The Best Performance Review I’ve Ever Seen

Ditch the old way you’ve been doing things and get back to basics.  Performance metrics should set your standard, so people will do the things you actually want them to do.

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Boy, have I seen a lot of performance reviews.  They’re basically the same things over and over.  And we get an inordinate number of questions from clients asking for “a sample performance review template” they can emulate in their own business.  Many executives have always managed and evaluated this way, to say nothing of how we pay and promote.

Yet in the past few years away, there’s been a shift away from performance reviews, which is completely understandable.

Performance reviews don’t work because we don’t ask employees what they do to advance our organizational and managerial goals.  We’re not specific enough.  So maybe I should revise that comment accordingly: Performance reviews don’t work as they’re currently devised.

The Importance of Expectations

My experience is that most e­­mployees do pretty well at hitting objectives if they know the specifics that are expected of them.

But here’s the problem: Managers and executives do a lousy job of setting expectations.

Think about it: If employees are going to be evaluated based on attendance and productivity, they deserve to understand why.  “Why do I need to be on time?  I get my work done, so why does it matter?”

Businesses do a great job of creating volumes of requirements for employees; there’s seemingly a rule for everything.  But why?  How do those requirements help us reach our individual goals?

Subjective vs Objective

The CFOs of the world tell us that performance reviews are necessary because they’re objective. When we attribute numbers to the results, we objectively give raises and bonuses and measure performances.

This ideology buys into what I call The Myth of ObjectivityTM.  Of course, everyone (especially CFOs) would love to see performances broken down into averages, medians, and charts.  But that’s not objective.

When a manager reviews an employee’s performance, what really creates the difference between a 3.5 and a 4.0?

Answer: nothing.  Therefore, the rating system isn’t objective after all.  And since it’s subjective, it basically defeats the purpose of having a performance review to begin with.

(Yes, I know that ratings can effectively motivate salespeople and workers with repetitious jobs such as manufacturing, but the latter will disappear soon, due to AI and robotics.)

The Best of the Best

The CEO of at an insurance brokerage firm in Pasadena, CA, wrote the best performance review I’ve ever seen.  I was sitting in a meeting with the CEO and his executive assistant, and we were reviewing our punch list.  I could tell the CEO was getting a bit impatient, so I made this suggestion: “Let’s take a break. My team can finish everything on our own.”

Greg brightened up after I made my suggestion, and asked his assistant, “Remember what your performance is based on?”  She nodded.

Now he’d piqued my curiosity.  “What’s your performance based on?” I asked her.

“My performance and salary increase are based on the number of times Greg gets to golf every month,” she said.  “If he plays at least eight times a month, I get a good performance review and a 10% salary increase at the end of the year.”

Then it hit me.  It was the perfect performance review!  I know many HR veterans are undoubtedly recovering from their fainting spells, but hear me out:

  • The criteria were clear.

Melissa understood exactly what was expected of her, and she was easily able to repeat her goals.

  • The goal was measurable.

Eight rounds of golf per month (or 96 per year)

  • It advanced the executive’s goals and objectives.

Greg wanted to golf. It was a personal goal, and it was important to him.  [Pro Tip: If you want people to do something, incentivize them.]

  • It allowed a talented person to innovate and work autonomously.

For Greg, it didn’t matter how Melissa got him out on the golf course, just that she made  it happen.  So her performance wasn’t tied up in minutiae; it was solely focused on the end result. In other words, she had permission to do whatever she needed to do to get him golfing.

Melissa became a more effective assistant, because every interaction she had factored into that goal.  And she was a much more effective gatekeeper.  (“Does that person really need to have a meeting with Greg, or can I handle it?”)

Summary

Rethink your 15-page form for performance reviews.  What do you truly want that person to do?  What’s the end goal?  Can’t we simplify things, and make our objectives attainable, measurable, and real?  The answer: Yes, we can.  But then the question becomes, “Are we willing to break through the mentality that We’ve always Done It This Way?”

Over the next decade, businesses who are willing and able to change are going to become winners. Your formula for success doesn’t involve being stuck in the past.

