Tag Archives: performance review

How to Communicate Following a Suicide

More than 50 research studies worldwide have found that certain types of news coverage regarding a death by suicide can increase the likelihood of additional suicide deaths in vulnerable individuals. The magnitude of the increase is related to the amount, duration and prominence of coverage. Business leaders can learn from these media studies and shape written and oral communication in a preventive way.

Media Lesson: Risk of additional suicides increases when the story explicitly describes the suicide method, uses dramatic, graphic headlines or images, and repeated/extensive coverage sensationalizes or glamorizes a death. Use non-sensationalized language and life-giving terms. Avoid images that glamorize the death such as photos or videos of the location or method of death or grieving family and friends. Headlines such as “Kurt Cobain Used Shotgun to Commit Suicide” should better be drafted as “Kurt Cobain Dead at 27.”

Business Application: Talk about suicide in a way that assumes the recipient will handle the information in a mature, responsible, life-giving way. Often, leaders avoid any reference to suicide when speaking with their teams. The rationale can be wanting to avoid any power of suggestion. “We didn’t want to give them the idea.” This belief is highly inaccurate. They already have the idea…especially immediately following a death by suicide within their social circle. Avoiding the topic lends it negative power. Discussing suicide carefully, even briefly, can change public misperceptions and correct myths, which can encourage those who are vulnerable or at risk to seek help.

See Also: A Manager’s Response to Workplace Suicide

Media Lesson: Avoid reporting that death by suicide was preceded by a single event, such as a recent job loss, divorce or bad performance review. Also, avoid describing a suicide as inexplicable or “without warning.” Reporting like this leaves the public with an overly simplistic and misleading understanding of suicide.

Application: Suicide is complex. There are almost always multiple causes, including psychiatric illnesses that may not have been recognized or treated. However, these illnesses are treatable. Refer to research findings that mental disorders and/or substance abuse have been found in 90% of people who have died by suicide. Most, but not all, people who die by suicide exhibit warning signs. Identify a list of usual “Warning Signs”. Consider quoting a suicide prevention expert on causes and treatments.

Fully acknowledge the horror and the loss but emphasize what is being done to support those who are impacted. Change your language from “committed suicide” or “successful/unsuccessful suicide” to “died by suicide” or “completed suicide.”

Media Lesson: Do not cite the content of the suicide note or any “manifesto.” Better would be “A note from the deceased was found and is being reviewed by the medical examiner.”

Application: Communicate, communicate, communicate but determine what content is shared on a “what is helpful/need to know” basis and always prioritize respectful adherence to the needs and wishes of the family.

Media Lesson: Use your story to inform readers about the causes of suicide, its warning signs, trends in rates, and recent treatment advances. Include means of accessing resources.

Application: Knowledge offers healthy power. Have a hopeful, caring, life-giving tone. Focus the major portion of your remarks upon resilience and health rather than details about the death. Talk about available treatment options, stories of those who overcame a suicidal crisis, and resources for help. Emphasize faith practice and spiritual strength. Include up-to-date local and national resources where people can find treatment, information and advice that promotes help-seeking.

Business leaders can change the conversation and help keep people just a little bit safer.

company

How to Build a Fail-Fast Culture

There’s a lot of talk these days about how failure is not just fine but fantastic.

Tech companies famously tout “fail fast”-style mantras. One of Facebook’s guiding principles is “Done is better than perfect.” Many start-up founders are known for having built companies that failed before finding long-term success.

The philosophy of encouraging mistakes and quickly learning from them complements the design-thinking movement. In this way of thinking, you’re encouraged to launch quickly, shipping imperfect product and iterating based on customer feedback.

But what role can this approach play in a slow-moving, large company? After all, many of the small start-ups that encourage fast failure will grow quickly, and maintaining that kind of culture as it scales is tricky. How do you treat not-quite-perfect, disappointing or outright failed ideas and projects as acceptable among hundreds or thousands of employees?

Here are a few guiding principles for instilling an innovative, fail-fast philosophy in a larger organization.

