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In a recent study, 56% of American employees said their boss was mildly or highly toxic. In another study, three out of four employees said their manager was the worst and most stressful part of their job. Being a “bad manager” is counterintuitive, especially in today’s business climate, when employees crave authentic relationships and mentorship from team leaders.

Likewise, companies should invest in employees bringing their top talents and creativity to work each day, particularly since they face increased global competition and a pace of business (driven by technology) that is constantly speeding up.

At the same time, unemployment rates are historically low, so companies are competing for and even poaching A-players from other orgs. You’d think in this situation, team leaders would want to create a supportive and energizing environment to retain people and to help everyone at the company prosper.

But the stats on bad managers indicate that this isn’t happening. Why the disconnect? To get some insights on what makes a bad, good, or great manager, I talked with Thad Peterson of The Predictive Index, a platform and methodology solution designed to help companies hire and manage more effectively by understanding how people think and work.

In this webinar, we dive into The Predictive Index’s recent People Management Survey of over 5000 employees in all industries, and outlined tips on how to become one of the great managers.

Bad managers rule through fear

As noted, most people don’t start off intending to be a bad boss. And why would they? Having a team that hates you detracts them from achieving their goals and ultimately diminishes your own success. If you rule by fear, your team may accomplish tasks, but the degree of creativity and communication will be affected by the lack of psychological safety. Fear-based management may drive performance for a time, but nobody can handle that environment for very long.

Rule by fear and your team may produce, but creativity and communication will suffer over time.
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The Predictive Index study revealed that 77% of people with a bad manager will look to leave their company in the next 12 months. Perhaps more dangerous than outright quitting are employees who “quit in place,” still showing up, but not bringing their true talents to the job.

While you may think of bad bosses as being fire-breathing dragons, being intimidating is not the only way to be viewed as ineffective.

According to The Predictive Index, the five top traits of a bad boss are:

1. Doesn’t communicate clear expectations
2. Plays favorites
3. Doesn’t show concern about personal development of employees
4. Bad mouths people behind their backs
5. Isn’t open or interested in employee feedback

Bad managers can usually be categorized as selfish and not self-aware. They do not have the skills needed to be effective, which often happens when great individual contributors get promoted to lead teams. Those individual contributors may think they know how to lead, but the skills that led to their career success don’t translate to leading others.

Other managers may have learned ineffective or outdated techniques from previous team leaders and either follow a command and control style or go the other way, with a permissive style that doesn’t establish direction or create accountability.

Becoming a “bad manager” is often the result of an organization that is not intentional about leadership development. For example, when otherwise decent managers are under stress and don’t feel they have the time to coach employees, but only to deliver results.

Others may not even know that they are being ineffective or hindering performance. Worse, even if they do know, they may not care. Because these managers are not open to feedback, they are not likely to improve their skills without intervention.

From bad to good managers

While bad managers are selfish and may make unfair decisions, good managers demonstrate integrity.

The five top traits of a good manager are:

1. Has a strong work ethic
2. Is honest
3. Has a sense of humor
4. Is confident
5. Has a positive attitude

A good manager leads by example and inspires the team to behave in a similar way. The positive news from this list is that many of these traits can be developed if they are not already innate. Even a sense of humor, as in not taking yourself too seriously, can be enhanced by looking at the big picture of a situation and finding the upside.

The makings of great team leaders

Some team leaders go beyond just setting an example based on their own behavior. Those great leaders intentionally work on developing the skills of those on their team.

According to the survey, great managers:

1. Motivate others
2. Set and communicate clear expectations
3. Care about employees’ career and personal development
4. Help employees see the meaning of their work
5. Make good decisions

Great managers have both an inward focus that guides them to be thoughtful people and do meaningful work, but they also have an outward focus that invests in others around them. Rather than having a transactional relationship with employees, a great manager seeks a transformational relationship so that everyone grows. But great managers aren’t pushovers. They excel at setting clear expectations and communicating both the good and the bad, in a way that is still supportive and motivating.

Great managers set clear expectations in a way that is supportive and motivating.
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While some great team leaders have innate emotional intelligence, others have to learn it. Emotional intelligence, also called emotional quotient or EQ, is the ability to understand other people and what motivates them. Being self-aware, motivating, having empathy, and being able to regulate your behaviors are some of the hallmarks of EQ. While these soft skills used to take a back seat in business, as companies try to engage and retain employees and create culture where innovation thrives, EQ is becoming indispensable.

What kind of manager are you?

Now that we’ve described the traits, how do you know if you’re a bad, good, or even great manager? You can look at your company data such as the retention rates, absenteeism, and productivity for your team. You can think about the culture of your team–look back on previous meetings to see how your team interacts, since that will be a reflection of your behavior. You can also look at employee survey data for your department, especially the comments.

If you have systems and processes that encourage feedback, such as 360° reviews or self-reviews, you can use these tools to seek information about your strengths and areas where leadership development could help. To become a better manager, you have to be open to hearing the positives and the negatives and accepting that those perspectives as valid.

Thad from Predictive Index suggests picking one behavior to improve, and work on it for a week. For example, you could practice the often overlooked leadership skill of active listening. Additionally, you can seek mentoring from great managers inside or outside your company or seek formal management training.

If you don’t have the time or interest to work on becoming a better manager, it’s important to at least assess the impact of your current management style. If you’re a struggling team leader, you (and your team) may find more satisfaction with you in the role of an individual contributor instead of a team leader.

Good and even already great managers can continue to improve their skills, especially by using tools that foster feedback and open communication. In the end, the best managers recognize that by enhancing their teams’ ability to do good work, they significantly increase their own ability to succeed as well.

Shane Metcalf is Chief Culture Officer at 15Five, continuous performance management software that includes weekly check-ins, objectives (OKR) tracking, peer recognition, 1-on-1s, and 360°reviews. Shane has spent his career studying organizational & human development, which now translates into the high performing 15Five culture.

