While we've done what I believe is an amazing job of building a performance culture from scratch at Red Branch Media, I have a couple of things going in my favor:
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We're still a really small company.
Building a performance culture was valuable to both the manager of the team and the CEO – both me.
I can set the direction of the program.
Even though we have a strong framework for performance management, I do still look for ways to spice things up on occasion. Here are some, erm, interesting ways to break criticism to employees, based on movies:
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In one scene, Olympia Dukakis explains to her friends how her nephew went about coming out to his parents: "... without so much as a hello says, 'Mama and Daddy, I have something to tell you. I have a brain tumor. I have three months to live.' Well, naturally Drew and Belle became hysterical. Then Marshall says, 'Hey folks, I'm just kidding. I'm only gay."
What we can learn: Sometimes, it pays to throw down the gauntlet when delivering bad news. This can be an especially useful tactic when a new employee has their first screw up. I like to tell them I'm going to have to dock their pay to make up for the mixup – followed immediately by laughter and "Just kidding! Now, let's find a solution to ensure this never happens again."
It's clear from the start that Buddy is not cut out for the work he's assigned to do. Instead of directly addressing this, Buddy's fellow elves – his father included – pretend standards of production are lower than they need to be.
What we can learn: It's crucial to be honest during a performance review. While this unabashed honesty can briefly cause tension between you and your employee during the meeting, it almost always ends up alleviating tension in the long run.
Honesty opens up conversations with underperforming employees about what roles they could be doing – and thriving in – instead. We've had email coordinators morph into web managers, content producers find they're better suited to PR, and business development folks transform into project managers. We're a better company and they are happier employees for it.
Olivia Pope engenders a loyalty most managers can only dream of, but I'm pretty sure most of us aren't willing to go to the same lengths she does to get that loyalty. However, Olivia does do one thing that I think managers should emulate when trying to get the best performance out of their people: Laying it down.
What we can learn: Every time one of your employees makes a mistake, it presents a learning opportunity for both you and them. They need to understand the process or protocol better so they don't make that mistake again; at the same time, you need to learn how you can manage them properly so they don't make the mistake again.
Employees make mistakes. Making a few isn't a serious issue – but when an employee makes the same mistake multiple times, it usually means there's a management problem. Be like Olivia. Make sure your people know how to get themselves out of a jam should they ever encounter one.
What work-related blog post would be complete without a mention of the movie that made us all hate our jobs?
What we can learn: It is oh-so easy to ignore those employees who aren't "problems" – those employees who don't throw fits, who don't ask for big raises, who don't constantly pitch new ideas, who aren't professional agitators. However, you might be surprised to learn that these "problem employees" are often the most engaged workers in your organization! Those ignorable employees who stare at their desks all day, heads literally down, are often the least engaged, the employees who need engagement interventions more than any others!
Do what you have to do to understand what your people are actually accomplishing while on the clock. At Red Branch Media, we've built deliverable lists, created an intranet where we all share stuff, and done lots more to ensure that no one's work goes unnoticed.
The Devil Wears Prada
Sure – in my darkest fantasies, I sometimes imagine what it must be like to be so feared that people would literally do backflips just to ensure they never disappoint you. In the real world, though, that kind of leadership style makes for a terrible workplace.
What we can learn: The real lesson of The Devil Wears Prada is to be ready. Performance culture manifests itself in thousands of daily and weekly instances, in interactions both formal and informal. In many cases, you must be ready for these moments. The only way you can reasonably expect your employees to be prepared for performance conversations is to be ready yourself.
While Sherlock is actually the worst boss anyone's ever had, there is something to learn from this show when it comes to getting the best performance out of people.
What we can learn: It's easy to become disengaged and fall into bad habits. To avoid this situation, give employees granular goals and help them make plans to reach those goals. Vaguely defined goals won't get anyone where they want to be. Specifically defined tangibles, however, give employees something to really strive for.
To keep your performance culture not only operating at a hight level but also exciting, look for unique ways to bring some fun and humor into performance management! The next time your performance culture is in need of improvement, head to the movies!
A version of this article originally appeared on LinkedIn.