Effective executives usually work out their own unique form of performance appraisal. It starts out with a statement of the major contributions expected from a person in his past and present positions and a record of their performance against these goals. Then it asks four questions:
1) What has he or she done well?
2) What, therefore, is he or she likely to be able to do well?
3) What does he or she have to learn or acquire to be able to get the full benefit from their strengths?
4) If I had a son or daughter, would I be willing to have him or her work under this person?
a) If yes, why?
b) If no, why?
This appraisal actually takes a much more critical look at a person than the usual procedure does. But it focuses on strengths. Weaknesses are seen as limitations to the full use of strengths and to one’s own achievement, effectiveness, and accomplishment.
The last question (4b) is the only one that is not primarily concerned with strengths. Subordinates, especially bright, young, and ambitious ones, tend to mold themselves after a forceful boss. There is, therefore, nothing more corrupting and more destructive in an organisation than a forceful but basically corrupt executive. Here, therefore, is the one area where weakness is a disqualification by itself rather than a limitation on performance capacity and strength.Peter Drucker – The Effective Executive (from in The Daily Drucker)
…aren’t supposed to be easy.
The person you need to have the conversation with might be a peer, a friend, a long-term colleague.
The conversations are uncomfortable in the planning, in the preparation and in the aftermath – often because they highlight your own weaknesses or lay you open to charges of hypocrisy or favouritism, however hard you’ve tried.
But avoiding the conversation will put an even bigger strain on you, your team and your organisation – and possibly beyond. Your reputation, your work and your impact will suffer.
In short: this is your job, and you have to have the conversation.
Have it as close as possible to when you discovered the problem. Prepare, speak clearly and directly, and don’t run away from the uncomfortable feeling of calling someone out or confronting something that’s wrong. Instead hold onto that feeling as a sign that you’re doing you job.
Do your job.
Some types of work that leaders do:
Foundational and Directional Work
This is the vision and values stuff – identifying needs, thinking through the “why” of the project, articulating its importance and sharing the vision and values with those both inside and outside the organisation. This is the work that keeps you and your team and partners focused and on the right track. It’s also often generative work, in the sense that it generates possibilities for your organisation and others, and also generates work for your team. (This can be good or bad depending on the work and the team’s capacity, but long term you can’t live without it.)
Strategic and Managerial work
This is getting into your organisation’s mission – making strategic decisions (or working with others to make decisions) to do with the “what” of how the vision will be achieved, with finding people who can do the technical work (including managing others) and with managing them as they do it.
Management work is also generative in the sense that it turns vision into specific work and jobs to be done (i.e. it generates work), and because good management generates capacity for the organisation. It does this because people are more productive when they are clear about the work that they need to do and supported to do it, and also because good management allows more effective and integrated specialisation, either by type of task or by project.
Executive tactical and technical work
Unless your organisation is big are big or you have a large personal staff, it’s probable that you also have a technical contribution to make: as a consultant helping your team to set up systems, or as a specialist doing a specific part of the team’s work on the ground. This might be outward focused (delivering training and working on products or selling them) or inward focused (things like recruiting, completing accounts and managing inventory in support of your outward goals). This work is executive in the sense of getting things done and shutting down possibilities. Tactical tasks can be ticked off as “done”. It’s generative to the extent that the quality of the work enables more and better work by colleagues or creates a reputation that attracts new partners to the organisation.
“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?”Jesus of Nazareth – The Gospel of Matthew
Some ancient wisdom about the mechanics of criticism and disagreement:
- You’re far more aware of the shortcomings of others than you are of our own. (We spot specks a mile away, despite our blindness to our ridiculous planks).
- Our own shortcomings make it much harder for us to help to handle the shortcomings we see in others. (They distort our perspective, and also make us far less credible sources of help)
- The crucial insight I’ve been reminded of this week is that in most disagreements these mechanics of distorted-perspective work in both directions at the same time. That is, at the same time as we are prone to assume the worst and blow the shortcomings of others out of proportion, they are doing exactly the same thing to ours. We think we’re doing well by allowing for the distortion, but don’t appreciate that there’s often a double-distortion that we need to account for.
A series of questions to help think through disagreements:
- What do I think the problem is?
- How do I feel about my-idea-of-the-problem and why?
- Do these two things seem in alignment, or do my feelings suggest that I’ve got a different problem lurking below the surface?
- What does my colleague say the problem is?
- How do they feel about it and why?
- Ask question 3, but for them.
A colleague recently asked for a small extra allowance for a particular type of overtime. My logical and (to my mind) internally consistent solution was worth significantly more than they were asking – but they repeatedly stated their preference for the smaller allowance. I thought that they were really interested in the financial value of the payment – and was effectively offering more. It turned out (as I currently understand it), they were interested in feeling recognised and valued – and the smaller extra payment with the right frame spoke to this feeling in a way that my solution didn’t.
I saw “This person is always asking for more money.” They saw “This person doesn’t appreciate me.” We might both have been right – but neither of us had things in proportion.
