain order. Gary suggests there are likely really great reasons why bureaucracy existed, to begin with, but maintains it isn’t very useful given the world we live in today.

To some, I may have been pre-maturely seen as an anarchist who wanted things her way and had little respect for rules. The reality is as Gary Hamel asserts: “The pressure on the employees in the US is far more impactful than anywhere else in the world. US companies have an even more transactional lens for people at work.” To put it plainly, those who participate in the US workforce are seen as expendable and a means to an end. It is this line of thinking that ensures that our employee engagement numbers never budge or budge ever so slightly year-to-year. US workers are mere cogs in the wheel and we know it. Not only do we know it, we aren’t collectively empowered to stop it, because of course money.

I was and I am currently one of those people who believe that there are alternatives to bureaucracy. In our Q&A, Gary shared: “You have to believe there are alternatives to bureaucracy. It’s hard to imagine what you haven’t seen.” There is a great conflict in the world at large, but most certainly one at work too. It is the battle of old ways of thinking versus new ways of thinking. In the former example, it is hard for older establishments to wrap their minds around any other work arrangement/relationship that isn’t grounded in having to control how people think, work and show-up. They haven’t been privy to the evidence that suggests an alternative, and even if they had seen the promise of another way of managing people; it is likely a very uncomfortable notion to imagine a workforce where people work autonomously and on their own terms without being infantilized at work.

“Why don’t people have the ability to design their own job or choose their own boss, or approve their own expenses?  We are so used to people needing parents or infantilization at work. “~Gary Hamel, Professor at London Business School.

Transparency for what?

Another pet peeve I have had with organizations I have been a part of was the lack of transparency. This goes hand-in-hand with the infantilization that goes on in many companies per Gary Hamel’s keynote on “Humanocracy”. Imagine for a second being an adult in every other aspect of your life. This is probably not a hard vision to conjure. You have a family that relies on you, bills, debts, and a healthy dose of responsibility. Yet, daily you report to a job that doesn’t think you worthy of sharing information that may affect your livelihood. Perhaps the business isn’t performing well financially. In most cases, that company you report to would rather cease to exist than to confide in the very people who make it profitable daily. It’s a ludicrous concept and surely antiquated. People should be trusted to show up and work as the adults that they are. Professor Hamel shared with us that: “Transparency needs to be a core principle for how we do business. Let’s be a little more open and have a little more freedom.”

What is the path forward?

“Evolutionary goals and revolutionary steps is the path forward. “

Gary challenges leaders to “employ radical business models while imagining a radically different workplace”.  Questioning old hypothesis is a start as well as challenging your own embedded assumptions. Professor Hamel also maintains that we ought to “find a migration path between the past and the future”. “If you are a traditional company it is a much harder transition to moving from bureaucracy”. Aversive strategies to shifting out of bureaucracy do not work. It is about a gradual migration path”.

Some other sentiments shared by Professor Hamel worth further exploration:

  • HR is the fastest growing function of the organization but has the least buy-in and respect within the organization. We need to ask ourselves why we struggle to self-actualize when this premise is true.
  • The world is changing too quickly to be tied to hierarchical constructs. Why are you holding onto hierarchical constructs? Is it because it truly works for you or is it about control? It is worthy of some further exploration.
  • Technology will be used to disempower more than empower.
  • Technology is used to aggregate and exert control.
  • Employees come first, customers’ second, shareholders last. If your employees aren’t happy, it is safe to say no one will be happy. Nurture your people first and everything else in business will flourish.

Gary is ingenious in the way he sees the world. He had a lot more to say, so as such I am sharing my Growth on my Terms podcast recording of the Gary Hamel Q&A. Have a listen and reflect on where your organization is and how you can begin to reimagine work while envisioning a gradual migration to less bureaucracy and more trusting professional ties and relationships.

The Challenge of Empathy

Before I get to my story, a quote from a 2017 Forbes article titled: “How Empathetic Are You, Really?”. On empathy, the author Liz Guthridge says:

“Being empathetic is similar to cooking. You may know the recipe for how to prepare empathy. But until you actually use the recipe a few times, taste the results, see how everyone reacts and adjust the recipe, you and your guests don’t know how satisfying and nourishing your efforts will be.”

Empathy continues to be a challenge in life and at work. For most people, empathy has conditions and limits. It goes something like this, “if I agree with what you are saying and how you say it pleases me; I will support the breathe with which you are speaking your truth”. If by chance, you share something that fundamentally debunks a point of view or has earth-shattering ramifications for a particular position someone holds, empathy is (more often than not) enqueue to meet an imminent death.

