Ep11: How to have better performance feedback conversations that get results with Marnie Green, CSP

TalentGrow Show podcast episode 11 with Marnie Green

It seems that everyone loves to hate on performance reviews and performance management. But the reason is most leaders (and organizations) are simply doing them all wrong. Are you one of those leaders? Find out in my light and fast conversation with Marnie Green, CSP, a leadership development expert, speaker, and author who specializes in performance management and has published two books on the subject. Marnie speaks all over the world, helping leaders improve the quality and outcomes of their performance conversations. Listen to discover the most common mistakes leaders make in performance conversations and specific suggestions for how to avoid or fix them. You’ll also learn the challenges facing many leaders regarding giving ongoing performance feedback and why some employees resist feedback. Marnie shares what the youngest members of the workforce REALLY want and gives a great actionable tip at the end that you can implement in your very next workplace conversation with any employee or peer. Give it a listen and leave a comment with your thoughts!

What you’ll learn:

Listen to Stitcher
  • Discover the most common mistakes leaders make in performance conversations and specific suggestions for how to avoid or fix them
  • How can you create more ownership and accountability on your team and generate better performance results for your organization?
  • What typically causes employees to get defensive when you give them feedback (and how to avoid it)?
  • What’s the ‘secret sauce’ involving curiosity and ownership that will shift the quality of your performance conversations forever?
  • What are the challenges facing many leaders regarding giving ongoing performance feedback and why some employees resist feedback?
  • What’s the one question that creates momentum in tough feedback conversations?
  • What’s Marnie’s take on all the hoopla recently about throwing out performance appraisals?
  • What kind of feedback do the youngest members of the workforce REALLY want from their leaders?
  • What one great actionable tip does Marnie share at the end that you can implement in your very next workplace conversation with any employee or peer to make it much more effective and produce better performance results?
  • And more!

About Marnie E. Green, CSP, IPMA-CP

Guiding Public-Sector Leaders Through Their Unique Workforce Challenges

Marnie E. Green, Principal Consultant, is the nation’s go-to expert in the development of public sector leaders. In the last 25 years, she has provided step-by-step presentations and programs that create more confident government leaders. Along the way, she has served as an executive coach to numerous public leaders at the highest levels.

Serving a Diverse Range of Public Agencies

Her consulting and training clients include public agencies from coast to coast. Among them are the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, the states of Arizona, Alaska and Montana, the county of San Diego, CA, the cities of Las Vegas, San Jose, and Honolulu. She has worked with special districts and authorities including Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport, Salt River Project, and West Basin Municipal Water District. She also serves organizations such as Charles Schwab, Midwestern University, Nationwide Insurance, and the World Health Organization in Geneva, Switzerland.

Uniquely Qualified

Marnie is the author of Painless Performance Evaluations: A Practical Approach to Managing Day-to-Day Employee Performance, as well as Painless Performance Conversations: A Practical Approach to Critical Day-to-Day Workplace Discussions.

Marnie holds a bachelor’s degree in Personnel Management and a master’s degree in Business Administration-Finance, both from Arizona State University. She is a graduate of Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government’s Art and Practice of Leadership Development residency program.

A member of the Society for Human Resource Management and the National Speakers Association, Marnie has also served on numerous boards and committees for the International Public Management Association for Human Resources. She is one of roughly 11% of professional speakers who have earned the Certified Speaking Professional (CSP) designation, the profession’s international measure of speaking experience and skill.

A frequent speaker at local, national, and international conferences on workforce-related issues, her area of expertise includes Leadership Development, Talent Development, and Employee Performance Management.

Driven in Work and Play

In addition to serving organizations worldwide, Marnie’s accomplishments include reaching the top of Africa’s highest peak Mt. Kilimanjaro, circumnavigating Western Europe’s highest mountain Mt. Blanc, riding portions of the Tour de France, volcano boarding in Nicaragua, and most recently, exploring ancient, underground Mayan sites in Belize.


Marnie's company website, Management Education Group

Marnie's books on Amazon: Painless Performance Conversations and Painless Performance Evaluations

NEW! Marnie's exciting new Painless Performance Management Training Systems. One is for Painless Performance Conversations and one is for Painless Performance Evaluations.  Each system provides everything an organization needs to implement the Painless Principles in their organization.  Leaders guide, participant manuals, slides, and additional support materials...these tools enable anyone to share the principles of Painless Performance Management with others. 

Also new - Marnie's valuable training material is now available in a pre-recorded webinar format, allowing organizations to bring her into their organizations in bite sized pieces.  For each webinar series, accompanying discussion guides are provided.  Definitely check these out!!