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Forbes List Fail

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Recently, Forbes unveiled its newest list – “America’s Best Small Companies 2010”,which led me to wonder: What criteria did the magazine use to determine the “best small companies”? 
Instead of taking a thoughtful, comprehensive approach to this process, Forbes chickened out, took the lazy way out, and insulted all small business owners and those of us who work with them.  And, in the process, Forbes embarassed themselves.  Their list should have been called “America’s Best Publicly Traded Small Companies Based on the Best Earnings Growth and ROE in 2010,” because that’s what the list really is.  What it decidedly is not is a list of Americas Best Small Companies.
Someday, Forbes will realize there’s more to a successful – or “best” – company than a stock price.  But that’s probably too much to hope for.
First, Forbes excluded millions of small businesses by requiring that candidates: “…for our list had to be publicly traded for at least a year, pull in annual revenue between $5 million and $1 billion, and boast a stock price no lower than $5 a share.”  That eliminates a lot of companies – there are about 27.5 million businesses in the United States, but only about 6,500 are publicly traded.  There are also thousands of successful small businesses that earn less than $5 million in revenue, but are profitable nonetheless.  (In any event, the $5 million threshold was an illusion; the company on the list with the lowest revenue was Nevada Energy, with $29 million in sales).
But, we’ll cut Forbes a break here.  They probably didn’t want to research millions of companies, and it’s a lot easier to measure publicly traded companies, since their financial reports are naturally made available to the public.
But that’s where the breaks stop.  For Forbes imperically decided the only attributes that comprise a “Best Small Business” are:
  • earnings growth;
  • sales growth;
  • return on equity in the past 12 months and over five years; and
  • stock performance compared with that of its peers.
Say what?
Long-term, sustainable success in business – especially small business – is based not only on financial terms, but the quality of a company when it comes to such crucial areas such as:
  • employee satisfaction and productivity;
  • customer satisfaction and loyalty;
  • how well a company benefits its community and strategic partners as well as its vendors. 
Satisfied employees are always more productive; becoming an employer of choice takes a combination of corporate values, compensation, challenging work, a good environment and the opportunity for personal and professional growth.  Businesses measure this all the time through Employee Satisfaction Surveys, or 3600 Surveys.
Customer satisfaction and loyalty – also easy to measure and benchmark – were not included as criteria by Forbes.  Why?  Because this list was clearly intended not to be the “Best Small Companies in America” – but actually a tip sheet for short-term investors and traders. 
I’m not suggesting that financial measurments be eliminated when determining a best small company – it should just not be the only measurement.
Values play a significant role in successful business.  How an owner’s values permeate throughout the workforce is essential to long-term success.  Having and implementing long-term values such as quality of product and service; commitment to clients and customers; appreciation and understanding of the workforce creates a culture where the “best” truly comes out. 
It’s ironic, then, that Forbes on one hand says, “we dropped companies that are thinly traded and those with fuzzy accounting or major legal troubles,” and on the other hand names Medifast as the #1 Best Small Business in America.  Medifast, as you might know, is in the middle of a major lawsuit in which Fraud Discovery Institute accused the company of “ … pyramid-style selling – is unsustainable and will lead to a revenue trajectory similar to other multi-level marketing companies: dizzying initial expansion followed by lackluster revenue or worse…..”
Whether these accusations are true or not – they are illuminative.  If Medifast is indeed one of “America’s Best Small Companies,” won’t they still be there in 2011 when the lawsuit is behind them?  Why rush?
If you’re a day trader looking to make a quick buck – the Forbes list might be just right for you.  If you’re looking companies to emulate or model as a Best Business – Forbes is out of answers, and this list is one epic fail.
Follow Eric Swenson on Twitter: www.twitter.com/managingpeople.

Employees First

Dave Berkus is an accomplished speaker, author and angel investor.  He provides common sense advice to all businesses through his blog, Berkonomics.

His recent post deals with the frustrations of business owners who perceive that government regulations always favor employees.  His advice?  Recognize the realities of the times.

He’s right!

Workplace Litigation Trends Report

This is the 7th year that Fulbright & Jaworski has surveyed senior corporate counsel regarding litigation.  I’m focusing on the responses that affect businesses – and selecting those answers.  The results are illuminating!

In which area is there the most litigation pending in the U.S.?

Contacts: 53%
Labor & Employment: 49%
Personal Injury: 27%
(participants could pick more than one type)

In which area has there been the greatest increase in multi-plaintiff cases whether they be class, collective action, or significant multiple plaintiff action?
Wage & Hour: 46%
Labor Union: 13%
Age: 11%
ERISA: 10%


[What types of cases] will see the greatest increase in 2011?
Discrimination: 39%
Wage & Hour:35%
Labor Union: 17%

ERISA: 5%

Ten Truths for the Boss

Anyone who’s read this blog over the years, or who knows me personally, is aware that one of my heroes is Michael Josephson.  Mr. Josephson has commented for years on the relationships between ethics and successful, sustainable business models.  One of his greatest radio commentaries discusses “10 Truths for the Boss”, which I’ve put here:

Why is it that most employees think their bosses are at least a little out of touch? Probably because they are. Even those who worked their way to the top lose some credibility and effectiveness because they don’t recognize what I call Ten Truths for the Boss:

  1. The more certain you are that “it can’t happen here,” the more likely it is that it will. Be careful about overconfidence and complacency.
  2. There are lots of things you don’t know, and lots of people who hope you don’t find out. Hardly anybody tells you the whole truth anymore. Information is filtered through the fears and career aspirations of subordinates, and many employees believe you will “kill the messenger” if they deliver bad news so they tell you what they think you want to hear.
  3. To those who want to please you, your whisper is a yell and your comments are commands. Be careful, people may do foolish things to please you.
  4. What you allow, you encourage.
  5. There’s never just one bad employee; there’s the employee and the manager who keeps him.
  6. At least someone who works for you is “gaming” the system so they appear to reach their business objectives with smoke and mirrors rather than real achievement.
  7. According to the law of big numbers, if you have lots of employees, you probably have a few crooks and psychopaths working for you.
  8. Few people think as highly of your ethics as you do.
  9. No matter how many good things you do, you will be judged by your last worst act.
  10. No matter what your job description says, what matters most is how you manage relationships and people.

