workplace change

How do you handle change and stress in the workplace?

How do you react during workplace change?

This is just a personal observation on change in the workplace, but I believe that 90% of employees feel they handle change in a positive manner. As a casual observer that is usually involved with rolling out workplace change, I believe less than 10% of employees handle change in a positive manner. After a change is announced, I usually have a steady stream of folks stopping by the office to give me their opinions. The more significant the workplace change the more people I see. Even if the change doesn’t affect the individual employee, I still hear their thoughts and see the reactions. As the HR guy, I have the unique opportunity to compare and contrast these attitudes and behaviors and hope readers may benefit from these observations.

After workplace change is announced, I get the spectrum of reactions and emotions:

  • “This change should have happened years ago. It’s about time management woke up to the problem! I have been talking about this for months!”
  • “We have always done it this way! Why would they want to change anything? It works and getting everyone onboard with this new way is going to slow us down.”
  • “I am looking forward to the new workflow. I think it is going to speed us up and make things more efficient. It might be tricky initially, but it will be a good thing for everyone in the end.”

Ask yourself this: When change is announced in your workplace, how do you react? How did you react when the following were announced in your workplace?

  • Change in workflow or process
  • Change in leadership or a new reporting structure
  • Announcement of budget cuts

What did your manager and your peers see in your behaviors and reactions?

  • Did you look past the adversity and get back to business?
  • Did surround yourself with drama queens and fuel the fire?
  • Did you look for the positive and try to provide a solution?

I have been involved with lay offs, integrated multiple purchased companies post M&A and seen changes in leadership. I have seen controversial promotions and rolled out new software tools. In each of these instances, I saw multiple employees on a daily basis comment both publicly and behind closed doors. In these situations, attitude, behavior, verbal tone and body language was good, bad and ugly. Heavy on the ugly. I completely respect that folks may not appreciate change in the work place, but how they present themselves as they communicate their “suggestions for improvement” in public is hard to be ignored by peers, managers and leadership. I try to coach a more diplomatic attitude, but in the heat of the moment, it can be hard to keep a level head when talking through change. These are stressful times and we need to be self-aware of how we carry ourselves in these situations.

It is easy for anyone and everyone to act graciously when the big deals are being closed, the money is flowing and times are good. It is easy to carry yourself with style when folks are getting promoted or receiving year-end bonuses.

What separates the great employees from the not so great employees is how we handle adversity, stress and change. Whether it is a lay off, a re-org, or personal stress, these events set us up for opportunities to be judged as nay sayers or supporters. The business needs to carry on despite change and individual attitudes will be viewed as one of the big factors of change management in the workplace.

Behavior as it relates to extremes

HRNasty’s theory on people and how they handle themselves:

An individual’s true self will emerge in extreme circumstances.

The two examples of extremes I use on a regular basis are alcohol and money. I think I am in a unique situation to observe this because I don’t drink and have seen friends and colleagues become drunk in both good times and bad. Working in a tech bubble, I have seen friends and colleagues fall into un godly amounts of money. In both cases, I was able to witness the before and after effects of alcohol. I have also witnessed the broke employees suddenly having the ability to wipe with hundies. Based on these observations, I believe the extremes bring out the real you.

Even if you have hidden it well, if you are a mean or petty person and you become drunk, I believe the rest of us will see a mean or petty drunk. It is easy to put on a show when we are sober, but the real self comes out with the addition of alcohol. Our “guy friend” becomes an asshole as the evening wears on. Our cheerleader girlfriend becomes a bitch. The polite Dr. Jekyll becomes evil Mr. Hyde. Conversely, if you are nice person and drink, you will be a nice drunk. Alcohol becomes a catalyst to be more friendly and more complimentary of others. 

Regardless of your financial worth, if you were cheap and stingy before winning the lottery, you will probably be more cheap and stingy after winning the lottery. If you were generous when you were broke, you will probably be more generous when you win the lottery. 

HRNasty’s Theory of Behavior in Extremes extends to stress and change in the workplace. We can have an employee who is doing great work and is a consummate team player. Add stress, shake violently and the real self emerges. The flip side of our asshole is the nice guy. In the face of adversity, the gracious employee will continue to be gracious and our petty employee becomes the asshole, the Mr. Hyde, or the bitch.

If there is an unusual amount of resentment and stress around a company decision, the company may need more communication around that decision. To be a problem solver and not a problem causer, I blogged about increasing company buy in here.  :)

As employees we can accept or fight the decision. We can accept the change and play ball or we can question the change and resist. 