Connect with Marnie on Twitter and LinkedIn

Here's the previous TalentGrow Show podcast episode I mentioned with Scott Eblin about how to avoid being overworked and Overwhelmed

And here's the blog post I mentioned that was super popular about why we should ditch performance appraisals

Intro/outro music for The TalentGrow Show: "Why-Y" by Esta - a great band of exquisitely talented musicians, and good friends of mine.


Announcer: Welcome to the TalentGrow Show, where you can get actionable results-oriented insight and advice on how to take your leadership, communication and people skills to the next level and become the kind of leader people want to follow. And now, your host and leadership development strategist, Halelly Azulay.

Halelly: Hey there. Welcome back to another episode of the TalentGrow Show. I am Halelly Azulay, your leadership development strategist. I’m really happy to introduce to you my friend Marnie Green, who is an expert in developing leaders and managers and supervisors and really knows a lot about performance management. That’s her sweet spot. And so in this conversation, you’re going to learn so much about how to make performance management really work. So we talk about performance conversations and how to make them more painless, and how to figure out this whole performance appraisal process. A lot of people are doing it wrong. We’ve been talking about maybe even throwing out the whole thing, and Marnie has good insights about that. She’s going to give you specific, actionable tips that you can implement right away into how you manage performance conversations, how you handle feedback, and how you create more accountability, more ownership, more results in your team. So, check out this episode, episode 11 of the TalentGrow Show, and please leave me comments. Leave me feedback at the end, in the comments section. Thank you for tuning in, and enjoy.

I am here with Marnie Green, and expert in performance management and everything to do with getting employee performance right. So I’m really looking forward to speaking with her and for you to learn from Marnie who is someone who has had 25 years of experience in the field. She especially works with public sector leaders, and she helps to create more confident government leaders. Marnie is a person that I have had a pleasure of meeting through our joint affiliation with an organization called the National Speakers Association. She’s actually one of the top-notch parts of that organization. When I met her, she was actually receiving an award called the CSP, which is something that only about 11 percent of professional speakers have achieved. So she is a Certified Speaking Professional. But more importantly for you, our listeners, is that Marnie is the author of two great books. One is called Painless Performance Evaluations: A Practical Approach to Managing Day-to-Day Employee Performance, and Painless Performance Conversations. Also, a Practical Approach to Critical Day-to-Day Workplace Discussions. So, Marnie, welcome to the TalentGrow Show. How are you today?

Marnie: Thank you so much for having me. It’s such a pleasure and I’m honored to be part of your program.

Halelly: Thank you. I appreciate that. Whenever I talk to one of the guests, I know that there’s some of the listeners who might not have heard about you. So would you give a little bit of an overview of your professional journey? If you could distill it down to just a couple of minutes – how have you gotten to where you are now?

Marnie: You know, it’s always an interesting question and to reflect on that. I think it started back when I was in junior high! Involved in student leadership activities and really got fascinated with the idea of self-discovery as well as what does it take to influence others? And so started that, seriously, right back in junior high. And started in leadership camps and ended up a leadership scholar at Arizona State University, and turned that into a profession. So I’m one of those very few people who started out with a very clear path and haven’t deviated for my entire career. I worked at the local government – federal, state and local government levels – developing training programs, primarily for managers and leaders, and that was very early in my career. And almost 20 years ago, started my business, Management Education Group, that is focused on providing leadership development, and particularly performance management resources to leaders throughout the country and really now throughout the world.

Halelly: Yes, amazing. You’ve been speaking in a lot of interesting locations, such as –

Marnie: As have you, as have you!

Halelly: Well, trying to keep up with you! Who was it, I believe Jim Rohm or somebody said that you have to surround yourself with people who sort of inspire you to move forward and to kind of emulate them. So I’m happy to have you in my camp of people who inspire me.

Marnie: Thank you.

Halelly: Cool, very good. You are lucky. I’ve always said I kind of wished I knew what I wanted to do when I was younger, but I had no clue. I think I’m still working on it. One of the things I think we definitely share is helping leaders grow. So, you’ve established yourself as an expert, as I said earlier, as an expert in how to manage performance and how to become a great leader to get people who are in your team to be high performing. And you’ve written books on this, you speak on this, you have a lot of training programs on this. So from your experience, what would you say are the two or three most common mistakes that leaders are making when they’re trying to manage employee performance?

