Category Archives: Performance Feedback

Your Customer is Not Your QC Department

“You cut your lead time from six weeks to four weeks. Higher throughput with the same number of people, with the same equipment, in the same facility, you lowered your cost. You shifted from just getting the orders out the door, to a consistent, predictable system. And that’s when your troubles began?” I was curious.

“Yes, we were certainly focused on our systems,” Arianne continued, “but we had to match a competitors warranty. We figured, no problem, but we were wrong. We had our cost-to-produce down, but our warranty returns went through the roof. Everything we made up in cost savings went right back out the door in warranty repairs and replacement. We had a quality problem.”

“Pace and quality,” I said softly.

“Yes, our throughput was quicker, but it just meant we were making mistakes faster.”

“What did you do?”

“We were relying on our customer to be our Quality Control department. Bad move. We had to retrench, put inspections after each major step, so if we had a problem, we could identify it before we made another thousand parts. We tracked everything on white-boards. We didn’t make it to six-sigma, but enough quality improvement to make a big difference.”

“So, finally you got organized, accelerated your throughput, beat your internal quality standards. It must have been a proud moment,” I encouraged.

“Not really,” Arianne replied. “That’s when the rug got pulled out from under.”

That’s the Problem with Results

“That’s the problem with our results based system,” Audrey explained. “As his manager, I have to sit around and wait for the results to come in. If they don’t, I am supposed to be quick and decisive. Chop him off at the knees.”

“You sound like it doesn’t work out sometimes.”

“More than sometimes. There are almost always outside circumstances that impact results. I can have someone doing a great job, but some circumstance spoils the party. Even though they were doing a great job, they get a (2) on their performance appraisal.

“Or even worse,” Audrey continued. “I have a supervisor, who is really doing a lousy job, but they get lucky, the goal gets achieved, so they score a (5).”

“And?” I prodded.

“And, now my boss says we have to cut overhead, somebody has to go. I have to pick the lousy supervisor with the (5) and let go the good supervisor with a (2).”

Judging Effectiveness

“Is this person working as effectively as someone in the top half of the role or the bottom half of the role?” I asked.

“Sometimes they struggle, so I will have to place them in the bottom half,” Anna replied.

“And in that top half, are they working as effectively as someone in the top, middle or bottom third?” I pressed.

“Yes, top third, no question,” Anna was sure.

How could Anna make this assessment so quickly?

Every manager always maintains a running intuitive assessment of the effectiveness of each team member. Anna had been making this assessment ever since she became a manager. But until we broke it down, she had no way to express it.

Today kicks off our next Subject Area in Working Leadership Online – Time Span and the Personal Effectiveness Appraisal. Let me know if you would like a Free Introductory Membership.

Hooked on a Feeling

“How do I know?” Jonas asked. “I have a team member who wants a promotion, but I am not sure if they are ready.”

“How long have you been this person’s manager?” I asked.

“Eighteen months. In direct supervision, I’ve seen the good times and the bad times.”

“And who is your manager?” I continued.

“Brian,” Jonas replied. “And I have talked to Brian about this. As the Manager Once Removed (MOR), he has an interest in this person. He is always scouting the organization for talent.”


“And he is not sure either,” Jonas explained. “That’s my dilemma.”

“So, your team member feels that he would like a promotion, you feel like you aren’t sure and the MOR is interested, but feels the same way. Are you going to make this decision based on feeling, or on facts?”

“I don’t know. I don’t have any facts to go on. This person does well enough in their current role, but this promotion would be a different role. I would hate to make the promotion and have things go wrong.”

“I will cut you some slack,” I nodded. “Most managers make promotion decisions based on feelings. That is why they often don’t work out. Get your feelings out of this decision. A promotion decision is a matter of managerial judgment. Managerial judgment is not a feeling. What facts do you know that you can base your judgment on?”

Jonas shook his head. “This person has never performed any of the functions in this new role.”

“Without giving this person the promotion, can you test their performance in some of the functions? This is important. Take your time. Build the case with real evidence of performance. Then make your judgment.”

The Myth of Results Based Performance

“I’m curious, though,” Jonas was thinking out loud. “As we create these tests for Rudy, to determine his capability in longer Time Span tasks, I am wondering how long this assessment period will take? If we test his capability on a 12 month Time Span task, does that mean we have to wait for the results after 12 months to make our decision? We base our Performance Appraisals on results. In fact, we hired a consultant to come in to develop our Results-based Performance Appraisal System.”

I held back, all but the glint of a smile. “Interesting question. Many companies proclaim an undying commitment to a results orientation. Management For Results. But let me ask you this, Jonas. When you observe a 12 month Time Span task, do you have to wait 12 months for the results to determine whether the person is being effective in the position?”

Now, it was Jonas’ turn to smile, as he shook his head from side to side. “No, you don’t. You can tell way before that.” Jonas stopped, then continued. “I wonder about our system of Performance Appraisals. Perhaps instead of Manage for Results, we should Manage for Effectiveness?”