By all means, we should ask  the questions and clarify the intent of the company decisions. We should be conscious of asking these question in a diplomatic fashion.If you think the company is making a wrong decision, I am not asking you to consider playing ball for the company’s sake. I am asking you to play ball for your individual careers sake. There is a difference.

I always wonder if folks realize what they look like when they resist change and rant about what they believe to be poor company decisions.

If your company is going through change, my recommendation is that we first recognize that the decision was made and for most of us, we are probably not going to be able to do much about it. I don’t want to sound too cynical, but lets face it: if your company is going through a lay off or changing leadership, these decisions have been in the works for quite a while. CEO’s don’t wake up one morning and say to HR, “Lay off 15% of the company today” with no heads up. It may feel like that is the case, but trust me, these decisions are usually thought out.

How we react in these stressful situations will be seen and judged. HR isn’t running around with a clip board documenting and rating reactions. It is human nature. Everyone gets a little more judgmental in stressful times. Some of this is just a loss of focus on the job at hand and the stress getting the best of us.

It is easy to lose focus with our day jobs when our futures are uncertain. My advice is to recognize that in most cases, all we can do is focus on the day job, and not become distracted.

Quit if you want to, but until we have an offer from another company, we are employed with our current employer and we are not in a position to go anywhere. For our own careers, we want to create as many options as we possibly can. Being resistant to change in public venues is limiting our options.

I am NOT saying we should blindly follow the company gospel when we think the company is making bad decisions. It is not only OK but it is encouraged to give opinions when change is afoot. We just want to make sure that these opinions are presented in such a way that they will be listened to. We may be well-intentioned, but if our message isn’t received well the impact will be harmful to our careers. It’s all in the approach folks, it’s all in the presentation. We can have the best idea, but if the presentation of this idea is perceived to be out of frustration or anger, the idea probably won’t be heard. Before you march into your manager’s office and blow off some steam, write down your thoughts and put a strategy in place.Figuring out a way to be supportive of workplace change is the quickest way to be noticed in a good way. Bitching about a company idea that we are probably not able to have much influence on is probably not in our careers best interest. 

See you at the after party,

nasty: an unreal maneuver of incredible technique, something that is ridiculously good, tricky and manipulative but with a result that can’t help but be admired, a phrase used to describe someone who is good at something. “He has a nasty forkball”.

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Annual Review, how to take control of your career

Posted: by HRNasty in Climbing Career Ladder, Manage your Manager

annual review

Frustrated with the annual review process?

Take control of your annual review

There is a lot of talk about Fortune companies moving away from annual reviews. I am sure this isn’t news to anyone reading this blog, but some quick hit facts:

  • GE, the company that made the annual review famous is moving away from the annual review for it’s 300K employees over the next couple of years. This company also did away with forced ranking about a decade ago.
  • Accenture announced it is abandoning annual reviews for it’s 330K employees.
  • Adobe, Medtronic, MSFT and the Gap have also abandoned the annual review. A few years ago, MSFT also did away with forced ranking.

How do you sum up an entire year of performance in 90 min or less? How do you also cram into these same 90 minute sessions ways to improve performance? How does a manager with 10 or 12 reports prepare him or herself all these reviews? Pass the dutchie please.

One of the many complaints around annual reviews is that this particular review can incorporate what is known as the Recency Effect. This is a term used when we analyze an entire years performance on the recent events. If we did great work the first 11 months of the year but made a few mistakes in the last month, it can be tragic when the focus of the review becomes just the recent mistakes and not the earlier successes. This is an incomplete picture of the years performance and does two things:

  • Leaves the manager feeling good about the review because in their opinion they helped the employee by giving feedback to improve.
  • Leaves the employee being reviewed depressed, pissed-off and demoralized.

I don’t think the breaking of the spirit is an intentional act on the part of the manager, it is just easiest to remember what happened the prior month vs. what happened 11 months ago.

For the sports fans out there, a similar situation is when a pro athlete has a multiple year contract. There seems to be a trend that the player does well and puts up great statistics during the last year of this multi-year contract. This coincidently, is the year that the upcoming contract will be negotiated. It works both ways folks, unfortunately most of us are not professional athletes and we do not have multiple year contracts.

As individual readers, some of us are asking the following: “I am not a professional athlete and I work with an archaic company that still conducts annual reviews. How does this help me? WTF can I do HRNasty?”

First, I am a fan of reviews, I just think the cadence of reviews needs to be more often. Doesn’t mean we need a full-blown review, just constant feedback.

