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    Entries in performance (53)

    Wednesday
    Feb152017

    I know he has the title, but is he believable?

    I'm sure you've seen reports of the numerous large and some high-profile organizations that are altering or outright scrapping traditional, ratings-centric performance management processes to move towards a more nimble, flexible, and frequently centered around coaching and development. More forward-looking as opposed to scoring the past as it were.

    While the actual results of these new, 'no more ratings' performance programs have so far been mixed at best, it does seem likely that this trend will continue for a little while longer anyway. And one of the by products of these kinds of programs ironically enough, is the generation of more 'perfomance' data, not less, or at least more than in a traditional annual review process. In these new programs, check-ins, kudos, 'real-time' feedback comments, 1-1 meetings, and even micro bonuses or awards will be happening all year long, will need to be soted, assessed, and made sense of in order for these programs to deliver on their goals - namely improved business and individual performance.

    I was thinking about this when reading about how one firm, Bridgewater Associates is taking this idea of high-frequency, real-time, and highly data driven approaches to employee performance and development to an incredibly detailed level. 

    You should read the entire piece, but here is a snippet from Business Insider piece that sheds a little color on how the firm uses data points on 100+ traits to rate, evaluate, and assess their staff:

    Every employee has a company-issued iPad loaded with proprietary apps. One of them, called "Dots," contains a directory of employees and options to weigh in on various elements of each person's work life, categorized in values, abilities, skills, and track record.

    There are more than 100 attributes in total, but the collections of attributes are customized to roles in the company, in the sense that an investor's performance would not be measured according to the same traits that would be used to measure a recruiter's performance.

    Employees are free to use Dots whenever they'd like, when they want to praise or criticize a colleague for a particular action.

    The numerical value of these Dots is considered along with performance reviews, surveys, tests, and ongoing feedback and averaged into public "baseball card" profiles for every employee. The profiles get their name from the list of attributes and corresponding ratings, the same way a baseball card would list something like a player's batting average accompanied by a brief description of their career.

    These are then brought into play in meetings where decisions are being made. Using their iPads, colleagues will vote on certain choices, and in the system of believability-weighted decision making, each vote will have a weight depending on the individual's baseball card and the nature of the question.

    "A person's believability is constantly relevant," Prince said. "In a meeting, it is relevant to things like how you self-regulate your own engagement in a discussion, how the person running the meeting manages the discussion, and in actual decisions. At all times a person should be assessing their own believability so that they can function well as part of a team."

    There's a lot to unpack there, and I am fairly sure that this kind of pervasive, detailed, transparent, and for many, scary, kind of performance/evaluation scheme would not work at most places and for most people. But I think there are (at least) two key features of this system that any organization should think about in terms of their own performance processes.

    The first is that the 'Dots' app has the ability to collect, synthesize, and make sense of the many thousands of data points that are generated each year for every employee. So that these interactions, assessments, and bits of feedback are not wasted, or pass off into the ether shortly after they are created. In this way the firm continues to build valuable intelligence about its people and their capability over time. 

    And secondly, this information is taken into account when decisions are being made. So that if you have built up credibility over time on a particular subject, your opinion or vote on issues related to that subject carries proportionally more weight than someone less experienced or believable on that issue, regardless of position or title. This data-driven approach to 'Who should we believe about this?' helps the firm guard against 'loudest voice in the room wins' trap that many organizations fall prey to.

    Really interesting stuff and while maybe being a little too extreme (and disciplined) for most organizations, the Bridgewater approach to performance might give you at least a general idea of where we are heading - a place where every employee action, interaction, and decision is logged, rated, and contributes to their overall profile. And where that profile is taken into account when decisions need to be made. 

    Good stuff for a Wednesday. Have a great day!

    Wednesday
    Nov302016

    When the feedback loops get shorter, the performance process can get ruthless

    Quick foray into the world of sports, (Shock!), for a look at what can happen in an organization, and their view of what is unacceptable employee performance, when feedback loops, (or review periods if you like), get shorter and shorter. Kind of like what seems to be happening in many large organizations who are moving away from annual performance reviews/ratings and toward more frequent, regular, lightweight, feedback loops.

