Archives for February 2014

Dumbing Down Performance Reviews

I’m tired of people who talk about getting rid of performance appraisals.

It seems like every time you turn around there’s another article in the New York Times or Forbes arguing to do away with them. The usual reasons are that managers hate doing them, don’t do them in a timely manner, and that they have little connection to the work being done.

In an ideal world, managers would manage performance throughout the year, offer timely and consistent feedback, and ensure that both goals and feedback were aligned with and supported organizational goals. I think we can all agree that if this were done throughout an organization, it would have a positive effect on employee engagement, morale, productivity and the bottom line.

You may also think this is about as likely as an ostrich winning the Kentucky Derby.

So it seems the go-to solution is to shelve performance management and evaluations completely. But since when do we stop doing something that we know can be good for business just because it’s hard and our managers don’t like it?

This is what I call the dumbing down of performance management.

How about instead of complaining about performance management practices and how poorly they are executed, we start doing them right? How about training our managers to do their jobs better because managing people is the most important part of a manager’s job.

Let’s start holding managers accountable for properly completing their responsibilities. If we make performance management a significant element of the managers’ performance appraisal, you know they’d make sure they did this better instead of just complaining about it.

An organization I worked with created this incentive. Completing effective performance management was a full 25 percent of the manager’s overall rating. Managers had to complete a defined list of activities throughout the year to demonstrate their support and adherence to the program. Included was attending a one-day program on managing performance followed by a half-day program on delivering feedback.

One key simulation was delivering a less-than-stellar appraisal to a technically adept employee who lacked the strategic skills to function as part of a team. While the “employee” achieved personal goals, he failed to support the manager and other staff. Based on this, the manager could not give an overall “meets standards” to an employee who had reached all his quantitative goals.

By emphasizing the importance of performing all aspects of the job to managers, they were then able to impart this to employees. Communication, feedback and performance improved at all sites.

If an organization is serious about improving performance, it needs to send a clear message that it’s serious about performance management. This means taking the following steps:

• Have a visible champion among senior management, someone who has the respect of his or her peers and a reputation for getting the most out of the staff.

• Implement a rigorous, year-round performance management process that clearly outlines the steps a manager is expected to complete at every step of the process. No “check the box” forms.

• Train managers on how to follow and implement the process. The best tool is useless, even dangerous, if people don’t know how to use it.

• Monitor both managers’ and employees’ compliance and support of the process.

• Measure the performance of the departments and their productivity as an indicator of the success with which the manager has implemented the process. Departmental performance is a more accurate indicator of a manager’s performance than the performance of any one individual. It also creates better teamwork within the department.

When a process like this is in place and adhered to, you’ll see a marked improvement in the organization’s performance.

So instead of complaining that performance appraisals don’t work and are a waste of time, put that same energy into developing a plan that improves performance appraisals. Let’s start doing them right.

About the Author:

Ronald M. Katz is president of Penguin Human Resource Consulting, which delivers training and consults on performance management. Reprinted from Talent Management Magazine

The Power of Counterintuitive Thinking in Leadership Development

Some things in life are counterintuitive. The Mpemba Effect is one of them. Writer Mike Williams observed in Science magazine that “One of water’s lesser know properties is that hot water freezes faster than cold water. It is not fully understood why, but the phenomenon, known as the Mpemba Effect, was originally discovered by Aristotle over 3,000 years ago.”

A more recently observed and widely recognized counterintuitive puzzle is what is known as The Monty Hall Paradox. It’s loosely based on the 1960s-70s daytime TV game show, “Let’s Make a Deal,” and is named after its longtime host, Monty Hall.

During the show a participant would be asked by Hall to pick one of three doors to open, and would be awarded the prize hidden behind the door selected. One of the doors concealed a prize of great value (like an expensive vacation), while behind the other two were prizes of low value (like a live goat).

But before opening the participant’s selected door, Hall would open up one of the other two doors, revealing a low value prize. The participant was then given the option to stay with the door originally selected, or switch to the other unopened door.

Standard thinking suggests that it doesn’t matter whether the participant switches doors. The common belief is that, with a car behind one of the remaining unopened doors and a goat behind the other, the chances of getting the car are 50/50 no matter which door is chosen.

