Learning How to Love The Annual Appraisal

The annual evaluation may be the most dreaded event in the employee/employer relationship. There are questionnaires to be answered, forms to fill out, and interviews that can become unpleasant.

Why would anyone want to go through such a process? Many managers as well as employees see the annual evaluation as a waste of time. What, if anything, can be gained from it? Or is it just another bit of useless paperwork?

When handled properly performance appraisals can be a valuable tool to educate your workforce, says Jessie Phillips, of the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development. Phillips, a human relations analyst, will speak on "The Art and Science of Performance Appraisal" at the next Chamber Business Institute, sponsored by the Mercer County Chamber of Commerce, on Tuesday, February 19, at 8 a.m. at the chamber’s office, 1 Quakerbridge Plaza Drive in Mercerville. Cost: $30. For more information call 609-689-9960.

Phillips has been employed with the state since 1974, starting as a clerk/typist and working her way through the ranks. "I wasn’t there very long before I realized that there were more job opportunities for people with college degrees," she says. So in 1978 she began taking classes part-time at Mercer County Community College. She received her associate’s degree in 1990, "and then I realized the standards had changed. I needed a bachelor’s degree if I was going to get anywhere. She continued her education at Rider University and completed her bachelor’s degree in 1998.

Many people don’t realize that the labor department offers seminars covering a wide variety of management and supervisory skills at little or no cost to New Jersey employers, says Phillips. The department’s analysts also provide individualized, confidential human resources advice to employers regarding specific employee issues such as personnel actions, workplace problems, and helping to reduce employee turnover or absenteeism. More information on the department’s services is available online at lwd.dol.state.nj.us/labor/employer/hr/hrindex.

"I call performance appraisal both an art and a science because it is both subjective and measurable," says Phillips. "It is subjective because the manager must think about everything the employee does and whittle that down into an evaluation." But all of those tasks an employee performs can also be measured.

The problem, she says, is that most managers find the task tedious or do not understand its importance, and thus are reluctant to deal with the process. "It’s the annual agony," she says. "That one week each year when employee evaluations are due."

And since employees are just as aware when their evaluations are due, waiting until the last minute can help a poor employee to skate by with a good evaluation year after year. "Whether everyone is evaluated at the same time each year, or on the anniversary of their employment date, they know exactly when their evaluation is due," says Phillips, "and they will adjust their behavior accordingly. Employees often count on the manager’s having only short term memory. When they write their evaluations they only remember what has happened in the last few weeks."

All the little behaviors that have irritated the manager throughout the year, such as coming in late, dressing sloppily, or not completing projects on time, will suddenly change in the weeks before evaluation time. "The manager now thinks, `Aha, I’m finally getting through to them, they are finally shaping up the way I wanted. I’ll give them a good evaluation and not rock the boat,’" says Phillips.

Unfortunately, the usual result of this type of evaluation is that as soon as it has been filed, the employees return to all of their old, bad habits. "And now the manager has to wait an entire year to deal with it again," says Phillips.

But there is a better way. She recommends three steps to improve the performance evaluation process for both employer and employee.

Give constant feedback. Employee evaluation should not be a once-a-year event, rather it should be an ongoing process of training, assessment, and feedback. "Take notes on both the good and the bad," says Phillips. "Documentation is a crucial tool in the successful development of professional employees."

Employees do not see themselves as in need of improvement. "Keep track of significant events so that you can explain things in detail to your employee," both what went wrong and what went right, she says. Discussing a problem soon after it happens makes it easier to correct within a shorter time period. For example, an employee is consistently late for six months, but the manager doesn’t mention it as a problem until the annual evaluation. If the manager had brought up the problem when it first began, he or she might have saved himself several months of irritation.

Set more specific goals. "Most employees want to succeed but they don’t know what the steps to success are," says Phillips. The problem is often that the manager has set "a very generic goal," such as "we need to improve customer satisfaction," without specifically explaining to the employee what that means to the manager.

"The manager only gives feedback if the employee doesn’t hit the mark," she says. "Remember, common sense isn’t that common. Not every employee has it, and not every employee thinks exactly like the manager thinks." The best way to insure that goals are met is to explain in detail exactly what you want done and exactly what steps should be taken to accomplish it.

Communicate. "Performance evaluation is a two-way street," says Phillips. "The manager can learn from the employee just like the employee can learn from the manager." Employees want to do a good job, and they want to know where they stand, she adds. "Nothing kills morale faster than lack of communication."

