Zombie Performance Appraisal

Posted by jlubans on August 29, 2017  •  Leave comment (0)

20170829-rsz_1rsz_kgbresize.jpg
Caption: Performance Review, KGB Style

No fan of performance appraisal, I am very much aware that the annual ritual still lurches large in most organizations.
This is so even while there’s no evidence to support the notion it is somehow essential to doing business.
I can even offer personal testimony that productivity in one organization improved after we got rid of Performance Appraisal (PA).
Yet, PA continues.
HR, with a few exceptions, clings to the failed idea and hopes not to eliminate it but to improve it. After all, it is their bread and butter so to speak. It makes for a yearly multi-page document to stick into each employee’s personnel folder. And, that might be considered a sign of HR productivity.
A year ago, NPR reported on the state of PA “Yay, It's Time For My Performance Review! (Said No One Ever)”
and suggested that an increasing number of organizations are questioning the value of PA, at least in its current form.
“What's taking the old system's place? A hodgepodge of experiments, essentially. According to CEB, a corporate research and advisory firm, only 4 percent of HR managers think their system of assessing employees is effective at measuring performance — and 83 percent say their systems need an overhaul.”
Maybe, at long last, questions are being asked:
Is PA really worth the hours involved? Is PA fair? Does fear – "Am I in trouble? Why don't they like me?" – actually inspire the rank and file to higher levels of performance?
Many would respond in the negative to each of these questions.
More to the point, does PA provide a platform for an honest exchange between supervisor and supervisee? Does it allow for an honest and safe discussion of goals, aspirations, and one’s future?
Or, is it more about justifying the PA “system” as applied to the employee. Answering questions like, Why did I get a 7.8 instead of an 8 ranking? Or, What do I need to do to get a 10? What do you mean by “exceeds expectations” vs. “regularly exceeds expectations”? Etc.
Unfortunately, PA lite or improved is sometimes worse than the original classic. Instead of an annual episode, PA now becomes a monthly sit down with reviews of progress toward meeting goals. Essentially in all these discussions, annual or monthly, the individual worker is not trusted to achieve what he or she has said they will do.
Somehow, the perception is that the worker is in need of guidance by a superior. Galling, even for the low performer.
How’s this for a modest proposal? Forget PA, hire managers and leaders who commit to talking with employees and listening to employees, who serve as coaches and advisors (and disciplinarians in those rare cases where the worker has gone astray).
Of course, use factual data in talking about issues, but don’t make it all about metrics. Look at attitude and how the employee is feeling about the job. What is in the way? What could be better?
What risks are you taking? What failures have occurred and what have your learned from them? How would you do something differently?
Of course, if there’s an environment of distrust – as one would expect with decades of rigid PA – it will take some doing to get both parties past defensive behavior, beyond teacher and student roles.
Challenges exist for both sides: “(regular work conversation) demands more time of managers. It can also go too far, making workers feel that everything they say and do is being closely monitored and creating a feeling of being hemmed in.
Ideally, workers should not be too focused on getting high marks on evaluations; they should feel free to experiment and try new things.”

Obviously, the extent of tinkering with PA or preferably, getting rid of it, will depend on the organization’s culture; its tolerance for risk, its encouragement of worker initiative, its allegiance to the way it has always been done, whether it is autocratic or democratic.

b>N.B. My next book, Fables for Leaders, Salem, OR: Ezis Press, comes out end of September 2017, ($26.99) with original illustrations by Béatrice Coron.
ISBN: 978-0-692-90955-3
LCCN: 2017908783
20170825-beatrice_fox.jpg
A Coron Illustration for my "The Proud Blackberry" fable in "Fables for Leaders" PRE-PRINT, 203pp. 2017.