Image Credit: Suzanne D. Williams on Unsplash

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Human Resource professionals understand more than most why learning and development opportunities are vital. One study found that a whopping two-thirds of employees actually changed jobs due to a lack of L&D.

Perhaps this is because many companies don’t know how to create a learning and development program internally, or lack the resources to provide what they see as a perk, via external learning experiences like conferences and seminars. But learning and development opportunities are fast becoming necessary elements of an organization’s retention strategy. People Operations teams and other people managers can model L&D by attending one of the HR conferences outlined below.

Inspiration and innovation often thrive through external influences like these. What better way to grow than by joining the brightest minds in a given field for the sharing of ideas, development of relevant skills, and exchange of proven tools and strategies?

For People Ops, these events cover just about every conceivable topic related to employee management: fostering culture from startups to enterprises, using data analytics to fine tune workplace dynamics, improving recruitment and retainment practices, building employer-employee trust, leveraging the latest in performance management technologies, etc. The industry’s top summits explore all of these and many more.

To help you navigate the many gatherings taking place throughout the year, we’ve culled some of the more prominent on the calendar. Many of these take place in San Francisco and Las Vegas, but options do exist further east. Our below list is chronological by city/region.

San Francisco / Bay Area

1. People Analytics and Future of Work (PAFOW)

Date: January 31 – February 1, 2019

Location: San Francisco, CA

PAFOW’s mission is to serve as a central connector for all things people analytics. Each year it brings together global thought leaders in the space to share insights, trends, and best practices. In 2019, the PAFOW Conference will focus on how people measurement and analytics benefit the workforce, leadership, and overall organization of companies that use them.

Notable Speaker: Dawn Klinghoffer, Head of People Analytics, Microsoft

2. Great Place to Work For All Summit

Date: February 26-28, 2019

Location: San Francisco, CA

The Great Place to Work Institute holds its annual summit for over 1,000 leaders responsible for stewarding culture initiatives in 500+ global companies. Presentations and lessons include building high-trust culture, recruiting and retaining talent, managing the effects of rapid growth, and other topics pertinent to fostering outstanding work environments.

Notable Speaker: Lynne Doughtie, Chairman and CEO, KPMG LLP

3. Wisdom 2.0 SF

Date: March 1-3, 2019

Location: San Francisco, CA

Wisdom 2.0 focuses on the intersection of wisdom and technology. Its flagship event in San Francisco welcomes thousands of people from across the globe to engage in conversation about how to leverage digital connections in ways that benefit our well-being, work, and world around us. Wisdom 2.0 SF offers presentations, panels, and parties along with health and wellness opportunities like yoga and meditation sessions.

Notable Speaker: Karen May, VP People Development, Google

4. HR West

Date: March 11-13, 2019

Location: Oakland, CA

Hosted by Next Concept HR Association, one of the country’s largest trade organizations, HR West considers itself the “un” conference. Its low-pressure, collaborative setting places the focus on comprehensive learning for the participants. Seated squarely in one of the most innovative regions in the world, HR West is where People Ops leaders go to stay ahead of the human resources curve.

Notable Speaker: Amy Cappellanti-Wolf, SVP and Chief Human Resources Officer, Symantec

5. Frontiers

Date: April 23-25, 2019

Location: San Francisco

Collaboration hub Slack stages its Frontiers event each year to explore virtual teamwork, how it’s changing companies, and what that means for the future. The popular, cloud-based software provider attracts industry leaders in HR, customer support, IT, product, and marketing who want to accelerate their teams’ performance and get more out of the Slack platform.

Notable 2018 Speaker: Ed Catmull, President, Walt Disney Animation Studios

6. The Culture Conference

Date: TBD (previous event held in April 2018)

Location: Santa Clara, CA

Based on experiential education designed to be dynamic and immediately applicable, The Culture Conference walks the line between personal transformation and professional development. Its invite-only application process draws 175 high-caliber business leaders who recognize that change begins within and want to take responsibility for the cultures they create. Discussions cover coaching mindsets, gender bias, remote workers, use of data, pay gaps, and hiring practices, among various others.

Notable Speaker: Cheryl Hughey, Managing Director Culture, Southwest Airlines

7. Inclusive Diversity Conference

Date: May 6-7, 2019

Location: San Francisco, CA

Hosted by the Human Capital Institute, the Inclusive Diversity Conference takes a scientific behavioral approach to driving diversity and inclusion in organizations. Culture leaders who attend learn about various recruitment strategies, data analytics, and management techniques to help them implement human-centric ideas around acceptance and collaboration.

Notable Speaker: Renetta McCann, Chief Inclusion Experiences Officer, Publicis Groupe

8. Culture Summit

Date: June 25-27, 2019

Location: San Francisco, CA

Whereas many People Ops and HR conferences target executives using a top-down approach, Culture Summit begins at the employee level. Its view of culture as an “everyone strategy” rather than an “HR strategy” drives the cross-functional event’s agenda. Thought leaders and culture experts offer insights, strategies, and tangible practices that empower all levels of employees to contribute in building their own workplace environments.

Notable 2018 Speaker: Cat Lee, Head of Culture, Pinterest

9. HR TechXpo

Date: July 18, 2019

Location: San Francisco, CA

Thanks to its success with HR West, Next Concept HR Association has introduced another event to its lineup. HR TechXpo, which also takes place in Seattle a month later, offers a unique look at the nexus of human resources and technology. Live demos and hands-on interaction define an event that brings together some of the most advanced People Ops solutions making their way into the modern workplace.

10. From Day One

Date: April 2019 (Day TBD)

Location: San Francisco, CA “How can we build stronger, more purposeful relationships with our employees, customers, and community—starting today?” This is the singular question that over 200 principals, founders, and business leaders look to answer at From Day One’s multi-city conference (other locations include Chicago and New York). Presentations and panels support executives committed to effecting change in their organizations and putting their people first.