Those participants who employed that thinking paid a price.

In fact, statistics show that it always made sense to switch doors. As Alex Stone described it in Discover magazine, “If you switched, the only way you could lose was to have originally picked the door with the prize behind it. But the odds of that were 1 in 3, while there was a two-thirds chance that the prize was behind one of the other two doors. So switching was the same as betting that the first guess was wrong — which it probably was.”

An ability to accept and embrace counterintuitive concepts like these is important to leaders because they face a similar paradox in their own careers. A commonly held belief is that the process of developing leaders must begin by finding and fixing their weaknesses. That belief is built on the underlying assumption that their performance is limited by their weakest competencies.

Because the level of the lowest competency sets the bar for any leader’s overall success, so the thinking goes, that competency needs to be improved and the weakness fixed. Great organizational effort (and often, pain) is undertaken in discovering and communicating these weaknesses to leaders. In turn, leaders are expected to work on these weaknesses to get them fixed.

Weaknesses Don’t Make Leaders Exceptional

Having leaders focus their development on their weaknesses is a traditional approach, widely accepted, but not very effective. This is because great leaders are differentiated by the existence of profound strengths, not the absence of weaknesses. Focusing on fixing weaknesses may elevate a poor leader up to average, but it never made any leader exceptional. Great leaders distinguish themselves by possessing and exhibiting significant strengths in areas that are important to their jobs. They don’t stand out because they’re perfect and have no weaknesses.

In fact, the commonly held belief that the existence of weaknesses will necessarily limit a leader’s job performance is a serious misperception that has taken many leaders down the wrong development path.

A quick way to observe the fallacy of that logic is to consider some of the world’s greatest leaders and take a quick inventory of their strengths and weaknesses. Whether they stood out in military, political, scientific, commercial or other roles, it’s easy to develop a list of the profound strengths that set these leaders apart. They delivered exceptional results because they brought exceptional and easy-to-spot capabilities in areas that really mattered.

However, it’s also usually well-known that they weren’t perfect (think Ulysses S. Grant or Steve Jobs). It’s likely that a list of weaknesses could be easily developed, too. It would be rare to find outstanding leaders who had none. But the key to these great leaders’ successes was their extraordinary strengths — ones so exceptional that the existence of some weaknesses didn’t hinder their overall effectiveness and achievements.

For these reasons the most effective development approach for most leaders is to build a few profound strengths that will help them stand out in competencies that matter. If successful, those they lead will focus on and appreciate their abilities and not their disabilities.

The path to this strengths-based approach starts with leaders selecting the right competencies to develop, and that requires some important insights in three areas. Identifying where these three areas overlap will help leaders make the right selections:

1. Their current competency strengths. Building on an already solid foundation is the quickest and most effective way to develop profound strengths. Open, honest and direct feedback (most often through a 360-degree survey of the leader’s manager, direct reports, peers and others) can help leaders understand where they stand and which competencies can most likely and quickly be developed to an exceptional level.

2. The competencies that most matter to the organization. The skills and behaviors critical for success to a supply-chain executive in an established global manufacturer may be very different than those important to the CFO of a startup technology firm. It’s important for leaders to develop profound strengths in competency areas that will have the greatest impact on their jobs and most matter to those they lead.

Building a capability in a less-relevant job area is likely to neither matter nor be noticed by others. Understanding what’s important to the organization is also efficiently done through a survey specifically designed for that purpose.

3. The competencies that most matter to them. Developing themselves and improving others’ perceptions of their leadership capabilities can be hard work. Leaders should consider which competencies are most important and interesting to them. Working on something they enjoy and consider essential to their own futures will feel more like a positive personal challenge than negative, weakness-centered drudgery.

The result is they’ll often find themselves working harder and more consistently on their development plans. Their own passions are an important element for leaders to consider when selecting competencies they want to build into profound strengths.

An Exception: When to Focus on Weaknesses

There is a situation where leaders should temporarily defer their focus on building strengths and instead focus on fixing a weakness — that’s when the weakness is both profound (and not merely a “rough edge”) and is a competency that’s critical to the leader’s job or career success. This type of weakness potentially represents a fatal flaw and it’s found in roughly one-quarter of the tens of thousands of leaders the author’s firm has assessed and trained.

