[Podcast] Episode 4: Tools for HR leaders to improve Performance Management in times of crisis

Jo Taylor is joined by Sally Henderson, the high stakes leadership mentor. In this episode we discuss several models and exercises that can help you look after yourself, and better manage the performance of your people. By being caring, understanding, listening and being patient. But also really understanding the motivations of your people, and playing to their strengths.

Here’s some ways to consider when changing your approach to performance management.

Below is a transcript of the podcast with links where appropriate.

Jo Taylor:

Hi, I’m Jo Taylor MD of let’s talk talent, and I want to welcome you to the Let’s Talk Talent podcast. Episode four.

I’m really excited to be joined by my friend and colleague Sally Henderson. She is a high stakes leadership mentor. She works with senior leaders and teams in periods of change and transition. So what is going to be a really interesting conversation, especially as we spent the last year in a period of change in transformation, Sally.

Sally Henderson:

Oh, haven’t we just Jo, a year like no other.

Yeah. Thank you for inviting me to talk to you today and I’ve been really looking forward to it.

Jo Taylor:

Let me start off with a question that’s burning in my mind. When you think at the moment, we’ve got huge amounts of change and transition, what are you seeing as the key capabilities of leaders that are embracing that change? What other kinds of skills or attributes or behaviours that you would recognise and think would be really important for our audience to understand and take note of?

Sally Henderson:

Wow, great question.

I think at the moment that you need to be doing a lot actually as a leader in such change and uncertainty over such a prolonged period.

 I think one thing that I’m hearing and seeing in the market and with clients is that, you know, people are tired. People are tired, it’s been demanding on us in ways none of us experienced before.

The clash of home and work environment and, you know, everyone’s experience has been so different.

So therefore, I think for any leader out there, the challenges they’re not dealing with one set of circumstances around change and uncertainty, they’ve got like everything under the hood and more so therefore the demand on that leader is incredible because what works for perhaps one team or one office or one location won’t necessarily be the right thing for a different team office or location, or even any individual.

So the things that I’m seeing work really well with clients that I’m currently supporting, I think the first thing I would say is actually that might sound obvious and sometimes a little bit trite even to even say this, but Caring, Jo, I think caring is overlooked in business.

When you talk about leadership and performance and change and goals, actually, if you just show care you can connect.

Jo Taylor:

I totally agree with you. And it was interesting that you bring that up because we’ve done a workshop recently for Kings College London around how they’re re-onboarding for their managers and at the five principles, the first one is cared for. And it is it’s the wrapper, isn’t it? It’s the golden thread of why you either stay in an organization or leave an organization. Because if you feel as if someone understands you and cares for you beyond the contribution that you might be giving them to the bottom line or, you know, the KPIs, it, it gives you, it gives you strengths, doesn’t it?

Sally Henderson:

And I think it even builds on that to give you belonging and we’re all tribal at the end of the day, or most of us are in some form or another. And we want to have that sense that we belong somewhere. And actually that we mean something and we make a difference and that we’re seen.

If a lead is not showing that they care, then how can they achieve any of the other things?

You know, if you don’t feel safe, you don’t feel connected and that you belong.

Just the act of asking. There’s a question that I ask my clients all the time, these senior leaders are very successful, shiny to the outside world, but I’ll ask them a question that often they don’t even get asked themselves, which is how are you, but then I’ll add to it by saying, how are you really?

Because the normal answer is fine, not bad. Okay. Could be worse. And it’s a bit of a flippant kind of language that we, we asked them we’ve applied that we don’t listen and we don’t connect. And I think if people start to ask that question, how are you? But with real authenticity about wanting to have a proper answer, a proper conversation.

That’s caring and that’s connecting and that doesn’t take money. It doesn’t take sign off.

It just takes one vital resource though, which I do think we’re in short supply at the moment, it does take energy.

Caring does need energy.

And I think that’s still one of the challenges that leaders have out there at the moment is that energy is a finite resource and it has to be replenished. It has to be cared for in its own right.

And I think a lot of things I’m hearing and seeing as we come into the dark months and the end of a hard year is that people’s energy is low.

For a leader, I would say, if you’re looking to achieve that caring and therefore that connection with your team, you first of all, have got to be caring for yourself and making sure your energy is in a place where you can give and that you’ve got an it, but that you can replenish because otherwise we just see people wanting into burn out.