Notable Speaker: Scott Heiferman, Co-Founder and CEO, Meetup

Las Vegas

11. HR Transform

Date: March 26-28, 2019

Location: Las Vegas, NV

As its name suggests, HR Transform brings together prominent People Ops leaders from around the world who not only think ahead, but who are already implementing next-generation innovations in their own businesses. Executives who attend dive deeply into a range of items, including hiring practices, feedback tools, gamification, growth and development technology, and more.

Notable Speaker: Diane Vavrasek, VP Talent, Walmart

12. Connect HR Leadership Summit

Date: April 14-16, 2019

Location: Las Vegas, NV

The Connect HR Leadership Summit is an invite-only executive conference hosted by Quartz Events. Senior-level HR, talent, and culture leaders from mid-market and enterprise-level companies interact through various educational sessions and social events. Also offered in Chicago in September, the summit is fertile ground for sharing ideas, keeping track of trends, and expanding People Ops networks.

Notable Speaker: Missy Hallead, VP Corporate and Global Human Resources, MGM

13. SHRM Annual Conference and Exposition

Date: June 23-26, 2019

Location: Las Vegas, NV

The Society for Human Resource Management’s Annual Conference and Exposition offers over 200 different educational sessions for People Ops professionals of all levels. Whether you’re looking for solutions that help with compliance, technology that optimizes various HR functions, or talent strategies that boost engagement and retention, SHRM’s event shares the resources you need to support your organization.

Notable Speaker: Vineet Nayar, Founder and Chairman, Sampark Foundation

14. Responsive Conference

Date: September 13-14, 2019

Location: Las Vegas, NV

If you operate in the People Ops space and are charged with making sure your HR functions keep pace with innovation, Responsive Conference is built for you. Change in the 21st Century is unprecedented, which is why event leaders are dedicated to bringing participants creative, evidence-based solutions to modern human resources challenges through compelling speakers, engaging forums, and immersive workshops.

Notable Speaker: Marcus Glover, Partner, Southbox

15. HR Technology Conference and Exposition

Date: October 1-4, 2019

Location: Las Vegas, NV

HR Tech is one of the top events on the calendar when it comes to People Ops systems. Upwards of 100 of the latest industry innovations are introduced here each year among a tech expo filled with market leaders and up-and-coming vendors. Known as the “town hall meeting” among HR and IT executives because of the rapid-fire sharing of insights and ideas, it has become a go-to for technology-oriented People Ops stakeholders.

Notable 2018 Speaker: Binh Nguyen, VP North America Talent Acquisition, IBM Other US Events

16. Employee Experience Impact Summit

Date: February 27 – March 1, 2019

Location: Orlando, FL

In addition to a number of other events throughout the year, HR Exchange Network hosts one of the more quickly growing employee-centric events in the country. Employee Experience Impact participants take a close look at how to empower employees in ways that allow them to feel more connected to their work. Other select topics include employee journey mapping and culture preservation during company transitions.

Notable Speaker: Bejoy Mathew, VP Digital Employee Experience, MasterCard

17. WorkHuman

Date: March 18-21, 2019

Location: Nashville, TN

WorkHuman is a celebration of the movement of the same name introduced by People Ops solutions provider Globoforce. The annual event brings together HR and business leaders seeking to make their organizations more “human” in order to better motivate employees to do their best work. Attendees explore current issues challenging this dynamic and learn from insights and research offered by some of the most forward-thinking innovators in the industry.

Notable Speaker: Caroline Wanga, Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer and VP HR, Target

18. Wharton People Analytics Conference

Date: April 4-5, 2019

Location: Philadelphia, PA

As you would expect from one of the preeminent business schools in the country, the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton People Analytics Conference uses interdisciplinary research as its foundation. Industry leaders and academic experts offer cutting-edge data and insights-based practices to help organizations make more informed decisions about their people.

Notable Speaker: Cathy Engelbert, CEO, Deloitte

19. Conscious Capitalism

Date: April 23-25, 2019

Location: Phoenix, AZ

Conscious Capitalism can be summed up by its mantra, “Elevate Humanity Through Business.” Bringing together executives, entrepreneurs, and consultants, the event concentrates on using capitalism as a force for good. Thought-provoking discussions and relationship-building opportunities are geared toward practical solutions that attendees can implement immediately.

Notable Speaker: Kristin Richmond, Co-Founder and CEO, Revolution Foods

20. Employee Engagement Conference

Date: July 29-31, 2019

Location: Denver, CO

Like the Inclusive Diversity Conference in San Francisco, the Employee Engagement Conference is staged by the Human Capital Institute. People Ops managers and executives benefit from practical tools for creating a culture of values and high performance offered by HR industry leaders. They then return to their organizations with strategies for cultivating a continuous employee-centric experience from recruitment to retirement.

Notable Speaker: Kelly Elliott, HR Deputy Director, NASA

21. NeuroLeadership Summit

Date: November 19-20, 2019

Location: New York, NY

The NeuroLeadership Institute is a global research organization dedicated to innovating leadership practices through neuroscience. Its annual NeuroLeadership Summit attracts over 600 talent professionals, C-level executives, coaches, and other leaders from 150 countries. Based on the latest in brain research, the event delves into how leaders can use these insights to not only improve information processing and transition into an even more pervasive digital future, but how to actively design that future rather than trying to randomly predict it.

Notable Speaker: Chris Yates, GM Learning and Development, Microsoft

Top 10 Tips for Making the Most out of Your 2019 HR Conferences

Whether you’re a first-timer or a seasoned vet when it comes to HR industry events, you’ll want to make each one a worthwhile investment—for you and the broader team. We want you to shine, too, which is why we’ve also compiled a checklist to help you best leverage your off-site opportunity.

Set objectives

As with any other initiative, establishing goals adds purpose to your participation. Are there must-attend breakouts that will benefit you the most? Is there a specific person or group you’d like to engage? Are you looking for a minimum number of leads? Creating objectives ahead of time helps keep you accountable for these things.

Follow on social media

There are tons of reasons to integrate your upcoming HR conferences into your SM routine. Meet and set up times to connect with new people, gain more info about the best sessions for you, and participate in conversations to stay informed are just a few such reasons to consider.

