Peter Drucker on performance appraisals

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)

Hard conversations

…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.

The switch (2)

“What am I hoping to get?”

Once we’ve admitted to ourselves that we’re doing our work (at least partly) for ourselves, we can think more clearly about our motives by asking “What am I hoping to get from doing this?”

And we’re probably hoping to get several things: the knowledge that we’ve helped someone, the satisfaction of a job well done, that we’ve contributed to solving a problem, or made things a bit better. We might also be hoping to get paid, to be liked and appreciated or admired, to do something we enjoy, or be in a particular place, or spend time with people we want to be with.

Once we’ve uncovered these sources of motivation, we can think more clearly about how we feel about our work and people’s response to it.

“I want to make a contribution”

… is a fine motivation. The next questions are “Who is it for?” and “What do I want to give?” (coming soon).

“I want to be appreciated and admired”

… are motivations that we’re less proud of, but it does us good to notice and admit them, because they’re usually there.

It can be helpful to think about the causal relationship (if any) between these motivations and our contribution. We want to be admired on the basis of our contribution, be it through our professional work, or our kindness as a neighbour. I’m reminded of Adam Smith’s saying:

Man naturally desires, not only to be loved, but to be lovely; or to be that thing which is the natural and proper object of love.”

Adam Smith – Theory of Moral Sentiments

This is to say that we want genuine and deserved affection from the people we serve or work with, not wrongly-placed affection (which makes us feel like a fraud because we don’t deserve it).

Recognising this lets us focus again on the people we seek to serve, and on contribution. We start thinking “If I contribute my skill / care / art / humanity in a way that helps people, I’ll be appreciated. If I don’t, I don’t want to be.”

Thinking clearly about this is a step towards freeing ourselves from feeling hard done by or under appreciated – we’re no-longer doing our work for praise or affirmation (Seth Godin points out that there’ll never be enough of this), but because we want to make a contribution, with appreciation as a byproduct.

And we can go a step further: if we only wanted to be appreciated for our contribution, and we feel that we’ve made a contribution but aren’t appreciated or recognised… does it matter?

“I want to get paid… and maybe enjoy the buffet.”

Can go either way. Do you want to get paid through the nose for doing little work? Then you’re not working with contribution in mind, and you’re right to feel uncomfortable.

Do you want to get paid enough that you can keep doing this? This may be a lot or it may be a little depending on your circumstances. You may need to charge quite a lot – it might feel like a lot when you factor in fair wages, health insurance and pensions for your team… But you’ve made the switch from focusing on money to focusing on contribution, and on keeping on contributing.

It’s possible, of course, that there won’t be a buffet, and that people won’t pay you as much as you need or hope for. For one reason or other, your contribution isn’t worth as much to them as you think it is. You may need to change what you do, or change the story, or change your audience, or change who’s paying… and if you still can’t find a way, remember that you’re focusing on contribution, so the question becomes: “How are you going to find a way to do it anyway?”

Your business model might be “I will work a day job and do this for almost nothing,” because you’re doing it to make a contribution. Which is hard, but possible. There isn’t a necessary connection between the work you want to do, and getting paid ‘enough’ – but by looking at things the right way you might just find one.

The switch (1)

“Who is this for?”

Your work is always for you.

This is true whether we’re working for pay or we’re parenting, whether we’re working on something that’s very obviously for ourselves or giving up time, energy and money to serve others.

Even at our best (most generous, most sacrificial) – perhaps especially at our best – we’re working for ourselves. We give up immediate and obvious rewards or pleasures (for ourselves) for the deeper reward (still for ourselves) of doing something for other people.

And this is fine, and by being honest about it we immediately remove a layer of anxiety about our motivations by answering the question “Am I actually just doing this for myself?” with a straight answer: “Yes.”

This leads us to a far more useful set of questions: “What am I hoping to get?”; “Who else is this for?”; “What am I hoping to give?” and “Where am I focusing my attention?”

Spare 15

What do you do with a spare fifteen minutes?

Quite frequently, I’ll…

  • Continue a Whatsapp conversation
  • Skim the news
  • See who’s been coming to DriverlessCroc
  • Catch the next few minutes of whatever podcast or talk on youtube I’m listening to
  • Read someone else’s blog

More rarely, I’ll…

  • Think about a half-formed thought for a blog post
  • Make a foray onto Twitter, Facebook or Instagram
  • Spare a few thoughts for an email or problem I’m working on in my project (aka “work”)

Rarest of all, I’ll…

  • Think of the next thing I need to do at home
  • Plan a fun thing for my kids
  • Put my mind to the next family holiday

But those last three – and things like them – are keepy uppies for the most important things in my life, and the things that will bring me the most satisfaction.

Time to institute a new habit for those spare fifteens.*

* fifteen minutes here, fifteen minutes there, over a week, a month – sooner or later it adds up to real time.

Tim Sweeney on open platforms and the metaverse (2017)

I feel especially as we’re building up these platforms towards the metaverse, if these platforms are locked down and controlled by these proprietary companies then they’re going to have far more control over our lives, over our private data and over our private interactions with other people than any platform in previous history.

[How are you going to keep the metaverse open] is a central question for the industry and something we think about a lot.

The great thing is that there are a lot of steps in that direction. There are open file formats now… the web was open because it was built on standards like HTML, Javascript, Jpeg – all these different file formats and internet potocols tied together to create an open web that anybody can participate in. It’s the opposite of Facebook or Twitter, which are locked-down, proprietary APIs and services controlled by companies, and you can’t write a client for these applications unless you get their permission.

So if we build the metaverse on top of protocols and all of the major players in the industry are committed to working together to define these standards and maintain these standards, then we can all interoperate as peers, and avoid any one company taking control over the thing, and having a monopoly over not just commerce, that’s bad enough, but also a monopoly over our private data and the ability to probe in really really scary ways into our private lives when we’re being connected through these digital tools.

Tim Sweeney – interview at GamesBeat 2017

A balancing act for leaders (1)

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.

The clothesline paradox

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.