Vol. 51, No. 8
Create a star profile by using right-brain adjectives to get more out of your employees.
Pause for a moment and think about the management duties you spend most of your time doing. Things that may come to mind are productivity quotas, graded performance evaluations, statistical quality control and progressive discipline.
What do they all have in common? They are organized, rational, logical approaches to optimizing and evaluating employee behavior. In other words, they operate from the left side of the brain.
The trouble is, we don't live in a left-brain world anymore. Creativity rules the day, as Daniel Pink argues in his best seller A Whole New Mind: Moving from the Information Age to the Conceptual Age (Riverhead, 2005). Pink notes that companies today differentiate themselves with creative products and services--think $800 designer baby strollers rather than improved functionality. For that, only high-concept and high-touch--not high-tech--skills are required. And you can't optimize and evaluate employee behaviors without right-brain sensibilities.
So, what if we borrowed Pink's thesis and applied it to management styles? It might release you from the ho-hum perfunctory of life as a manager. Even better, it might unleash your potential as a star manager and that of your team.
By using a different managerial approach, one that emanates primarily from the right side of the brain, you will start to tap feelings like excitement, enthusiasm and sense of purpose to maximize the potential of supervisor- employee relationships.
The best way to get started on your journey from the left brain to the right brain of management is to create a "star profile" and use it as the central tool in developing and maintaining successful long-term workplace relations.
What Is A Star Profile?
A star profile is a concise (100 words or so), action-oriented, word picture that captures what would excite a supervisor about an employees behavior with respect to the most important aspects of an employees job. It is not a detailed description of how to do a job, but a vision of future success. If done correctly, the profile will inspire the employee to take ownership of his role and work conscientiously, intelligently and energetically toward desired performance objectives.
Hiring guru Lou Adler preaches evaluating and selecting candidates from a list of what a successful employee would do, as opposed to a list of what he possesses, such as a job description that details duties, requirements and skills. This can avoid what Adler calls the "stupid switch," which gets flipped on whenever management hires someone who is good at landing a job as opposed to excelling in one.
As an employment attorney and consultant who often gets called in to deal with extremely messy or risky employment situations, I've found that the concept can be further developed and applied to more than just hiring. For example, let's say that Im coaching a younger white male who wants to fire an underperforming but mismanaged older black female who has already made internal complaints of discrimination.
If I can get the manager to create a profile of how a star performer in her position would perform and behave, and then use the profile for gap-closure purposes, one of two things typically happens: either, to the manager's great surprise, the employee turns around her performance and he no longer needs legal advice on how to fire her, or the profile helps both parties recognize that the fit is not right and end the relationship with dignity intact and without a desire for revenge that so often fuels employment litigation.
Creating a Star Profile
First, select a position that reports to you. Close your eyes and ruminate for a bit. Reflect on why this position exists and ask yourself the following questions:
- What important purposes does the job serve?
- How does it connect to the organizations mission or values?
- What brings a smile to your face in memory of past performances?
- What have been some of the challenges or obstacles?
- What are the most important aspects of the position, the ones you cannot live without?
Focus on how star performers behave and, specifically, how they produce results, solve problems, develop opportunities and achieve goals. Think of ways that they apply their knowledge, skills and experience. Because stars deal not only with you but also with others, get input regarding what behavioral characteristics mark a star performer in that job.
The following steps will help you develop a visual of employee success:
Keep it simple. The visual you create should not constitute a multi-layered, many-detailed landscape. It is neither blueprint nor wish list. To be useful, it must be a concise description of the core behavioral characteristics of a star.
Make it active. Use active verbs and adverbs over passive verbs, nouns and adjectives. We can visualize what an employee does much more easily than what an employee possesses. "Is a good communicator" is subjective and largely in the eye of the beholder. By contrast, "Speaks daily to customers and listens carefully to their concerns" conveys what you care about as a manager.
Make it specific. It's also easier to visualize something specific as opposed to something general. A "positive attitude" may be desirable. But if dealing effectively with co-workers reflects star behavior, then zero in on it: "Treats co-workers like trusted and respected colleagues."