A few morale-busting attitudes that are typical of many manager are, "If I haven’t told you you’re doing something wrong, obviously everything is fine," or "Because I said so." Such attitudes, she says, do not work any better with employees than they do with kids. Instead, she suggests that managers remember that helping your employees look good, makes you look good.

"Good managers are good leaders. Their job is to evaluate their employees, not just to watch them. Performance appraisal is an important part of that process."

– Karen Hodges Miller

Wednesday, February 20

Our Work Is Killing Us

The bodies in which we dwell were never designed to spend countless, uninterrupted hours hunched nearly motionless over screens and paper. And by the end of the day, they tell us so through myriad little cramps and pains. Alas, for those millions whose livelihood depends on making marks on these screens and papers, this unnatural work process is not likely to soon disappear.

But Jim McCracken, Princeton Hospital’s outpatient rehabilitation manager, insists that we need not turn office work into a form of gradual suicide. McCracken outlines the steps for creating a more body-friendly office environment in his free talk, "Work in Comfort," on Wednesday, February 20, at 7:30 p.m. at the Princeton Public Library. Visit www.princeton.lib.nj.us or call 609-924-9529.

For the last two decades, McCracken’s physical therapy career has been spent helping people perform a little better, a little more easily, and with a lot less pain. He attended St. Louis University in Missouri, graduating in l988 with a physical therapy bachelor’s. "It was my broad interest in a variety of sports that first got me into the study," says McCracken. "But back then things were just beginning. The whole field of biomechanics and compensatory exercise was just getting going."

After graduation, McCracken worked as a therapist, first in Elizabeth then in several north Jersey locales. For the past eight years, he has managed the University Medical Center at Princeton’s Outpatient Rehabilitation Network.

McCracken dismisses most contortionist and overly expensive furnishings marketed with the "ergonomic" label. For him, the body is an amazingly responsive tool whose needs can be met with a simple chair and simple table – provided they are positioned with care.

Getting set. "Before you adjust anything," advises McCracken, "look where you want your body to be when you work." Ideally, from the bottom up, one’s chair should allow the feet to rest flat on the floor with the thighs parallel to the ground. The small of the back should go all the way to the back of the chair, using the lumbar support it provides. A simple foot stool or firm back cushion can help make the chair more accommodating to this position.

Check the edge of your seat. A one-to-three-inch gap gives plenty of support but avoids cutting off circulation in back of the knee. About two inches of upholstered chair cushioning should be adequate for a day’s work – plus whatever cushioning you personally bring to the situation.

When chattering at the keyboard, upper arms work best when hanging loosely at the sides, with the lower arms, going at right angles straight to the keys. In other words, the elbows and keyboard should be at the same height. Wrists and forearms remain least strained if they are parallel to the floor when they just touch the keys. Rather than a gel rest at the edge of the keyboard, McCracken suggests moving the keyboard to desk’s edge so your palms float in the air when typing. Carpal tunnel syndrome and the many other creeping deteriorations are not the payback for long years of typing; they are the results of bad typing practices.

Squelch the hunch. Watch a laptop user. Would you want your child to walk with that posture? To treat the torso well, the first line of print you read or type should be at eye level when sitting straight and tall. The chin, rather than being tucked into the chest, should join both thighs and forearms in being parallel to the ground, though bifocal users may want it a bit lower. For desk top users this may mean raising the computer screen a few inches above the keyboard.

When reading paper or books, McCracken recommends a document holder that can achieve the same eye-level viewing that increases long term comfort. Setting documents on a music stand not only keeps one’s chin up, but saves space by adding an extra reading perch.

Eye preservation. All computer screens and fluorescent lights oscillate, forcing the eyes to constantly readjust, resulting in major strain. Additionally, virtually every office worker spends long, often uninterrupted hours focusing his eyes on the single spot where he is reading.

Every 20 minutes, any reader should take a break by looking away from the page, focusing first on an item across the room, then on something far away out the window. "This one-minute break keeps the eyes agile, and relaxes the tiny muscles the eye uses to focus," explains McCracken. Outlook Portal and other free downloadable software can be set to send a 20-minute eye-rest reminder. Also, closing the eyes and gently massaging the muscles around the eye sockets is an old trick used by Chinese painters doing fine Cloinsine bead work.

Blood, Body & Mind. "If you feel the cramp or twinge, it’s already too late," says McCracken. "You should have gotten up and stretched a long time ago." Joints need a good flow of blood to get nutrition. Stay still at your desk and your joints will starve, grow brittle, and let you know they are unhappy.

