SumTotal Blog

Michele O'Brien (2 Posts)

Michele O'Brien

Michele is the Senior Director, Sales Strategy for SumTotal. She’s been in the HR Technology industry for 12+ years and has been a people manager for more years than she can remember. Based in Jacksonville FL, Michele spends her free time with her family at the beach & pool. She’s successfully coached her oldest son into being a Florida Gator fan, while there is some work to do in teaching the youngest son how to perform a strong Gator Chomp.

Preparing For Future Opportunities

“Prepare yourself today for the unforeseen opportunities of tomorrow.

This is a favorite piece of advice that I give to young professionals who are making the first twists and turns of their career journey.  In short, this advice makes a few callouts:  Show up.  Participate.  Be positive and open minded.  Do a good job, every day.  Do what you say you are going to do.  Build rapport and a strong network.  Communicate your heart out, because you never know who is watching.  You never know what actions are occurring behind the scenes, and you never know what new roles and opportunities may be open in the future.  I’ve always thought about this quote in the context of business, and it played out a couple of weekends ago in the sports arena.

My husband is a huge soccer fan, and he watches European matches with great interest and passion.  His favorite team is Manchester United, a beloved and storied team with an international fan base greater than the New York Yankees and New England Patriots.  They get a lot of eyeballs, and with that comes all the pressure to win that you would expect for a professional sports team.  Manchester United has had a season of ups and downs, and most recently, they have been plagued by injuries.  So much so, that they have drawn from their junior team to fill in for injured starters.  Once such players is Marcus Rashford, a 18-year-old player who scored four goals in his first two matches of his senior debut.  The second match was a home game against Arsenal with a crowd topping 75,000 fans.

icon_CoachTeam_rgbAs we watched the replay, I commented to my husband that many of these players didn’t know they would be playing in “the big leagues” this time last month.  He replied that even as early as one week ago, many of the players who moved from the junior to senior team didn’t know that they would be playing.   Amazing.

In both business and sports, you never know when something will happen. Marcus Rashford didn’t know that injuries would allow him to be promoted to the senior team so quickly.  I don’t know about his time in the junior team, but I’m sure he was a superstar and his coaches felt he would be ready to play in the big game.  Play he did, by getting Manchester United two needed wins as they continue in the season.  When the opportunity was given to him, he scored the needed goal.  (Well, four goals, but you get my meaning.)

Prepare yourself today for the unforeseen opportunities of tomorrow.  Show leadership skills today so your name may come up when a new manager slot is opening.

Get to know coworkers in other departments, and if an interesting job in their area becomes available, you can get their thoughts (and possibly positive reference).  Take interest in developing yourself, especially if your company provides tools such as training libraries, mentoring programs, or product/IT knowledge.  All of these items combined will help make you better at your current position while making an impression on others who may be watching your work with an eye on where you can grow next.  I can attest to the power of this practice in my career, and it is the biggest piece of advice that I can give to others as we each continue our journeys in 2016.

Leaning Into Continuous Feedback

Annual Performance Reviews.  They are a time-honored tradition of companies around the globe.  Many of us have recently closed the annual review process, where we take a look at our employees’ (and our own) performance from the past 12 months to highlight the successes and review opportunities for improvement.  My personal relationship with performance reviews has evolved over the years, and that relationship has greatly improved now that technology has caught up to address the needs of front line managers.

Earlier in my career (and many moons ago), I loathed performance reviews.  I managed a team of 14 direct reports and performance reviews were written in Word documents.  Each review took at least one hour to write, as I had to scroll through email folders to search for feedback for each employee and sifted through monthly reports that documented the employee’s activities.  Coaching my team and helping them achieve their goals was by far the most exciting part of my job.  But the performance reviews….so painful and time consuming!

icon_TeamSuccess_rgbWriting the reviews was a painful process, and as I delivered the reviews to the employees, it became apparent that the process was painful for them as well.  The worst experience was when I delivered a review for a solid member of my team.  Overall, she seemed pleased with the rating and enjoyed discussing the vast majority of the review that gave many glowing examples of her work.  However, she exploded about one sentence in the review.  This one sentence stated some constructive criticism that was new to her.  She said she never heard me raise this criticism before and questioned why I would surprise her with it in the review.  While I did mention the constructive criticism once or twice before with the employee, I was troubled that the employee felt the criticism was a surprise.  That was a mistake.

The goal of a formal review process is that there should be no surprises.   As managers, we should provide continuous feedback throughout the year.  We should, and we do.  We have many opportunities to share continuous feedback in formats such as regularly scheduled one-on-ones and informally in other conversations.  Providing feedback is a crucial role for managers.  It is our job to help our people get better, and to provide them the tools to do so.  Feedback, while sometimes difficult to deliver, is one of the tools that managers use to provide guidance and coaching to their employees.

Fortunately, technology has solved the problem I faced earlier in my career.  No longer do we need to depend on Word documents to capture performance reviews.  Today we have that Performance Management applications make it simple, efficient, and dare I say…”fun”… to capture the continuous feedback we provide to our employees.  Online Goals and Development plans are updated throughout the year by employees and managers.  Feedback from non-direct manager resources can be added to the annual review automatically, providing additional voices to the review.  It is easier than ever for employees and managers to keep a finger on the pulse of their performance, and to both be aligned on strategy for achieving the desired results.

Delivering feedback and capturing it in performance management tools allow for smoother formal feedback sessions, including the annual performance review.  If we keep the feedback flowing, if we continue to coach and guide our employees to success, and if we utilize performance management tools to help house the critical information, we will all meet the goal of “no surprises”.