Leaders can assess whether they have a fatal flaw by looking at the overlap of two measures. The first is the existence of strong negative feedback in a specific competency area. This is commonly reflected in a low 360 feedback score, but a leader may also learn about it as a result of informal negative feedback from colleagues, in more formal performance reviews or in other settings.

When this kind of negative feedback overlaps with the second measure — a competency assessed as critical in the leader’s current job — it could indicate a fatal flaw. In some situations a leader may receive strong negative feedback, but in a competency area not important in the position. It’s likely in these cases that the leader doesn’t have a fatal flaw, and focusing on fixing that weakness may have a limited impact on overall success.

The ultimate test of a possibly unhealthy fruit tree is to inspect the fruit it produces. A similar type of inspection can help a leader confirm the existence of a fatal flaw. The ultimate indicator of a fatal flaw is being passed over for promotions, failing to be considered for growth opportunities or failure in the current job. If these are shown, it’s likely there are one or more fatal flaws actively offsetting any positive impacts from the leader’s strengths.

Looking at the cases of two accounting executives can help illustrate the difference between a fatal flaw and a less serious weakness. In both cases the executives are exceptional, efficient accountants, but neither is seen as being a powerful, effective communicator. In one case, the executive leads a team responsible for efficiently producing standard accounting reports for internal use.

Is not being a great communicator a fatal flaw for this executive? Probably not — it’s unlikely to result in job failure. In the other case the executive is responsible for not only understanding the accounting reports, but also for communicating and positioning the financial results to the board of directors and external investment community. Not being a great communicator probably is a fatal flaw for this executive.

Like the Mpemba Effect and the Monty Hall Paradox, for many people the idea of building on strengths to develop leaders is counterintuitive. But as George Washington Carver once wrote, “When you can do the common things in life in an uncommon way, you will command the attention of the world.”

The leadership corollary is that when leaders can do the important things in their jobs in an exceptional way, they will command the attention of those they lead and the rest of the organization. Now that’s not a paradox.

About the Author:

Bob Sherwin is chief operating officer of Zenger Folkman, a leadership development firm.  Reprinted from Chief Learning Officer

Instructional Design: Career Tips for Thinking Beyond the Storyboard

What’s the difference between an instructional designer (ID) and a lead or senior instructional designer? It’s more than simply having more knowledge of design principles and learning theory.

In reviewing job listings for senior IDs, I observed that some of the additional skills that hiring managers require are the operational and business aspects of instructional design including:

  • Working collaboratively with the team and across the business
  • Working on complex, multi-deliverable projects
  • Providing consultative services and leadership
  • Contributing to an environment of innovation and overall excellence

These skills aren’t typically part of an instructional design graduate program but are critical to progressing to the top of the field. In this article, I’d like to offer some tips on developing these business skills, specifically as they pertain to instructional design.


Collaboration is critical to creating a stellar learning program. A design culture of spontaneous brainstorming, quick stand-up meetings, and cross-pollination of ideas is ideal for innovation. Organizations like Citrix, Proctor & Gamble, McKinney Advertising Agency, and others have dedicated valuable office real estate to creating open work spaces for teams to brainstorm.

These unconventional, flex spaces may contain movable seating and whiteboards, markers, flipcharts, post-its, pipe cleaners for fidgety hands, construction paper, crayons, and more. Fun virtual environments like Google Hangouts work effectively as well.

Learning-project teams are creative and are eager to contribute to a project as early as possible in the life cycle. A lead ID is in a good position to set the stage for this kind of collaboration and to cultivate it.

Complex Projects

The most extensive eLearning projects have a high value to the organization and a high number of learners. Managers often task lead instructional designers with these top-tier projects. Complex projects require a big-picture focus on outcomes as well as the ability to zoom in on project details, so effective communication skills are vital.

Consider creating a formal pitch communicating your proposed learning solutions (after team brainstorming of course) to your supervisor, stakeholders, and subject matter experts (SMEs). Include data to support your ideas, as well as visuals, maps, and prototypes that help explain the creative concepts.

Provide a road map that shows how the solution will enhance motivation and how you will measure effectiveness (e.g., usability testing, pilots, observations). Post-pitch, collect feedback and revise. Collaboration with and agreement from multiple parties at key milestones is the best way for the entire team to feel ownership and to set the project up for success.

