Archive for the ‘Human Resources’ Category

6 Seconds to Rejection – Can Hiring Managers Afford It?


Some time ahead I created a voice over Internet presentation for managers on the difference between recruiting for well established roles and recruiting for roles that will make change, perform at peak levels and introduce innovation. (See “How Do I Find the Talent I Need?”). I explore the two kinds of recruiting and ask managers to think about which one fits their hiring needs.

This morning I saw a short Internet video from Business Insider that presented the results of research that was done on how recruiter read resumes. The researchers found that recruiters spend less than 6 seconds on a resume. They look at the person’s name, the person’s current employment – title and dates, the person’s last place of employment – again title and dates, and then the person’s education. They do that in 6 seconds. If the resume does not fit the pattern that they are looking for, it is rejected and the recruiter moves onto the next resume.

What a powerful way to illustrate the difference between recruiting for well established roles and recruiting for innovation. 6 seconds to rejection only works when a recruiter is looking for an exact fit to a preconceived notion of what the job is all about.

If you are manager, and you need innovative or high performing people working for you, you cannot accept the results of the 6 seconds to rejection recruiting. You must find recruiters who do more.

Such recruiters take the time to understand your requirements. They want to know what defines effective future performance on the job. They will ask you how you will measure this – what will you see and hear that defines such a level of high performance. They will create candidate filtering processes that move beyond resumes. They know they are searching for talent, not conventional fit.

Such recruiters will not be working for most of the recruiting departments in organizations or for most of the recruiting and search firms that exist. These groups are full of 6 second to rejection recruiters.

6 seconds to rejection recruiters don’t have to live with the consequences of their actions. You, the hiring manager, do. You and the person who fills your job will be working together for months, perhaps years. A 6 second to rejection recruiters has no stake in your long term.

Of course, if you as a hiring manager are looking for a conventional candidate who will fit into a well established job and perform at a normal level, then by all means use 6 seconds to rejection recruiters. They are likely to be cheapest. Even if they are not, they are not likely to ask much of you. That will save you time.

But if you need anything more than conventional performance in the people who work for you, you run the serious risk that exactly the candidate you need will be in the pile of rejected resumes resulting from your recruiter’s 6 seconds to rejection process.

How can you tell the difference between 6 second to rejection recruiters and the one you need? In exactly the same way you separate an exceptional candidate from an average one – by watching how the recruiter behaves. A 6 second to rejection recruiter will be satisfied with a traditional job description. He or she will post the job on whatever Internet recruiting platform is normally used in your organization. Then the recruiter will read incoming resumes to find a number of conventional fit candidates. The recruiter will pass these onto you.

In contrast, a future performance oriented recruiter will ask you for time at the beginning of the recruiting process. She or he will want to know a lot about how you will define successful future performance on the job. This recruiter will use this information to create filtering mindsets and techniques that are designed to look for the candidate innovativeness and future high performance you need.

This recruiter will also read resumes. The future performance oriented recruiter will be looking for clear signs that this candidate has taken the time to signal innovativeness and demonstrate exceptional performance. That may take the recruiter 30 seconds to determine, but those 24 seconds are the key to spotting a potential high performer for you.

When future performance oriented recruiters find such a resume, they use the specific filtering techniques they created for your search to quickly determine – is this person real or is this just a well crafted resume? The recruiter will focus on what the person can do in the future, not just what the individual as done in the past.

Once the candidate has gotten beyond this first filter, the recruiter will dive into the future with the individual, finding out how the person will respond to your performance challenges. Only those candidates who show signs of understanding and rising to these performance challenges will be passed onto you as the hiring manager

So choose. As a hiring manager, your choice is really quite simple. Live with the results of 6 second to rejection conventional recruiting, or invest more. Find an atypical recruiter, one who does not practice 6 second to rejection recruiting.


Are Older Workers Marginalized in the Workplace?


Lorrie Clark of the Permanent Search Group in Toronto, Ontario, Canada started a dialogue in the Canada Jobs, Careers and Networking, a subgroup of Job Openings, Job Leads and Job Connections!  group on Linked In.

Are Older Workers Marginalized in the Workplace?

Do you think that aging workers become less valued and even marginalized in the workplace as they grow older?

The thoughtful comments there got me thinking. Here is my point of view of the underlying dynamics leading to this.

Funny how things changes as the years accumulate. When I was in my 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s, I never really thought about hiring folks who were older. I just hired the folks that fit the jobs I needed filled – and generally age reflected required experience.