Instead of reaching the point where you scream "I just cannot type another minute," McCracken advises hourly standup breaks. Alternatively try a little walking around with a few knee bends. Or try rapidly squeezing your fists or shrugging your arms overhead. Those exercises currently shown on airplane flights are highly recommended.

Stretching can be an exquisite alternative. McCracken notes that to get the full muscle-lengthening benefit, stretches should be of at least 30 seconds for those under 65, and full a minute for those of an age to qualify for Medicare.

Of course, nothing so counters the unnatural acts of office work like an outside life filled with healthy activity. While study after study has found no correlation between arthritis and physical activity, a whole realm of diseases are laid upon the lifestyle of the couch potato.

"The overall goal is one of prevention," says McCracken. "Cumulative micro trauma leads to macro trauma." If it hurts just a little, better you remedy the situation. That tiny twinge may disappear tomorrow, but guaranteed, it will come back to haunt you in a bigger way. – Bart Jackson

Thursday, February 21

The Art of Persuasion

Let’s say you are a manager in charge of 30 people. You need a lot to get done, which means you need a lot of people to do a lot of work, and fast.

Now ask yourself: Would you rather be respected or liked? Or feared?

You might not consciously realize it, but in evaluating this type of situation, you are actually assessing your power and running the gamut of persuasion tactics. The ability to influence others and get them to do things you want done is a coveted possession. And it is a complex concept. It is not enough to simply bark, "Do what I say." To effect action, you must understand the interrelationship between different influence triggers, and the difference between true persuasion and blatant manipulation.

Rosemary Dietrich, a influence trainer certified to teach the method of famed social psychologist and best-selling author Robert Cialdini, has made a career of knowing exactly these differences. Dietrich will be presenting "Persuasion and Influence in Training" for the American Society for Training and Development on Thursday, February 21, at 5:30 p.m. at the Ramada at Somerset. Cost: $45. Visit astdmidnj.wordpress.com for more information.

The Cialdini method is an endlessly cited body of work, built on principles studied for decades by the University of Arizona’s most famous professor. The method identifies six influence triggers that circumvent our rational thought processes and get us to act, often unaware that we are responding to subtle cues. This is called the "peripheral route" to persuasion, meaning information pokes at our subconscious and our emotions. It stands in contrast to the "direct route," which simply hits us with overt information.

Take, for example, a car commercial. It shows the car performing or carrying the kids. It speaks of a lifestyle – speed, safety, youth, whatever. But it never just comes out and says, "You should buy this car." It simply wouldn’t work. A direct pitch creates too much time to think about the answer. And that is what influence peddlers do not want.

The distinction between manipulation and persuasion, however, must be clear, says Dietrich. She defines it this way: "Manipulation is a misapplication of influence. Influence is recognizing how to ethically move people to a solution by giving them information."

And by giving them the triggers to which to respond. The thing is, says Dietrich, we all know and use these triggers all the time. Whether we realize it, we all know how to get certain people to do what we want. We use basic persuasion tactics intermittently, but we use them.

The trick for leaders, in business or anywhere else, is to consciously recognize the triggers and use them in concert, she says. That tandem application is less intrinsic than it sounds. Some people – known in the Cialdini parlance as bunglers – know the triggers but have no idea how to really make them work. Then there are the smugglers, or manipulators, who know the tricks and use them for personal gain – often at the expense of ethics or the truth. The people Dietrich wants are known as sleuths, who learn the triggers, learn how to use them, and ultimately use them to find mutually beneficial solutions.

Dietrich has been working to make more sleuths for seven years. A native of Buffalo, New York, she earned an MBA from Pepperdine University in 1982 and a Ph.D. in human and organization systems from the Fielding Institute in Santa Barbara, California, in 1988. The oldest of four children and the daughter of a nurse mother and a steel industry executive father, she began her career as a teacher before moving to California with her husband in the 1980s. Out west Dietrich traded the academic life for a corporate one. She got into training because she wanted to learn how to be a more effective leader and communicator. Over the next two decades, she worked with FMC, General Motors, Warner Lambert, and Aventis.

The job at Aventis, where she was in charge of globalizing research and development, took her to France, where she worked from 1998 to 2003. In 2001 Dietrich attended a "Principles of Persuasion" workshop in England that kicked off her career as a disciple of Cialdini. She now operates Change for Success, her own consulting firm in Sparta, which opened in 2001. In 2003 and 2004 she traveled to Arizona to complete her certification in the method.