Marnie: I think there are some common threads that I see with leaders, and this isn’t necessarily beginning leaders. These are leaders at all levels. The first one, really, is that they think they know the truth. And they see some kind of evidence, or they hear of an issue with somebody’s performance, or they observe it, and they make big assumptions about why it’s happening and what must be motivating the person, and basically create this whole story in their head, and convince themselves of what the answer is. And then we go through all that whole storytelling of ourselves in our own head before we even have the conversations. And so I think one of the first things leaders have to do is just stop trying to figure it out and just go and have the conversation with the employee, and then drive that conversation with questions so that you’re actually learning rather than making assumptions and trying to solve the problem before you even explore it with the employee. And I see a lot, we all do that – we’re all fixers – and so as soon as we see or even anticipate that there’s going to be a problem, we’re all automatically jumping to finding a solution, and often times we do that without consulting the employee! And then we wonder why the employee is defensive or isn’t open to our wonderful ideas, and that’s because we haven’t even engaged them in the problem solving process. So slow down, be curious, ask questions and engage the employee in solving the problem. I would say that’s one of the first things.

Halelly: Wow, I love that.

Marnie: And I think the second thing comes from that. A lot of leaders that I work with, I ask them a simple question. I say, “The employee is having some kind of a performance issue. Let’s just take something super simple like they’re arriving to work late. Whose job is it to fix that issue?” And I’m always amazed that a lot of the leaders in my workshops will say, “Well, that’s my job, I’m the manager. I’m responsible for making sure.” Which is ridiculous, because the manager really isn’t responsible for fixing that behavior. Only the employee can do that. But I think a lot of us as leaders, again, we want to be fixers, so we just assume it’s our job to fix it. Rather than putting the ownership back to the employee, and letting them, making it clear that the issue is their issue, and that your job is to support them in finding a solution. Not to find the solution for them, but to guide them to a solution that will work for them. And I think then we end up with much greater levels of ownership and engagement, and less stressed out leaders because they’re not carrying every issue that’s in their workplace on their shoulders.

Halelly: Yeah, because I know that one of the themes that comes up again and again is this feeling of being overworked and overwhelmed. One of my other podcast guests, Scott Eblin wrote a whole book about that. So what you’re describing is, in some ways, just self-afflicted suffering on the leader’s part where they carry much more on their shoulders than they even need to.

Marnie: Absolutely, and I think when we’re high achievers and we’re always driving for results and we’re used to having success in the workplace, we kind of get caught in this spiral. I know I find myself doing that as well, just that, “Oh my gosh, I’ve got a lot of work, I’ve got to work harder, harder, harder,” and we do that with employees, I think, when we see there’s issues. It’s my job to solve, to solve, to solve, instead of just taking a breath and having a conversation with the person who really can do a better job of solving that problem, which is the person who has the performance challenge.

Halelly: So let’s just dig in a little bit on that. So what would be a way that you start that conversation, both with a curiosity that you suggested – not assuming – but also with keeping the ownership squarely on the employee’s shoulders? In your example, what would you suggest to a leader to ask?

Marnie: I think I would say, “Halelly, I noticed today, or I noticed that today and for the last several days you’ve been arriving to work after our agreed upon start time. And we agreed that you’d be here at 8:00 to begin serving customers calls. What’s going on or what happened, or tell me about that?” And then just be quiet and try not to fill in the answers for the employees. You’re likely to get an excuse or, “Here’s my reasons,” but then you follow it with more questions. “Well, okay, so what do you think that means for you?” And I think the one question – it’s a closed ended question but can really help redirect the conversation is – eventually you ask, “Can we agree that your start time is 8:00?” Because if we at least have that as a baseline, then we can ask questions like, “Okay, so what do you think you’re going to need to do to be able to meet that expectation?” But it’s not, “What do I need to do to get you here?”

Halelly: Oh, good example. Okay, good. I appreciate that. It’s always good to have really concrete examples of things.

Marnie: Arriving late is I think such a simple one, and I use it often just because it illustrates the principles, but the concept will apply to really anything. If I observe something, all I need to do is say, “Hey, I’ve observed this. Tell me about it.” And then we go from there.

Halelly: And that’s key, that “observed.” So, sometimes people make up a story and they’ll talk to the employee about a problem that they made up in their head that isn’t even observable or that is their interpretation of what is relay the problem, whereas the observed behavior is something real specific that the employee is going to not be able to say, “No, I never did that.”

Marnie: Yeah, and when we come to the employee with that whole story we’ve made up, rather than just the observation, the employee wonders why are we so clueless, or why are we so weird, because they can’t relate to us. Well, it’s because we put up these huge barriers in our minds, and it affects the ability to connect.

