Organizational Excellence

People and Process Improvement

Archive for the ‘Management Systems’ Category

Dual Residency

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Been in process of updating / doing a blogger’s version of a 5-S. Newer stuff is here: One Pond-Ripples. Focus: influence and impact, values based leadership and engagement, community and this wonderfully esoteric thing called The Greater Good.

I will be pulling a few posts from this blog forward after updating so stay tuned!



More on Performance Management

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See prior post. Another performance management conversation is taking place now on the EEN, a few excerpts and my thoughts follow. You have to sign up and be a member of the specific group to join the discussion, but at least you can check it out here.  

David Marklew started the discussion with this:

What would the reaction in your organisation be if an announcement was published stating that they (performance appraisals) were being scrapped – happy faces or sad faces from both sides? I’m smiling just at the thought of the reaction.  

Is perf mgmt just a seasonally hot topic? Maybe, considering that PM is typically only thought about “seasonally”. One of my issues with it, or more accurately with the way it is misused.

First need, I think, is to re-think what it is: an alignment and planning process, then a project management / status reporting tool. As such, it cannot be a semi-annual check-box ritual to comply with HR policy. If a project management tool, and the business plan drives the projects, how frequent should the touches be? Re-positioning elevates the relevance and importance.

(John) SMART objectives tend to be outdated very quickly – far more quickly than the time to the next appraisal…Per the comment above, when projects and priorities change plans need to change too. No way can they be carved in stone at the start of the period and left alone.

(John again) some managers will avoid feeding back on performance and development progress if there is nothing in place. This is one of my biggest concerns. Hate to say it but sometimes we need to be nudged into talking to one another!

Alison nailed it for me: It isn’t the tool which needs to be abolished, what about the skill of the user, how it’s used and how it’s positioned, these are surely key to how engaging the action is, like with most tools….Perhaps tailor made appraisals with a central core of organisational requirements might engage

If core competencies, or guiding principles etc etc exist, how well do they get driven into reality? To me, using a perf mgmt process is one ideal way. An issue, however, is how to objectively assess a person’s performance on the softer attributes.

At issue also is what Alison notes as the skill of the user. Like most anything else clarity, fairness and consistency are essential. Without these perf mgmt is a dangerous loaded weapon.

(David B) they have become so bureaucratic that many managers dread that “time of the year” when they have to be done…think about it, a time of the year, not ongoing!  I’m in the camp of de-formalizing them, but making sure at the same time that that kind of communication doesn’t fall through the cracks, and that people get feedback along the way.  So yes, scrap the “system”…

Need: ongoing, regular touches. Give people the skills they need to effectively use the process, including giving and receiving feedback (TALKING to each other??!). Use the process to manage execution of the business plan, as well as to drive the softer attributes into reality.

Balance the process by adding the individual development element.

David B said expect managers to do their job…. a well designed perf mgmt system should simply be a value-adding tool to help them do their job!

Written by Craig

March 11, 2011 at 12:23 pm

Performance Management-A Three Legged Stool

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It’s that time of year again…buckets of frantic activity to beat performance management compliance deadlines set by HR.

We’re having a good exchange of ideas on performance management initiated by Les Allan on the Employee Engagement Network: CIPD Members Say Performance Management Systems Fail to Engage.

Just a couple of highlights here, and an invitation to join in the discussion, either here or via the link above.

When org strategy and operational goals is the singular focus, I totally agree with a point Les makes-big problem. If I am to take ownership of my plan, there had better be something in it for me. Smart PM systems strike a balance by including personal / career development and growth.

“Good” systems include behavioral attributes like the collaboration and cooperation that Les mentions in his post, and these are absolutely critical. Much more difficult to objectively assess than “did you / didn’t you get your projects done”. But essential reminders at the least.

Putting a number on people is one of the big objections Les raises…a tough one. There is the necessity of objectivity beyond “Joe sure does good work”. The issue becomes inconsistency in interpretation and application of even the clearest rating criteria. The goal is simple: each associate has clear criteria on what must be done to “exceed expectations” and those expectations are measurable. But how do you ensure that three is three among all managers and associates?

That sounds strangely like alignment, planning and measuring goal attainment. Hmmm…pretty important stuff.

Good system=three-legged stool:

  1. Operational goals, effectively cascaded to manage execution of the business plan;
  2. Behavioral attributes to define cultural elements: this is how we behave as we are attaining our goals;
  3. Personal / career growth and development, not only to satisfy the individual’s craving to be all they can and want to be, but to build bench strength and support succession needs. 

All of the above is built on a solid foundation of collaboration between manager and associate. If it’s top-down directive forget about it. I may comply because I’m a good soldier but I won’t commit. Big difference.

Head, hands, heart.

