Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Preparations

Having only two weeks between long trips abroad, and having a form of food poisoning for half of that time really interfered with my ability to properly plan for traveling. I put all of my emphasis and energy into getting the business portions of the trip lined up by making appointments and issuing marching orders to my staff for the systems configuration in our Kampala office. So, I didn't have time to see if there were places to see nearby, or anything to do personally.

The last day at the office was so busy that I messed up and missed taking Nicholas (a staffer from our Uganda office visiting HQ) to dinner. Then I realized I hadn't touched base with our travel staff to get my travel documents. I couldn't find them in the office anywhere so I had to call the person handling it. Unfortunately, he left his mobile phone on his desk so I couldn't reach him.

As a result I had to call the travel manager on her day off and get her to help me locate them. By this time it was well after 9 pm so I felt a bit guilty about calling her at home on a Friday of a holiday weekend. In the end, I got everything I needed and they were in order.

Monday, June 27, 2005

The Good Ol' Days Weren't Always Good

I am sitting here at my desk, contemplating the previous twelve months as I begin to prepare for upcoming staff evaluations. Despite feeling pretty good about things in the last few months, I now realize that it is mostly from lowered expectations; not necessarily from better staff performance. Clearly, a Dilbert(tm) moment occurring here.

Annual evaluations are tough as there is a natural human tendency to put more emphasis and recall more details from recent events. However, to be fair to the employee, it is important to take the entire period into account and mention their improved performance where appropriate. I guess it is a lot like the Oscars, where movies released closer to the voting tend to get more attention than movies released earlier in the year. I therefore dub this "the Oscar effect".

Where this has a more profound effect is where an employee has had a pretty good year, but the last month or so has not been that great. There is definitely a risk of lowering their overall evaluation although they performed well for 9 - 10 months. You have to take it all into account and also ask, "Is this a temporary thing? Or is it a sign of change in this person?".

A bit tough if you ask me. Another thing that makes evaluations turn into morale dampeners for the person writing the evaluation is that most review formats focus on improvement and advancement. This forces the reviewer to concentrate their efforts on finding errors that need improvement, rather than on the more positive aspects of the employee's performance over the year.

This is why the process of regular feedback to staff is so important. They should not be hearing of a problem for the first time in their annual evaluation (unless it happened right at the time of review). This goes for praise as well as "suggestions for improvement".

Now that I have sufficiently talked myself out of starting on these at this moment, I will leave you with the final thought; a quote from a one of my favorite personalities.


The good old days weren't always good, and tomorrow ain't as bad as it seems.- Billy Joel

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Are You Talkin' to Me?

The funny thing about the art of communication is that most people aren't the least bit artistic. Being a good communicator carries at least two important responsibilities; to communicate your point clearly to the other(s); and, to be sure they understand the information they are receiving. Now, this doesn't absolve the listener of the responsibility for intelligent listening. Its a two-way street that means that both parties have to work at it.

The listener needs to pay attention to queues other than merely the words. This provides a context for the information being communicated. The tone, inflection, body language, and even how and where the communicator looks. All of this helps set the environment for the listener to receive the information.

The person communicating needs to also pay attention to these non-verbal queues to ensure that their information is not misconstrued. These things can potentially tell a listener to take all things seriously or to ignore the information altogether.

This becomes increasingly difficult as we replace face-to-face verbal communications with other forms, such as telephone, e-mail, or even the printed word. You lose a valuable tool when these other forms are involved. You lose body language and, except for telephone, you use inflection and tone.

For informal messages, usually over e-mail or IM, people have taken to using emoticons or embedding items such as (grin) to add the missing elements to the message. This is handy, but not at all appropriate for professional communications. In these cases, it is best to review the message carefully and to remove or clarify anything that does not have a 100% clear context for the reader.