Consultative Leadership

What is a consultative

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leader? Jim Hornikel, director of training and development for Bold New Directions, states:

“There are two main sides to this practice: incoming and outgoing. To be consultative invites the incoming. You are aware your team members have lots of experience and knowledge that, if you garner it, you get lots more information to work with in making your critical decisions. A consultative leader also consults. That is, you have important information to give to your team members, and they will be more effective if they have your information to work with.”

Instructional designers who exhibit consultative leadership:

  • Maintain a focus on the greater good—on the learner, and on how well the learning program will help achieve the organization’s business goals
  • Develop relationships with stakeholders as well as internal project teams
  • Embody a can-do attitude and practice creative problem-solving
  • Share what they have learned with others through formal or informal mentoring
  • Ask important questions that no one else does
  • Set expectations and provide role clarity


At Weejee Learning, we like to spark our internal brainstorming meetings by asking, “Wouldn’t it be awesome if…?” Wouldn’t it be awesome if this initiative was driven by user-generated content? Wouldn’t it be awesome if we could build an entire campaign around this program including movie-trailer videos and incentives? Wouldn’t it be awesome if we could produce an interactive video? Wouldn’t it be awesome if we created an augmented-reality game using transmedia storytelling?

Today’s technologies enable unlimited possibilities for innovation and fun. Seek out ways you can make learning engaging. Look not only within the training industry but also to other fields such as film making, music, and

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advertising. Stay curious!

About the Author:

Tracy Bissette is teaching a six-week Guild Academy course beginning February 26, The Business of Instructional Design. To learn more or to register, visit

Reprinted from Learning Solutions Magazine

Orkin Embeds Workflow in Learning Initiatives

Pest control services company Orkin, LLC, needed its employees to leave the classroom prepared to perform the job. In response, Orkin University integrated several emergent methodologies and technologies (embedded workflow, flipped classroom, Orkin Global Learning Network, and mobile tools/resources) into its newly revised Commercial Sales curriculum.

Why the change?

In 2012, account manager turnover was at 47.26 percent, at a conservative annual cost of $750,000. This presented Orkin University with an excellent opportunity to add value by improving account manager retention and increasing sales.

Flipping the Classroom

Orkin University uses the flipped classroom approach to provide learners with the sales and technical concepts prior to class. Within the flipped classroom framework, learners are given e-learning modules, engage in live broadcasts with instructors via the Orkin Global Learning Network, and go through structured on-the-job sales activities, all of which are outlined in a provided Performance Checklist.

When learners arrive to class, they’re already familiar with the Orkin Sales Cycle; they have the necessary technical knowledge; and they can find most of the sales tools and resources available to support their sales efforts.

Each learner receives a unique case study for a customer in a specific vertical industry on the first day of class. As the class progresses through the Orkin Sales Cycle, students apply what they are learning via role-plays, programmed activities in simulated environments, and other exercises using their assigned case study.

Instructors provide iterative guidance to students at each phase of the Orkin Sales Cycle. Thus, learners receive specific and adaptable feedback throughout the embedded workflow activities.

On the last day of class, the learners deliver to their case study “customer” a customized, consultative proposal, incorporating a solution that includes a bundle of service options. The proposal includes all the information the learners gathered from the simulated service environment activities, and is delivered utilizing a combination of the sales tools available (such as an iPad presentation app, digital pictures, Floor Level Inspection Report, and an electronic graph of the customer’s location). Both instructors and learners use an observation rubric to grade the proposal.


After integrating the feedback from the instructor and the class participants, learners return to their branch location and deliver a revised proposal to the manager. The manager uses the same observation rubric to evaluate the learner’s performance. The learner does not graduate from class until his or her manager returns the graded rubric to the instructor.

This technique allows Orkin to involve the manager and introduce new tools, resources, and techniques to managers without backgrounds in sales.

Finally, the learner takes a proposal he or she recently delivered to a customer and presents it via Adobe Connect to the class instructor 60 days after class. This allows Orkin University to execute a Level 3 evaluation and see how well the learners are applying the skills they learned in class to the job.