The Josephson Institute of Ethics website is here.

To follow Mr. Josephson on Facebook, click here.

To follow Mr. Josephson on Twitter, click here.

The Art of Persuasion

It’s always a little strange to see your thoughts in writing – especially if they’re being written by someone else.

I was recently interviewed by students at the USC Marshall School of Business – they are candidates for Master’s degrees in Leadership and Management.  The focus of the interview was how to persuade employees to see your point of view.

Here’s the paper (and I didn’t edit at all!)

Background:  Eric Swenson has over 20 years of experience in management, sales, training and marketing. He has managed hundreds of employees and interviewed over 2,000 people in his career. RSJ/Swenson LLC is a management and human resources consulting firm with offices in California and Nevada.

Interview Summary: Eric shared his insightful thoughts about the leadership and persuasion. For Eric, persuasion is a natural process and he prefers soft tactics. He is always honest to his superiors and subordinates. Eric believes that effective leaders are very expressive when they come to everybody. They are very candid and direct and these personal traits play a key role for persuasion process. According to Eric, the three most important aspects for managing up and down are communication, openness, and setting a positive tone that focuses on the end result.

Persuasion Strategies:

  • Self Persuasion: “If you were in my position, how would you handle my problem?”
    • You should let team members identify the solutions on their own. You also remind them why they live in the same organization. This especially helps you deal with some conflicts with your members.
  • Logical reasoning: 
    • You use facts, figures, and belief that your idea is correct. You also consider the goals, needs, and interests of your subordinates/superiors you’re trying to persuade. The more they see an idea can help them, the more likely they are to help you.
  • Persuasion Tactics: 
    • Collaboration: You need to work with your subordinates, not at them, in order to get them to enthusiastically support your requests. You collaborate with team members, rather than using authority. You don’t need to overuse that power. The relationship based on the trust is a key for the collaboration.
    • Communication/Honesty: You should facilitate communication and be very honest to your people.
    • Improving Persuasive Skills: Appeal to the subject’s self-interest: You make it sure that what you need align with their best interests.
    • Present strong evidence to support your views/positions: You do intensive research and show the team members an idea that will likely work.
    • Establish credibility: You’re more likely to persuade your subordinates when trust and respect you. You promise to take the blame if it does not go well. This leads you to build up the trust and respect you’re your subordinates.
    • Make your objectives clear: You should get your team understand what you are doing and why are why you are doing that.

Other key factors:
Decision making is a collective effort: As a leader, you have to be honest to your team members. If you found you made a wrong decision, you would change the decision. There is nothing wrong with admitting a mistake.

California Alternative Workweek Schedules

One of the best ways of improving morale without costs is to consider Alternative Workweek schedules.  Up until January 1, it has been most difficult to implement.  However, California law regarding alternative workweek schedules have been eased somewhat as a result of AB 5.

Alternative workweek schedules allow non-exempt employees in a “work unit” to work in excess of 8 hours per day without incurring overtime. (California law includes a daily overtime requirement.) Generally, an employer may propose AWS work schedules of up to ten hours per day (12 for healthcare workers). Hours in excess of 10 per day, or 40 per week are overtime. Typically employers propose schedules consisting of four ten hour days or a “9/80” schedule. Special procedures describe advance disclosure and a secret ballot election prior to implementation of the AWS.

The AWS can apply to a “work unit” within a company, rather than to all employees. Previously, the Labor Code did not define “work unit,” although state regulations included a definition. The new law defines a work unit as “a division, a department, a job classification, a shift, a separate physical location, or a recognized subdivision thereof.” The amendment also clarifies that even a single employee may qualify as a work unit as long as his job function meets the definition.

In setting up an AWS, an employer may propose a single work schedule, or it may propose a menu of work schedule options for workers to select. Can the “menu” include a traditional 5 day week for those employees who do not want to work longer days? The amended law clarifies that the menu options may indeed include a regular schedule of five eight-hour days in a workweek. Consequently, employees who do not wish to work an AWS schedule may still vote in favor of the AWS by choosing to work the regular 8 hour day. This change greatly increases the odds of achieving the 2/3 employee supporting vote need to implement an AWS.

Additionally, the new law specifies how often employees may move from one schedule option to another on the menu. For example, if an employee opts to work four 10 hour days, how frequently can he opt to go back to regular 8 hour days? As amended, Labor Code § 511 allows employees to move from one schedule option to another on a weekly basis.