    The back story is from the University of Oregon, who yesterday terminated their head football coach Mark Helfrich after four years in charge, (and four years as essentially the #2 person in charge), and a impressive 37- 16 win-loss record as the head coach. From the USA Today article titled Mark Helfrich's firing sends chilling message to coaching trade:

    (After a loss to arch rival Oregon State), Helfrich met Oregon athletics director Rob Mullens to discuss his future Tuesday night and left the meeting without a job. Internal discussions about the football program began before Saturday’s loss, according to USA TODAY Sports. Since Saturday, Helfrich had been in coaching purgatory, with two feet straddling the line between retention and dismissal.

    There is something far bigger than just Helfrich at play at Oregon, which in the past two decades has grown into one of college football’s elite programs. First as the offensive coordinator and then as head coach, Helfrich deserves recognition as a key figure behind the Ducks’ surge.

    But this is about more than just Helfrich, and the reach of Tuesday’s decision extends far beyond Oregon.

    If you’re a college coach, take note: If Helfrich can be fired after one losing season, two seasons after the finest year in program history, after coaching the program’s only Heisman winner, with an eight-figure buyout — so can anyone else.

    A few things to unpack here, especially if you are not a fan of or at least familiar with some big trends in college athletics in general, and football specifically. The sport at its highest levels - think Alabama, Ohio State, Texas, and yes, even Oregon - has become a high-pressure, big-money endeavor for that set of 40 or 50 schools that choose to compete at that level. They invest enormous resources in facilities, recruiting, support staff, and they pay their coaches, especially head coaches, astronomical salaries.

    And in exchange for making these massive commitments of the school's resources, the administration expects to recoup that investment in revenue from broadcast and cable TV contracts, ticket sales, donations, and whatever else they can get their hands on. But to maximize those revenue streams, the football team needs to win lots of games, consistently, and every year. And that is where the feedback loop idea comes in.

    Let's take this back to the Oregon situation and the recently fired Helfrich. From 2009 - 2012 Helfrich was the Offensive Coordinator (the most important coach aside from the head coach) on teams that went a combined 46 - 7, including reaching the national title game in 2010. In 2013, Helfrich was promoted to Head Coach following the departure of former Head Coach Chip Kelly to the NFL and the Oregon team proceeded to go 11 - 2, 13 - 2, (with another national title game appearance), 9 - 4, before stumbling this year to a disappointing 4 - 8 record.

    So in eight years in 'executive' level positions with the Oregon football program Helfrich had what amounts to one bad year, this past year when the team struggled, and had its worst season in some time. In the past, and really the not so recent past, university administrators would look at that kind of record and see what has been, largely, fantastic performance. There may be only 3 or 4 other programs in the country who have won more games in that 8-year span than Oregon. But, and this is a big but, Helfrich's (and Oregon's) worst performance in some time was this past year, and since Oregon's, (and probably lots of other schools as well), window for performance evaluation is compressing, Helfrich was let go.

    Seven years, (with three as head coach), of impressive results. One 'not acceptable' year. And you're gone.

    No probation, no warning, no 'performance improvement plan'. Just, 'Thanks for your service. Take care.'

    Look, I don't feel that bad for Helfrich. He (and every other big time college coach), makes a ton of dough, and sort of gets that all of these jobs are pretty tenuous and often kind of cruel.

    But why I think it is important to consider is that a few years ago Helfrich's performance and contribution to the success of the organization would have been assessed with a wider angle lens. He certainly would have in the past been given at least one more season to try and 'right the ship', and return Oregon back to its expected winning standards, (standards he himself had a large part in creating with his coaching).

    But as the performance and feedback time horizon for college football coaches has contracted, 'What have you done for me lately?', then Helfrich's 'review' didn't really take into account, nor give him much credit for his efforts over his 8-year tenure at Oregon.

    I think this same kind of compression is one of the potential dangers for organizations who are moving towards more frequent, and real-time performance management and coaching kinds of schemes as well. As these windows shrink from what typically was once per year, the opportunity for HR and business leaders to get subjected to recency bias is much more present. If we are all being evaluated much more often, the chances of any given evaluation to be negative are much higher - even for those folks who would average out to be 'good' or 'really good' performers when considered over a longer time horizon.

