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Digging Your Scene

Dance, baby, dance.  Get up and move.  Shake your thing.  That’s it, make it groove.  Use your hips.  Get down into the floor.  Arch your back more.  Work it!

Those are various performance phrases used in the dance world to encourage excellence in the performer.  Uncomfortable?  Did it make you think I’d finally snapped?  (Don’t answer that).  A dancer needs to have his/her performance graded early on so that he/she can make corrections to the movement in the dance.  If a choreographer has developed a sequence of movement to tell a story and thoughtfully chosen a piece of music to compliment the story, it’s vital that the dancer perform the movement exactly to match the intention of the story.  Real time performance review is necessary.

In the case of the dancer, the choreographer is there teaching the dance.  He/She can then provide timely feedback, such as listed above, and encourage the dancer to move differently or with more precision when working to execute the story through dance.  Travis Wall, one of the best current choreographers, has to be unyielding in seeing his vision executed and so has to watch his dancers often and provide commentary.  A dancer then adjusts in real time.  And when the performance is shared with an audience, the efforts are displayed, and in Travis’s case, usually without flaw.

Intentionally taking the time to watch the scenes of performance that our employees create is a responsibility of management.  It is not to sit in an office and hope they are doing what they should be.  It’s not just looking at numbers at the end of a day or week, and then make grandiose decisions about staffing and product or service implementation.  The repetition of bad choices made in this context overflows into poor corporate culture, low gross sales, inferior candidates and frustrated management.

Watch what’s happening in the “dance” scenes you’re creating at work.  Give feedback.  It does not need to be done via the official performance review annual form.  It doesn’t have to be a quarterly review.  It CAN include those things, but that’s not all it is.

As a kid, when I was doing my homework, my mom would look over my shoulder every so often to check.  If the writing was rushed and sloppy, she would tell me to erase it and write it again.  The longer she took to check in on me left open the possibility that I would have more to erase.  If she caught me after only doing a few, it was more manageable to correct the behavior and the remaining work was done neater.  It’s the same for management.  Observe often.

Micromanagement, by the way, is not the same as observing often.  A course correction is the responsibility of the manager by knowing why and how staff are travelling a certain road.  A micromanager is telling staff how to move their left foot forward, and then the right foot, and then the left again, and then the right and so on.  Travis can dance the choreography he creates himself, but the point is to take that vision and entrust it to the skill sets demonstrated in the dancers he works with regularly.  The cause is spread to a wider circle and therefore a wider impact.

Give staff the opportunity to perform.  Tell them the objectives and watch what they do.   And along the way, affirm what’s working and advise on what should look or be different.  Keep coming back to the mission or purpose of the work.  Managers have to be involved in what their teams are doing, with consistency and investment.  Come up alongside those employees who are working to make the mission happen and encourage them.  Praise and critique are encouraging, if it comes from an involved, invested perspective.  Do your staff see you that way?

The surprise in good performance review is that it seems very much like conversation.  It feels very much like smart people sitting together to get better at the responsibilities they have.  It opens the door for a deeper understanding of the support, tools and practice needed.  And it also allows for honest dialogue, due to the consistency of review, regarding who can do what’s needed.  Sometimes staff will even call themselves out to say that they don’t have the full skill set required.  And those are employees you want to keep for a long time, even if it means a role change.

Like me, for instance.  I know that in my mind, I dance with as much passion and skill as Alex Wong and could absolutely handle the choreography of Travis Wall.  And though I have been known to “get down”, the vision in my mind won’t make it a reality.  When I leap around the house with my daughters, they remind me, too, that I might not quite have the skills to dance or to choreograph.  Seriously? Have you seen me do the Cha-Cha Slide? Breathtaking.

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