GE used to do something like this – have their managers rank all their direct reports into three groups, with the bottom feeders (the underperformers) singled out for smaller (or no) raises, remediation, or termination. In fact, countless other firms stumbled over one another to adopt the Welch Way (also known as Rank and Yank). Over time this practice was discredited – the initial healthy competition among staff gave way to brutal backstabbing. Whispers of discrimination led to a dramatic increase in white shoe and briefcase sightings, and good old-fashioned camaraderie morphed into suck-up fests unrivaled in modern history.
Spun into a Lather
Here’s the problem as I see it. Companies have spun themselves into a lather trying to avoid employee appraisal policies that are subjective. Grade, reward and punish people based solely on mathematics. What could go wrong? Pretty much everything. Did someone miss a few deadlines? Why? Were there some customer complaints against an employee? Why? Were sales down in someone’s territory last quarter? Why?
Every time you ask why – boom – subjective. The problem is…..everything in life is subjective. It can’t be scrubbed or lawyered away. So what’s a beleaguered company owner (or HR person or division manager) to do?
Life is Subjective
Be honest. Accept that work, as part of life, is and will always be subjective. Embrace the concept, then share it with your staff from day one and be 100% sure everyone understands. Does anyone doubt that when they were hired, it was because one or more existing company staff had a “good feeling” about them, or “believed” that their skills and personality and work ethic were a “good fit” for the organization? This is how business gets done, people, and it works the same whether you’re on the way in or heading out!
So Brian, you have convinced me that the world runs on subjectivity. But getting back to the original issue, how do you keep your teams fueled up and running at peak efficiency while identifying those individuals who just aren’t working out?
Glad you asked – back in February I blogged about leadership and how I prepare my teams for battle. There are two main steps, equip and release. Leaders lead by giving their teams the knowledge, tools, and mindset to be successful. Once I believe (subjective) that my staff has been thoroughly equipped, they are released to put these skills, ideas and instincts to work. I monitor their progress, and yes, that does include objective measures like sales. But I also watch how they interact with prospects (do they listen), customers (are they comfortable), fellow employees (do they play nice), and a million other things – most of which are subjective. Even before equipping and releasing, there is something I call cultivating. At the company level, cultivating is creating an environment that encourages, facilitates, and rewards success. At the individual level, it is identifying people who are worthy of more or specialized attention, and then providing it. So my strategy is to cultivate promising people by running an attractive place of business, a place that incubates and nurtures them until they are equipped to excel at their jobs.
Transfer or Terminate
But what happens if my gut instincts (subjective) are wrong? Two things happen. I take a fresh look at the situation and ask if this person might be more ideally suited for another position (a transfer) within the company. If so, we start the equip and release process again, hopefully with a more positive outcome. However, if we have nothing currently suitable for this person, or if I have just decided to cut my losses, termination is the only remaining avenue. I am great at what I do, and I enjoy teaching it to willing students. But, there will be a certain small percentage of new hires that either can’t do it, or won’t buy into it, and that’s reality.
I can only teach what I know, and not wanting to waste anyone’s time, I will only teach what I know works. If a mistake is made (subjective and objective) and further efforts at remediation are not warranted, just pull the shitweeds and move on.