© Copyright John Lubans 2017

Friday Fable. The Chippewa Nation’s “THE THREE CRANBERRIES”*

Posted by jlubans on August 25, 2017  •  Leave comment (0)

20170825-green_berries.jpg
Caption: Green on Green

“THREE Cranberries were living in a lodge together.
One was green, one was white and one was red.
They were sisters.
There was snow on the ground; and as the men were absent, they felt afraid and began saying:
‘What shall we do if the wolf comes?’
‘I,’ said the green one, ‘will climb up the shingoub, the spruce tree.’
‘I,’ said the white one, ‘will hide myself in the kettle of boiled hominy.’ ‘And I,’ said the red one, ‘will hide myself under the snow.’
Presently the wolves came, and the Three Cranberries hid themselves as they had agreed.
But only one of the Three had judged wisely.
The wolves immediately ran to the kettle, and ate up the hominy, and with it the white Cranberry.
The red one was trampled to pieces by their feet and her blood spotted the snow.
But the green one that had climbed the thick spruce tree escaped notice and was saved.”

___________________
And so it can be at work when we need to “judge wisely” when in conflict. To flee or to fight?
This fable is reminiscent of Aesop’s cat and fox pursued by hounds; the overly-cunning fox dies while the one-trick cat survives by scrambling up a tree.
So, OTJ, when a leader wishes to live “to fight another day” – retreating or withdrawing is an option. However, the retreat has to be done tactically.
The white berry’s choice is akin to “jumping from the fire into the frying pan.”
The green berry chooses to find shelter in the spruce tree,
above the wolves, masked by its green branches.
So, in the workplace, the wise follower - in a losing battle - thinks logically and provisionally, and opts to retreat and await a better time to advance her ideas.

*Source: A Chippewa Fable in “Indian Tales and Researches” by Schoolcraft, Henry Rowe, 1793-1864, included in Cooper, Frederic Taber, editor (1864-1937), “An argosy of fables; a representative selection from the fable literature of every age and land”. New York: Frederick A. Stokes Company. 1921.

b>N.B. My next book, Fables for Leaders, Ezis Press, comes out end of September 2017, ($26.99) with original illustrations by Béatrice Coron.
ISBN: 978-0-692-90955-3
LCCN: 2017908783
20170825-beatrice_fox.jpg
A Coron Illustration for my "The Proud Blackberry" fable in "Fables for Leaders" PRE-PRINT, 203pp. 2017.

© Copyright John Lubans 2017

"Leave me alone..."

Posted by jlubans on August 22, 2017  •  Leave comment (0)

20170822-mrbusy-128.jpg
Caption: Better not bug Mr. Busy.

A long-time friend from the book biz sent along an article about Transactional leadership vs. Transformational Leadership.
Essentially, my take away from the article was that the leader you do not like is always transactional (not good) vs. the leader you do like is always transformational (very good).
In other words, how you view the leader is in the eye of the beholder not in actual leaderly deeds.
In my career I have worked with one truly transformational leader. He changed the course of an organization in desperate need and did so for the better.
I can assure you those who lost power in the “transformation” reviled him.
I have worked with leaders who some might claim to be transformational but for me they were transactional, more about minding the store, keeping the place open and running than about innovating, inventing, improving. That was about it.
If improvements were made, they were often traceable back to the days of a previous transformational leader or to external influences.
Far more interesting than parsing transactional from transformational was my friend’s lead in to why he sent me the link.
He wrote:
“ … I've never given much thought to management techniques or approaches…. (M)y personal approach was just ' leave me alone and let me do what I need to do'”
Now, I know my friend to be an excellent representative of any business in which he worked.
He followed up and through, he resolved, he stayed in touch, he was pivotal to making sure the relationship of the customer’s organization with his service organization was strong and smooth.
He took personal responsibility for his work and there was no question about his integrity.
I did note that when he left a company to work for another it was almost always due to heavy-handed supervision. He did a very good job and did not need guidance.
When his view of the market clashed with that of the home office he would seek to resolve differences. If differences remained and became a burden, it was time to move on.
He worked best when left alone.
I responded to my friend’s note: “If you were working for me or with me, I would have had the good sense - and this is what set me apart from countless peers - to let you alone to do your own thing! I called it “letting go” (of those super stars in my shop).
I “knew” in most cases when someone – if turned lose – would do what needed doing. I made a mistake or two but, by and large, my decisions to let go resulted in very positive outcomes for the organization.
“Letting go” was so easy and natural for me, I never could figure out why peers across the business could not/would not. And, when I did let go, it was perceived by some peers as betraying my class or worse.
I did tell my friend there was a downside to my leadership.
While very effective at letting go, “where I screwed up was with the people who should not be left alone. I was too much of a wuss to discipline those needing discipline”, direction and guidance.
If I had to do it again, I would focus more on those needing direction and invest more in helping guide those staff to higher levels of achievement or simply move them into roles that might be more comfortable for them. I did this once quite by accident and that was a revelation to me of how sometimes we blame the individual instead of looking at whether the job is a good fit for that person.

