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Performance Management Moneyball

data screen

I’ve been following NBA basketball pretty intently for thirty five years. These days I watch games in high-definition on any one of a number of devices via an online streaming or on-demand subscription service the NBA provides me. You know who else is watching that same footage and has access to the same stats and more in real time? The players!

We probably couldn’t see it in 1982 because of collusion with broadcasters or just the terrible quality of analog broadcasts in the 80s but players were probably smoking and drinking on the bench during games. Maybe they were trying to blend into 80s society? I can’t say they were for sure as I wasn’t there but I can’t say for sure that they didn’t. In 2017, modern players all sit each with their own individual tablet device provided by the team with close-to-realtime videos relating to their own performance, accompanied by statistical breakdowns on the team generally and them specifically. No one is smoking or drinking and if anyone so much as opens a bag of skittles, they’ll likely get fined and sent to make an appointment with a counsellor, then attend a restorative justice session for any members of the team who were emotionally triggered by the insensitivity.

Kiwi Steven Adams is doing well in the NBA for the Oklahoma City Thunder. He, and we, could simply assume so based on his recently formalised nine-digit contract. A nine digit contract!? I barely have that many digits on my hands. Salary in pro sports, as in any other job, is no real gauge of performance. As pro rugby players do, even in little old New Zealand, Adams wears a device within his uniform as he runs up and down the court and it measures much more than the official game stats and transmits that information to where it is automatically and instantly collated and compared and returned as multi-media reports to Adams, his coaching team and the management, who ultimately sign off on contracts.

There is a correlation between easily measured metres run and success at basketball worthy of reward. It’s not everything. If he was a disruptive influence in the team, talent notwithstanding, he could be cut or traded. A Lakers player who thought it would be hilarious to tape one of his teammates confessing to cheating on his popstar wife, then putting it on social media is no longer a Laker. He is now with the Brooklyn Nets – a team with one of the worst 3-year stretches in the history of the game. Karma baby.

The Nets’ GM is Sean Marks. He’s a kiwi – New Zealand’s first ever NBA player and now an executive on the up. When you have a job that is historically on the bottom, the only way is up. He’ll have performance measures of his own in place. The team is owned by a Russian billionaire and they’re famous for feedback. Could marks’ performance be managed as clinically as Adams’?

If we’re talking about performance management in work generally, the underlying foundation ultimately is measurement of the actual level of performance and comparison to an expected level of performance. Ideally, these would be as objective as possible and for some jobs that is challenging. Basketballers can count points, rebounds, assists and a variety of other easily measured things. Historically, some players on poor teams on the last year of their contract did something called ‘padding their stats’. They put their own interests ahead of the team to make their numbers look good. I’ve worked in a couple of places where sales folk did similar things. The nature of the measuring of performance drove behaviours that gamed the system.

Nowdays, with moneyball execs and algorithms and such, there is a basketball measure called ‘Real Plus/Minus’ that, whilst not perfect, does a fairer and more accurate job of ‘scoring’ a player’s actual contribution to the success of the team. Fans can see in realtime and players at the next timeout the difference their efforts are making or not. How do you think that might impact the performance of average working people in more mainstream jobs, like plumbers, contact centre reps or cheesemaker? I have a sideline as a comedian and that is the most well performance managed job on Earth. For a start, it is literally (and I literally mean literally) a performance. If they laugh that’s good feedback. If they don’t laugh, that’s also good feedback. It’s instant, it’s honest and it’s independent.

Real Plus/Minus is complex to calculate and only started in 2014. Not all coaches love it. Some stick to their subjective ways. Prior to that, coaches and scouts had to look at whatever numbers that were available, then think about how they felt about that player and their contributions to productivity. And on that, players were judged. How confident are we that most managers of work performance don’t manage performance like meteorologists of old, licking a finger and waving it in the wind?


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How Can You Make Your Own Luck When It Comes To Recruiting And Retaining The Best Employees?

Recruiting and retaining the best employees shouldn’t be a matter of luck

Recruiting and retaining the best employees shouldn’t be a matter of luck

This recent article in the business section of the New Zealand Herald cites research conducted by a firm of recruitment consultants. I’m not suggesting for a moment that they have a vested interest in interpreting the results in any particular way, but they interpret the results in a particular way… that says employers aren’t recruiting effectively. (If only there was someone around who could help them?)