Jo Taylor:

So when you think about energy, what does that look like?

What are the kind of tools or techniques that when you’re coaching somebody, you can really identify those kind of triggers that will help them replenish that energy?

Sally Henderson:

Do you know what I think? For me, a clue I pick up on straight away is voice tone.

 You can read someone’s energy by via voice tone. And, and obviously with zoom, we’re not in a human kind of connected world physically, but we are in a virtual world of seeing.

So I think to read energy, you have to just sort of see how someone’s faces, but listen to their voice tone. And that will show you where their energy is at.

There’s a technique actually I teach with my clients, which is around doing energy vision boards. Which man gives you a physical reality of what your energy looks like at different levels. So I had a wonderful client who kept burning out pre all the challenges of the current market because they kept looking to operate at a level of energy that just wasn’t sustainable to them. Good was always being at 110%.

And you and I both know Jo, that no one has 110% all the time, let’s be honest,

Jo Taylor:

It’s not sustainable. And I think if you’re a high performer or a high achiever, and you’ve always been used to being successful, kind of recognizing that in yourself, but also recognizing that in others is, it takes some time somebody to point that out.

I definitely know that that’s been pointed out to me in terms of mentors or coaches before. And it’s a, been a bit of a light bulb.

I think sometimes you can know it in your guts, but you’re not able to articulate it. By having someone like you, who can point it out and who has got no axe to grind or agenda is really, really useful.

Sally Henderson:

Yeah. And just helping someone realize what their energy level is alive.

So with this particular client I’m talking about, we got them to look at what does energy look like when they’re at a three, nobody wants to be at a three,

Hey, if you’ve got, it’s not a happy place and what was amazing, let me put images around that, around this vision board, God, it was accurate.

And, and also then you’ve got something to think, well, do I actually want to be there? Does that look a good place? Now that I’ve made it something that’s tangible. And then we had the energy at a six. Okay. I also believe that seven, isn’t really a healthy number when you’re trying to scale between nine and 10, because seven is a bit like the safety ground where it’s neither one or the other? I say it’s either 6.9 or 8.1. Which is it going to be?

So if you take seven out of the equation, we say, right, this is what energy looks like at a six. So it’s healthy. It’s good. And it’s, it’s, it’s like the 6.9 range. And then what does that actually look like at eight above? And when you’ve got that differentiation of I definitely don’t want to go to a three because that’s painful and things break three. Six is healthy and I’ve got range to come up. But I’m in that it’s quite manageable a six, but then you’ve got the rate to be at 6.9, but eight is what you call on when you need some extra oomph in there, but you don’t need to be an eight constantly.

You don’t want an engine at eight all the time. It’s going to wear out, isn’t it. And also you don’t get any appreciation of difference.

Jo Taylor:

True. And we will have peaks and troughs. Don’t we? I mean, it’s life. Also, we all have good days, bad days, but it’s kind of recognizing that.

I use a technique with with my coachee sometimes, which is around sort of the positive affirmations at the end of the day. So you write five words, about how you felt during the day.

You look at that over a week or two weeks and you see you and you go through it with somebody and you say, okay, so what were you feeling when you did that? Then you said, Oh, I was brilliant in that presentation. What was it that you were seeing? What was you feeling? What were you doing? And it, it’s a bit of a light bulb moment that actually it’s okay. Sometimes to not be uptake within a meeting or a team call or something,

Sally Henderson:

That’s the requirements. And I think if people know they’ve got ranges to avoid and they know that they don’t have to maintain that high level constantly, you’ve got greater control suddenly.

Jo Taylor:

That’s one of the things that is, sort of is scary for leaders who’ve been used to kind of having that control, that that’s all been taken away. And in a way they’ve got to kind of work through that while everyone’s looking at them from an organization or a team perspective to have all the answers.

Sally Henderson:

Yeah. And I think that’s a really interesting phrase that having all the answers, because I think as well, when leaders can actually be really safe knowing they don’t have to have all the answers.

And actually if you’re going through a change period, nobody has answers. And that’s, that’s part of reality because the one thing I think this year has taught us definitely is there is no control.