Set up mini innovation groups: I worked with an organization that set up small teams across the company with the mandate to drive innovations in the everyday routines of work. The teams discuss new processes, test their ideas and then present a summary of improvement initiatives. They share ways to extend their concept, and the teams look at other potential business implications. A review board makes the final approvals based on the portfolio and suggests ways to make wider impact. It’s an organized, civilized and, yet, wholly innovative way of working in a bigger company. And if the teams’  ideas fail? Well, at least they were given permission to try.

Focus on feedback year-round: If you were working on a new project and it failed to launch or didn’t perform well in a test, would you want to hear about what you could’ve done better from your manager a year later? Real-time development happens throughout the work days and weeks– not during an annual performance review – and allows you to constantly and more quickly improve. But this is a change you should make as part of a bigger talent innovation strategy in performance management – it can’t be executed effectively alone.

Recruit, promote and succession-plan differently: To encourage a fail-fast mentality, we must reimagine what we consider successful. Along with rethinking annual performance reviews, consider what guidance and framework you use to define a productive employee. Can you reward the team that boldly pushed new ideas, even if the ideas didn’t come to fruition? Is a top performer one who differentiated your brand in the marketplace with a new angle, even if it didn’t have the same broad reach as last year’s campaign? Adhere to what principles your organization’s strategy prioritizes, but ensure you’re not inadvertently punishing people who take smart risks.

Follow basic culture evolution lessons: Strategy+business magazine’s article “Culture and the Chief Executive” shared how culture can evolve by following four tenets, and they’ll of course apply here, too.  The basic steps to remember:

  • Demonstrate positive urgency by focusing on your company’s aspirations — its unfulfilled potential — rather than on any impending crisis.
  • Pick a critical few behaviors that exemplify the best of your company and culture that you want everyone to adopt. Set an example by visibly adopting these behaviors yourself.
  • Balance your appeals to the company to include both rational and emotional cues.
  • Make the change sustainable by maintaining vigilance on the few critical elements that you have established as important.

Know your limitations: Certain companies, organizations within an enterprise and missions can more easily afford to push the envelope and experiment than others. While inspiration can come from the tech world, there are limits to how far your organization can go. The key is to understand, challenge and ultimately work within these limits to foster a culture of innovation. Even in risk-averse circumstances, some businesses exercise the fail-fast philosophy on non-mission-critical projects that won’t harm the business, brand or customers if they don’t pan out. This approach can reinforce your culture and can empower and engage the team. It can even lead to new value if the idea can spark other future, more achievable initiatives.

It’s difficult to create a work world balance where innovation and creativity can quickly become executable projects or products in the market while also staying within the complex boundaries of a large organization — especially one that’s regulated.

But a learning culture that embraces fresh ideas, even those that could fail, is increasingly essential. More than ever, our clients ask PwC to help them stay competitive and innovative while smaller organizations threaten their growth. And, more than ever, big businesses risk losing talent to these companies, too.

To keep up, you’ve got to re-up. There’s little progress to be made by doing things the way you’ve done them in the past few years. If you consider how your company’s culture could better embrace risk and failed ideas, you’ll be better positioned to deal with more unpredictability and to grow in the future.

It’s Time to Toss ‘Rank and Yank’

When executives don’t perform well, sometimes they’re fired. But when the company’s merit rating system doesn’t improve employees, do you fire it, too?

If you’re Accenture CEO Pierre Nanterme, you do. That’s right, he fired ‘rank and yank.’

There will be no more annual performance reviews at Accenture — a decision that employees wholeheartedly support, according to their responses on Facebook, and the Washington Post, whicho broke the story.

This wasn’t the first time in recent memory that rank and yank was given the boot.

Earlier this year, GE and Deloitte largely eliminated their annual review processes, too. They followed Adobe, which blazed the way in March 2012.

If the unintended consequences of annual performance reviews haven’t yet hurt your business, consider yourself fortunate. But if your organization is one of the millions of businesses that have not fundamentally improved people — effectively making employees worse off today than they were when they first came to work for you — you owe it to yourself and your employees to rethink how you reward and improve people.

The Unintended Consequences

Dr. W. Edwards Deming first suggested eliminating the annual performance review 50 years ago. Deming called it “a disease that annihilated long-term planning, demolished teamwork, left people crushed, bruised and despondent and unable to comprehend why they were inferior.”