Halelly: Yeah. Good. Those are good suggestions. You know, lately I have been seeing with my clients – and really out in what comes out from thought leadership from places like Harvard Business Review and other leading authors – starting to talk about this idea that maybe this whole performance appraisals and performance management system that we’ve got going is outmoded and needs to be completely overhauled and abolished. I wrote a very controversial blog post recently about that, and I know that this is something that you’ve given some thought to. So, I’d love to hear what’s your take on it, on this idea that let’s just throw it out?

Marnie: Yeah. It’s really intriguing idea, and I first was introduced to the idea probably, oh gosh, it’s been probably seven or eight years ago it started … there were a few books published, abolish the performance appraisal, get rid of performance appraisal. And I read them all, because I had a book on how to do performance appraisals. I kind of knew what was going on! And I was really, at first, I thought, “How dare they?” Because this was such, we’d been taught so long it’s such an important tool for us to give feedback to employees and to capture and recognize their accomplishments. And what I learned from reading the books and now really following the debate is nobody is saying stop doing feedback. They’re saying stop the charade of trying to make something meaningful out of a once-a-year conversation. And it is. If performance management, if the concept of performance evaluations is something we just do as an event once a year, that’s … why would we do that? It only sets up resistance and stress and in most organizations it doesn’t have an outcome. It doesn’t have a real strong meaning, at least in the organizations where I spent a lot of time in the public sector. So what all of those authors are saying, though, is not to drop the feedback part, and that instead, replace the traditional annual appraisal with a process of more frequent conversations. And that there maybe doesn’t even need to be a grade attached to it, especially if you don’t have some other mechanism that depends on that, like a pay increase, that why would we even want to make those kind of judgments because they detract from what we really can get out of this opportunity, which is build a stronger relationship and improve performance? And we know that with today’s workforce, improving performance happens on the spot, not once a year. And so that’s my take on it, that I think it’s kind of a sexy or a very … it’s a spicy subject to say, “Let’s get rid of them.” My believe is what we’re really saying is let’s change the way we go about providing feedback to employees.

Halelly: Which is probably what you’ve been saying all along, right?

Marnie: Even my first book, Painless Performance Evaluations, while it does talk about how to rate performance and how to write comments and how to deliver performance evaluation, the message has always been, “This should be super easy to do because you’ve had lots of conversations all year long.” The performance evaluation is really just a summary, and you can probably do that in a few minutes and then focus the conversation on planning for the future. And so that’s been my model all the way along, and I think it’s consistent with the message. I’m still finding a lot of organizations very resistant to the whole idea of throwing it out, because they’re not quite sure yet how to get managers to actually have those regular conversations and to have proof that they’re doing them. And I think that’s why it’s so controversial. Because we’re not quite there yet.

Halelly: I agree. A couple of the organizations that I’m working with that have done this, they’ve created a technology tool that people can enter some information that tracks feedback conversations and so on. And it’s so funny to see how people just revert to relying on the tool and on documenting feedback in some kind of a tool that does not involve a face-to-face conversation, because those conversations are sometimes so uncomfortable for leaders that they’d prefer to avoid them. And so it just skirts the issue and misses the whole point.

Marnie: And I think regardless of what your technology tool does – whether you have a formal, traditional performance evaluation process, or even a monthly feedback meeting or performance summary that you’re doing along the way – we can automate all of that pretty easily, and there are lots and lots of really good solutions out there to do that. It’ll never have the conversation for you, and so that’s where I really spend most of my time, and that’s where my second book, Painless Performance Conversations, that’s what inspired it. We can teach you how to fill out the forms and write performance and do everything logically, but if you’re not connecting and having those regular conversations, it’s kind of … we could have a robot do the other stuff. The talks are the key.

Halelly: That’s true. So then you’re not really managing performance, you’re just administrating it, right?

Marnie: Exactly. Right. Who wants that?

Halelly: Yuck, no one. Believe me, no one. That is just something that everyone complains about, on both ends too, right? Managers complain about having to go through the process because they feel like it’s a charade, and employees certainly don’t enjoy any part of it either. So if we actually have conversations throughout the year, about performance, in a curious, open kind of way, oh my God, what a great workplace it will be, huh?

Marnie: Yeah, and you know, I work in some very old-school kind of traditional workplaces. I mean, a government setting, there’s a lot of those ideas that dominated in the workplace 30 years ago are still very prevalent, and part of the challenge is convincing managers and leaders that it’s worth the time. And that employees actually want to hear from them. And I think there are a lot of the employees in these work environments that have been conditioned not to seek out the feedback. If they get feedback, it’s a bad thing. So part of it is just it’s a huge culture shift for many organizations, at least the ones like I said that I see, just the idea that feedback actually is desired by employees today, and our younger workers in particular do want to know how they’re doing. They do want a coach, but it’s got to come from a helpful place, not from an authoritarian, here’s how you’re going to do it because I’m the boss place. And that’s the challenge that I help a lot of organizations get to.