I have both written and spoken about some thorny subjects in the past year. I knew going into it that there would be people who praised me for my bravery and others who would chastise me for sharing my truth. When I speak up on issues, topics or instances that matter to me it is just that — it matters to me. That I have something to say about matters of societal and economic importance as someone who also happens to be an HR professional should not rub people the wrong way in 2018. Working in any industry (and more importantly HR) is not an opportunity to operate as if dumb, deaf and blind nor is it a sentence for being mute when it matters most.

Last month, I had the privilege of attending and speaking at Connections 2018, an annual user-centered event curated by Ultimate Software designed to engage, enlighten and empower their user community.  During my Women in Leadership panel, there were two women who questioned why a white man was moderating my panel and moreover why most of the event’s speakers were white males. Admittedly, it was an awkward moment and not one we had solved for in our discussions about managing questions as a panel. A part of me was overjoyed that someone saw the obvious inequity of the panel. The other part of me felt sorry for my moderator, Jason Lauritsen who I personally chose to be the moderator and is someone who I do believe is inherently good despite the gender and race he belongs to. Time stood still, but something had to be said.

Empathy in motion…

I shared the truth and posed a question. I shared that I had been asked to moderate and asked the two women how that made them feel? They perked up and said that would have been much better. In response, I said: “Really? Not for me. Why should I moderate a panel of all white women in 2018?” To which an Asian woman yelled out: “What is wrong with that?”. What I shared with the group is that I wanted the ability to speak my truth as a panelist, not as someone on the periphery of the discussion. I went for what I wanted and chose Jason as a moderator because I admire him as a person and because we cannot exclude men from the discussion of how women are treated in society and in the workplace.

I have my views and strong ones at that. Nonetheless, my views are always rooted in experiences and fact and never devoid of the ability to see how it may affect another human. My panel could have been one big feminist party where we talked about how the patriarchy needs to die and how Ultimate got their programming wrong and how patronizing it must be for me to be the only black woman on the panel. What would have been accomplished by this? Isn’t this part of the problem and what we have always done?

That question was a twist of fate that I ultimately thanked those two women for. It opened us all up to have a more authentic conversation than was possible with my carefully-curated script of questions. We moved on to share openly and listen to one another’s experiences. From that moment on, we weren’t just listening we were feeling every word uttered in that room. Isn’t that the hope and prayer for empathy and also the challenge in exercising it?

The truth we all need to embrace and settle with is we are all right and all wrong at the same time. Life is a continuous cycle of contradictions. For every view you hold, there is at least one instance to debunk the position you hold. Even in a world of contradictions, it still means that what I experience is true for me. My experiences and knowledge of the world cannot be diminished or diluted. You can challenge it, but it cannot be dismissed as a data point. Dismissal is the typical reaction to hearing things we don’t want to accept. Empathy means that even if your individual or collective truths tell you that anything I say is bogus it warrants further investigation or at a minimum your heartfelt consideration if you can muster it.

People are not naturally wired to say or do what is convenient for others to feel good about a situation. This is also a part of the problem we have at the moment. Stop looking for convenient truths and answers to serve your agenda. Instead, ask yourself if what you hear, see or read could have the slightest possibility of being true. If your answer is “yes” (and it should because anything is possible), then it requires extra effort to understand on your part.

We are recalibrating as a human race which means an industry founded upon human relations should be doing the same. I challenge professionals everywhere to do the following:

1) Say less. People are finding their voices again and feeling more and more empowered to speak out. This is not the time for you to debate them and take up space. Instead, say less and hold space for the most vulnerable in our workplaces and society to share their truths.

2) Stay curiousSome of you grew up in towns of 1000 with not a dose of cultural or ethnic difference to color your world, yet others of us have grown up in complex environments with a myriad of influences. In both regards, there is a need for more curiosity, fewer assumptions, less convenient truths and judgments. Be open to learning a new perspective.

3) Exercise your empathy muscles. The road to becoming more empathetic is not linear. You will fail, you will be awkward, you will resist it at times. Still, you ought to try to be more empathetic and willing to endure all of that at the same time. I know it is a tall order, but what if it could shift budding interactions with people you admire or help someone you love feel more heard and understood? Trust me it is worth it.

For the livestream of my Women in Leadership panel click the link below:

Connections 2018 Women in Leadership Panel

Here is Jason’s account of the Women in Leadership Panel and lessons learned:

Gender at Work

May we all rise to the challenge of exercising more empathy.

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