Sharpen your elevator pitch

You are your company at these events. Sometimes you may even be the sole representative, which places even more importance on your ability to explain your business in a concise yet compelling way. You never know who you’ll run into, so chat with your manager if you need a hand firming up your corporate spiel.

Take notes

We know, it sounds like back to school. But, being able to share what you learned with the rest of your team afterwards results in more bang for your company’s buck (pro tip: CEOs like that!). Great options for this include lunch-and-learns, sharing best practices at company round tables, or even just memo-style recaps.

Listen more than you speak

Ask any salesperson the most important skill they need to succeed and they’ll say the ability to listen. While you may not be canvasing the crowd yourself, you are there to learn as much as possible. Whether you’re engaging speakers or other attendees, focus on what they can share with you and let that guide the dialog.

Manage your time

If your event offers a slew of seminars, breakouts, and other topic-specific sessions, don’t try to boil the ocean. Select those that make the most sense for your role or business ahead of time and soak up as much as you can from those. This also lets you build in time for other things like company calls and check-ins.

Attend the expo

If the HR conferences you are considering offer any sort of trade expo, pencil it into your calendar. These are great ways to meet people, speak with potential B2B partners, interact with new technology, spark ideas based on interesting vendor presentations, recruit talent, so on and so forth.

Take advantage of breaks

Instead of retreating to your room or descending into your phone’s email pit, use scheduled breaks to meet your neighbors, pick speakers’ brains, and otherwise expand your network and knowledge. Most presentations are one-way affairs, so this is your chance to speak and engage!

Enjoy the town

No one, including management, expects you to stay holed up in your hotel between flights. Most conferences like this take place in or near major cities, so enjoy the opportunity to socialize with industry peers out on the town as schedules allow. Budding relationships can bear professional and personal fruit.

Follow up

Out of sight, out of mind. The old adage is very much applicable to the revolving doors that are industry conferences. What good are all those business cards if you don’t cultivate the relationships they serve to spark? Follow up on your conversations, put next steps into play, etc. to really reap the benefits of the event.

So there you go. It takes practice to move fluidly through these HR conferences, but now that you know where to go and what to do, let’s make 2019 a standout year for maximizing industry events.

You may just pick up a pointer or two for how to increase the learning and development opportunities at your organization. And as employees stick around, grow in their roles, feel more motivated and loyal to your company, those L&D budgets are likely to rise.

David Mizne is Marketing Communications Manager at 15Five, continuous performance management software that includes weekly check-ins, objectives (OKR) tracking, peer recognition, 1-on-1s, and 360 reviews. David’s articles have also appeared on The Next Web & The Economist. Follow him @davidmizne.

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What separates high performing organizations from all the rest? Research shows that quality 1-on-1 meetings —those indispensable conversations between managers and employees— are a huge factor! One-on-ones can range from dreaded, “check-the-box” status updates to energizing, even life-changing conversations. As we’ll see below, science shows the best conversations have several things in common.

Welcome back to Talk Nerdy To Me, 15Five’s academic blog series where we get nerdy, talk to the world’s best thinkers, and break down the latest academic research that you can apply to your workplace. This time around, I spoke with Kim Cameron, Ph.D., Professor of Management and Organizations at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, to explore the science behind highly effective one-on-one conversations. We dive into those critical, yet commonly overlooked practices that have a massive positive impact on both individuals and organizations.

Highlights include:

• Critical topics to address in the first one-on-one that will set all following conversations up for success

• Must have talking points to guide all recurring one-one-one conversations

• The business impact of highly effective 1-on-1 meetings

• The importance of positive energy for life-changing conversations

This conversation has been edited and condensed. To listen to the full conversation, click the video below.


Courtney: Let’s start by talking about Positive Organizational Scholarship, which is an incredible and relatively new research domain that expands what we know about the science of thriving workplaces. What makes Positive Organizational Scholarship unique and why should all leaders and HR teams be paying attention to it?

Kim: Positive Organizational Scholarship (POS for short) was introduced as a new field of study in 2002 at the University of Michigan and focuses on how to cultivate extraordinary individual and organizational performance. We study what elevates and inspires individuals and organizations rather than what is challenging or broken in an organizational setting.

In relation to fitness, it’s akin to studying Olympic level health. We work to understand the best of the human condition, specifically in the world of work. POS has an empirical base, meaning it’s backed by science and driven by hard-nosed research. The work we do also has a practical utility, so it can be applied in an actual work setting.

Courtney: That’s amazing. So POS expands what we know about workplaces that have both high performance and high employee engagement. In other words, there can be a positive sum game between employees and organizations.

Kim: Yes, and POS is not just limited to making employees happy. When you implement positive practices and when positive leadership characterizes leaders throughout the organization, there is a significant improvement in employee productivity and profitability as well. The business impact is overwhelmingly clear. In fact, positive practices even impact stock price. In one study of 40 financial service organizations, we could account for almost half their financial performance based on whether or not they’re improving in positive practices and positive leadership.

Courtney: One domain of POS is Positive Leadership. In your book on positive leaders, you talk about the importance of recurring 1-on-1 meetings between managers and employees as a key practice to help companies achieve extraordinary performance. What does the research show about effective one-on-ones?

Kim: In the research, we refer to one-on-ones as the Personal Management Interview process, or PMI for short. Highly effective one-on-ones have two parts: a one-time role negotiation session and, following that, recurring 1-on-1 meetings.

A role negotiation session is critical. It’s a one-time only meeting between a manager and each of his or her direct reports that occurs at the beginning of the relationship or right when a person enters a role. The primary purpose is to create a psychological contract. Yes, there are job descriptions and formal contracts that we all sign, but they hardly ever outline several really important aspects of the job. The goal is to create as much clarity as possible about what’s expected of one another, including three key topics:

1. Role performance and areas of responsibility. Here, the goal is to get as clear as possible about what the actual job entails. What is expected? How can I exceed expectations? What’s below expectations? What are my key areas of responsibility? What’s outside my areas of responsibility? For what am I accountable? Who is impacted by what I do?

