Federal Coach

By Tom Fox, VP for Leadership and Innovation, Partnership for Public Service

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Federal Coach: Not sure how to recognize your employees? Try giving them your time

 (Fox's Federal Coach column was originally published on The Washington Post On Leadership site.)


The messages, events and award ceremonies that will take place during the week of May 1-7 are important, but it is also critical for leaders at all levels of government to provide recognition more than one week a year.

One way to quickly and more frequently recognize the work of employees may be to take a page from Ken Blanchard, a noted author in the The congressionally designated Public Service Recognition Week is a time when agency leaders and managers should take the opportunity to praise and reenergize federal employees who make our country better in so many ways, but too often they are taken for granted.leadership field who has written more than 30 bestselling books. Perhaps his most notable work is the “One-Minute Manager.”

Skeptics will question whether anything meaningful can happen in a minute. But of course, you only need review video of Kris Jenkins’s game-winning shot for Villanova University in this year’s collegiate basketball championship game to know that you can win a game or change a person’s life in significantly less time.

According to Blanchard and his co-author Spencer Johnson, there are three keys to engaging and recognizing employees – one-minute goals, one-minute praise and one-minute redirects.

The authors say that employees are more engaged, satisfied and productive when they know that their work contributes to something meaningful. Blanchard and Johnson suggest that managers meet with employees to identify and regularly review their responsibilities, primary tasks and related outcomes. (It may last more than a minute, but it should be quick.) In the absence of that clarity, employees are likely to be confused, inefficient and perhaps even disengaged.

They suggest the foundation for these conversations is a regularly scheduled check-in. That more formal meeting might last 15 to 30 minutes in total, perhaps once a week, once a month or once a quarter.

Second, the authors recommend taking regular time in the normal course of any given business day to take a minute to praise employees. When you see someone doing something great – aligned with their performance goals, agency values or a new change initiative – praise them immediately and specifically.

I often use the acronym SBI to reinforce this approach. When offering praise, be sure to tell the employee about the specific situation, their behavior and their impact. This allows the employee (and perhaps as importantly, you as the leader) to consider their importance to your team and to your agency.

Finally, Blanchard and Johnson suggest taking a minute to redirect employees when they’ve fallen short of their goals or your stated values.

Just as in the case with praise, you want to follow-up with the employee as soon as possible, and be specific about the situation, behavior and impact, as well as the desired behavior and impact you expect in the future.

Great leaders follow that feedback with a discussion around roles and responsibilities, such as what each of us can do to ensure the same thing doesn’t happen again in the future. Even in these cases, you want to do your best to reassure the employee that they are capable of making progress. It’s the job of a leader to lend them a hand.

So publicly praise your employees during Public Service Recognition Week, but don’t leave it there.

You could consider adopting the latest fad in performance management – many private-sector companies are touting their new real-time performance management tools in lieu of the annual performance review. Or, you could just return to some of the foundations of leadership. Either way, take a few minutes on a regular basis to ensure that your employees’ goals are clear, and that they are aware of what they are doing well and where they need to improve.

Your time is perhaps the best recognition they can receive.

Posted by Tom Fox, VP for Leadership and Innovation, Partnership for Public Service on May 09, 2016 at 3:11 PM

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