Managing Effectiveness

“Why now?” I asked. “Why this sudden interest in Performance Management?

Patricia had pulled a file with the job descriptions for her team. But my question stopped her. “I just feel like things are coming back. I look at 2010 and see some upside coming our way. I can’t go back to the way things were before,” she stated flatly. “Some things have to change around here.”

“What changes do you have to make? What do you have to do?” I asked.

“Some real work,” she replied. “I have to sit down and really think about what I want my team to accomplish. These job descriptions describe, but they don’t talk about goals. I feel like I need to start over, from scratch.”

“Starting over, really looking at the productivity you need from each role in the company is a big job. Are you sure you are up for that.”

Patricia nodded slowly. “It’s a matter of necessity.”

Next Monday, we kick off our next series in Working Leadership Online, Time Span and Effectiveness. This subject area looks at the roles we create for our team members and how we go about making managerial judgments on effectiveness. If you are new to the concepts of Time Span, you will never see your team the same way again. It will help you make your decisions about who will play what role by asking three critical questions.

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Did I Just Say That?

Patricia settled in to work on the first dilemma of her Performance Management system, Where to Start.

“Your first gripe about that HR website system was that it wasn’t relevant to the roles of your team. How are you going to change that? Not to make it more relevant, but absolutely relevant? What are you going to hang your hat on?” I asked.

“Instead of a generic form from the website, I was thinking about basing the system on our job descriptions.” As the words came out of her mouth, she scrunched her nose. “Did I just say that?” she realized.

“Yes, what’s wrong with using your job descriptions as a cornerstone to your Performance Management system?”

“I am not sure our job descriptions are much better than the stuff we got off the website. We haven’t updated them in a couple of years and no one really looks at them.”

Nothing Really Changes

Patricia wasn’t happy with her company’s Performance Appraisal system. She was clear about the reasons why.

  • One size appraisal forms don’t fit. They are often irrelevant for the role under review.
  • The suggested rating criteria are general, vague and can be interpreted in different ways. The discussion is centered around what the rating criteria means or doesn’t mean, instead of what happened.
  • The Performance Appraisal system is centered around an annual discussion, designed to cover events ranging across an entire year, without any supporting documentation other than a person’s memory.
  • The Performance Appraisal is a backward looking process.
  • Most actions that come from the Performance Appraisal discussion are corrective in nature. Fixing weaknesses instead of building on strengths.
  • After the Performance Appraisal discussion, nothing really changes. Any impact, good or bad, usually fades within a few days. Maybe after a few minutes.

I congratulated her analysis. “Job well done. Most people won’t sit and write these things down. With this analysis, we can make some headway.”

Patricia smiled. “Thank you.”

I smiled. “So, now the work begins. Your challenge will be to take each of these reasons and create something new. Your new Performance Management system has to address each of these issues, especially the last one. I want to see something that truly creates meaningful change.”

Patricia had some work ahead of her.

Bored With This One

“I talked with some of the other managers,” Patricia explained. “No one likes our Performance Appraisal system.”

I nodded. “Tell me more.”

“Here’s the thing. Sure, we get together informally on a daily basis and talk about what is going on. But to sit down formally once a year to evaluate someone isn’t very productive. Even if I could remember something that happened earlier in the year, what’s the point. It’s water under the bridge. And most of the scoring questions are about things that I don’t think are relevant for most of our positions.”

“Then, why did your company select the format from this website?” I asked.

Patricia smiled. “Because no one wanted to take the time to really think this thing through. No one wanted to volunteer to create something more effective. Over the years, we have had six or seven different evaluation systems. And every couple of years, somebody says they are bored with this one or that one and we change. No one has ever liked any system we have ever had.”

Things Don’t Fit In the Box

I was asked to stop by and visit Patricia. Apparently, she had fallen behind in her managerial responsibilities to conduct performance reviews with her team members.

“Why the long face?” I asked.

“You were sent by the enemy,” she joked.

“Yes, and the enemy wants to know why you are resisting the performance appraisals for your team members.”

Patricia paused and slid a form across her desk. “They got this off of some website. We’re supposed to use it as the basis for these performance appraisals. Seems like a big waste of time.”

“How so?”

“Three reasons,” she replied.

  • The form doesn’t specifically apply to the task assignments my team works on.
  • It asks me to rate things on a scale from (1-5). But it leaves me in the dark as to what a (2) means. Or a (4).
  • I have to write down some comment on any rating that is not a (3). It’s easier just to rate everything a (3), but what’s the point?
  • I know if I show this to my team member, it’s just going to start an argument.
  • The instructions tell me to think about situations from the entire past year and describe them in this little box. Things don’t fit in the box.

“That’s five things,” I observed.

“Sorry, I just got carried away.”