It’s just an illusion. It’s all about perspective.

So I think if people suddenly become less linear about being in control or out of control, and you just embrace the fact that you’re, we’re all in just constant change. That that is reality.

So if you can let go for the need of control, you’ve got to have anchors, don’t get me wrong. You’ve got to have influence, and you’ve got clear responsibility, but if you don’t have a need for control, I think you have a lot less anxiety in your world.

Jo Taylor:

Yeah. That makes a lot of sense. When you think about it, in that perspective, it kind of leads into performance, doesn’t it, you know,  not only that you know, your goals and objectives, but also how that is measured.

So when you think about performance, you know, high performing individuals or high-performing teams, how do you support managers look at how they drive that performance culture? Especially if some of the anchors, as you say, have been taken away from them.

Sally Henderson:

I think it comes down to a real fundamental element, which is normally missing a lot of organizations, which is clarity.

Clarity on what actually good or great performance looks like.

So what are we measuring and why, and is that actually up to date? And is it accurate and do people believe in it? Is it motivating?

So I think if high performance is naturally aligned to people’s motivators to their values, to the reason why they joined that tribe, my point around community and belonging is actually, self-fulfilling a lot of time because the drive comes from within. And if the drive comes from within, you’re just shaping and sculpting and supporting it as a manager, you’re not having to drag it out of somebody or work extra hard to get it to a level where they’re not working with you.

Jo Taylor:

That makes a lot of sense. It’s kind of in the joining up, isn’t it? The kind of the purpose of why we’re here making that really clear and consistent, but also understanding what makes somebody work for you that kind of strengths their drivers, their motivation.

What strikes me is that, as you said, a lot of organizations look at it very linear. So they look at performance in terms of, okay, so we’ve got to set goals and the, you know, what are the skills gaps that you’ve got and then they sort of, then don’t join up the behavior.

When you think about performance, what are the elements that go into performance beyond sort of, you know, the usual?

Sally Henderson:

I have a framework I’ve created called the five Rs to drive successful change, which I think answers this question really well, which is the fifth and final R, which is reward.

A lot of time we’re going into the world of work, both as a senior leader and as a member of the company, without being clear on this vital bucket of like report to me is the value. It’s why you’re bothering.

Why are you going and working for this company? Why are you giving everything you’ve got why do you want to grow under their care?

You know, all the things that make us want to belong to somewhere, and what’s fascinating is when you can answer this reward bucket, suddenly you can make a plan and that makes the performance element much easier and healthy to achieve. And so what’s involved in the reward bucket is the, you’ve got three columns.

The first column is what I call the head needs around reward. And I often, my background is as a head Hunter. So I bring a lot of that talent understanding and why people leave and join organizations and what makes people happy in companies. And if you understand the actually at the end of the day, you’re at work, I believe you’re building a career product. You’re building an entity, something that is to yourself, not a believer of bring your whole self to work.

Should all be the same at home and work. It’s like, no, you should be different. They are different embrace difference. It’s good. So if you’re looking at how you build your career product, which is what you’re getting value, what you’re getting rewarded from creating, and also what’s valuable to the organization is investing in you.

It breaks down into only three fundamental things in my book, you’re firstly growing skills as a reward.

So if I come into this organization and I raise my performance and I’m really delivering, I will be using skills that I have already that are valuable, but I will be gaining new skills by the role that I’m either in or transitioning into next.

By doing that, I’ll also be building my knowledge and to do that. I need to be gaining certain experience. So very simply for me reward and high-performance comes down to looking at three areas, the skills that you’re growing, gaining the knowledge that you’re acquiring and the experiences you’re having to put those to good use.

And if you’re clear on how you want your head needs, as I call it in your career product to be developing, you’re motivated to be a high performer because you’re gaining that reward back from pushing yourself and from changing, ultimately from growing and striving, it then goes to the second column, which I think we overlook at our peril at work.

It happens all the time. How do you want to feel what are your heart needs? This actually picks up on a strategy you were talking about a moment ago, which is write down five words, five adjectives that best describe how you would choose to feel at work on an average day.

So yes, there’ll be peaks and troughs, and you’ve going to have difference in it. But on an average day or month or quarter, how do you want to feel at work across these five adjectives? Because what people forget from my experience, you have a choice about how you feel at work true. You either choose to feel unhappy or you choose to feel happy. It cannot be done to you. So if your reward bucket is getting, you’re getting your emotional needs met at work, that’s motivating.