Sarcastic and cynical as I am, I’m not disputing the results of the survey – just their narrow interpretation of the cause. There’s never ONE cause. Maybe poor recruitment contributes. I bet it does.

The Hudson survey “paints a bleak picture for employers”, saying: “Of every 10 employees: four are not good hires, eight aren’t engaged in their work and six are actively seeking other employment.” Ouch! This is born out by other research I’ve been reading over years and around the world. There’s a bit of variation, mostly by industry, but this survey isn’t that surprising and New Zealand isn’t that bad. Nevertheless, there’s plenty of scope for improvement.

Apart from the recruitment tools being used which the recruitment company focuses on, the primary cause of the problem implied is that employers are recruiting almost entirely for skills – technical skills. It’s that old mindset of, “I’ve got a vacancy, I’d better fill it because it’s costing me money” without doing the correlating maths on how much it costs to fill that vacancy and get it wrong – to fill it with someone technically competent (and that’s even assuming they get that bit right) but quickly disengaged or a misfit in several other ways.

Bad luck? Like most games, you make your own luck in the recruiting game. I was meeting recently with a manager who hadn’t had a single instance of negative turnover for nine years. Yes, people had moved on but for the right reasons such as internal promotion. He used the usual suite of tools to find a pool of potential applicants, whittled them down through CV checking, interviews, reference checks and even the occasional behaviourial profile. But he added another step. Shortlisted applicants all got to sit in on some actual work with some people who, if their application was successful, would be their co-workers. Those co-workers got a right of veto. I used this myself in the past with some success in a call centre that wasn’t a typical call centre. It gave applicants a dose of what their potential working reality could be. Sometimes they got put off by us and our work; sometimes we got put off by them. Either way, it’s better for both parties that be known early and up front so neither employer or employee have to suffer the consequences of misfitting. And those are greater than the costs of vacancies.

Another means of increasing your odds is to encourage referral of potential applicants from existing employees. Some firms even offer a commission for this. BUT if you do that, ponder how this might affect behaviour and what exactly it is you’re wanting to incentify and provide commission on. Any commission should be for a successful applicant who is still there after a predetermined period and performing well. Not just for putting someone with a pulse into a vacancy. Rather than just advertising to the great untargetted masses for your specific vacancy, wouldn’t it increase the chances of success if you sought via an informed gene pool – the people who are already aware of what it takes to do the job and who is likely to prosper there?

Wringing the final life out of my luck metaphor, when it comes to those few shortlisted candidates who are demonstrably technically competent but you’re not absolutely certain that they’ll fit and be engaged, you’ve got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away, know when to run. Often it’s better to walk away and play another day. Cheaper in the long run even if baby needs a new pair of shoes.

***

Re-blog from Nov 2011 & my most read post ever

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How Can You Make Your Own Luck When It Comes To Recruiting And Retaining The Best Employees?

Recruiting and retaining the best employees shouldn't be a matter of luck

Recruiting and retaining the best employees shouldn’t be a matter of luck

This recent article in the business section of the New Zealand Herald cites research conducted by a firm of recruitment consultants. I’m not suggesting for a moment that they have a vested interest in interpreting the results in any particular way, but they interpret the results in a particular way… that says employers aren’t recruiting effectively. (If only there was someone around who could help them?)

Sarcastic and cynical as I am, I’m not disputing the results of the survey – just their narrow interpretation of the cause. There’s never ONE cause. Maybe poor recruitment contributes. I bet it does.

The Hudson survey “paints a bleak picture for employers”, saying: “Of every 10 employees: four are not good hires, eight aren’t engaged in their work and six are actively seeking other employment.” Ouch! This is born out by other research I’ve been reading over years and around the world. There’s a bit of variation, mostly by industry, but this survey isn’t that surprising and New Zealand isn’t that bad. Nevertheless, there’s plenty of scope for improvement.