Halelly: I so agree about that. That is a huge challenge, and an important one, so thank you for doing that work, and being on that mission. So, tell me, what is something that is new and exciting in your work world that you’re working on right now, besides all the great work that you’ve done so far?

Marnie: Well, I’ll tell you, when you do this kind of work and people take to it, it becomes very exhausting – traveling and speaking to groups of whatever size, 25 or 50 a day, and I’m looking for alternatives to get this message out to a larger audience without having to actually be there face-to-face. So, I know that we’ve talked about this, that I’m looking for ways to share the message through licensing of the content as well as through webinars and other technological ways to deliver it. And it’s a little bit of a catch 22 – I love the face-to-face, just like I believe in the face-to-face conversations between managers and supervisors. But, sometimes we’re going to have to get the message out using the technology. So, later this year we’ll be offering licensing to the Painless Performance Conversations material, an arrangement where organizations can buy the right, or purchase the right to actually use the materials, train their own staff using the materials. We’ve got it all packaged up nice, including videos that demonstrate these conversations. And then I’m also writing a several webinar series where organizations can call in and we spend about an hour a week just talking about these issues and doing that with groups at a time. So that’s been pretty exciting as well.

Halelly: That’s great. And that’s such a good way to leverage what is both available technology, but also high demand for people. They want to learn virtually, traveling to learn is no longer as readily available to everyone in terms of budget and time. And also, this idea that you obviously, Marnie, you can’t clone yourself quite yet. I know you’re working on it, right, in that back workshop, but until then, more people can benefit from everything that you’ve built over the years and bring some much needed improvement to their organizations faster, right?

Marnie: I think there’s a lot of noise in our space with people with different models and different concepts. And every organization has to find the messenger that fits for them. And so I’ve developed that group that resonates with my message, just as I know you’re doing with your messages. And once you find that, it’s a matter of how can I best serve these people? That’s what’s on my plate these days is to try and figure that out.

Halelly: Fabulous. So I know that we’re getting ready to wrap up here, but I always want to make sure that listeners not only get all the great nuggets that you’ve shared so far, but something really, really actionable. What’s one actionable thing that you think the listeners can do, some kind of a takeaway, that’s going to improve their people leadership skills?

Marnie: I think the one piece of advice that I often give to managers and leaders as I’m working with them is the next time you have something to say to an employee, stop, take a breath, and ask a question first. Ask them first about their perspective on it, rather than assuming that you already know the best answer and the best approach. Because you’ll probably learn something.

Halelly: Great advice. I love it. So, Marnie, it’s been a real pleasure speaking with you. This has been a conversation with Marnie Green about how to manage performance. And I’m Halelly Azulay. Marnie, how can people find out more about you or connect with you if they’re interested in learning more? I can link to your books and to your website in the show notes, but what’s the best way for people to connect with you?

Marnie: So my website is www.ManagementEducationGroup.com, and there you can find all of the stuff as well as writing and workshops and offerings. But, besides that I’m on Twitter, @MarnieGreen, and on LinkedIn. And that’s where I seem to make the best connections with people about these issues.

Halelly: Fantastic. It’s been fun and interesting speaking with you, Marnie. Thank you, and I thank the listeners for tuning into another TalentGrow Show. So stay connected, check out the show notes and I look forward to speaking with you again soon. Take care, Marnie.

Marnie: Thank you!

Halelly: I really hope you enjoyed this episode with Marnie, and that you actually take action on Marnie’s suggestion in that the next time you’re having a performance conversation with someone, or even just have something you want to tell them that you stop the telling and start with asking. Ask, don’t tell, is actually a really great policy in general, with anyone, to make your communication a lot more purposeful and a lot more effective. So, let me know what you thought about it in the comments and please go check out the show notes where I link to Marnie’s website, to Marnie’s social media accounts, to Marnie’s books and to a couple of the other resources that we mentioned in this episode, like that other episode that I did with Scott Eblin about overworked and overwhelmed, as well as some of the other resources that we mentioned. And, as always, if you found this beneficial and you think that someone else might also, please share it with others. Give me some comments, send me a review or a rating in iTunes. All of these things really not only help me improve the quality of what I provide to you, but also helps other people discover this show and benefit from it. So thank you for tuning in, thank you for your support, and I look forward to seeing you on the next episode of the TalentGrow Show. In the meantime, go make today a great day.

Announcer: Thanks for listening to the TalentGrow Show, where we help you develop your talent to become the kind of leader that people want to follow. For more information, visit TalentGrow.com


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