And that’s going to build performance now, just to give a very quick example on that. If I worked for you, Jo, and you said, right, Sally, tell me the five adjectives of how you want to feel in my company. And I said, I want to feel stretched, Jo, really exhilarated, really I’m learning. I’m kind of out of my comfort zone or whatever else you’d be like, okay, I get a sense of where Sally’s coming from.

You instantly know a bit about the tone. On the opposite. If I said, I want to feel safe, I want to feel like I’m consolidating. I want to feel stable. And I want to feel very connected. You can get a very different vibe instantly about the kind of experience I want.

So if you were to stretch person, be like the second person and give them lots of new stuff, they would be scared and unhappy to be in a panic zone. But equally, if you didn’t give that to person a they’re bored.

Jo Taylor:

Yeah. They’d be leaving you. There’d be looking to go in six months or a year to go and gain experience in somewhere else. You’re right.

Sally Henderson:

They want a different experience. And if the person knows it about themselves, they don’t feel guilty as well. Or feeling like I want to grow more in terms of excitement or change wash it. That’s not me. Okay. That’s great. Cause we all need different motivators and emotion work and then you can channel them more effectively and the way to get even more accurate on this is that you then percentage weight them.

So then I’m not making assumptions of what your words mean on your behalf. So if I’ve got stretched and all the other words I put in, but actually stretches only 5% then, you know, okay. But if it’s 50% you get another level of it.

Jo Taylor:

You do. That’s really lovely. And it’s really simple to do, but as you say, hugely motivating for someone to take the time, to do that, to understand you beyond the contribution or the job role that you have in that particular business.

Sally Henderson:

Shortcuts it for the leader to work out. Yeah.

Jo Taylor:

Leader’s are not mind readers. What we’re talking about is driving the right conversation by having that conversation. You’re going back to what you said in the head, which is around, you know, the join up between what, the skills and the knowledge that someone wants to gain or with the motivation, which is the heart. And I always talk about the heart, the head and the hands, which is the do yeah. What would you want me to do?

Sally Henderson:

I’m saying the heart, you then understand pace. Yes. The way that the speed, the pace of interaction you will be having with this person.

 Yeah, absolutely. The final column is what I call money practical.

So I have a saying, which is, we all have a number.

I used to interview people when I was a head Hunter and I’d be like, well, what do you want turn as a salary and be like, well, I don’t really know. You’d say a few things that, not that I said, well, you do know then, so what’s your number.

Everybody has a number that’s motivating to them. The more we can be honest about that, the better performance we’re going to drive, you know, help, or we can address the problem here, Houston, you want that? We can’t give that. Especially in the current market, therefore you can compensate for it with the head or the heart, perhaps lost that’s out of kilter or putting clear performance metrics that can be achieved.

And the E which is practical, I think is even more important in the current working environment where it’s all blended is what are the logistics around how you want to work as a reward.

So in the old normal, it might have been commuting time. Like some people love travel. I want to be on a plane at least once a month.

Other people be like, I will go into playing once a quarter. Yeah. Some people like to do out of hours calls cause they like to be international. And the five of it all and they like different patterns.

Other people hate it, kills them. So if you know the practical reward, someone’s looking for someone to have a passion around sports or a competition or something that they want to invest in. Like, I can’t give you a number, but I can give you time.

So I can hit your reward as close as I can across money and practical because I know to you, that’s motivating. So therefore your performance is going to be much easier to connect to and to sustain because you’re getting a reward and a value back. Yeah.

Jo Taylor:

Yeah. That makes a lot of sense and it’s really simple. What I like about it is the simplicity of it. People that have listened to this podcast will know, I love a good model.

Thank you for sharing that with us, we’re giving an insight into, you know, the five Rs that you have. But by bringing that R, the reward to life, it sort of gives people the foundations to then put that into practice.

And that’s what this is all about, isn’t it. People can boil the ocean on performance and leadership. You know, we both work in consultancy.

