When I was a kid we would play ‘horse’ with a basketball. One strategy was to take shots we knew we could make (“lay-ups”)and to outlast an opponent with consistency. A second strategy was to take low-percentage shots (“long shots”) on the theory that, if you do make the shot, it will be very difficult for your opponent to also make it. Setting goals is a bit of a horse game too. Some people take the first approach and set easy goals. There are two problems with that: First, easy goals at one level of the organization get rolled-up into easy goals higher in the organization, and before you know it the whole organization is doing easy layups and declaring victory. But the biggest problem with easy goals is that the organization will never find out just how good it is.
The second approach is to set truly difficult goals—some call them “Dream” goals. The key is not to treat them as dreams at all, because unlike a low-percentage basketball shot, a dream goal is accomplished over a time period and can be achieved through skill and determination. And that’s how organizations get better at what they do.
Setting goals should not be the same as playing horse. It’s not about lay-ups and long-shots, it’s about organization growth and leadership resolve.
Microsoft jettisoned its version of “rank and yank” last week; a practice of forced rankings that resulted in internal power struggles and unhealthy competition. Leave it to us humans to take a good idea and turn it into its opposite. A good example is “management by objectives,” Peter Drucker’s idea to improve individual communications, but which has become a stick to assign tasks and get compliance. That was not at all its original intent. Which brings us back to “rank and yank” which was based on a leadership approach promulgated by Jack Welch to communicate a very clear picture of where an organization is going (its mission) and the behaviors critical to getting there (its values,) followed by clear and candid feedback about how well each person is helping the organization. Nice, except the forced ranking of people got all the attention instead of the original intent. The same is true for performance reviews in many organizations which do nothing to improve performance because the real purpose is to dole out the merit increase budget.
In each of these examples, the real value and original intent were lost. When you launch a new practice in your organization, be vigilant to make sure it’s purpose isn’t hijacked.
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Organizations try lots of ways to increase teamwork among their top group, from team-building exercises and ropes courses, to training and outings. In most cases, these don’t result in operating improvements because the group at the top isn’t a team, but a committee. The difference is more than semantic. In a team, the members are all measured and rewarded on a common goal. They either make the goal or not. Also, they are usually self-directed. Committees are made up of people with different objectives. They share information and resources if it doesn’t conflict with their own agendas and needs. To attempt to build a team in a committee is futile. You can take them out to a social function together, or swing on ropes through trees, or put them through a team building retreat, but when they get back to work, they’ll still be pursuing their own agendas. Instead of teambuilding, maybe what you need is better collaboration, more open communication, or incentives that are based more on overall results.
One doesn’t drive a car by looking in the rearview mirror, so why do that with performance reviews? When a manager emphasizes mistakes, shortfall, weaknesses, and problems, it does not cause an improvement in employee performance. What it does cause is damage to the relationship and bad feelings all around. Many managers know this, so instead they provide unwarranted positives, rating everyone better than average. But that doesn’t help performance either. If you want better performance, and that should be the number one reason for doing performance reviews, then you need to look ahead. Instead of dwelling on the negative past, provide ideas for improving performance in the future. Only by putting the focus on improvements going forward will you see better results. This takes a mindset shift often requiring training and practice. But it leads to immediate and significant benefits for the organization.
© Bob Legge 2013 All rights reserved
If you want more employee engagement, here are key points:
- It is relatively easy to get acceptable performance through fear or incentives. But you won’t get better than acceptable performance. An ‘engaged’ employee will choose to do more because of internal motivation, not external motivation. There are a bazillion studies and books supporting this.
- The key to engagement is providing meaning an purpose to the work. It’s why a powerful mission and vivid vision description is important. Example: Apple’s compensation is no better than similar companies, but they have a mission to improve people’s lives and their employees are always working on the next big thing. Yes, they also attract great people and have a demanding culture, but the difference is meaning, purpose, involvement, and the sense of satisfaction from doing work that makes a difference.
- Pizza parties, t-shirts, workout facilities, and awards help make people happier with their work places. But they don’t engage people to perform at high levels. It’s like cleaning the windshield of your car—it’s nice to do, but it won’t improve performance.
I have worked with clients who have had outstanding results improving engagement of manufacturing operators, social workers, teachers, call center representatives, banking employees, among others. In every case, we were able to improve performance, job satisfaction, and customer service without increasing compensation levels. The key is to focus on the job and outputs, not incentives.