Evaluate the Past or Coach for the Future?

What if we turned the world of annual reviews upside down?  What if we admitted the variables and biases involved in one human rating another is not an effective means of performance management?

The research is in, and it is conclusive.  People are not capable of rating people!  Michael Mount, Steven Scullen, and Maynard Goff conducted the research and published it in the Journal of Applied Psychology in 2000. Their study—in which 4,492 managers were rated on certain performance dimensions by two bosses, two peers, and two subordinates—revealed that 62% of the variance in the ratings could be accounted for by individual raters’ peculiarities of perception. Actual performance accounted for only 21% of the variance. 

Let’s break this down into a real-world example.  Rating a team member on critical thinking is more about my critical thinking, the value I place on critical thinking, my thoughts on what critical thinking is, and how tough a rater I am.  It is more about me than it is the team member. 

You have to stop and ask, “Why am I doing this?  Is it adding value”  Is it strengthening the team member?  Is it going to improve performance?”  NO!  It is a perfunctory system that is biased and produces few results.  In fact, it might have a paradoxical effect.  Tieing compensation to an arbitrary and biased process of rating an employee could have a negative impact on morale?  Consider the effect of receiving a glowing review from one manager who leans towards a more generous rating and the next year receiving a critical review from a different manager that is bent on a stronger rating curve.  Did the employee’s performance decline or did they just get hammered by the inherently biased performance evaluation process?

What are we honestly hoping to achieve?  What if we flipped the process on its ear and made it about performance management?  And by “management,” I mean improvement.  What if we replaced the word “review” with “coach”?

The idea of coaching changes the mindset.  We are no longer looking at the past but focus our efforts on the present and the future.  It allows us to be agile and responsive.  It converts leaders and managers into coaches.  It binds everyone together.

Critical elements to success

Leaders must focus on the following:  (This must be at the core of your leadership philosophy)

  • Hire great – Leaders should always hire up. 
  • Equip each team member – Great team members will come with a toolbox of skills.  It is a leader’s job to ensure they are properly equipped for the current mission.
  • Cast an inspiring vision – If you can’t articulate what inspires you, you cannot inspire others.
  • Empower – You must empower each team member to execute based on their role and skillset.
  • Remove barriers – Your primary job now becomes that of a coach.  Your job is to remove barriers and help each team member succeed.

3 Tips for effective coaching

  1. Meet regularly and meet with purpose – Meeting with your team member allows you to discover barriers, strategizing solutions, inspire progress, and empower them to focus on the future.
  2. Review projects – Real-time reviews of project-based performance allows you to coach and correct within the context of real-time experiences.  The purpose is to provide relevant feedback at the moment, so it becomes actionable.  A vague and nonspecific critique over 12 months is tough for anyone to wrap their mind around.  Even the best managers and leaders are left to generalize when trying to encapsulate 2,080 hours of work.
  3. Set Goals that align with the mission – Each meeting and each project review gives you an opportunity to recast the vision, reset expectations, ensure alignment, and (re)empower the team member to be successful.

There is something inherently positive and inspiring about a process focused on the future rather than a fuzzy and generalized review of the past.







Meet With Purpose


Patrick Lencioni writes, “Bad meetings are not inevitable. There is nothing inherently boring or unproductive about meetings. They are the activity at the center of every organization, and should, therefore, be both interesting and relevant in the lives of participants…”  Paraphrased, they are what you make of them so why not make the most of them.

Do you find yourself wasting time in meetings?  Are your meetings productive?  Using a sports metaphor, do they help advance the ball down the field?  Surveys of mid-level managers and leaders repeatedly report more than 50% of the meetings they participate in are a waste of time.  There is no malintent here.  Managers or leaders don’t want to waste time and money, and nobody wants to sit through another meeting that doesn’t add value.

So, how do we recognize the value of meetings and not waste time and money along the way?

5 Steps to meet with a purpose:

1.       Assess the cost of a meeting.  We often over invite when creating meeting invitations.  Being cognizant of the cost to the organization is helpful when assessing the attendee list and the value each attendee adds to the meeting.  Harvard Business Review published a Meeting Cost tool to help assess the cost of a meeting.

2.       Don’t over invite.  Think critically about those who need to attend.  Limit the list to individuals who need to present information or take away information and action items.  Courtesy invitations or invites to serve a political purpose are often a waste of time and money.

3.       Limit the time you allow for the meeting.  Managers will often default the meeting to 30 or 60 minutes because those are default settings in their calendar.  This will result in the confirmation of Parkinson’s law, an adage that "work expands to fill the time available for its completion."  A meeting scheduled for 60 minutes will inevitable take 60 minutes even though there were only 20 minutes of substantive content

4.       Publish the agenda ahead of the meeting and assign prep work.  Giving the team something to think about ahead of time will focus their input and guide the discussion.