N.B. My next book, Fables for Leaders, Ezis Press, comes out end of September 2017, ($26.99) with original illustrations by Béatrice Coron.
ISBN: 978-0-692-90955-3
LCCN: 2017908783
20170628-rsz_1rsz_fables_cover_half.jpg
Cover: "Fables for Leaders" PRE-PRINT, 203pp. 2017.

© Copyright John Lubans 2017



Friday Fable. The Cherokee Nation’s “WHY THE BEARS HAVE SHORT TAILS”*

Posted by jlubans on August 18, 2017  •  Leave comment (0)

20170818-440px-plate_facing_page_470__an_argosy_of_fables.jpg
Caption: Illustration by Paul Bransom (1921)

“AT first all the Bears had long tails.
One winter day the Bear met the Fox, who had a fine lot of Crawfish. Being hungry the Bear wanted some too: so he asked the Fox where and how he got his Crawfish.
The Fox replied:
‘Go and stick your tail down in the water and let it stay there until it pinches you. The more it hurts, the more fish you will have.’
This was what the Bear had in mind to do: so he proceeded down to the lake and made a hole through the ice.
Sitting over it, he let his tail hang in the cold water.
When it began to freeze, he felt a pain; but as he wanted to catch lots of fish, he did not stir until his tail was frozen fast in the ice.
The Fox's instructions were not forgotten: so he suddenly jumped up in the expectation of getting heaps of fish; but he merely broke his tail off near the body instead.
And ever since the Bears have had short tails.”
______________
One might think this Native American story has nothing to do with cubicle land. How could the duped bear’s frozen tail offer any lessons for the workplace?
Well, who’s that lurking in the background? Mr. Fox. Reynard.
My first “professional” job in the 60s – my title was “Junior Science Librarian”! – was at a famous engineering school.
The president (a “bench” engineer) of that school was convinced automation was a way once and for all to control library costs – reduce the payroll.
In any case, he imposed on the library a former systems analyst (Mr. Fox) who proceeded to tell us all about scientific management and how easy it would be to move from print to full electronic text. It sounded really good and like the bear in the fable we were convinced we’d have more than our share of “crayfish” if we automated.
Cluelessly, we began a huge project of automating the periodical collection. We worked overtime coding forms, punching cards, running tallies, and producing reams of printouts. Ye olde manually typed list would have accomplished just as much in one percent of the time!
That the IBM corporation was just around the corner was not a plus; it was in their interests back then to promote automation of everything.
Soon, we realized just how big a job it was. (It would be several decades before genuine automation would produce benefits.)
Our foxy consultant was hired away by a major library to head up their automation effort – with the same result!
We were left with rolls of flexowriter paper tape, stacks of punch cards and piles of alphabetical printouts. Other than the experience, we had little to show for the thousands of hours of effort.
We kept our tails, but at least two of us had our tails kicked out the door;
one deservedly so, one very unfairly.
I went west to a new administrative job somewhat wiser and less likely to stick my tail into icy water. I began to ask questions.
Two decades later, Illustrative of how bizarre organizational life can be, the engineering school campus named its new library building after the former president.

