Letting Go and Moving On

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Managers, by training and by temperament, are problem solvers.

When mangers are casualties of circumstances beyond our scope, I think we find it harder than others to come to an understanding of “Why me?” and then to find the wherewithal to leave the experience behind.

I often think about that just-turned forty-year old recently published middle manager busily climbing the leadership ladder of a highly acclaimed acute rehab hospital quizzically staring at letter addressed to him on corporate letterhead being slid across a highly shined mahogany table towards him.  The slider is my Medical Director prefacing a prepared monologue about the restructuring of the hospital.  I was totally not ready for this.

Did my recovery begin with meeting the other cut directors and managers and hearing their disbelief that I too was being “right-sized” by our hospital? Did I find strength with complementary letters of recommendation written by my physicians?  Did I find closure in hiring staff out from underneath of my former employer once I was hired by a competing organization?

No, nope, not really.

I was not prepared to manage the loss of my job, a dependable source of income, and be thrown off the rails of a financial plan that included handling a new mortgage, payments for a new SUV, and the needs of two dependent sons.

My journey of recovery started with finding a new job.  I wasn’t as relaxed or confident as I was before and this new job was one of several as I searched for my rhythm.

A significant crossroad a few years later was in encountering one of my first bosses.  We talked and he locked eyes with me and told me that I will NEVER know why I lost my job.  This advice allowed me to stop this constant inward search on where I messed-up. In others words, my lay-off wasn’t my fault.

Five years from that job loss and with a new employer, I knew I was almost back when I began to collaborate with the staff from where I had been cut.  Further steps forward came when physician orders from that earlier employer included my name as the preferred care provider.

While fighting for my professional life, time and my wife’s support were the other variables that helped me along in this journey.  She shouldered the financial stress with extending her hours with her employer and finding opportunities to simplify our life at home.  Working with someone with the same level of commitment and who still believed in me, helped me prioritize my activities and helped me heal.

Am I done with this journey?  Perhaps, but feelings of that experience have never left me.

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Annual Performance Evaluations

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No one enjoys annual performance evaluations.

Essentially, if you are doing your job right as a manager, these annual exercises are redundant, at best.  Therefore, when you subject you and your employee to these exercises, there should never be any surprises in this formal sit-down.

Measuring performance is an on-going process.  Your staff should know your expectations and if these expectations should change in the course of the year, as they will often do, you two have already met and created new goals and action steps.  If an employee’s performance begins to tip downward, you both should realize it at the same time and talk now.  Immediate dialogue about shared goals avoids the “blame game”, shows mutual respect, and builds a team.

Annual performance evaluations, on the other hand, can be intimidating.  By design, these evaluations are not a meeting of equals and are potentially weirdly timed monologues covering issues that may have occurred 11 months ago.

If there is no way to avoid them, because they are mandated by your employer, annual performance evaluations, like reading and analyzing data from financial reports or marketing studies, should tell a story.  This story incorporates objective data, an assessment of the situation(s), and goals/plans that reflect the desires of your company with the skills (actual and/or desired) of the employee.  This process is less intimidating and more collaborative.

As managers we may not have a choice about performing annual performance evaluations, but we can choose to evaluate and lead our staff daily and not manage them annually.

Communication – Face-to-Face

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I love my Iphone and all the things it can do.  E-mails and text messaging have made it possible for me to stay in touch daily with staff in eight different locations, not to mention with my fellow managers, and other valued contacts at the hospital and in the community.

I have found, however, that this technology is no valid substitute for meaningful dialogue with clear understanding of what was discussed and what actions are needed.  With e-mails, and even more so with text messages, attempts of cleverness or neglect to proof read may leave your client reading between the lines.  Inevitably, this will lead to confusion and, sometimes, hard feelings.  These hard feelings have a tendency to morph in some pretty strange ways you will have little control over.  The results are predictably bad for everyone involved.

In spite of its inconvenience in time, mileage on your car, and schedule strain, I have found it is more than worth all this extra work to schedule a face-to-face meeting.  I would go as far as advocate including a written agenda that both of you approve.  In cases of new customers, customers at risk, contacts that could influence how you perform your job, schedule the face-to face meeting.  Your staff will also appreciate you making the effort to spend time with them versus an e-mail response, or worse, not receiving any response.

When in doubt, arrange the face-to-face and come prepared.  The payoff is a real dialogue that will foster a healthier relationship and mutual respect.