By Bruce Tulgan
This is the second in a four-part series. Please view part 1.
When using the Internet of Things in your manufacturing process, it is not at all uncommon to find yourself managing people whose work you are not sufficiently expert in to manage substantively.
Managers ask me, “How can I set expectations for, much less evaluate, the performance data of an employee whose work I know nothing about?”
Of course, the employees you are supposed to be managing may find this situation maddening: “How can you be in charge of me when you don’t have the knowledge, experience, understanding, or skill necessary to do my job?” That doesn’t make your job any easier.
You have an expertise gap. The challenge is establishing yourself as a credible performance coach to an expert when you are not yourself an expert. How do you develop meaningful performance metrics for capturing data and put yourself in a position to provide regular course-correcting feedback?
Step One: Start learning. You don’t have to become an expert on the work that person is doing. But you do have to learn enough to manage that person. How do you learn? First and foremost, you will learn by managing that person closely over time. Sometimes you have to shadow the expert for a while. Watch him work. See what he actually does and how. Get curious. Read. Watch video. Ask a lot of questions. You don’t have to become a doctor to learn a whole lot about a particular medical condition, what to expect, what are the best treatments, what is the best self-care protocol, and how and when will we know if the treatment is working as expected. When it comes to managing your expert employees, learn like you care.
Step Two: Every step of the way, think of yourself as a shrewd client and the employee as a professional you’ve hired. If you are managing a “professional” then you need to know what the professional and industry standards are for performance: What are the professional standards and the established best practices? What data is available on the individual’s performance? What data is captured on an ongoing basis? Are there also self-monitoring tools that the expert uses to track her own performance? Are there any ways you can add to or improve the monitoring, measuring, and documenting of the expert’s performance in your IoT system?
Step Three: If you are going to have experts working for you, then you need to make sure they are high performers, or at least aspiring to be so. You can’t have low performers on your team whose work you don’t really understand. You want them working systematically and consistently on trying to get better. The challenge is to be their coach when you are not expert in their field.
In your regular ongoing one-on-one dialogue with your expert employees:
- It’s OK that you don’t know or understand everything the person is doing. But it’s not OK to remain in the dark and trust. Keep doing your own research and self-education. And make it clear to your expert that you are on a learning path.
- Focus on desired outcomes. Be a smart, assertive, careful patient or client. Ask good probing questions every step of the way. If you don’t understand the answers, say so. Ask more questions. Don’t allow yourself to be brushed off. Get a second opinion – and a third.
- Engage the expert and make him complicit in spelling out expectations. Ask for details: “Exactly what are you going to do? Why? How are you going to do that? Why? What are the steps? What is involved in each step? How long will each step take? Why? What are the guidelines and specifications?” If the answers are vague, press for more details. If the answers are complex, ask for explanations a lay person can understand. Use this information to improve the data you gather on the expert’s performance.
- Every step of the way, make reference to professional standards and established best practices and ask how the expectations being spelled out and the actual performance being measured align.
- As you monitor and measure performance, stay focused on the desired outcomes, the expectations the expert has helped spell out, and the standards and best practices. Use any and all data that is automatically captured about the expert’s performance, and ask the expert to help you understand the data. Engage the expert in using self-monitoring tools. Look at the work product and keep asking questions: “Did you do what you said you were going to do? Why or why not? How did you do it? How long did each step take? Why?”
- Make a point of comparing experts doing similar work, even those within your own organization, to find patterns of similar practice and deviations. Talking to multiple experts doing similar work is also a good reality check, so one expert can’t easily pull the wool over your eyes.
- Don’t forget to ask around for additional soft data. Ask customers, clients, vendors, co-workers, and other managers. Get those second and third opinions whenever you can.
- Every step of the way, document the fundamentals of your conversations. What expectations were established? How did the performance line up with expectations? As you are documenting performance, ask the expert employee to tell you what she thinks you should document and why.
Over time, you may never become an expert, but you will know more. You will get to know the person’s work better, as well as his work habits and track record. You will be better able to gauge the employee’s veracity, trustworthiness, and reliability. You will be able to read the conversations you are having by the way the person talks and the kinds of things he says. Certainly, you will learn enough to hold that person accountable to clear metrics and provide regular ongoing course-correcting feedback, keeping that person on a track of continuous improvement toward elite performance.
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 (Revised & Updated, 2014). 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.