Apart from the recruitment tools being used which the recruitment company focuses on, the primary cause of the problem implied is that employers are recruiting almost entirely for skills – technical skills. It’s that old mindset of, “I’ve got a vacancy, I’d better fill it because it’s costing me money” without doing the correlating maths on how much it costs to fill that vacancy and get it wrong – to fill it with someone technically competent (and that’s even assuming they get that bit right) but quickly disengaged or a misfit in several other ways.

Bad luck? Like most games, you make your own luck in the recruiting game. I was meeting recently with a manager who hadn’t had a single instance of negative turnover for nine years. Yes, people had moved on but for the right reasons such as internal promotion. He used the usual suite of tools to find a pool of potential applicants, whittled them down through CV checking, interviews, reference checks and even the occasional behaviourial profile. But he added another step. Shortlisted applicants all got to sit in on some actual work with some people who, if their application was successful, would be their co-workers. Those co-workers got a right of veto. I used this myself in the past with some success in a call centre that wasn’t a typical call centre. It gave applicants a dose of what their potential working reality could be. Sometimes they got put off by us and our work; sometimes we got put off by them. Either way, it’s better for both parties that be known early and up front so neither employer or employee have to suffer the consequences of misfitting. And those are greater than the costs of vacancies.

Another means of increasing your odds is to encourage referral of potential applicants from existing employees. Some firms even offer a commission for this. BUT if you do that, ponder how this might affect behaviour and what exactly it is you’re wanting to incentify and provide commission on. Any commission should be for a successful applicant who is still there after a predetermined period and performing well. Not just for putting someone with a pulse into a vacancy. Rather than just advertising to the great untargetted masses for your specific vacancy, wouldn’t it increase the chances of success if you sought via an informed gene pool – the people who are already aware of what it takes to do the job and who is likely to prosper there?

Wringing the final life out of my luck metaphor, when it comes to those few shortlisted candidates who are demonstrably technically competent but you’re not absolutely certain that they’ll fit and be engaged, you’ve got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, know when to walk away, know when to run. Often it’s better to walk away and play another day. Cheaper in the long run even if baby needs a new pair of shoes.

What To Wear To A Job Interview?

This audio summary report from Peggy McKee on recent research is deadly serious but it’s also both amusing and scary. In hiring, do you judge books by their covers, or heel length, or facial hair? Assuming this research is accurate, there seems to be, in the U.S. at least, a hardcore fifth of employers with some dyed-in-the-wool, old school mental models that may be filtering out talent from their subjective hiring process. Why reject a guy just because his skirt is out of date? That stuff is fixable if they’re good enough. Are they so spoiled for choice?

Given I’m blogging at 6AM, I wouldn’t want to be judged on what I’m wearing right now!!

How To Destroy An Employee’s Work Life


This Washington Post article
by Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer takes a delightfully tongue-in cheek approach to what drives talented employees out of organisations. By reverse-engineering their faux recommendations, we can glean what it is we’re supposed to do to attract and retain talented people.

Their research is primary. Rather than surveys or post-exit interviews which can be self-serving, inaccurate, subjective and occasionally fictional, they chose to provide daily electronic diaries to 200+ people. Rather than Bob or Kate saying out loud that they left ABC Limited for a better paying position at XYZ Limited, there is a trail of clues. It might actually have been an escalating and deteriorating relationship with “that jerk Barry from Accounts” which, over time, led to their departure. Accumulating all those trails of clues, Amabile and Kramer have come up with their list of commandments.

Their ‘advice’ to leaders wanting to “completely and utterly destroy an employee’s life at work” were:

  1. Never allow pride of accomplishment
  2. Miss no opportunity to block progress on employees’ projects
  3. Give yourself some credit
  4. Kill the messengers

My building blocks of a workplace that allow and generate self motivation amongst employees are self awareness, mastery, autonomy, purpose and influencing others. Human minds need them like human bodies need food. Mostly, people are only going to get that at work. Without accomplishment, a sense of progess, recognition, or blame-free communication, people are not going to attain or even move towards mastery, autonomy or a sense of purpose. If you, as a leader, prevent your people from getting them, they will leave because they’re hungry for a basic need.