Bear in mind that too much emphasis on specificity may lead to excessive wordiness or overly detailed "how-to" descriptions that zap initiative. Adding details to the above characteristic such as "by returning phone calls within four hours, or by responding to e-mails within six hours" would probably be unnecessary and counterproductive. Find the balance and strike it.
Put energy and excitement into the profile. If done properly, a star profile will excite you and your employees. A little creativity, innovation and pep can go a long way. For example, one IT manager crafted this sentence as a characteristic for computer help-desk employees: "Treats computer problems as exciting puzzles to solve." Hows that for firing up an employees engines?
Include expected results. More than ever, today's employees want to know why things are supposed to be done. Simply telling them what to do will no longer suffice--not if you want the best of what they're capable of giving. Another IT manager captured this point in a profile of a design engineer by not only stating, "Devours information on developments in computer technology," but also adding the reason why--so that customers and co-workers benefit from the latest industry trends and innovations.
Keep it positive. The right-brain essence of the star profile is to excite both supervisor and employee about the future of their relationship. Although negative experiences count, they should not be reflected in the words.
If it is extremely important that your customer service representatives be at their workstations by 8 a.m. and you've had problems in the past, dont write: "Isn't tardy." Try instead: "Regularly at work by 8 a.m." Or, better yet, give the profile energy and a sense of importance: "Regularly hits the ground running, helping customers by 8 a.m."
A star is not necessarily Tiger Woods. For profiling purposes, a star is not a once-in-a-generation phenomenon. It's someone your'e happy to have on your team, someone who continually adds value and someone you would miss if they were gone. This doesn't mean you can't recognize or reward a Tiger Woods if you're lucky enough to employ one. Be optimistic, stretch your goals and expectations, but stay in touch with reality.
Continually revise. A star profile is not the same as the twin tablets brought down from Mount Sinai by Moses. Its an evolving document. Continually assess it for improvement. Have you left out any critical areas of importance? Have you included anything unnecessary such as excess words that clutter the profile or characteristics that dont go to the core?
A useful test for determining whether you have included an unnecessary characteristic consists of asking: What if the employee did everything but this, would she still be a star? If the answer is yes, take the characteristic out.
For example, in working with a group of city managers on a profile of a parks supervisor, one manager proposed: "Displays a good sense of humor in dealing with the public." I posed the question: What if you had a parks supervisor who nailed the other four profile characteristics having to do with safety, cleanliness, aesthetics and mentoring of parks employees, but had the sense of humor of a turnip? Would he still be a star? After acknowledging that he would, the managers dropped the humor characteristic from the profile.
The Role of Job Description
A star profile is not a job description; rather, the two serve complementary purposes. In an organized, legally compliant and left-brain way, job descriptions list duties, skills, essential functions and working conditions. Star profiles capture a supervisor's vision of a mutually rewarding relationship.
Managers versed in job descriptions often find it challenging to create star profiles. However, a useful approach consists of reading the job description and then putting it down. Now, close your eyes and ask yourself: What would really excite me about actual performance and behavior?
For a truck driver position, it wouldn't be hours of operation, road logs to complete, regulations to follow, licenses to hold or pounds to lift. It probably would involve the driver taking personal ownership of complying with federal and state safety laws, his promptly and accurately completing all necessary paperwork, his continually maintaining his truck to present a professional image, and his treating customers with friendliness, respect and concern for their business needs.
Finding the 'Star' in You
Although we have focused on creating star profiles for positions reporting to you, it is also beneficial to write one for yourself. Pretend you have been promoted to your boss's position and now must replace yourself. Following the steps above, create a star profile for the position you presently occupy as if it reports to you.
Another benefit involves taking a close look at the star profile you have just created for your position and asking yourself: How do I stack up in relation to it? You will find this profile a highly useful tool for self-scrutiny and identification of areas for improvement. In this way, not only your employees, but even you, can become a star.
Jathan W. Janove is a partner in Bullard Smith Jernstedt Wilson with offices in Portland, Ore., and Salt Lake City. He works with employers to prevent workplace claims and improve employee relations. He is the author of Managing to Stay Out of Court: How to Avoid the 8 Deadly Sins of Mismanagement (SHRM and Berrett-Koehler, 2005), and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org