2. Accountability and rewards. Here, the goal is to clarify accountability and to get as clear as possible about non-financial and financial rewards, especially growth and development expectations. How can I grow and expand? How can I become more capable and competent? What can I expect in terms of monetary and non-monetary rewards? What can I do that causes me to progress or move up? If I don’t move hierarchically, are there still options for growth and expanding my capabilities and talents?

3. Interpersonal relationships, mission, goals, values. What are the mission, goals, values, and culture of the organization? Am I allowed flexible working hours? What company values or norms are non-negotiable? For example, at my institution (University of Michigan), some non-negotiables include not stealing ideas without giving credit, mistreating colleagues, and so forth.

These types of things are rarely written down but need to be made clear.

At the end of the role negotiation session, you want the direct report to walk out saying, “I’m clear about my role, how I can grow and develop, how I can expand my capabilities and talents, what the organization expects of me, what I expect of the organization, and how I can best contribute.”

That’s the first step in the PMI process. It’s not about sending folks off to an HR orientation session, and it’s not in the employee handbook. This is a different kind of meeting that requires an in-person conversation and usually lasts at least one hour.

Courtney: So, according to research, for 1-on-1 meetings to be effective, this first role negotiation step must take place to create a psychological contract. Role clarity is key. This reminds me of Harvard professor, Amy Edmondson’s research showing how role clarity leads to psychological safety, which is a key factor of high performing teams.

Kim: This is a great insight. Part of the outcome of having this first meeting is to talk about things that aren’t usually written down. When I clarify all that information and when I make sure people know I have their best interest at heart, psychological safety emerges. In order to create an environment for personal growth, you need to create an environment of safety first, and that requires clarity. Safety occurs when people feel comfortable that they’re not going to be surprised.

Courtney: After this psychological contract is created, what’s next?

Kim: The one-time role negotiation meeting is followed by an ongoing, regularly scheduled meeting between a manager and each of his or her direct reports. This meeting is not an annual appraisal. It’s not a quarterly meeting. It’s not a staff meeting at the end of the week. It’s a one-on-one, eyeball-to-eyeball, knee-to-knee, private meeting that occurs at least once a month, if not more frequently.

Role clarity leads to psychological safety, which is a key factor of high performing teams.
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The one-on-one is also highly collaborative. Both people prepare agenda items in advanced. The meeting can last between 45 minutes to an hour (if held only once a month). It should also be private and confidential to ensure trust and a rich experience.

Courtney: What are the major goals of recurring 1-on-1 meetings?

Kim: The number one goal is continuous improvement. If something doesn’t get better because you’ve held this meeting, don’t hold the meeting. There needs to be action. The needle has to move. Something needs to improve in order for the meeting be worth your time.

The second goal is personal development. When a manager holds regular one-on-ones they’re essentially saying, “I’m here to help. Let me help you develop and grow. And let’s collaborate to help the organization flourish.”

The number one goal of recurring 1-on-1 meetings is continuous improvement.
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The third goal is feedback. One-on-ones are an opportunity to give and receive feedback. Research shows it’s important to give more positive feedback than constructive feedback, although both are important. It’s also important that managers explicitly ask for feedback.

Courtney: According to the research, what key topics should be covered?

Kim: The first item on the agenda is to follow up on the action items from the previous meeting. This ensures accountability for improvement. It’s also important to review short and long-term goals, objectives and targets, and outline what needs to be accomplished at an organizational and individual level. Managers can share key pieces of information and provide important context.

It’s also a time to give and receive feedback, including praise for what’s going well. Managers and employees address any roadblocks or obstacles that are getting in the way of performance. Nobody should fail because they can’t get what they need, so it’s an opportunity to identify resource needs. It’s also an opportunity for training and development and to help people achieve their career aspirations.

In addition, 1-on-1 meetings should be held in a safe space to address and handle interpersonal issues, which are almost universal. Handle those before they turn into explosions. Employees can also bring up important personal issues that may or may not be affecting their work. At the end of the meeting, make a list of action items to complete before the next one-on-one.

Courtney: What’s the business impact of one-on-ones that include both parts: the one-time role negotiation session and recurring check-ins with the key pieces you highlighted?

Kim: Evidence shows recurring one-on-ones pay off. When organizations implement highly effective one-on-ones, performance, productivity, customer satisfaction, and employee engagement significantly improve.

When organizations implement effective one-on-ones, productivity and engagement improve.
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In one study (see graph below), organizations implemented the two-part one-on-one process with an initial role negotiation meeting and recurring check-in meetings. Over time, performance went up. But then they stopped because people said, “Whoa, wait a minute. I don’t have time for this. You’re superimposing on my schedule a one-hour meeting with every direct report, which is normally four to eight people. I don’t have an extra four to eight hours a month for this.”

So several organizations stopped. Then we continued to measure their performance. 18 months later, the organizations that stopped saw a huge deterioration in performance. So they implemented recurring one-on-ones again company-wide, and performance went back up.

Source: Positive Leadership, Strategies for Extraordinary Performance by Kim Cameron, Wayne Boss, 1983

Courtney: To close, let’s talk about positive energizers. What are positive energizers and how can positive energy transform the one-on-one conversation?

Kim: I’m so glad we’re addressing this. Let’s first unpack the word energy. There are several kinds of energy. The first is called physical energy, and when I use, it it diminishes. For example, if I ran a marathon, I’d need recuperation time. Emotional energy is similar. When I use it, it diminishes. For example, if I get into an argument, I need to recoup and recover. Mental energy is the same, which is why in school we have semester breaks and at work, vacation time. The fourth kind of energy is called relational energy. It’s the only kind of energy that when you use it, it elevates.

Relational energy occurs between two people, and more is better. Some interactions with people are positive, life-giving experiences while other interactions can feel like an energy suck. Positive energizers create support and vitality in others, they make everybody else better, and they make people feel that they matter.