*Source: Myths of the Cherokee, by James Mooney in “An argosy of fables; a representative selection from the fable literature of every age and land”, New York: Frederick A. Stokes Company. 1921.

© Copyright John Lubans 2017

Followers & Dissenters

Posted by jlubans on August 15, 2017  •  Leave comment (0)

20170815-agreeing-to-disagree.jpg
Caption: Like-minded dissent.

In my July essay on Andris Vilks leadership – he is director of the National Library of Latvia, an organization of over 400 - I linked to an article about sports teams’ captains and their considerable influence on team success.
In 2016, when I asked Andris to characterize his leadership, he responded readily, “as a team captain”.
A long time basketball player, he was invariably the team captain and he preferred that type of leadership to any other. Not “a king and his court”, nor “a general and his army” or “the father of a large family” but a captain of a team.
Sam Walker, the author of the captains’ study, argues that it is not the super stars but the captains – often not the best players - who create and sustain the greatest teams.
In “The Seven Leadership Secrets of Great Team Captains”, he states,
“(the teams) all had just one shared characteristic: Their long streaks of dominance either began or ended—and in many cases overlapped precisely—with the tenure of one player. And in every case, this player was … the captain.”
It may be that the captain – not the coach or the CEO - is the one who sets the team’s “chemistry, that ineffable dynamic that can make or break a team.
Boiled down, Walker’s captains exhibit these qualities:
Work hard,
Break rules when necessary,
Are pragmatic in speech,
Lead by doing,
Think for themselves,
Are relentless in pursuit of goals, and
Exercise emotional self-control.
For me, good captains are like effective or “star” followers in any type of organization.
A “star” follower displays these characteristics: manages oneself – she is a leader in her own right.
The effective follower requires little supervision, even less direction.
And, he is committed to the organization and to a purpose or person outside himself – he is not a narcissist.
The best follower is independent in mind and thinks critically.
She prefers action to being passive or engaging in endless discussion.
However, all is not sweetness and light for the effective follower. Really good followers (not the yes men or those in the sheep or survivor categories) find themselves often at risk.
How can that be? Surely, does not an organization always look for the competitive edge with critical assessment by everyone (not just the MBAs in the C-suite) of any and all ideas?
Let’s return to Walker’s essay, especially how his captains were independent thinkers, unafraid to dissent.
“The captains on (his) list didn’t hesitate to let coaches and executives know when they disagreed with them. But their dissent wasn’t personal. They understood that conflict, when focused on supporting a team’s goals, is not destructive. It‘s essential.”
He gives an example:
In 1980 the Soviet (Russian) hockey team lost to a young USA team. “The Soviet coach, Viktor Tikhonov, had told his players not to point fingers. The story they would tell in Moscow is that they had lost as a team. On the plane returning to Moscow, however, Tikhonov huddled privately with his assistants - and probably a few “political minders” - and began ripping individual players for their failures. Valeri Vasiliev, a veteran defenseman, overheard this critique. He flew into a rage. He rushed over, grabbed Tikhonov by the neck and threatened to throw him off the plane if he didn’t take it back.”
Normally, dissent of any kind in “Soviet times” was punished by exile or worse. Somehow, Vasiliev survived and his teammates, several months later, elected him captain.
Surprisingly, the coach and the Kremlin let the decision stand.
“With Vasiliev as captain, the Soviet team became unstoppable for the next four seasons,” posting a record of 94 wins, 4 ties and 9 losses.
Robert Kelley, who articulated in 1988 a theory on followers, believes that about half the time effective followers are punished for speaking up, for articulating their own viewpoints, for threatening an organization’s complacency.
Consider last week’s outcome for James Damore, the young engineer at Google wanting to discuss - internally - Google’s diversity mandate.
He was fired for speaking his mind, for asking difficult questions. No, he was not proselytizing; he was poking around in Silicon Valley’s Pasture of the Sacred Cows. His doing so was intolerable to many in Google’s like-minded ruling elite.
Supposedly, he was a very good engineer, recruited by Google, which, of course, claims only to attract the best and the brightest.
We will see how Mr. Damore’s “manifesto” plays out.
Perhaps Google will learn that critical thinking is uncomfortable but of great value and may adopt genuine contrarian thought as a practiced and protected corporate value.
Or, it may smugly reassure itself in its “group think” that “We Never Make Mistakes” about much of anything and therefore questions are cause for excommunication.
Is this an extreme example limited only to race and gender?
Hardly.
Go up against the prevailing values and mores of any organization and you will experience first hand why effective followers are an endangered group. And you will begin to realize their value – like Vasiliev and other great captains - to the organization.
Who then, but the leader, can protect dissenters?