Good System, Bad System

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I work for a start-up manufacturing operation. “What?!” you say? Didn’t know there was such a thing anymore? We’re in the wind energy business, enough said.

Our location is 3 years old, we have recently ramped up to several hundred people and counting. We’ve had so much to learn with new design, processes, and equipment that we haven’t paid much attention to systems. That opens the debate for whether systems are a prerequisite to starting up (later!). Regardless, we’re playing catch-up on two systems critical to managing the people and process elements of the business: performance management and an ISO-based management system.

I’ve explored both systems in prior posts: see The Roadmap for a guide to primarily ISO –focused posts, also the Perf Mgmt category.

I’m drawn back to this subject by the immediate need to collect our thoughts and take a close look at how to attack both systems. And coincidentally, the college class I teach is currently exploring systems. Two birds with one boulder.

The way these systems are designed, implemented and maintained can be very good or very bad. I’ve seen both up-close. What makes the difference, in 50,000 words or less?

This started out looking like a two-part post, one for each system. But there are several common factors to target together. Specifics for each will follow, along with a few barrier-busters.


Reputation. Both ISO and performance management are a favorite foil for jokes and an easy target for Dilbert. Ask those who have experienced ISO or performance management.  The balance of input you will hear is definitely skewed. Maybe it’s because people like to gripe more than praise, or maybe there are more bad experiences to share than good. Even those who have not personally experienced either system can offer “first-hand” accounts — legends shared around the campfire.

The bad rep these systems have earned have become a part of tribal folklore. And like it or not….

Image Is Everything. If a task is perceived as a waste of time, it is treated as low priority and there is only minimal effort directed at completing the task. Why is the company subjecting its associates to all this grief? Shamelessly sell the sizzle, and do it with substance not smoke! Make it personal, and make it personally rewarding for people to carve out a chunk of their limited time to work the system.

System Intent, Perceived Value There must be some value, some compelling business reason for the system, beyond earning the certificate of compliance (ISO) and providing input for merit increases (performance management). How does this system help me on the job, how does it help the company achieve its goals, how does the system help keep the doors open?

The Grindstone Effect. People are task-driven. Systems are out of sight, out of mind unless one of them gets in the way of getting the job done. How much on-task productive time is diverted to meeting system-demanded obligations? Two choices: either educate the workforce on systems thinking, interconnectedness, and the value of systems, or simply ensure that user-friendliness is a priority.

Occasional Afterthought (Under Duress). Little causes widespread panic like “ISO auditors coming next week.” People scurry about sweeping dust bunnies under the rug and otherwise cramming for the exam. Similarly, “performance reviews must be completed by end-of-month.” In both cases, attempts at fabricating an acceptable past kick in, in reckless pursuit of compliance.

To add value, both systems require constant, disciplined attention at a level commensurate with the importance of the system. Which, unfortunately, requires that the systems are perceived to be deserving of attention.

Ownership. The Kiss of Death for both systems: “performance management is an HR thing…ISO is a quality thing.” While HR and Quality are traditionally the guardians of their respective system, users must own their individual performance management plans, and must own their area’s piece of an ISO-based management system.

My performance management plan determines my individual success on the job, as well as the direction of my career. My area’s management system determines how well my area of accountability meets requirements and contributes toward achieving my company’s goals.

Ownership is fueled by broad involvement, at the highest and most frequent level leadership is capable of allowing. Leadership can either enable or inhibit.

Compliance vs Commitment

ISO is steeped in terms of compliance, from the language of the model itself to the ongoing post-certification cycle of audits and corrective action. Performance management is in some cases a check-box activity people are driven to complete only to comply with an HR mandate. Oh by the way, your merit increase, if any, is tied to timely completion of your assessment. So we gotcha…

What Next?

All of these issues get in the way of people fully buying into performance management and ISO.

So we’re up front, in the system design phase. Where do we start, to minimize the impact of these potential pitfalls?

The highest single priority: focus on those things that will elicit full commitment from associates. There is a world of difference between simple compliance to completing a task, and full commitment to executing the plan. One may win a battle or two, but the latter wins the war.

  1. Design for user-friendliness. The best way to ensure a user-friendly design is to involve the users in the design.
  2. Communicate and educate associates on the importance of the systems to the long-term success of the business, as well as the WIIFM elements.
  3. Train people on the mechanics of how to use the system. WHAT and WHY before HOW!
  4. Last, follow the formula for flawless execution: It Ain’t Rocket Science!

Four easy steps….I can’t wait for Monday to get it done!

Written by Craig

February 12, 2011 at 11:17 am

Sniglets-Management System Excellence

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Sniglet: something that is a prerequisite to achieving something else)

It’s tough to do everything right in a management system startup, but doing just a few things up front can dramatically increase your chances of achieving an end result that is effective and well-received by those who need to make it work. These thoughts are examined more deeply in other management system posts, but I wanted to highlight them in Cliff Notes fashion.