High performing organizations have 3x more positive energizers than average organizations.
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Positive energizers aren’t limited to leadership positions, and they’re not necessarily the folks at the top. Everybody can be a positive energizer, and the more energizers there are, the better the performance in an organization. Research shows the highest performing organizations have 3x more positive energizers than average organizations!

Courtney: Wow. So, in 1-on-1 meetings, relational energy is key.

Kim: Yes. You see, there’s nothing magic about the one-on-one if it’s just checking off a list of agenda items. But one-on-ones can be magic, even life-changing, especially those that create a stable foundation of clarity and psychological safety, actively unlock people’s highest potential, and beam with positive energy.

Kim Cameron is Professor of Management & Organizations at University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business. His past research includes organizational virtuousness, downsizing, effectiveness, quality culture, and leadership excellence. Kim is also co-founder and core faculty at the Center for Positive Organizations, a world-renowned research center on Positive Organizational Scholarship, whose mission is to inspire and enable leaders to build high-performing organizations that bring out the best in people.

Courtney Bigony is Director of People Science at 15Five, continuous performance management software that includes weekly check-ins, objectives (OKR) tracking, peer recognition, 1-on-1s, and reviews. She is also the founder of The Deep Feedback Movement, where she provides actionable insights for People Teams based on the latest social science research, and a Fellow at the Center for Evidence Based Management.

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Paulo Coelho once said “The reward of our work is not what we get, but who we become.” I believe this insight applies to both individuals and organizations.

How we approach creating value in the world through building our organizations and offering exceptional products and services has a lot to do with who we become both individually and collectively.

That belief is essentially why 15Five launched seven years ago. Our mission was to create a world where we all work in organizations that are fully actualized, organizations that create extraordinary value for every employee and customer, and where we get to work alongside a vibrant group of colleagues who are committed to creating and living a great life.

Over the years we have refined our mission as simply this: Creating the space where people become their greatest selves. Today, we’re one step closer to achieving that mission.

The evolution of performance

We’ve come a long way from the first iteration of 15Five, then a simple weekly check-in. Our initial product focused on creating a lightweight and regular feedback loop between employees, managers, and executives because we had discovered that most issues that negatively impact performance or culture can be traced back to a failure in communication.

Today, 15Five is a complete continuous performance management platform that includes a more robust weekly check-in, objectives (OKR) tracking, peer recognition, 1-on-1s, and  reviews. Our unique reviews feature, which we call the Best-Self Review, is our response to the outdated and reviled annual performance review. Our software helps over 1,600 companies bring out the best in their people, including those organizations that grace prestigious lists like the Inc. 500 and Great Places to Work.

And today, I am proud to announce another huge milestone. We have closed an $8.2 million Series A round led by Chicago and Salt Lake City-based Origin Ventures, with participation from New Ground Ventures, Chaifetz Group, Jason Calacanis’s LAUNCH Fund, and leading SaaS investor Matrix Partners, who co-led our seed funding along with Point Nine Capital.

We’ll use this latest investment to support our global growth initiatives, including accelerating product innovation and scaling the sales, marketing, and product teams. We will grow our employee headcount significantly in the coming year, expanding from 34 employees at the start of 2018 to more than 100 in 2019.

In addition to using the funds to grow the team, we plan to use the capital to add new integrations to the platform and to add features that enable employees to better track career progression. This will ultimately allow for greater self-discovery to power long-term professional growth.

Investing in the future world of work

A tremendous amount of thought goes into which investors to partner with. There has to be alignment on far more than financials. As 15Five is a mission-driven company, I am excited to be partnering with Origin Ventures, a firm that believes in creating the “Workplace and Workforce of the Future“. They support and invest in companies that apply technological and behavioral changes to professional settings.

“Origin Ventures is excited to be investing in 15Five, the market leader in continuous performance feedback. The company’s product aligns perfectly with the expectations of today’s workforce, leading to high employee satisfaction and reduced attrition,” said Brent Hill, Partner at Origin Ventures, who will be joining 15Five’s board of directors. “We couldn’t be more excited about investing in a product that’s helping drive the transformation of the global workforce now and well into the future.” Learn more about why Origin invested in 15Five.

Only the best

Transforming the workforce depends on more than excellent software. In 2019, I’m specifically excited to be offering trainings in our Best-Self Management methodology, which promises to positively transform the performance management space and organizations that adopt this approach.

Best-Self Management, has led to unbelievable success for every employee here, including bringing us to this exciting moment in our history. By building a culture and instituting practices that supported each person in being and becoming their Best-Self, high performance and uncommon loyalty resulted naturally across the board. I have been cultivating this methodology for well over a decade and I am thrilled to now be sharing it with the world.

You can read more about the funding announcement in the press release.

David Hassell is cofounder and CEO of 15Five, performance management software that includes continuous feedback, OKRs, peer recognition, 1-on-1s, and 360° reviews. David speaks and writes about leadership and was named “The Most Connected Man You Don’t Know in Silicon Valley” by Forbes Magazine. Follow him @dhassell.

Image Credit: Fernando @cferdo on Unsplash

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What are you good at? I mean really good at? Oddly enough, that’s not usually the focus of most employee reviews. Traditionally, these reviews focus on two things: 1) what you’ve done in the past and 2) where you need to improve.

Maybe that is why traditional annual employee reviews are not effective. Managers, employees, and HR all agree: the typical formal appraisal process doesn’t work for multiple reasons: Feedback can be limited, inaccurate, or outdated. The focus is on work done in the past, versus recent accomplishments, and the emphasis is often on areas in need of improvement. And while those aspects are necessary, a review that actually helps an employee succeed should do more.

While it provides employee feedback, a review should also encourage interaction from multiple areas. While it looks at the past, it should be firmly focused on the future. While it identifies areas of development, it should focus on employee strengths.