The learners have responded exceptionally well to this new blended and embedded workflow approach. Orkin already has seen a 91.28 percent improvement in retention for new hires, representing $772,000 in savings since introducing this program.

Reprinted from Training Magazine

3 Ways to Leverage Online Mentoring

With today’s technology to build just-in-time learning for immediate impact, leaders can leverage online mentoring programs to empower individuals with technical resources to strengthen their skills. Since most people are turning to the Web to get answers, why not capture, organize and structure the best resources on the Web for easier and smarter access?

That is exactly what some organizations such as pharmaceutical company Santen Inc. and talent assessment company TalentMine are doing to become more efficient. By documenting lessons learned in a search and drill-down approach, these organizations are better able to prevent reinventing the wheel. For example, there should be a standard programming technique for summarizing clinical data that can be copied from a template instead of completely rewriting the program.

Successful online mentoring programs welcome users with an easy-to-navigate menu system and a built-in cross-reference index. To customize online mentoring systems, leaders can capture their employees’ favorite websites, images, structure and knowledge. With a click of the mouse, new employees can access process flow charts to show technical details.

Ideally, mentoring programs generally consist of three components — leveraging experience with job aid guides, indexing best practice resources, and using forums and frequently asked questions. Within the organization, industry experts build and maintain consistency and direction of each component.

1. Leverage experience by creating job aid guides, or summary cheat sheets, to prevent reinventing the wheel. For the computer programming industry, for example, five programming e-guides were created to contain chunks of technical information in a logical and concise format with internal and external hyperlinks for cross-reference.

In these e-guides, along with real-world programs as examples, images are included to help associate each program task such as data access, data management and data analysis.

Research has shown that visual images with drill-down capability simulate how our brains process large and complex data. Based on a small informal survey of pharmaceutical industry professionals during a typical work week, there may be up to 80 percent of tasks that are repetitive in some form that require detailed steps to be followed in sequence. A checklist helps to assure that not only all steps are completed, but in the expected order.

Instead of trying to remember all of the key details, why not document and translate the tasks to more meaningful instructions from employees’ perspectives? Not only will this simple technique increase their success rate without making any mistakes, but they will then start to gain insights into how their routine job can become more creative by automatically remembering key details, identifying suggestions for improving the process and expanding their knowledgebase to learn more.

Leaders know that these job aid guides serve as an extension to departmental standard operating procedures. For example, to standardize the technique to read data, it is more efficient to click on the e-guide, then do an online search for the data access section to display programming code that can be copied.

2. Master the fundamentals. Most everything requires having a thorough understanding of the basics before advancing. With information overload on the Internet, there is no reason for professionals not to access this often free information. By building an online personal productivity platform, professionals can take advantage of free resources for their professional advancement. Smarter leaders take advantage of tools to help their employees access their favorite technical websites and images in their personalized structure along with capturing their knowledge.

For example, in most industries, there should be available a collection of top papers from conferences, articles or blogs. Within the online system, by organizing papers into employees’ meaningful categories, employees are better able to use them when they need them most.

With popular membership-based and social bookmarking websites, just about anyone can create a robust website full of links to relevant papers for any topic, product or service. In addition, often there is flexibility to add images, videos and insights to enhance understanding.

Continuous education and certification training should be scheduled regularly to reinforce, for example, applications of techniques and software options. Having a mentor with industry-related experience can drastically reduce the learning curve and fill in gaps to higher productivity.

3. Collaborate with peers. By actively participating in professional forums or blogs within the mentor system, for example, members can post their question or issue by category for other members to contribute their suggestions. This simple process not only stimulates the members to jog their memories, but also builds camaraderie within the industry. Often if members have experienced a related issue, they can offer potential solutions.

Often, members can get all this advice for free and usually within days without an appointment. By building friendships and expertise within their industry community, members too will be able to continue sharing tips based on their experience. Once a knowledge base is established, then searches can be performed against frequently asked questions for easy reference.

Usually, employees have common questions that can be shared and updated as needed. Solutions to these FAQs can be linked to papers or references for more details.

About the Author:

Sunil Gupta is the best-selling author of “Sharpening Your SAS Skills,” a global corporate trainer and founder of and Gupta Programming. Reprinted from Talent Management Magazine

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