After all that, if you still really do want to destroy an employee, take their advice and, as a cherry on top, wait until that employee leaves their PC, sneak on and hack their FaceBook account…

How Can You Make Your Own Luck When It Comes To Recruiting And Retaining The Best Employees?

Recruiting and retaining the best employees shouldn't be a matter of luck

Recruiting and retaining the best employees shouldn’t be a matter of luck

A recent article in the business section of the New Zealand Herald cites research conducted by a firm of recruitment consultants. I’m not suggesting for a moment that they have a vested interest in interpreting the results in any particular way, but they interpret the results in a particular way… that says employers aren’t recruiting effectively. (If only there was someone around who could help them?)

Sarcastic and cynical as I am, I’m not disputing the results of the survey – just their narrow interpretation of the cause. There’s never ONE cause. Maybe poor recruitment contributes. I bet it does.

The Hudson survey “paints a bleak picture for employers”, saying: “Of every 10 employees: four are not good hires, eight aren’t engaged in their work and six are actively seeking other employment.” Ouch! This is born out by other research I’ve been reading over years and around the world. There’s a bit of variation, mostly by industry, but this survey isn’t that surprising and New Zealand isn’t that bad. Nevertheless, there’s plenty of scope for improvement.

Apart from the recruitment tools being used which the recruitment company focuses on, the primary cause of the problem implied is that employers are recruiting almost entirely for skills – technical skills. It’s that old mindset of, “I’ve got a vacancy, I’d better fill it because it’s costing me money” without doing the correlating maths on how much it costs to fill that vacancy and get it wrong – to fill it with someone technically competent (and that’s even assuming they get that bit right) but quickly disengaged or a misfit in several other ways.

Bad luck? Like most games, you make your own luck in the recruiting game. I was meeting recently with a manager who hadn’t had a single instance of negative turnover for nine years. Yes, people had moved on but for the right reasons such as internal promotion. He used the usual suite of tools to find a pool of potential applicants, whittled them down through CV checking, interviews, reference checks and even the occasional behaviourial profile. But he added another step. Shortlisted applicants all got to sit in on some actual work with some people who, if their application was successful, would be their co-workers. Those co-workers got a right of veto. I used this myself in the past with some success in a call centre that wasn’t a typical call centre. It gave applicants a dose of what their potential working reality could be. Sometimes they got put off by us and our work; sometimes we got put off by them. Either way, it’s better for both parties that be known early and up front so neither employer or employee have to suffer the consequences of misfitting. And those are greater than the costs of vacancies.

Another means of increasing your odds is to encourage referral of potential applicants from existing employees. Some firms even offer a commission for this. BUT if you do that, ponder how this might affect behaviour and what exactly it is you’re wanting to incentify and provide commission on. Any commission should be for a successful applicant who is still there after a predetermined period and performing well. Not just for putting someone with a pulse into a vacancy. Rather than just advertising to the great untargetted masses for your specific vacancy, wouldn’t it increase the chances of success if you sought via an informed gene pool – the people who are already aware of what it takes to do the job and who is likely to prosper there?

Wringing the final life out of my luck metaphor, when it comes to those few shortlisted candidates who are demonstrably technically competent but you’re not absolutely certain that they’ll fit and be engaged, you’ve got to know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away, know when to run. Often it’s better to walk away and play another day. Cheaper in the long run even if baby needs a new pair of shoes.

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Amotivation – What to do with an employee nicknamed ‘Sleepy’?

What clues do the unmotivated give us?

What cluezzzz do the unmotivated give us?

Last week I presented to a group of dairy farmers. And by ‘dairy farmers’, I mean a group of business leaders whose businesses just happened to be dairy farms. I rarely meet people who are so professional AND passionate AND successful. The presentation went well. Laughs occurred where they were supposed to and some where they weren’t, yet it turned out for the best. Questions and comments afterwards indicated that they got a lot of value out of it and it would make a difference to them. One guy asked me a curly question though.

It wasn’t a negative question and he precursored it with all the things you’d expect an experienced and positive manager of people to say. He clearly had bought into employee engagement’s value to his business, along with goal setting and performance management (done the right way!) and feedback and so forth. He knew what a KPI was and he wasn’t afraid to use it. His question was, “What can I do about Sleepy?”

