A Side of Mindset, Please

Image courtesy of Flickr/Dean

Welcome to Trends restaurant, the cutting-edge eatery for fashion-forward talent managers. As you can tell by our splashy décor and clientele, this is the place to be.

As I pass out the menu, let me describe today’s special. The chef has prepared a popular dish of new-age performance management. This isn’t your grandparent’s performance management, burdened with high caloric paperwork, procedures and policing. This is a delightfully light affair with empowerment, simplicity and raises for all!

—Your Waiter

Yes, we all would like to order some tasty talent innovations as we enter 2015. Our menu of innovative possibilities seems quite attractive — especially dumping the old for the new.

Based on a recent benchmark call, a new performance management system is a popular menu item today. Yet as the call progressed, it was clear the talent cooks on the other end were exclusively focused on the center of the plate. In haste, they may have missed the critical side order of manager mindset.

Here’s the cold reality: No new talent management system is perfect. Experienced cooks know the best food is based on a thoughtful recipe with necessary adjustments.  No matter how carefully the new talent menus are drafted, the ultimate effect is in the hands of line managers.

With the right attitude and attributes, managers can do wonders with our best ideas. Skip paying attention to the manager at your own risk.

This was an insight I picked up a few years ago when considering the effect of the immediate manager on employee engagement. While analyzing the most recent all-employee survey, we wanted to capture the employee experience with their manager.  

Based on a select of five questions, such as “I would recommend working for my manager,” we created a manager quality index. As expected, the higher the manager index, the more positive employees scored on retention and discretionary effort. Weak managers produced weak commitment, and good managers did much better. 

The encouraging finding was that employees having great manager experiences were off-the-charts positive on giving their best effort and “going the extra mile.”

Digging deeper on the topic through a series of focus groups, we asked participants to describe the differences between a good manager and a great one. The dimensions included how they communicated, delegated, coached and applied the performance management system.

Employees said good managers did all these things in a satisfactory manner. They were timely, well-prepared and did each task as expected. In other words, they complied.

Great managers went beyond compliance and used each opportunity of coaching, delegating, goal-setting and appraising for much more. They used these managerial acts to show they sincerely wanted to value, invest and stretch the employee.

It didn’t matter if the managers had the latest form or training; they made it work because they had the mindset of a great manager.

Ever since, I’ve realized the value of the manager in any new system design. No matter how slick the software, how simple the tools or how revolutionary the approach, the reality is the new thing often ends up in the hands of the manager. 

A hot new practice in the hands of a so-so manager will produce lukewarm results. In contrast, a warmed-over talent practice from a great manager can produce amazing results. 

Being a great manager matters. We need to provide training programs and just-in-time skills reinforcement. Underneath is motivation and mindset.

For some, the spark to be a better manager will be an internal version of the manager-matters analytics, like Google’s Project Oxygen. For others, it goes beyond the numbers to being the type of boss who helped them along the way.

And for all, it’s making the connection of how they treat their employees. Whether for higher levels of productivity or a greater contribution to personal growth, the mindset of a great manager should be constantly reinforced. It should always be on the talent management menu.

Your new talent initiatives deserve it. So add an element of these things to equip and inspire managers. As with a chef’s secret ingredient, it will make everything taste better.