As I gained experience, and moved into more senior positions, I tended to hire folks who were the same age or folks who were younger than I was.

Because I moved into senior ranks (CIO level) in my early thirties, I also often hired folks who were older than me – but even then I realized that this was not the usual pattern in the companies in which I worked. People tend to hire folks who are the same age or younger. Most folks are just not comfortable hiring folks who are the same age as their parents.

Then I entered my late 50’s and 60’s. Suddenly, head hunter acquaintances were politely telling me that I was a “hard sell”. The socially polite ones used the words “too experienced”. But a few of them were a little more straight  with me. Here is the kind of thing I heard from them.

“Can’t place folks pass 55 in most of my assignments – people want the appearance of youthful energy – even when it is an illusion. The other reality is that folks don’t tend to hire people that are older than they are. It’s is the exception, rather than the rule. Most of my clients – the folks who make the hiring decisions – are in their late 40s, early 50’s and they hire folks who are younger than they are.”

So I believe that things have not changed all that much in the past 50 years or so on the hiring side.

But things have sure changed on the demographic side, and on the economic side. There are more folks who are healthy and wanting to do productive work who are in their late 50’s, 60’s and 70’s than ever before. And there is a talent crisis coming, as well as continuing economic turbulence. This in and off itself is not enough to produce real change in the hiring marketplace. Things won’t change however till companies, and even more importantly, politicians, do three things.

1. Companies need to stop expecting HR recruiters in their 30’s and 40’s to present candidates who are older than the HR recruiters to hiring managers. Put some recruiters in their late 50’s and 60’s into the recruiting department if you want to see that change.

2. Companies need to stop the hiring myth that we as a company are hiring you for the rest of your career. The employment marketplace and social stats are clear. People will work for a number of companies and have a number of careers in the 21st century. Problem is most companies’ pension plans, even if they have made the move from defined benefit to pay out what your plan is worth, are still structured on the 20th century expectation that you will work  for this company for most of your career.

Cut pensions loose from companies, make them portable, belonging to the individual. Let’s see serious tax and legal frameworks that encourage companies to do that. Politicians take note please.

3. Create a job market place which encourages and supports “interim” or contract assignments which are strongly differentiated from full time or career assignments.

Again this will not happen until appropriate legal and tax framework changes are in place. For one thing, individuals working in this “contract” marketplace need things like income averaging to help manage the risks involved. They also need a simpler “business expense” framework than the one which works for companies / corporations.

But, personal opinion – given the mess that politicians have gotten into by running up big deficits – we are not likely to see this kind of forward thinking from most of them. On my more morbid days, I sometimes think that democracy is a con game in which politicians buy votes with a voter’s neighbor’s (who can vote) and voters’ kids (because government deficit financing of current programs ==> future taxation of people who cannot vote) dollars.

Systematic Consensus – It is Great but It is Not New


In the February 2012 issue of the Internet-based Eco-villages newsletter, Diana Leafe Christian, the editor, published a piece called “Systemic Consensus – Fast, Visual and Hard to Deal With”.  In it, she described the development of an extension of consensus decision-making called Systematic Consensus. Diana  praised many of its features, based on real experience that she has had with it.

Systematic Consensus has two main features. First, it allows participants in a decision-making group to express their degree of support for the options being considered. They use a scale – typically a scale running from 0 to 10 – 0 meaning no support, 10 indicating full support. They indicate their degree of support for each option on this shared scale. As a result, individuals can move beyond simple binary decision making – support or do not support. They can express nuances – degrees of support – that are far more thoughtful, and revealing, than simple binary choices.

Systematic Consensus’s second main feature is the collation and public posting of each individual’s level of support for each option on a group flip chart, poster or white board. The facilitator leads this process. As she or he does so, dynamically, in front of the group, the facilitator is creating a real time group profile that displays the range of support for the various options under consideration. As a result, the dialogue in the group is enhanced, leading to more productive outcomes.

Dinah goes on to explain how all of this works. She provides some concrete examples drawn from real involvement with a number of community groups. She demonstrates that is not simply a mechanical process, but one that requires real process leadership skill on the part of the facilitator.  It’s a fascinating article. I recommend that you have a look at it. It’s available at the following URL –,_Visual,_and_Hard_to_Argue_With.