N.B. My next book, Fables for Leaders, Ezis Press, comes out in September 2017, ($26.99) and will feature original illustrations by the renowned Béatrice Coron.
ISBN: 978-0-692-90955-3
LCCN: 2017908783
20170628-rsz_1rsz_fables_cover_half.jpg
Cover: "Fables for Leaders" PRE-PRINT, 203pp. 2017.

© Copyright John Lubans 2017

Friday Fable. Krylov’s “THE PEASANT AND THE ROBBER”**

Posted by jlubans on August 11, 2017  •  Leave comment (0)

20170811-rsz_2serov_farmer_pail.jpg
Caption: Not to be. 'Farm Yard in Finland', Oil by Valentin Serov (1865-1911)

“A PEASANT, who was beginning to stock his little farm, had bought a cow and a milk-pail at a fair, and was going quietly homewards by a lonely path through the forest, when he suddenly fell into the hands of a Robber. The Robber stripped him as bare as a lime tree.*
‘Have mercy !’ cried the Peasant. ‘I am utterly ruined. You have reduced me to beggary.
For a whole year I have worked to buy this dear little cow. I could scarcely bear to wait for this day to arrive."
‘Very good,’ replied the Robber, touched by compassion; ‘don't cry out against me.
After all, I shall not want to milk your cow, so I’ll give you back your milk-pail.’”

*”’Bare as a lime tree’ after it has been stripped of its bark, of which the peasants make shoes, baskets, &c.”
________________
We laugh at the wry humor, the grim irony. The farmer’s dream gone pffft. The maid and the cow, alas, not this year.
Organizationally, it’s like being fired without due process and the boss (the Robber) offering to write a letter of reference (the milk-pail).

**Source: Krilof and his fables, by Krylov, Ivan Andreevich, 1768-1844; Ralston, William Ralston Shedden, 1828-1889. Tr. London, 1869

N.B. My next book, Fables for Leaders, Ezis Press, comes out in September 2017, ($26.99) and will feature original illustrations by the renowned Béatrice Coron.
ISBN: 978-0-692-90955-3
LCCN: 2017908783
20170628-rsz_1rsz_fables_cover_half.jpg
Cover: "Fables for Leaders" PRE-PRINT, 203pp. 2017.
Update. The book has been printed as a Riga edition of 30, numbered copies. Ten have been given to friends and libraries in Latvia. The balance will be sent to review media in the USA.

© Copyright John Lubans 2017

Dancing Alone

Posted by jlubans on August 08, 2017  •  Leave comment (0)

20170808-rsz_1dance_alone.jpg
Caption: Making moves at the wedding; alone and happy.