Even before she learned the Cialdini method, Dietrich says she had a deep respect for the basics of persuasion and influence. "Influence, for me, has always been important," she says. After 25 years as a consultant, she says, she has learned that the business world has a particular truism: "In business you are always having to sell ideas to an organization."

Knowing how to sell ideas to companies takes more than a slick presentation and notes from sales seminars. It also takes an understanding of the six main influence triggers and the skill to interweave them. They are:

Reciprocation. Most people will go out of their way to not be rude. Pay someone a compliment and he will often return one. Likewise, small gifts, such as door prizes or even free literature, often compel people to return the favor – they will buy something or donate to a cause.

In business, reciprocation is more subtle. Remember our opening example of a heavy workload? Smart managers will concede to someone else’s strengths or offer to do one task among the pile. By making certain concessions, persuaders play on most people’s inherent distaste for taking something and giving nothing in return.

Authority. Let us not forget the power of position. We all respond to the trappings of power, Dietrich says – uniforms, titles, even suits cause us to recognize that someone is in a position of authority. And our obedience is highly documented, from the military chain of command to the legendary experiments of Stanley Milgram in the 1960s in which ordinary people were led to believe they were delivering dangerous shocks to a stranger simply because a "doctor" in a white lab coat told them to keep going.

Understanding the unconscious response most people have to a suit, a large office, or a title can provide leaders a very powerful tool. Simply put, if you look like a leader, people will follow you. But beware of false authorities, Dietrich says. The Internet is a breeding ground for crooks who dress up bogus websites to look like the real deal. This is particularly troublesome when someone sets up a phony bank. It looks like the real thing, which plays on our innate trust in banks – and the authority we grant them to watch our money.

Consensus. Everybody’s doing it, so it can’t be that bad, right? A movie is the best because it makes the most money. A singer is out of vogue because "nobody" buys his music anymore. The idea that a particular choice or action is the right path simply because a lot of people have gone that way wields tremendous power over us, Dietrich says. We all want to fit in, it is a quality ingrained in us from our earliest days. And when many people settle on a course of action, we try very hard to stay in the lines.

This particular influence trigger is one of the most rife for abuse, Dietrich says. Unscrupulous sales people can simply fabricate numbers and tell you thousands of people bought a certain type of car. Online product reviews can be altered and made up. Or here’s a trick Dietrich says is becoming increasingly popular in the direct mail world – advertisers or merchants will send literature that contains testimonials about a product or service. Now, the testimonials very well could be genuine, but these small paragraphs or sentences have been carefully selected for your eyes. Not because of what they say as much as because someone with a name similar to yours said it.

"My name is Rosemary Dietrich," she says. "Now say somebody sends me something from a Rose Dietch. They’re creating a false relationship."

Consistency and commitment. People do not like to welsh. If we agree to do something, odds are we will do it, especially when someone comes along to remind us. In other words, we like to stay consistent with our plans, even if we develop second thoughts.

"It’s a balance of expectation and trustworthiness," Dietrich says. We simply do not want to look like liars, nor do we want to look indecisive. This trigger can work wonderfully for managers who have already heard yes from someone, or could be used unscrupulously to raise the stakes on a deal after someone has already agreed to buy or do something.

Scarcity. We all want what we can’t have. Convincing someone he could lose out if he does not act immediately, or because something desirable is in short supply, is a common sales tactic. A growing number of television commercials for mail-order products have a clock counting down the seconds until a special deal is withdrawn. These ads often feature someone offering free shipping, or some other treat (or bribe), if you are among the first 50 callers.

Managers or trainers seeking to influence their employees can learn a lot from this tactic, says Dietrich. Perhaps a fantastic project is in the offing. Would you not want to help if you thought it was a once-in-a-lifetime chance?

Liking. Without a doubt, says Dietrich, getting people to like you is an enormous advantage. Presidents from Lincoln to Clinton, who were as controversial as any, were broadly liked even by people who did not respect or agree with them. The simple fact, says Dietrich is this: "If people like you they will do things for you."

Influencers skilled at this trigger create similarities with the people they seek to influence – they talk about similar interests or ingratiate themselves with kind or reassuring words. And once someone sees you as a friend, it is much harder for him to say no.

Dietrich says this particular trigger was actually her weakest. "Liking was not natural for me," she says. "I was always a driver. Liking for me was a big waste of time." When she returned to France after her baptism into the world of persuasion principles in England, she says she entered work praising her staff and ingratiating herself to them.