To be honest, it is a question I hear a lot in various forms. Almost all supervisors and managers I meet (and potential supervisors and managers) aren’t too worried about most people. They worry about negative or angry people. They worry about conflict. I’m sure I did too back in the day. Funny thing though, is that they’re relatively easy to deal with. Negative non-performers are obvious and a problem that you’re motivated to deal with. If it is 3-strikes-and-you’re-out level of serious then there’s a fairly prescribed path to follow in law and HR policy. I think the tough ones are like ‘Sleepy.’ Often not obvious, not a squeaky wheel demanding immediate attention yet potentially quite a drain on productivity down the line. There are clues like absenteeism, reduced participation and so forth but a pretty obvious clue is that they have a nickname like ‘Sleepy.’

Sleepy wasn’t avoiding work or doing it below expected standards. The farmer saw him as lacking drive, initiative, repeating mistakes, being ‘blinkered’ and generally operating to the letter of the law.

Sleepy had an actual name but his nickname was Sleepy. I wondered if it might be that quirky nicknaming thing where you do the opposite like calling a redhead ‘Bluey.’ Nope.

I asked my usual range of triage questions of my farmer. What have you done so far? What’s worked? What hasn’t? Tell me about ‘Sleepy.’ Have there been times you have seen him motivated? What caused that state?

My farmer didn’t tag Sleepy as a problem child. Quite the reverse, he was an above-average performer but my farmer was frustrated because he knew Sleepy was capable of so much more and the farmer wanted to move him towards that ‘so much more’, partly to improve results at his own farm but also for the sake of Sleepy himself.

I’ll ask you all the same question. What can we do about the Sleepys (Sleepies?) of this world? I’m giving it some thought and my next few blog entries will tackle aspects of my answer. I’ll probably start by thinking back to when I was that guy.

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Can Potplants Enhance Health? (How Motivation Via Responsibility Can Add Years To Your Life – Not Just Seem Like It)

potplant

Yes, this is an actual POTplant but that's not important now...

Wouldn’t it be great to have a job where you could just cruise? We’ve all probably thought that at times, probably during those times where the going was particularly uncruisey. Maybe we’ve even thought it would be great to retire and potter around, have nothing to worry about.

I MC’d a health and safety conference earlier in the year where Doctor David Beaumont spoke. David is an English Occupational Medicine specialist now resident in New Zealand. Part of his presentation related to case studies of people on longterm absences from work due to accident or illness. I was particularly struck by the stories of the impact on the people and their families, not just, or even primarily, by the financial ramifications, but by the effect on their confidence, esteem and sense of self worth caused by the removal of responsibility and purpose from their lives. And subsequently on their healthAND that of their families. It actually impacts on their recovery from the original accident. That’s why getting back to even light duties is so important, not so much for the employer to minimise their costs but for the recovery of the employee. Work provides a lot more to a person than a mere paycheck to an individual.

It reminded me of a study back in the 70s by Ellen Langer and Judith Rodin. They had two groups of nursing home residents. Both groups were gifted a potplant (a legal potplant, not the POTplant in my picture.) One group were told to enjoy the plant but not to worry their pretty little heads about looking after it. All of that would be taken care of for them. The second group were given suggestions on potplant care but the actual effort was left to the residents themselves. All participants were constantly being tested anyway so they were a great group to assess the impact of responsibility on health.

Within 3 weeks there were significant differences between the groups in health and general activity engaged in, even more pronounced after 18 months. The mortality rate of the first group (having no responsibility for their potplants’ care) was TWICE that of the group with the responsibility. In short, the quality and the quantity of many lives was enhanced.

There was more to this than just potplants but they make a nice and memorable image. The group looking after their own potplants were also given more choice and input into decision-making around their lives at the nursing home. I imagine this gave them a sense of control, even power to a degree. That sense of control and influence is important for all people, contributing not just to health but also happiness, success and so much more.

It isn’t much of a stretch to extrapolate this thinking to the workplace. As a leader of a team, what incremental responsibilities can you arrange to boost the confidence, esteem and sense of self worth of your people?

Although if you accidentally gift your staff a real POTplant, I know a guy who can do you a great deal on workplace drug testing!

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