Set Scope Wisely, Strategically

Fashion goals that are clearly aligned with the rest of the company’s strategy, goals that people can easily connect to. You already have a vision, mission and strategies. Use them to craft your quality policy and objectives.

Shamelessly Sell the Benefits

You MUST have a good pitch. Whether you believe it yourself doesn’t matter, your constituents must believe that the management system will be good for them. Not cod liver oil good…tastes horrendous going down, fixes what ails you. Rather, they must believe that the management system will result in their work being done better, smarter, faster, easier.

Communicate and Demonstrate

People must continuously hear what is happening and why, and future plans and current status. And they must see the management system in action.

Watch Your Language!

The ISO glossary of terms includes several confrontational words with negative connotations: compliance, audit, conformance to requirements, nonconformance, corrective action. No wonder the townsfolk board up their windows and hide the women and children in the cellar come assessment time!

Andre Agassi once said “Image is everything”. While that may not be gospel, a good image sure helps.

Broad Ownership, Broad Improvement Focus

The management system is much bigger than “product quality” alone. Position ISO as a tool capable of managing all aspects of the business, ensuring that goals are met, desired results are achieved, and customers’ expectations are exceeded. Deemphasize the “Q” word!

Engage the Troops

Engagement is that magical state where people put forth exemplary effort AND are getting maximum level of satisfaction out of their role…they are busting their butts and are darned happy to do it. It all centers around two of the most basic concepts around: the people doing the job know it best, and involvement builds commitment.

For background on the work-in-process Flawless Execution project, go to the FE Home Page. For more information on this topic go to the Flawless Execution Systems page.

Written by Craig

August 2, 2009 at 4:37 pm

What Gets Measured, Gets Done

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Einstein said: Only measure what is truly important. However, not all that is truly important is measurable. Some anonymous Einstein came up with a profound part two: But remember, not all that is measured is truly important.

How do you know if you’re winning or losing if you don’t keep score? People play better when there is a scoreboard, but what makes an effective metric? The ideal is for metrics to serve as a real-time indicator of how things are going, at an actionable level so those who are accountable can impact performance and improve real-time when needed.

The scoreboard is the performance management system, updated real-time so people can adjust their game plan in time to make a difference in the game.

People are assessed on how much they did or didn’t deliver on their accountabilities. Therefore, it is critical to establish objective, quantifiable ways to determine level of contribution toward goal attainment.

When people are told they must improve ROA and other lag indicators, they are understandably frustrated. Who among us can easily recognize the direct impact of our work on the bottom line or on market share?

Need Both

Connection between lead and lag goals and metrics is critical. Focusing on lead alone may give you good information on short-term performance. But how can you determine whether organizational goals are being met? And, focusing only on lag goals and metrics is not a good call to action for the first level, provides no indication of current status, and there are no early indicators that corrective action must be taken.

(For background on the work-in-process Flawless Execution project, go to the FE Home Page. For more information on performance management go to Flawless Execution Systems page)

What the Heck is an “Integrated System of HRD”?

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This post briefly describes the elements of a Human Resource Development (HRD) system (see diagram), and how the elements are integrated in an ideal system.

People flow effortlessly without friction through an integrated human resource development system, just like product and work flows through any production process. “Integrated system” simply means that all the processes and practices of the HRD system shown below cannot be stand-alone.

The critical input to the HRD system is the company’s strategy, and the most important element that aligns all the HRD processes to strategy is the job write-up, or position specification.

 HRD Diagram


 Integrated HRD Starts With Alignment, the Position Spec is the Enabler

What is the company’s strategy and what are the key challenges the company faces? How does each function and its positions support the strategy and help to address the challenges? The job write-up is the justification for a position’s existence. The write-up must clearly connect the position to strategy, and describe how the position helps support the strategy and achieve goals.

Strategy is cascaded down through the company, as goals are set with increasing levels of specificity. Accountability is established until each function and each position is clearly aligned with the top and is directly responsible for a portion of the strategy.

Promotions, hiring and placement decisions are driven by the position spec. The position spec serves as the basis for recruiting and interviewing, and eventually placing a person into a vacant position. If the company knows what positions will come vacant through known attrition (retirements, promotions, backfills). The write-up for the position being vacated is the list of qualifications the successor will need (succession management).

People are groomed for advancement ahead of the need and are ready to move up when the need arises, minimizing the impact of attrition. The performance management process is the planning and monitoring tool for development of employees, and provides essential input to the training and development function. Input from performance management plans is used to determine the curriculum for meeting the developmental needs of individuals and the position needs of the company.

For background on the work-in-process Flawless Execution project, go to the FE Home Page. For more information on this topic go to the Flawless Execution Systems page.