As I read it, I was reminded of the power of, and difficulty inherent in, facilitating productive consensus in groups. I remembered some of the difficulties that I had experienced when facilitating a group dedicated to achieve consensus early in my facilitator life. I learned through hard experience that great consensus building sessions make deep contributions to building a highly functioning team or a strong sense of community among individuals. But I also learned that skillful individuals can block or sabotage consensus in groups, bending other members to their own point of view through sheer self-centered determination. Achieving productive consensus is not always easy.

The two core concepts that underlie systematic consensus are important ones. They address some of the problems that can occur in consensus seeking groups. But these ideas are not new. They are a great contribution to the dialogue about the dynamics needed to build intentional communities. I have been working with very similar processes for years when facilitating problem solving groups in  more conventional environments, both community and business. Some I developed myself. Others entered my facilitation took kit as a result of mentoring and coaching from facilitators who has struggled with the difficulties inherent in facilitating consensus long before I start to do so.

I hope that you will go take a look at Diana’s article. It provides background for following insights about facilitating group decision making and consensus.

Building Dynamic Group Profiles in Real Time

I have been using the visual charting technique in working with groups for several decades.  Hedley Dimock[1], one time Director of the Centre For Human Relations and Community Studies, first introduced me to the idea of visually developing group profiles in front of a group.  Since those days, I have learned that there are a couple of critical things to do when a facilitator chooses to use this technique.

  1. First, I get individuals to make a personal decision about where they stand on the issue or the options under consideration. I direct them to move into a “personal” space while they are doing so. As a result, they experience a physical separation between the space they are working in as a group and the place in which they make these personal decisions. This physical separation aligns with the cognitive distance that I want them to experience.

Often this is as simple as getting them to move around the room in some way that results in them being in different physical location from where they would be when the group is in its normal “working in group” configuration.

  1. I ask them to record their decision in some way, often by requesting that they do something as simple as writing down their stand on each option – e.g. simply recording the relevant number of the scale if we are using one. I always ask them to label this recording with their name. If multiple options are on the table, they record where they stand on each one in a way that clearly identifies each of the options.

I have found that this “personal recording step” is crucial in avoiding “group think”. Without it, people often change their “judgments on the fly” as they see the pattern of individual results being recorded on the publicly visual group profile. For some people, “belonging” is far more important than taking a personal stand. They “conform” to group patterns, even though the group pressure they are feeling is implicit and indirect..

By asking group members to make these judgments personally, and recording them, I decrease the likelihood of such a “spontaneous” personal change in judgment. When I am really concerned about this dynamics happening in a particular group, I will even “collect” the individuals’ judgments before starting to build the group profile with the whole group. I do so by simply asking people to give me a copy of what they have recorded. I then ask them to refer to their copy as I record their personal results on the group profile. If individuals do verbally provide a different input on an item from what is recorded on their / my copy, I record what they say. I take these steps in order to decrease the likelihood of this happening, not force it not to happen.

  1. Although I may create a version group profile for my own insight[2] before I facilitate the “profiling” group session, I always build a group profile dynamically in real time with the group. By collecting, collating and recording the individual judgments in real time, in front of the entire group, I achieve the following.
  • Each individual verbally expresses their personal decision in front of the other members of the group. Every group member experiences each person doing so. This creates an implicit sense of each person “owning” their judgments within the dynamic context of the whole group.


  • Each member of the group sees the group profile being built. They can see the evolving patterns in the group profile. They can see where they are personally with reference to each of the other members of the group.

I am well aware that implicit “sub-grouping” around similarities can start to occur at this stage. But they do anyway in normal group discussion.

Underlying Psychological Dynamics

Recording individual judgments in a way that creates a publicly available group profile has many benefits for team and group development. It takes advantage of a number of well-known psychological dynamics.

  1. Both the foreground and the background[3] of the group’s current decision-making are available to everyone in the group at the same time.

Each individual can see the patterns that exist in the group, whatever they might be – whatever degree of consensus or difference currently exists. At the same time, each individual can see where they stand with respect to the other members of the group.

  1. A tremendous amount of information about the underlying dynamics in the group moves from being “implicit, private” knowledge to “explicit, shared, public” knowledge. This allows the members of the group to focus more of their energy on the content under consideration, and less on figuring out where they stand with respect to the other members of the group on the issues.

Underlying Democratic Dynamics

Charting group patterns in this visual public manner reinforces the basic sense of democracy in the group.

  1. Each individual is shown to be an equally valued individual contributor in front of the whole group.
  2. The similarities and differences between the group members are also being made public. The degrees of similarity or difference are apparent to all.