5.       Start and stop on time.  Our schedules are packed, and we need to make the most out of the day.  One meeting that fails to start on time is disrespectful to those who worked hard to make it to the meeting and meeting that fails to end on time cuts into the attendee’s ability to make it to the next meeting or get back to work.

**BONUS STEP** (I know Gen Y and Z readers are going to hate me for this part)

Ban technology from your meetings.  The only person permitted to use technology of any kind should be the one presenting.  For all of those tapping away on their tablet, laptop, cell phone, know that your professional stock is dropping with every tap.  The studies are clear, and the idea that you are “multi-tasking”  confirms the point.  Multi-tasking is an unproductive folly that many of us try and wear as a badge.  Unfortunately, it disengages us from the meeting, and our valuable contributions might go unspoken.

To validate this theory, I scheduled a three-day strategy meeting with resources being flown in from around the world.  The meeting was high-cost, and I needed the value to exceed those costs.  I noticed several of our most knowledgeable team members disengaged in previous meetings as they “took notes” on their laptop.  I suspected they had more to contribute and I needed to remove the barrier.  I sent two emails in preparation for the meeting.  The first was a detailed agenda.  The second email contained two articles on the effects of multi-tasking and the rules for the meeting.  Specifically, no technology was allowed during our discussion times.  I ordered everyone a personal journal for note taking and handed them out on the first day.

The initial response was shock and awe, but the results were amazing.  It might have been the best three-day strategy session I have seen in many years.  The engagement was up, and the result was a better product, a better process, and better clarity.

Technology is not the problem.  It is merely the opportunity for distraction.  Removing this potential distraction adds value to your meetings.

Simplify The Mission

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Companies are complex organisms.  Living, breathing, and (hopefully) growing entities that can have a lot of moving parts.  Obviously, the larger they grow, the more complex they become.  It’s no stretch to understand keeping a single proprietor on course is easier than keeping a company of 10,000 individuals rowing in the same direction.  Systems and processes are helpful in the effort, but I’m going to make it even easier.  It is all about the simplified mission.

Complex missions or battle plans are very difficult to execute over a long period.  The more you grow and the further you get from the point of origin, the more difficult it becomes.  Lines get blurry, moving parts get added, and the distribution of resources changes the lens.  It gets fuzzy and difficult to know if you are on course.  Google’s original mission will always strike me as something special, and their success is evident.  Google set out to, “organize the world’s information.”  The mission is clear, and every employee knows if they are working towards it or if they have drifted off course.  The mission serves as a beacon in the distance.  Every employee can look up and know if they are on course.

Working in the technology and healthcare space for the last 28 years, I found it troubling that each group within our organization was aiming at a different target.  Engineering was aiming at a time-based target while support focused on keeping the number of “issues” below a self-imposed threshold.  Quality assurance, sales, and implementation each had a different perspective on their role and how they would meet the objectives.  It makes sense that each role had a different skill set and a different function to perform, so they would naturally have different targets…or does it? 

Staying with my healthcare technology example, what if we simplified the mission to, “make the caregiver’s day easier today than it was yesterday”?  Now let’s see what that does to the team.  Design and development now focus on software with one goal in mind; making the caregiver’s day better.  Support is no longer worried about an arbitrary number.  They are focused on resolving a caller’s issue so the caregiver can get back to providing care to the patient.  Implementation emphases a relational training model that appreciates how the product changes the caregiver’s workflow.  The focus on “making the caregiver’s day better than the day before” becomes the unified mission of every group.

5 Steps to a simplified mission

1.       Survey the team to understand the current mission as seen through the group’s view.  Do not assume their understanding of the mission is consistent with yours or with other teams.  It is important to appreciate how each team sees their role, as it will provide excellent perspective as you attempt to simplify the mission.

2.       Total market domination is an obvious macro-mission, but what does it take to get there?  An open and honest discussion of the simple measurements is important.  In the example above, it was, “develop a product the nurses or caregivers will use.” That was the key to design, development, implementation, support, and sales.

3.       When you think you have simplified it to the lowest level, you probably have two more levels to go.

4.       Train leaders on the simplified mission and allow them to develop the metrics used for their respective teams.  The mission will be the same. However, the metrics may be different for each group.

5.       Demonstrate the conviction to the simplified mission by constant and consistent reinforcement from all levels of leadership and management.

A simplified mission means everyone in the organization can ask, “did I make progress towards the mission?” on every task, every project, and every day.