Second, if your company does have annual reviews, be grateful. There are companies out there that do not even have annual reviews. Raises in these corporate cultures can be even harder to negotiate so read on grasshopper.

If you are on an annual review, you know what your process looks like. For many of us, the manager asks the employee to rate their personal performance from the prior year. Included in this rating process are some competencies that the company places value on and usually support the company culture. For individual contributors, competencies might include a few of the following:

  • Communication
  • Interpersonal Relationships
  • Job Knowledge
  • Change Management
  • Analytical thinking

For leaders, a few more competencies may be added to the list:

  • Team Work and Leadership
  • Empowering others
  • Managing Change
  • Developing others

We are asked to rate ourselves in company specific competencies which usually reflect the company values. From my experience, and this is a generalization, the best employees rate themselves lower than they should and the employees that are struggling rate themselves higher than they should.

My advice is as it has always been: Take control of your situation and do what you can to be pro active with your career. Instead of waiting for the end of the year to have the dreaded review with your manager, conduct the review yourself on a more aggressive cadence. Instead of once a year, consider giving YOURSELF a review after every large project or every couple of months and then ask for your managers feedback.

How to complete your own annual review

When you complete a project or a cycle of time, rate yourself, set up a meeting with your manager, and then drive the conversation discussing your performance. Talk about what you did well and the behavior you want to continue and then discuss what you think you could do differently next time. Include this on a word .doc and bring 2 copies to the meeting: one for yourself and one for your manager. Some highlights of the conversation below:

To Manager Mulligan:

  • I just completed the integration project over the last 3 months.
  • I conducted a personal retrospective and I wanted to check in with you to see if I am missing anything.
  • Overall I feel the project went well.
  • I think I did X, Y, and Z, well.
  • I hit the dates I wanted to hit, I got buy-in from the team and I kept the project under budget.
  • If I were to do it again, I would try  A and B a little differently next time. (Describe the specific behaviors you would change next time to improve performance).
  • Do you have any advice for me for the next time I do this sort of thing?

With the above conversation, we are accomplishing a number of things.

  • We are giving our manager fodder for our personal file. We can email this word document with edits after the conversation and we make it very it easy for our manager to put together an annual review if needed. 
  • With the proper documentation, we can avoid the Recency Effect. If the Recency Effect does come into play, we can bring back the documentation from earlier cycles and conversations and remind the manager of what we did well.
  • This conversation and documentation should be heavy on the things done well.
  • We include just a few things that we can try differently next time and we make sure the things we include in this category are do able. Yes, we are throwing the manager a bone, a very big bone, but who’s career is this? We are essentially giving our manager a script so they can deliver an annual review to us.
  • If our manager leaves us half way through the year and is replaced by someone new, we have history and documentation that can be passed along to the next manager.

After the conversation, email your manager the word doc as an attachment. This way, they can print off the document and keep a physical file, or they can create an email folder and drop your email into this folder. Yes, we are making our managers job of managing us as individuals very easy, but at the end of the year, the annual review (or your companies equivalent) is essentially done. All your manager needs to do is cut and paste from your word document and there is a history of projects, feedback for both job’s well done, areas of improvement progress against these areas of improvement (heavy on the job’s well done).

If you finished a personal development project, we can do the same thing. Whether it is taking a class for a few days or reading a self-help book. Let your manager know NOT just what you did, but more importantly what you learned and how your behavior will change.

If this sounds daunting, start with a 6-month cycle, then go to a 4-month cycle and then a 3-month cycle. The point is, get off the one year cycle. Meet with your manager and build that relationship. Get them invested in you. After each cycle or project, rinse, lather and repeat.

Nobody can improve only receiving feedback once a year. Professional athletes would not be successful if they only received feedback once a year. Software developers would not be successful if their products were only tested once a year. As employees we are no different. Although it happens all across corporate America, we can not be expected to be successful receiving feedback only once a year. We are not going to grow with feedback on this pace. In the course of a year, the company will change, the manager will change and what was successful on one project may not be successful on the next. Don’t let a lazy manager influence your raise or promotion. Don’t allow a change in management to negate a years worth of work because they don’t have any insight into what you accomplished prior to their arrival. Don’t allow an inexperienced manager control your career destiny. Strive for constant feedback and iterate for the next cycle.

See you at the after party,

nasty: an unreal maneuver of incredible technique, something that is ridiculously good, tricky and manipulative but with a result that can’t help but be admired, a phrase used to describe someone who is good at something. “He has a nasty forkball”.

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