Today, with fewer than 40% of employees feeling as though they matter at work, is there much data from which to disagree?

Probably not.

While Deming’s comments certainly weren’t popular with mainstream American leadership, they have resonated loudly with millions of employees.

One thing Deming frequently talked about is systems thinking and how it relates to rank and yank and improving people and their productivity.

Output Equals Input

A Formula One race car running at peak performance maximizes the engine and transmission to generate both horsepower and torque as it speeds along the track. But other components of the system also contribute greatly to the race car’s success or demise.

For example, the conditions of the track can vary based on the weather. Heat, cold, humidity, wind and other climatic conditions all affect racing, creating the need for differing types of tire compounds and race car setup. The speed at which a team can change tires also goes into the mix.

So which element is most likely to propel the car to victory?

All of them. None of them stands alone. This is precisely the point behind systems thinking. The sum of the parts is far more important than individual components.

A System of Profound Knowledge (SOPK)

In Deming’s System of Profound Knowledge, he promoted the idea that a system of production had four key elements that were necessary to improve and transform an organization.

  1. Appreciation of a system
  2. Knowledge of variation
  3. Theory of knowledge
  4. Psychology

All four elements needed to be thoroughly understood by leadership to materially improve production rates, create greater operating efficiencies and, most importantly, improve people on a continuum.

The Element Of Psychology: Destroying the Entire Herd

The original thinking behind the merit rating system was that ranking employees — one against another — would bring the cream to the top, and separate the butterfat from the buttermilk. But the system as we know it has not only spoiled the milk but destroyed the herd used to produce it.

In addition, the merit rating system does little to improve a system’s performance. While a handful of employees might “feel” able to produce more goods and services for a few days following favorable performance reviews, the fact is, over the long haul, this isn’t true.

The Element of Variation and a Bunch of Red Beads

In his famed red bead experiment, Deming destroyed the fallacy that different people, doing the same thing over and over again in a standardized production process, would yield markedly different results. And the variation in output was predictable to near certainty.

During Deming’s experiments, he first established a standardized process. Employees would use the exact same machinery, methods and materials to perform his experiment. The only difference was the person performing the process. Deming, in fact, often used company executives to be production workers for a day.

The goal was to make white beads, of the highest quality and at the fastest rate.

So, pay for performance, maximize output, separate the wheat from the chafe and men from the boys, right?

Wrong!

Mixed within the white beads would be problems, represented by red beads. Executives would reach down inside a container to pull out white beads, and red beads would be mixed in.

Deming compared the white-bead production of each executive, and they were astonished when they couldn’t outproduce one another on a meaningful basis, no matter how competitive they were or how much encouragement or punitive action they received from Deming or other team members.They were all impaired by the wasteful red beads that kept popping up.

Deming’s simple example of controlled variation showed thousands of executives that merit ratings were ineffective tools at improving human productivity, and improving humans themselves.

To increase production, what was needed was a different way of doing things. A systemically better way. One that used an entire team’s talents and knowledge to find the root causes behind production problems. Knowledge and talents that could be used to improve the system while getting to the bottom of the causes of the red beads.

Deming promoted a system of win-win. One that helped any man or woman working within a system get dramatically better psychologically, not intrinsically worse emotionally. A system that avoided using one man’s talents to destroy another man’s ego — or perhaps even “annihilate it,” as Deming suggested was happening throughout American culture more than 30 years ago.

The Importance of Knowledge

Harvard sociologist Chris Argyris defined learning as “the detection and correction of errors.” Deming suggested that man’s long-term need to learn — an intrinsic motivator — far outweighed the extrinsic rewards and short-term benefits from his financial success.

It was within this context that Deming talked at length about knowledge, psychology, variation and systems thinking and their respective impact on people, productivity and engagement. All aimed directly at improving the conditions in which employees work.

Individuals Vs. Team-Based Merit

Many employees will be happy to see you yank old rank and yank. Especially those who — according to your merit rating system — are indispensable performers one year but dispensable slugs the next.

It’s time to revisit the ideas behind systems thinking and how it can improve man on a continuum.

I rarely use the word “terminate.” But if firing, or simply “laying off” the merit rating system for a while will bring about the good change we need to improve people and profits simultaneously, let’s bring about its pink slip.