So we know that, you know, we’re busy at the moment because these are big testing problems. But what I’m hoping is that while people are listening to this, they’re sort of seeing how they can use it in their context. Cause that’s, what’s coming across to me from my conversation is that frameworks and processes are all okay.

But at the end of the day, knowing your people who knows your business better than you, who knows your people better than you. If you put yourself in that consumer mindset of who are your tribes and your audience, then you’re going to be able to not build a one size fits all, but a really bespoke individualistic experience that has that heart and the head. And as you said, the money and the practical.

Sally Henderson:

Cool. Yeah. And also what’s really fascinating, Jo, which gets overlooked all the time is that the key senior leaders also can answer those questions.

Jo Taylor:

Well, I was going to say, are you seeing that then mirror upwards? Cause that’s important, isn’t it? It’s not just top down. It’s kind of bottom up. Are you seeing it top down?

Sally Henderson:

It can be mistakenly, in my book, seen as a luxury.

Just stop and think about yourself as a leader on your needs and your rewards.

Because also right now, just keeping going for a lot of businesses is, is hard enough. There’s a huge art on a pure, as you’re talking about energy level, a pure volume of work to get through.

And also the pure disruption around planning, re-planning planning, replanning, that’s knackering for people, but I would counter that by saying (and it’s a bad analogy to use in the current market, put your own oxygen mask on first), if a leader isn’t being stimulated supported, if they are not managing their own performance levels and knowing what their reward is from doing that, like the basic walk, the walk they’re going to always be coming at it from a place of depletion.

Jo Taylor:

Yeah. And that goes back to the point that you made at the very beginning, which was around belonging, cared for and energy. In a sense, you must make sure that you’re thinking about that as much about yourself as in the teams. That makes complete sense to me.

Sally Henderson:

Yeah. So I often will say to my clients, “who’s caring for you?”

All the old sayings it’s lonely at the top, it’s stressful at the top. It’s isolating, you often can’t show your true feelings for certain reasons because that’s just not the role that can be played at a given moment, but you have to show them to someone.

Jo Taylor:

Well, it was interesting. There was a piece of research done by Google project Aristotle that looked at psychological safety and when people feel psychologically safe and that’s kind of what you’re talking about here, that if someone feels safe to have that conversation and open up, then they’re more likely to be able to do that authentically and role model that with their team, if they don’t feel that they’ve got that safety, they’re unlikely to role model it aren’t they?

Because if you don’t see it, you don’t repeat it

Sally Henderson:

A hundred percent. And I think it’s about giving that permission too, I think what this year has given is actually more permission for people to be honest about how they’re experiencing the world and to share and collaborate more as groups and tribes.

I’m part members of lots of different groups where lots of leaders come together for the can talk about safety and they can talk to peers and know that they’re not on their own or they’re not having a unique experience and everyone else is fine, you know?

Jo Taylor:

No, and I think that’s been the biggest, I think that’s been a lesson for us as a business. We do a pro-bono mentoring program and it’s not only looking after the mentees, but also the mentors has been a big push for us.

It’s been really interesting to see how people have kind of tuned in to that more and engaged with that safety element and security in a small environment.

Coaching also helps that.

Sally Henderson:

It does, because I think High performance will live or die by a high-performing leader.

Jo Taylor:

Now it’s pretty simple isn’t it.

Sally Henderson:

It really is. And then therefore that I’m that leader, I think it’s an unrealistic task to expect that leader to do on their own.

They would not expect that of their people.

Jo Taylor:

No, exactly. Exactly. So if people wanted to get in contact with you and learn more about your 5 Rs model. Hhow would they do that, Sally?

Sally Henderson:

Lots of ways. Website is sallyhenderson.co.uk, where you can learn more about who I am or what I do.

Linkedin you can always connect with me on LinkedIn: Sally K Henderson

Email me [email protected].

And I’m a bit of an old fashioned person who likes the phone. So I’m really happy for people to ring me. So, you know, give me a ring. 07788 961 950.

Jo Taylor:

Brilliant. Well, look, I know we could, I know we’ve sort of scratched the surface but this is what these podcasts are all about. The kind of about sort of laying it bare, keeping it simple and ultimately giving people that platform to take it on.

So I really feel like we’ve done that together and thank you so much for your time, your energy and your permission for us to all ask ourselves.

How are we really?

That’s your challenge listeners.