Enter the Matrix… of Performance Optimization!

Image of Performance OptimizationEditor’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.

Making progress

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”:

Image of Matrix

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?

10 Responses to Enter the Matrix… of Performance Optimization!
  1. Sarah Russell
    May 4, 2011 | 10:02 am

    Danny – What a fantastic tool you created! I dabbled in corporate HR for about a year, so I have some exposure to the hiring and review process. And while I can’t imagine that matrix working effectively in a corporate setting, it sounds fantastic for smaller businesses with just a few employees.

    I’m not at the point of hiring a full time assitant yet, but I’ll definitely keep this tool in mind for when I am!

    • Danny @ Firepole Marketing
      May 4, 2011 | 5:23 pm

      Thank you, Sarah. And no, you’re right, this probably wouldn’t work as well in a large corporate setting, but for small businesses like you and me, I find it works pretty well. :)

  2. Stuart
    May 5, 2011 | 4:36 am

    Danny, I visit one blog and you’re there. I then visit another blog and you’re there again! Christ on a pogo stick, you’re blazing it up!

    I hope you’re not burning yourself out, please ensure that you find time for yourself as well!

    Onto the matrix strategy; I like it! It’s a simple, yet effective and sometimes fun way of finding out about an employee’s performance, where they can improve on and what they can continue to do. The genius of it lies in its simplicity: four boxes is all you need!

    Thanks for sharing this Danny, keep on trucking :-)

    • Danny @ Firepole Marketing
      May 5, 2011 | 7:00 am

      Yeah, I’ve been pretty busy lately – but not burning myself out, I have a wonderful fiance who makes sure that doesn’t happen. :)

      I’m glad you like the matrix – I tried a lot of other, more complicated tools before I settled on this one, and I’ve found that it works very, very well. :)

      Cheers, Stu!

    • Jon
      May 5, 2011 | 10:08 pm

      Hey Stu – He really has been everywhere lately. It’s inspiring.

  3. Hector Avellaneda
    May 5, 2011 | 11:45 pm

    Hey Danny!

    That’s awesome man! I love that you were able to take the lessons learned from your first business and develop system to filter and hire employees that were in line with you’re goals.

    Personally, I do not have an employee or have plans to hire anyone on a permanent basis, I would not require this matrix at the moment.

    I think the Matrix is great. The one thing I do see it lacking is examples of projects that were met or accomplished that would have justified that productivity reported by the employee.

    Essentially, what we have in the Matrix is all theoretical but to appropriately evaluate someone performance, in my opinion, there has to be supporting evidence, in this case objectives met or projects finished, to support the productivity or lack of productivity.

    Aside from that though I think it’s a great tool to have an open-ended evaluation with an employee

    • Danny @ Firepole Marketing
      May 6, 2011 | 9:16 am

      “to appropriately evaluate someone performance, in my opinion, there has to be supporting evidence, in this case objectives met or projects finished, to support the productivity or lack of productivity.”

      That’s a really great point, and you’re absolutely right, Hector. That’s really the intention with using this matrix – rather than waiting until the end of the quarter or year, this is done regularly, and you’re talking about projects that are either just finished, or still ongoing. This means that both sides compare notes honestly and often about what’s really going on, which makes the feedback much more practical.

      It also means that something can be tried and then evaluated again in a month, at the next review, to see if it’s working. :)

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  6. Chimezirim Odimba
    November 3, 2012 | 5:30 am

    You are spot on: Oftentimes we think that the most important thing is hiring a great hand — Having a system that helps increase productivity helps you turn those great hands into a great team (Your business wins at the end even if it isn’t a very enjoyable process).

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