Guest post by Bruce Tulgan
Here is a profound truth I learned from my longtime karate teacher, mentor and friend Master Frank Gorman: “The mirror is the best teacher.”
That is not true, however, if you always like what you see. I don’t mean this to seem like a retro anti-self-esteem-movement, “make-a-point” moment. But if you always like what you see in the mirror, then you are actually a per se narcissist. In order to use the mirror as a teacher, one must have an external objective standard against which to measure one’s reflection. I’m not talking about artistic beauty or saying one kind of reflection is “better” than another in any kind of absolute way. Even if you make up the objective standard yourself, the key is using that standard to measure future performance. Juxtaposition with a clear standard is a necessary component of any kind of productive evaluation – especially self-evaluation. Otherwise self-evaluation turns into navel gazing – solipsism – which is distorting due to narrowing perspective and therefore leads straight to unconditional self-acceptance or paralyzing self-loathing. Neither drives learning and growth.
What does drive learning and growth?
Regular, productive, honest self-evaluation against clear standards: That is not only the fundamental building block for teaching/learning the rest of the self-management skills, it is the fundamental building block for teaching/learning all of the soft skills. Not to mention practically any other kind of significant learning and growth. When it comes to continuous improvement of any kind, self-evaluation is the beginning, middle, and end.
You might consider starting by providing Millennial employees with some big picture assessment tools – tools that profile personality types, interests, values, and/or communication style. Try to identify (and vet) several of them, the more the better.
Where can you find them? Your organization may own some already – ask someone in HR. Or you can look online – there are plenty you can find for free. You can find them in books. Or you can create one yourself without too much trouble based on any competency model or any list of traits, characteristics, behaviors, skills, or preferences.
You don’t have to choose which big picture assessment tool is best because you should have them do several different self-assessments, using several different models: Finding one’s “type” according to multiple different models is a great way to getting multiple perspectives on one’s self in very short order. Just the process of completing a self-evaluation tool usually has a significant impact and of course the results are usually quite illuminating, especially when one has the results from multiple models to consider. Using the results as a tool for one-on-one coaching will take it to a higher level still. Try to use their individual results as a springboard to provide some coaching style feedback along the way.
For Millennials in particular this is a very powerful lesson because it helps them put specific language around “what makes them different” and where they fit in relation to others. You’ll also show them that they actually have a whole lot in common with a whole lot of people. That will give them a huge dose of self-awareness in a very short period of time.
These tools are a great short-cut to jump-start anybody’s path to greater self-awareness. The down-side of these tools is they usually take for granted that one’s type is fixed – the idea is “this is who you are” and that’s not going to change. That’s one reason I so strongly advocate using several different models so at least they gain a wider perspective on “who they are.”
Once you get Millennials familiar and comfortable with self-assessments, they might find they like it. Get them self-evaluating by measuring everything… at least everything that matters. More and more organizations are integrating into their cultures a regular practice of “measuring.” The question is: What are they in the habit of measuring? Too often what gets measured most is removed from what individuals feel they can actually control. So the “numbers” they are always hearing about don’t tell them very much about their own performance and how they themselves can specifically improve.
Once you get your young employees into the habit of regular self-evaluation, take it the next level by having them start measuring the concrete actions within their own control – the ones that matter –every step of the way.
In other words, teach them to keep score for themselves on everything they actually do at work. Help them create their own self-evaluation tools to monitor, measure and document everything they do – or even better you can help them create their own self-evaluation tools:
- For every project, there should be a project plan, including every goal and deadline along the way, complete with guidelines and parameters for every goal. Why not teach young employees to use project plans as tools for ongoing self-evaluation? Every step of the way, they can track where they are on every goal.
- For every recurring task or responsibility, there should be standard operating procedures, complete with checklists. Why not teach Millennials to use those standard operating procedures and checklists as tools for ongoing self-evaluation? Every step of the way, they can track their progress on every task, one “check” at a time.
- To measure activities, log every activity.
- To measure time, create schedules and time-logs.
If you can get them in the habit of using these kinds of self-evaluation tools to monitor their own performance – measuring their own concrete actions against clear measurable goals – you will put them squarely on the path to continuous improvement. These tools also give you a great tool to guide your ongoing direction, support, and coaching when it comes to discussing their work. Their scorekeeping will double as a great source of real-time documentation.
About the Author
Bruce Tulgan is an adviser to business leaders all over the world and a sought-after keynote speaker and seminar leader. He is the founder and CEO of RainmakerThinking, Inc., a management research and training firm, as well as RainmakerThinking.Training, an online training company. Bruce is the best-selling author of numerous books including Not Everyone Gets a Trophy (Revised & Updated, 2016), Bridging the Soft Skills Gap (2015), The 27 Challenges Managers Face (2014), and It’s Okay to be the Boss (2007). He has written for the New York Times, the Harvard Business Review, HR Magazine, Training Magazine, and the Huffington Post. Bruce can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, you can follow him on Twitter @BruceTulgan, or visit his website www.rainmakerthinking.com.