If you take down your clothesline and buy an electric clothes dryer, the electric consumption of the nation rises slightly… If you go in the other direction and remove the electric clothes dryer and install a clothesline, the consumption of electricity drops slightly, but there is no credit given anywhere on the charts and graphs to solar energy, which is now drying the clothes.Steve Baer – The Clothesline Paradox in Co-Evolution Weekly as quoted by Tim O’Reilly in WTF? What’s the Future and Why it’s Up to Us.
The clothesline paradox applies even more sharply to domestic labour, of course: the work of a professional cleaner or child-minder registers as economic activity, but the work we do cleaning our own homes or caring for our own families doesn’t, despite the same work getting done.
The problem is that we come to treasure what we measure, and end up creating incentives that cost us in ways we don’t expect. In the case of the clothesline being replaced by an electrical dryer, it’s pollution. In societies where the norm has become that all adults work outside the home (often incentivised by the state), there’s a cost in the quality of care and in the relational glue that keeps families and societies healthy.
The point for your organisation is there: think carefully about how you measure success. Clayton Christensen has written about how focusing on ‘return on net assets’ leads companies to damage their long-term prospects in the name of short term ‘efficiency’.
In my organisation we measure the overall cost of our program per child served, which encourages us to pay attention to efficient use of resources… but could lead us to find ways to avoid spending money on things like improving the design of our resources or upskilling our team – all of which would make us less effective down the road. (Christensen has also written well on how the wrong metrics can have similarly damaging effects on our personal lives.)
So it pays to be careful about what you’re measuring, and keep your eyes open for the unhelpful incentives that you’ll almost inevitably create. Staying focused on your organisation’s values (specifically about relationships and how you treat people) will help. You can do this by deliberately talking about them, regularly asking how you’re living up to them, and using them explicity to guide you in making decisions.
“Seek out and develop talent.”
“Hire the best people.”
“Recruit people smarter than you.”
“Raise the average.”
Good advice from some of the best business thinkers out there – although Michael E. Gerber has pointed out that basing your business model on highly talented people is going to make it harder and more expensive to run (rocket-scientists and brain-surgeons are hard to find).
But the problem on my mind with all this is slightly different, and it’s this: smart people can get jobs elsewhere.
It’s far harder to build teams and organisations that open doors for the less-smart, or the not-yet-that smart, while avoiding lowest-common-denominator, bad work for bad pay.
Can we build organisations that work for ‘normal’ people, or people who are struggling – and help them to grow, and perhaps to move into (or on to) better, ‘smarter’ jobs as soon as possible?
The spotlight we need to shine on our talk of inclusivity and opportunity is this: Who do we work with? Who do we welcome in? Where do they end up?
The next time you’re working a colleague or partner, ask yourself if it’s possible that you’ll still be working together in ten or twenty year’s time.
If the answer is “I hope not,” think about why – and ask why it is you work with them now, and how you might stop.
But if it’s even vaguely possible that you might be working together for a long time, you’re look at a fellow traveller, and should ask questions like these instead:
- “What will make them want to keep on working with me?“
- “What impact could our partnership have over the next decade?”
- “What will our partnership look like if we both continue to get better at what we do?”
- “How can I help them get better?”
- “How can I make it easier for them to do what they do?”
- “Which bits of my work could I leave to them – or what could they leave to me?”
“Who else could join us?” and “How can we grow our scene?”
We’re always telling stories about who we are, where we’ve come from and where we going.
We tell stories about what’s good and what’s bad, what should be and what shouldn’t. We tell ourselves stories about what’s possible and why and how, and about which things that will never happen, or which things we’ll (or they’ll) never be able to do.
We tell these stories about ourselves, about our organisations, about colleagues and partners and the people we serve, about the context we work in and the wider world.
And we tell them to ourselves, and to and with friends to remind ourselves who we are and who we are together, and we tell them to other people so that they’ll know who we are. We find it easier to trust people who tell the same stories.
Some of the stories we tell are helpful, and some are damaging, and some are true.
It’s a good idea to be aware of the stories we tell because they’re the raw material we use to write the scripts we live by.
Following on from yesterday’s post about supervision, here are some links to Seth Godin on responsibility:
“Use your best judgment.”
Bureaucracies have a very hard time saying this to their staff.
They create an endless series of scripts and rules, procedures that force people to not care. “I’m just doing my job,” which is the precise opposite of, “I see the problem and I’m going to fix it.”
As any organization hits a sufficient size, it will increase rules in order to decrease responsibility. Because they’ve gotten big enough that they no longer trust the people who work for them.
Is that a job you want?
Is that a company you want to hire?Seth Godin
- What are you worried about? Why do you want this person or task supervised?
- How much time and effort will the recording and reporting cost the person being supervised?
- How much motivation and goodwill?
- Is the supervision actually going to happen the way you think? How much time and effort will reading the reports, checking the output, meeting with the person being supervised cost the supervisor?
- Who will supervise the supervisor?
- What other costs are there?
- Besides the supervisor knowing what’s going on, what positive things will come out of this?
Accountability is necessary, and supervision can be helpful… but a lot of the time it isn’t. And the cost of supervision is often far more than we think in terms of time, mental overhead and money.
If you can’t do it well, and if the benefits don’t significantly outweigh the costs, don’t do anything until you’ve found a better way.