Accepting Uncertainty at GE

RE: GE Re-Engineers Performance Reviews, Pay Practices

So General Electric is going Lean? It’s exciting to hear they have hired Eric Ries as a consultant to shake up the emphasis on Six Sigma. If you’re a Manager Tools fan some of the changes at GE simply match good management.

That’s right: It shouldn’t take 5 months to write your annual review. And yes, the annual review shouldn’t be the linch-pin in your performance management system. You should be getting regular, quick, fine-grained performance insight from your manager and your peers. See Feedback and Peer Feedback.

I chuckled a bit at the comment from Janis Semper saying, “It’s not realistic to expect perfection anymore.” Anymore? Yeah, we should always have high standards. We should be disappointed when we miss them. And managers should know their people aren’t going to be perfect.

I actually interviewed a guy that said he had a perfect track record over decades in software of always hitting every deadline with quality. Maybe it’s me, but that actually made me trust him less. Perfection requires artificiality. (See Ian Malcolm, Jurassic Park — the book, not the movie.) You can’t really hit it. And if you do, how low are your goals?

It’s great to hear GE will be considering giving incentives closer to the time of performance. No more home-runs in February that have to wait until next January for a raise — or similar.

Offering managers the ability to give their employees time off as a reward? That sounds a bit like HR officially blessing what managers are already doing for their people. But I’ve never worked there. Maybe managers really don’t feel they could do that there already.

Overall, GE’s emphasis on learning and improving faster is a great application of Lean principles, and plain old management feedback.

On a snarky note: the peer feedback via a tool sounds just like what engineers would do. “I want to tell Bob he did a great job here, and might want to change this over here. If only I had a mobile application so that I could type that up and send it to him.” Yeah, what about just briefly and respectfully chatting with Bob?

It sounds like the mobile app’s real purpose is to achieve that ever elusive holy grail of performance management: managing my boss.

That’s right, the company is encouraging employees to give feedback to their bosses via the app. And employees are reluctant to do that. Rightly so.

A good manager has a relationship with his directs that allows them to give “insights” to him. But it’s naïve to assume that all of the managers in a company have that relationship. A program that pushes all employees to speak to bosses with an expectation that they will always be heard, never subtly penalized, and that the boss will change her behavior… a bridge too far.

After facilitated group sessions to gather feedback for bosses “the group is expected to hold the manager accountable for changing his or her behavior, through regular check-ins, but it is a work in progress.”

Yeah, that’s not going to work. Not unless the process involves the boss’ boss.

A group of directs can’t manage their boss. And even if it happens once, it’s not reproducible.

If you want the state of management to improve in a company then directors have to manage their managers for it. You can’t delegate that to the individual contributors.

Just my prediction.

So, yes. Please adopt lean. Please give regular feedback, not just once a year. Please collect information on how management can change. Don’t promise that a group can change their manager on their own.

Shrink Annual Performance Reviews

Adobe has abolished annual performance reviews in favor of more frequent, lighter-weight check-ins.  My company has annual reviews but since I became a manager it has been my goal to make those reviews a non-event. That is, I try to have weekly check-ins (one-on-ones) that bite off performance review a week at a time.  Read the article for Adobe’s take.

My own challenges:

  • It can be easy to be too zoomed in during weekly check-ups. So I’ve been adding monthly and quarterly triggers for higher level discussions.
  • In an agile development environment it can be hard to set long range goals.  Each developer is more or less committed to doing whatever comes next off of the backlog. Creating metrics that give concrete feedback while valuing all the important work being done is an enormous challenge. I’ve found that when you do hit on a good metric people are relieved to see the evidence of their good work being recognized.

Thank you to this week’s Mad Sad Glad from Manager Tools for the link.

You may not be able to abolish performance reviews, but if you’re a manager you can shrink them.

Deadlines Are Good

I have been surprised by what I can do under a deadline I was committed to

Of course, I need to pay extra attention to how I’m getting things done. I don’t sacrifice something crucial to finish on time.

And it is that urgency to identify what is crucial that leads to greater insight and performance.

To relate this to Multipliers by Liz Wiseman, the best managers challenge their talented workers to achieve beyond their own beliefs of capacity. Wouldn’t timeline be crucial to creating that challenge? (See Bernstein above: a plan and not enough time.)

Read more of Wiseman’s book to see how she differentiates between “intense” (good) and “tense” (bad). Not all deadlines will lead to great performance.

Still, rather than shy away from deadlines because some can be bad we should ask ourselves how we can use them to challenge ourselves and our organization.

I could write on this for at least another twenty minutes. But my family has already left for the block party and I have a self imposed deadline to get this done before I leave for the evening.

Sure, blowing that deadline might lead to a better post eventually, but in the meantime I’m delivering no value while I polish away.

Being expected to get it done well and quickly is a key differentiator between a professional and an amateur. Is this your craft, or a hobby?

Promoting a Top Responsibility

One of the top five most important things senior leadership do is decide who gets promoted.  There is no test, no ranking, no process that can take the place of deep knowledge of the individual and their strengths, weaknesses, and potential to determine their ability for a future role.

Mark Horstman, Things I Think I Think March 25, 2015

Face the Uneven Dozen

After a couple of months as a manager I had my feet under me enough to look forward to the annual review cycle. The department had raises tied to the review cycle. Deciding how to portion out raises is critical. My time as a developer had done little to prepare me for it.

I anticipated that at least some would always be unhappy. As I considered what I could measure in order to make the process credible and fair I feared that people would resent the measuring itself.

How could I make this looming decision?

Continue reading Face the Uneven Dozen