"They looked at me and said, `What are you doing?’" she says. "I thought, `I have to make this natural.’"

These days Dietrich, who is by all accounts very pleasant and polite, says she has learned to incorporate the principles of liking into her arsenal of persuasion tactics. And, she says, it is important to know that such tactics are individually effective but collectively much more powerful.

– Scott Morgan

Worker Satisfaction Is On the Wane

A recent study of worker expectations by BlessingWhite, the consulting firm on Orchard Road in Skillman, indicates that more workers around the world are growing impatient with their jobs than they were two years ago.

A December-through January survey of nearly 4,500 workers in North America, Europe, and Asia, seeking to gauge where employees see themselves in the next year, found that while 58 percent plan to stay put, thatnumber is down from the 65 percent cited in a similar study from 2006. In contrast, 34 percent said they would "probably" stay, which, though up from 29 percent in 2006, may be an alarming fact, according to BlessingWhite CEO Christopher Rice.

"Organizations need to be very concerned about the `probablys,’" Rice says. "They should be more concerned about these employees than the folks who said `no way.’" The reason, he says, is that "probablys" are at risk – of leaving, of poor performance, of low productivity, of low morale. "They aren’t dissatisfied enough to actively plan on leaving, but they’re not fully committed."

With a little effort on the company’s part, Rice says, such workers can often be turned into more committed employees.

"Often we find that employees can find what they’re looking for in their current job or current employer," he says.

Eight percent of respondents, on the other hand, were far less ambiguous, saying they would "no way" expect to be with their employer a year from now. That figure is up from 6 percent two years ago.

North American employees have a slightly more positive outlook on their jobs than their international counterparts, particularly those in Europe and Asia. Overall, 60 percent of workers here said they expect to be with their employers at year’s end while 49 percent of Eurpoeans and 54 percent of Asians said the same thing. Perhaps more ominous for European employers, more than one in 10 of their workers said there is no way they will stay.

Rice says the findings can be interpreted in different ways. "They may mean more people are taking control over their destiny and plan to do more to manage their career," he says. As likely, their disengagement may reflect pessimism with the uncertainty in the global economy. In either case, employers would be wise to take notice."

One way of retaining employees, Rice suggests, is for companies to look past compensation and see what they’re offering their employees in terms of personal satisfaction.

"People keep on with their employer not necessarily because of the money or benefits," he says. "If management doesn’t provide employees with the opportunity to make a difference for the enterprise, engage in work that’s interesting or worthwhile, and pursue their personal development, these same individuals are going to take their knowledge and skills elsewhere." This holds true worldwide, he says.

Most of the respondents are employed in white collar jobs, including retail/customer service and sales. North America accounted for 71 percent of the respondents, while Europe and Asia each accounted for 13 percent.

Wanted: Older Workers

In an effort to raise awareness of the contributions made by older individuals, Experience Works, the nation’s largest training and employment organization for mature workers in the country, is searching for New Jersey’s 2008 outstanding older worker.

Nominees or applicants – you can nominate yourself – must be at least 65, a resident of New Jersey, and currently employed at least 20 hours each week for pay. The honoree must be willing and able to travel to Washington, D.C., the week of September 22-26 for the Prime Time Award events.

Last year’s winner was 84-year-old Lisa Gable of East Windsor, who did not receive her GED until she was in her 50s. When she was 70, and tired of falling bra straps, she launched LG Accessories, which sells intimate accessories including a the Strap-Mate – a small accessory that hooks ontyo the backs of bras to keep them from falling off the shoulder.

"Most older workers don’t want to stop working," she says. "They want to continue contributing, learning and being active."

Nomination forms can be found at www.experienceworks.org, or call 800-854-1578. The deadline for nominations is June 1.

Corporate Angels

NRG Energy Inc. of Carnegie Center has donated $1 million to renovate and expand Isles’ YouthBuild facility.

Isles, a Trenton-based nonprofit agency focused on building wealth and better quality of life in low-income areas, operates the two-year YouthBuild program those ages 16 to 24. YouthBuild provides peer-based learning for young adults who want a high school diploma, career education, counseling, employment training, construction education, job and higher education placement.

NRG’s donation will fund the expansion of the YouthBuild library, computer room, and woodworking area on the first floor. The second floor, previously used for storage only, will house climate-controlled classrooms, breakout rooms, and restrooms. The funds also will enable the building to be 100 percent handicapped accessible. The renovation is expected to be completed by late summer.

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