    We all have bad days. Bad weeks even. Maybe a project we didn't really do the best with. But that may be one project out of 27 we wlll work on this year. In the past, one or two bad projects would more or less get lost in the wash of 25 other good ones. But when we move to a process that demands we assess performance pretty much all the time, then those one or two bad projects are going to stick out, be remembered, and probably carry more weight in the aggregate than they should.

    Helfrich had one bad year out of eight. In today's world of college football that is enough to get you fired.

    I guess the real question is how many bad days are you allowed to have in your job until you get fired too?

    Thursday
    Nov032016

    Feedback

    Semi-frequent reminder as we all continue to push further and further into a world with constant, varied, and often very, very imperfect and uniformed feedback on almost everything we do, (I took an Uber ride last night from the airport to a hotel, I can only wonder what my driver was thinking as he 'rated' by performance as a passenger), that lots of the feedback we encounter is basically, crap.

    Take a look at the image below, courtesy of the grapheine design blog on some potential client feedback if the classic French Tournee du Chat Noir poster which advertised a Paris cabaret theater was submitted today: (click HERE for a larger version of the image)

    Just because we have better and more accessible tools to give each other, our organizations, and other organization's products and services more feedback, (and have that feedback be publicly available), doesn't mean that we, any of us, have somehow gotten better at giving and receiving said feedback.

    As the image above describes, even classic, iconic works of art and design could be picked apart by less experienced and talented folks who by virtue of position in an org chart or on a project team feel compelled to pass their judgement on the effort of others. 

    I am certainly not saying that having access to more forms and volumes of feedback is a bad thing, I am just reminding you that 'more' doesn't equate to 'better', at least not all the time. 

    Le Chat Noir probably doesn't need any improvement. Your last work project might not either.

    But if there are people in the organization who are pit into a position where they see it is their job to give you feedback, then feedback it is you will receive. 

    Hopefully, it won't be the kind of feedback that compels you to alter your masterpiece either.

    Monday
    Oct172016

    It's not too early to start planning next year's vacation

    Even though it is only mid-October, I found myself spending a decent amount of time this past weekend thinking about 2017 vacation plans. It could be that I am still a little tired from coming off the recently concluded HR Technology Conference, which is for me the busiest week of my year and am still in needing of some R&R. Or it just could be, and now that I think about it I am sure it is this, that if I don't take some active and purposeful steps pretty soon to lock in some vacation plans for 2017, that I run the risk of not actually making it happen at all next year.

    Why? Why do I think it necessary to try to plan out some time off 5 or 6 or maybe even 9 or 10 months from now? That seems a little ridiculous. I mean, I normally take a very short term view on life. I don't like to commit to things or events too far in advance, as something ALWAYS comes up. Heck, I don't even buy green bananas any longer. Who has that kind of time to wait? Sure, buy this banana today, and MAYBE it will be ready to eat by Thursday.

    The main reason I think to start thinking about and planning next year's vacation now, or at least soon, is that if I don't, and I suspect many of you will be in the same predicament as well, (my USA readers anyway), is that the vacation just won't happen. American workers leave a RIDICULOUS amount of unused vacation days on the table each year. A recent study released by the folks at Project TimeOff, (they maybe should change their name to 'Project We Never Take any Time Off'), concludes that as many as 658,000,000 paid vacation days were left unused by American workers in 2015.

    And this unused glut of vacation days comes at a price, to both the workers themselves, (I suppose 'ourselves'), and the organizations as well. From the individual's perspective the benefits of disconnecting from work are real and they are readily apparent - the need to decompress and break away from what is for many a busy, stressful workplace, the chance to spend quality time with family or friends, and even the added and often unexpected benefit of generating new or interesting ideas to solve workplace challenges with the burden of the day-to-day temporarily removed from your mind. And for organizations, they clearly are better served by a workforce that has the opportunity to get away from work once in a while, to recharge, and who generally return from their break more engaged and more energized, (and often with new ideas and perspective). Add in the estimated $272 Billion liability of unused vacation time sitting on American companies balance sheets and you see for organizations there is also a tangiible financial benefit to employee's actually using their vacation time. 

    So why don't American workers use more of their earned vacation time? 