The concept of asking, what are you good at?, and helping employees recognize and capitalize on being their best is the foundation of our feature, the Best-Self Review. Backed by science, and incorporating this strengths-based philosophy, the Best-Self Review is a 360˚ performance management practice that gathers feedback from the employee, manager, peers, and others. The end result is a well-rounded view of your employee’s impact and gives the basis for a strengths-based development conversation.

Creating Your First Review Cycle

If you’ve decided to incorporate the 360˚ Best-Self Review, the next step is creating the first review cycle. Creating and tailoring that review cycle in our platform is intentionally easy so you’ll spend more time in conversation than in customizing the review.

Our recent webinar walks you through creating your first review cycle in the actual product, but we’d like to share some key tools the product provides. You can also watch the webinar here:

Simplicity: With a few clicks, you can configure your settings to ensure the right people have access to the information, such as the administrator, the employee, the manager and any others in the hierarchy who should be included.

Transparency: You can determine who will provide peer reviews and determine how transparent you want the process to be (i.e. fully transparent, completely anonymous, or something in between).

Enhanced communication: Create a customized, kick-off email for the first—and every subsequent review cycle, giving your team insight into the review process, suggesting names of point people for questions, and giving reminders of critical dates in the process. We make it easy by filling in information on schedules and deadlines and by automatically populating the employees’ names.

Once you’ve established your settings, it’s time to look at the process for having the actual conversation. This is where some managers get stuck. They’re used to going over stats and facts—which are important—but which don’t form the entire performance picture. The 360˚ Best-Self Review helps managers have those useful conversations with their team members by:

1. Providing critical questions to ask. Question templates are included to initiate productive conversations. These are questions intended to elicit introspection and the sharing of information. You can add or delete questions, such as, What are up to three wins you want to celebrate since your last review?, What led to those wins?

(Pro Tip: Employees feel more engaged when they see how their work plays a part in the company’s overall mission. Questions like “Rate your contribution to the company’s value of X,” provide an opportunity to discuss whether that connection does or does not exist.)

2. Separating performance and compensation conversations. You’ll notice that the review cycle does not include a conversation on compensation, but focuses squarely on performance. This is intentional. By keeping the two topics separate, it provides room for authentic performance feedback. Additionally, research shows that when you combine the two topics, it negatively affects employee motivation, with employees feeling less confident in the fairness of the process.

3. Customizing questions. You may want to customize your own questions to delve into specific issues on concerns with your team. The review lets you develop those questions and determine the best format for an answer, i.e. multiple choice, rating, or open-ended.

Next Steps for Employee Reviews

It’s not enough to develop the input. You now have to be able to use the information from the review in a beneficial way. For many managers, the typical review process is time-consuming and complicated. The 360˚ Best-Self Review eases the manager’s burden by sending automated reminders to participants when they have input due (or overdue). The easy to comprehend dashboard gives a visual display of the progress—Who is involved in the process? Who has completed the review?…etc…

Once the information has been collected, managers can look at the results in a comprehensive way to prepare for the face to face component of the review. One of the most insightful aspects of the results is the private manager assessment, which is not intended to be shared directly with the employee, but is a set of thought-provoking questions for the manager:

• Is the employee at risk for low performance?

• Given the employee’s work with others, does the manager want the employee on their team? (This question is answered on a scale between strongly agree to strongly disagree.)

• If the employee got a job offer elsewhere, would the manager feel distressed, neutral, relieved, or somewhere in between?

These questions aren’t ones managers usually ask themselves, but they help pinpoint the employee’s value in ways many other questions don’t. This assessment helps gauge promotion readiness and eligibility for future increases in compensation (with that being a separate conversation as we stated above). With this insight, a manager can consider retention and further development plans for a highly valued employee, or conversely, begin discussing next steps for a poor performing one.

A 360˚ performance review is an important part of helping employees achieve their best, but it is only one piece of the puzzle. A Best-Self Review, done quarterly or semi-annually, provides a wealth of information, but it needs to be done in conjunction with a continuous performance management plan that includes OKRs, 1-on-1s, and ongoing feedback and recognition. The entire system creates a process that truly supports, develops, and motivates employees.

For more details on how the 360˚ Best Self Review works, watch the full webinar.

Luke Guevara is Customer Success Manager at 15Five, continuous performance management software that includes weekly check-ins, objectives (OKR) tracking, peer recognition, 1-on-1s, and reviews. Luke works on full cycle account health and coaches customers on best practices, he also loves climbing and connecting with people.

Huong Le is Product Design Lead at 15Five, where she focuses on creating positive impact and meaningful experiences between people and the products they use. You can usually find her at a local coffee shop writing about her world travels.

Image Credit: Jewel Mitchell on Unsplash

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Welcome back to Talk Nerdy To Me, 15Five’s academic blog series where we get nerdy, talk to the world’s best thinkers, and break down the latest academic research that you can apply to your workplace.

According to Gallup, employees who use their strengths every day are 6x more likely to be engaged, 8% more productive, and 15% less likely to quit their jobs. So, what’s the most effective way for employees to discover those strengths?

Julia Lee is a leading academic at University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business. Her most recent work seeks to understand how employees can navigate modern workplace challenges by altering the stories they tell themselves. Below, she joins Courtney Bigony, Director of People Science at 15Five to explore the Reflected Best Self Exercise, a research-backed exercise designed to help employees discover their top strengths and become their best selves at work.

Courtney: Why is it important for employees to focus on their strengths at work?

Julia: There are tremendous benefits to leveraging strengths at work. But first, we need to acknowledge that humans have a natural negativity bias (e.g. weighing negative aspects more heavily than positive ones) and experience a greater sensitivity to what’s not going well versus what is.

For example, most people request feedback about their weaknesses instead of feedback about their strengths. While it’s important to focus on things that can be improved, it’s also important to put effort into identifying each employee’s unique strengths and leveraging those strengths in their role.

Identify each employee’s unique strengths and leverage those strengths in their role.
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Courtney: So what tools can employees use to discover their top strengths?

