Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from my friend and savvy entrepreneur, Danny Iny, from Firepole Marketing.
My first real management experience was kind of a disaster.
I was twenty four years old, CEO of a fledgling start-up that would ultimately fail, with no significant business or management training or experience.
The company was growing, and I needed to hire, so I did what any clueless, young CEO would do:
I hired my friends.
Yes, I know – big mistake. Well, sort of because some of them were great, but others were terrible. Some were people who I should never have hired or, at the very least, should have fired way sooner than I did.
The problems weren’t just in the hiring – I didn’t know what was fair compensation (I was over-paying some, and under-paying others), didn’t know how to chair a meeting, and most importantly, didn’t know how to manage performance.
Fast forward to last year, when it was time to hire my [current] assistant. I had learned a lot since then, and this time, I was going to do it right.
I started from scratch and designed a seven-step hiring program that did a really great job of evaluating candidates for real capabilities. It was pretty intense, involving screening processes, structured interviews, assessments, and lengthy calls to references.
It was completely worth it because the end result was my hiring a super-talented assistant who is a great fit for my business (not to mention a hiring process that I ended up commercializing – email me if you’re interested in the details).
Now that I had an employee, I still needed a really good way of managing performance. This is where most businesses fall down – especially solo online businesses, when they start to expand. Well, I was determined to do it right!
Not the traditional performance evaluation
I knew from the start that I wasn’t interested in the standard performance evaluation procedures that most companies use, which looks something like this:
- The evaluation is performed once per year
- By which point people don’t really remember any of the things that are being discussed
- Which means that the feedback is neither current nor relevant
- The whole experience feels like you’re being graded – not particularly helpful!
What I wanted was a way to provide meaningful feedback about things that were still current, so that real-time course corrections would be possible, and so that there would be better results in terms of output.
Enter the matrix
I eventually arrived at a performance evaluation matrix comprised of two columns and two rows. The columns are labeled “Employee’s Behavior” and “Manager’s Behavior”, and the rows are labeled “That Contributed to Employee Productivity” and “That Detracted from Employee Productivity”:
The way to use this tool is that both the employee and the manager take a couple of days to fill out all of the boxes in the matrix, before the meeting takes place.
Then, when the meeting occurs, the agenda is to basically compare notes and look for ways to protect and increase the behaviors that are leading to productivity. All this occurs in hope to find ways to change the behaviors that are detracting from productivity.
When an employee is new, this sort of meeting should be conducted once per month. Once a groove has been established, the frequency can decrease. It should still be done at least every three months, so that the subject matter remains current.
The key to making this work is that the process has to be bilateral; both the manager and the employee need to think about which of their behaviors are contributing to, and detracting from, the sort of productivity that they both want to see (as a manager you’ll probably be surprised at how many unhelpful things you may be doing!).
Bear in mind that if the process devolves into a game of “gotcha,” it isn’t going to work.
Megan’s side of the story
Since this really does need to be a bilateral process, I’ve asked my talented assistant, Megan Dougherty, to write about this process from her perspective. This isn’t a sugar-coated perspective – she shares her frustrations with the process, but I think ultimately it was a success:
I don’t love the 2×2 matrix but it works.
Soon after Danny hired me (and that interview process he mentioned – the most intense of my life -(I think it’s easier to become an operative of the Secret Service than to get through the entire thing) he explained the matrix to me, and my first thought was: “Oh lord, what buzzword bullplop.”
I also felt pretty uncomfortable with the whole thing; if any of you out there have ever worked for other people, you know that giving honest feedback to the powers that be usually goes over somewhat less successfully than a lead balloon.
I sucked it up and filled it out. I didn’t really understand the rhetoric in play “Contributed to Employee’s productivity,” eh? Well: “Synergy, facipulate , cross-sell, actionable!”
All jargon aside, though, it gave me a formal process to air my feelings about my work and how it was going. It gave Danny and me a level playing field on which to meet and compare notes.
Once I got to know Danny a little better, and became more comfortable with the vocabulary at play it became really valuable to me. I found myself, during the course of a month or two making a little note when something stuck in my craw or tripped me up so we could hash it out during the meeting.
After a few months there was less and less in the “Detracts from Employee’s Productivity” column. I know that I’m working more effectively because of it.
Over to You
Okay, readers, over to you: do you have a process that you use to manage or optimize performance? Would you try something like this? Why, or why not?