    The Project TimeOff study offers a few reasons, but the most prominent one boils down to organizational culture - most managers do not encourage staff to take time off, over 60% of managers themselves don't take their allotted time off, most leaders don't encourage taking vacation either, and employees (and managers), don't feel secure enough that needed work can get done if they are off on vacation. 

    It all adds up to the situation mentioned above, 650 million unused vacation days and pushing $300 billion of vacation liability on the books.

    What can be done about this to reverse these trends? A few, simple things really. Make sure your people are not punished, (or feel like they might be otherwise negatively impacted), by taking time off. Make sure that 'taking time off' is part of the normal year-end or year-start planning and goal-setting processes for every employee. Do your best to stave off the 'hero' mentality in so many workplaces that seems to equate 'time spent at work' with 'high performance' or dedication. There are a few more suggestions in the The Project TimeOff study which is a good, quick read, and I encourage you to check it out, and especially show it to your managers of people as well, they may not realize the influence that they have on staff.

    So is it strange that in the middle of the first month of the 4th quarter of the year, often the busiest of times for many organizations and workers that I am pitching for you to think about next year's vacation? 

    Sure. 

    But if you don't, or if you put if off to a time when you are not so busy, (whenever that is), ask yourself when you will actually take the time to plan for the time off that you know you need. The data shows that most of us are not very good at doing that.

    And once I get my travel plans set, I will be sure to gloat about them here.

    Have a great week!

    Tuesday
    Sep202016

    Learn a new word: Fault Tolerance

    Why does your car continue to run if one of the tires goes flat?

    How was Sully able to still steer and point the plane, eventually landing in the Hudson River, when both of the plane's engines had lost power?

    How are our organizations able to (more or less), carry on when something goes wrong, or someone fails to get the email, or Jerry in accounting just screws up?

    It's called Fault Tolerance, and it's today's entry in the wildly popular 'Learn a new word' series. First, some definitions from our pals at Wikipedia:

    Fault tolerance is the property that enables a system to continue operating properly in the event of the failure of (or one or more faults within) some of its components. If its operating quality decreases at all, the decrease is proportional to the severity of the failure, as compared to a naively designed system in which even a small failure can cause total breakdown. Fault tolerance is particularly sought after in high-availability or life-critical systems. The ability of maintaining functionality when portions of a system break down is referred to as graceful degradation.

    fault-tolerant design enables a system to continue its intended operation, possibly at a reduced level, rather than failing completely, when some part of the system fails. The term is most commonly used to describe computer systems designed to continue more or less fully operational with, perhaps, a reduction in throughput or an increase in response time in the event of some partial failure. That is, the system as a whole is not stopped due to problems either in the hardware or the software.  A structure is able to retain its integrity in the presence of damage due to causes such as fatiguecorrosion, manufacturing flaws, or impact.

    Why does fault tolerance matter?

    Obviously it matters a ton in complex, mission-critical technologies and machines that rely on hundreds, if not thousands of components, connections, and systems. If every time a single failure point in a car or a plane or in a power delivery grid caused the entire system to crash and become inoperable, then, well, we would hardly every drive or fly anywhere and we'd be sitting in the cold and dark in our houses most of the time.

    As the sage Bender once said, 'Screws fall all the time, sir. The world is an imperfect place.'

    But why does falut tolerance matter more generally?

    Because I think we don't spend nearly enough time thinking about what will happen when something goes wrong in our organizations, or in our lives for that matter. Even just thinking about bad things happening is so unpleasant for folks that we tend to underestimate the chances of them happening, and undervalue the impact when they do happen.

    But the engineers who design systems and processes and machines with the idea of fault tolerance in mind seem to have come to terms with the inevitability of bad things happening - like both engines going dead on a jet plane, and have proactively designed the system response to such failures. 

    Put more simply, they know something is going to go wrong, because something ALWAYS goes wrong. The trick is knowing ahead of time not just that something will go wrong, but how to prepare the rest of the system and people and processes to not allow the thing that went wrong to crash the entire system.

    Something always goes wrong. In your car and in your semi-annual budget task force. 

    Be ready instead of surprised next time. Think about fault tolerance and what it means for your shop.