Julia: There are a lot of existing tools such as StrengthsFinder, VIA Character, and the Reflected Best Self Exercise. StrengthsFinder and VIA Character are both surveys that require self-reflection only.

However, research shows that people are notoriously bad at reflecting on their personal strengths, so it’s important to gather strengths-based feedback from others. The Reflected Best Self Exercise enables people to gather feedback from others such as friends, co-workers, and family members.

The Reflected Best Self Exercise was created from research at the University of Michigan’s Center for Positive Organizations and Ross School of Business. Participants both self-reflect and gather stories from friends, family members, and co-workers about when they were at their best. After they’ve gathered multiple stories, they develop a robust Best Self Portrait, which can be used to unlock employee potential at work.

Courtney: Why is it important for employee learning and development to gather feedback from others?

Julia: In the workplace, the majority of feedback comes from co-workers such as managers and peers. The Reflected Best Self Exercise is a more holistic approach because you gather feedback from people outside the workplace. It can really help you think of yourself as a whole person, not necessarily just yourself as a professional or worker in an organization. Who you are — and how you are valued — outside of the workplace affects how you behave in the workplace as well.

For example, when I was teaching an Executive Education program at Harvard, we had a group of senior executives and one executive, Dan (not his real name) came from the military. In his own work, Dan was used to giving orders and telling people what to do. He completed the Reflected Best Self Exercise and requested feedback from his family members, including his son-in-law. His son-in-law wrote a long story about how he was going through a rough time in life and how Dan helped him simply through active listening.

Dan was such a great listener. It had never occured to Dan that active listening was one of his top strengths. With his military background, he was so used to giving orders. Gathering feedback from others made him realize how important it was to bring his active listening skills with him outside of the home and into his work life. He was able to integrate his different identities and leverage his personal strengths more at work. This story highlights the importance of gathering feedback from people outside of the workplace.

Courtney: Gathering feedback from others provides a more clear, objective, and robust view of a person. What else makes the Reflected Best Self Exercise unique and effective?

Julia: It’s unique in many ways. The Reflected Best Self Exercise is developmental, not evaluative in nature, it focuses on strengths not weaknesses, you also gather feedback from family and friends, not just co-workers. Feedback also comes in the form of stories, not numbers. Let’s unpack this.

A lot of feedback in organizations occurs during the traditional performance evaluation and employees usually receive constructive, evaluative feedback from co-workers in the form of a number. For example, a co-worker could give you a 3/5 on leadership skills, but it’s hard to interpret what that means. The Reflected Best Self Exercise is developmental, and the feedback comes in the form of a story, so it’s a lot more vivid, emotional, and memorable.

Courtney: How can employees apply their Best Self Portrait to their work?

Julia: People learn so much about who they are in the eyes of others, which sparks ideas about how they might better utilize their strengths in their career. Anecdotally, I’ve heard about people changing their careers after completing the exercise. They end up getting a new job or starting a new company based on their newly gained self-insights. It wakes you up in a totally different way!

Courtney: That’s amazing. A career isn’t something you’re given, it’s something you create over time, and to do it right requires a lot of self-discovery.

Julia: Yes, and self-discovery work is really important during times of transition. For example, when you’re starting a new job, during performance reviews, or when you’re thinking about changing careers.

Courtney: We know that learning and development is a top driver of engagement for millennials who currently make up the majority of the workforce. Many companies are building out learning and development plans, but it’s like we’re missing a step. It doesn’t make sense to join a company right out of college, experience a job or role for the first time, and then get pushed up a career ladder. Millennials need to do the first step of self-discovery to orient themselves in the right direction.

Julia: I agree. I think that’s what’s missing in so many companies, especially for millennials who prioritize bringing their whole selves to work and expressing who they are. The Reflected Best Self Exercise works particularly well during onboarding because the company immediately signals to their new hires that they’re interested in their whole self and how they’re going to unlock their best self at work. This starts with deep strengths discovery and continues by aligning their role with those strengths.

Courtney: What are the benefits of the Reflected Best Self Exercise to the company?

Julia: It not only helps employees uncover their top strengths, which Gallup shows impacts employee engagement, productivity and retention, it specifically correlates to extraordinary leadership. I’m currently working on an (as of yet unpublished) experimental study that shows that people who complete the exercise during onboarding experiences less emotions exhaustion and are less likely to quit. The Reflected Best Self Exercise makes people more creative, resilient, and immune to sickness, so the benefits are connected to both the mind and the body.

We also found a big impact on team performance. Teams who complete this exercise are more likely to voice their unique perspectives and exchange information more effectively. And they perform better as a result.

Courtney’s Final Thoughts:
A career is not something that is given. A career is something that’s created. 15Five predicts that job descriptions are shifting from a traditional, structured, and prescribed process to a strengths-based, employee-centric, and we-scribed (co-created) process.

Employee learning and development starts with strengths-discovery. Once an employee has a clear understanding of their strengths, they can work with their manager to job craft their role to align with those strengths in a way that simultaneously pushes company objectives forward. Only then do managers work with their employees to place them on a full-forced growth and development trajectory, continuously realigning their strengths to their role and company priorities along the way.

Thanks, Julia for your insights and your research that uncovers new findings to help people and workplaces thrive.

Don’t miss my first “Talk Nerdy To Me” interview on progressive performance management, with HR expert, Alan Colquitt!

Julia Lee is the Assistant Professor of Management and Organizations at Michigan Ross. She teaches BBA, MBA, and executive education courses on negotiation, leadership, and organizational behavior. Lee received a PhD and an MPP from the Harvard Kennedy School, a BA in Political Science from Korea University, and was previously a Lab Fellow at Harvard University and Postdoctoral Fellow at the Center for Positive Organizations.

Courtney Bigony is Director of People Science at 15Five, continuous performance management software that includes weekly check-ins, objectives (OKR) tracking, peer recognition, 1-on-1s, and reviews. She is also the founder of The Deep Feedback Movement, where she provides actionable insights for People Teams based on the latest social science research, and a Fellow at the Center for Evidence Based Management.

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