I’ve often thought about what my dance instructor told me about leading:
“On the dance floor, good leaders initiate the movement they want from their partner and then follow the movement they've created.”
At a recent wedding, I noted a few guys dancing alone and having a good time doing it. Somewhat inspired by the open bar, no doubt, still they were doing it their way, creating steps and moves, unhindered and uninhibited.
Well, what about leading in the workplace ritual? We really cannot dance alone, at least not all the time. The leader has to “initiate the movement” among followers and then – here’s the tricky part – follow the movement she’s created. What complicates everything is that those two events (initiating and following) are milliseconds apart. Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers could and did merge leading and following into a beautiful leadership.
The little guy in the picture is going his own way – you can see to the side a horrified little spectator; probably an embarrassed older sister!
Unfortunately, if you are prone to go off and do it on your own, your followers may leave you rejected on life’s dance floor. Or, possibly worse, if your followers do not respond to what you are initiating – channeling Elvis, let’s say - you won’t even want to dance alone – even in the privacy of your kitchen with the sound system blaring - too down to be up.
Undaunted, I say, “Play on!”

© Copyright John Lubans 2017

Friday Fable. Krylov’s “THE ASS AND THE PEASANT”

Posted by jlubans on August 04, 2017  •  Leave comment (0)

20170804-rsz_1rsz_1rsz_11580615-silhouette-of-the-poet-ivan-krylov-walking-in-the-park-illustration-yegor-narbut-the-book-fables-by--stock-photo.jpg
Caption: Silhouette by Egor (Georgi) Narbut (1886-1920) of Mr. Krylov, “Walking in the Park”, 1912.

“A PEASANT, who had hired an Ass for his garden during the summer, set it to drive away the impudent race of crows and of sparrows. The Ass was one of a most honest character, utterly unacquainted with either rapacity or theft. It never profited by a single leaf belonging to its master, and it would indeed be a sin to say that it connived at the proceedings of the birds. Still the Peasant got but little good out of his garden. The Ass, as it chased the birds with all its might, galloped across all the beds, backwards and forwards, in such a manner that it trod underfoot and trampled in pieces everything that grew in the garden.
Seeing then that all his pains were thrown away, the Peasant took a cudgel and revenged himself for his loss on the back of the Ass.
"No wonder! " says every one; " serve the beast right! Was it for a creature of its parts to undertake such a business? "
But I say—though not with the intention of defending the Ass; it was certainly in fault, and it has already paid the penalty—“But I say—though not with the intention of defending the Ass; it was certainly in fault, and it has already paid the penalty—surely he also was to blame who set the Ass to guard his garden.”

__________________
I have been known, in the office, to say some outlandish things. For example, when a worker turns toxic. Well, of course, discipline is needed to set the errant soul on the righteous path, but – here’s the outrageous part – what of the supervisor (or in my biz, the committee) who hired the miscreant? Compounding this, as often happens, is the supervisor’s ignoring the bad behavior.
Should not the employer (supervisor or hiring committee) suffer some consequence for making a poor decision and lacking the courage to do something about it? No, redemption is not to be found in the HR solution of promoting the person to an harmless oblivion or transferring said bad apple to another part of the organization. I won’t get into the obvious details of disciplining the delinquent, but what about the people doing the hiring? A free pass? Or, a demotion?
*Source: Krilof and his fables, by Krylov, Ivan Andreevich, 1768-1844; Ralston, William Ralston Shedden, 1828-1889. Tr. London, 1869

N.B. My next book, Fables for Leaders, Ezis Press, comes out in September 2017 as a PDF file ($3.99) and as a soft cover book, ($25.99). Both formats will feature original illustrations by the renowned Béatrice Coron.
ISBN: 978-0-692-90955-3
LCCN: 2017908783
20170628-rsz_1rsz_fables_cover_half.jpg
Cover: "Fables for Leaders" PRE-PRINT, 203pp. 2017.
Update. The book has been printed as a Riga edition of 30, numbered copies. Ten have been given to friends and libraries in Latvia. The balance will be sent to review media in the USA.

© Copyright John Lubans 2017