This is the other side of democracy. Differences exist in democratic groups. Making this explicit allows individuals to deal openly with it. It removes much of the covertness that often exists in democratic situations. Sub-groups do form. Alliances are created.

The public group profile provides explicit insight into these possibilities. As individuals participating in a democratic process, each group member has a responsibility to deal with these similarities and differences. Making their personal stands public in a way that provides open insight into similarities and differences encourages people to do so.

The Benefits of the Psychological Disassociation

When I create a group profile in this fashion, I am actively working with the principle of “psychological disassociation”.[4]

  1. I take great care in making sure that each individual has an opportunity to make a personal record of the decision about the issue before I create the group profile.  I ask them to record it. That’s extremely important. It allows individuals to experience the results of their internal decision making process, whatever it may be, from the outside in. The record of their decision making is step one in the disassociation process. They are moving from experiencing the process of making the decision to looking at a record of the result of that experience. That implicitly from them from a first position stance – experiencing – to a second position stance – looking at the results of their experience.
  2. I also create a public version of the group profile, in real time, in front of the entire group. That is step two in the disassociation process. The person’s decision about each option is no longer simply being “something which I have personally experienced inside myself, and then recorded to that I can see the results of my personal experience”. When the individual verbally declares each of their decision in front of the group, and I record it on the profile, they experience another level of disassociation.  Their decision becomes “a decision that I have presented to others and seen publicly placed in the context of what others have done when they made the same personal decision.” The minute I record it, the individual experiences it from a third position, seeing it on the group profile. As result, individuals move from a “me” stance to a “my decision in the context of others’ decision” stance.[5]

The degree of psychological disassociation achieved by these actions reduces the likelihood that individual will engage in “flight – fight” personality dynamics when experiencing differences with other individuals in the group.  Differences becomes “idea or issue” focused, not person to person focused.  As a result, the possibilities for creativity within the group are deeply enhanced. The likelihood that the group will move to some level of eventual shared and creative consensus is increased. The possibility that the consensus when it occurs, is about new, creative possibilities that develop from the patterns of similarity and differences in the group is greatly enhanced.

Moving Beyond Simple Binary “Yes / No” Decisions

Starting with decisions that move beyond simple binary decisions is essential to all of this. The originators of Systematic Consensus use a scale to achieve this. I also used scales to achieve this. But based on work that I have done with Q-Sort methodologies in individual research, but I have also use option card ranking methods which I will describe later.

The technique chosen to move beyond simple binary stance must reflect

  • the nature of the problem under consideration by the group,
  • the time available for group work,
  • and the skill / past experience / comfort level of the facilitator.

What is important is that the facilitator uses a technique that adds depth and nuance to the personal and group decision making process.

When working with problem solving groups, I often use these following steps. These steps become more and more difficult to manage as the size of the group starts to exceed small group limits (12 to 20 participants).[6]

  1. I introduce overall steps we will follow to the participants in an initial group meeting. This meeting usual follows some start up dialogue with a number of the members of the group to ensure that I understand their concerns and that I am the “right fit” person to be working with them.
  2. I meet with each person, in interview mode. I am trying to get a sense of each person perspective on the issues and options that the group is facing. I also start to build the rapport with each person which will make my involvement with them as a group a richer and more dynamically valuable experience.
  3. Based on these meetings, I organize / summarize my understanding in a set of issue / problem statements. The language that I use reflects what I have heard. I take great care to use their language, not my own.
  4. I circulate these statements to the group members as individuals for input and comment.  I incorporate their responses into a final set of statements, and circulate them once more, asking if they are an accurate depiction of the issue or options that the group needs to address.
  5. I place the each statement on a card, often a simple 4” by 5” (or 4” by 8”) index card. I end up with a set of cards that define the issue or problem or options with which the group is dealing.
  6. I meet with each person and ask them to rank order these cards in a way that reflects their personal perception of importance or urgency or suitability. Again, the precise language I use in these instructions comes from the group’s context.

Card sorting moves individuals beyond the verbal. They engage fully – cognitively, emotionally and physically – in this process. As they sort the cards, they are paying attention to where they place in card in relation to all of the other cards – taking advantage of our human ability to consider foreground / background patterns at the same time.

Once they are through with the card sort, I ask them to verbalize their reasons for placing the cards in the way that they did. Essentially, this provides an opportunity for them to verbalize / rehearse things they might say later in the group. I record the results of their card sort, showing the individuals how they ranked the cards from “most to least”. This becomes their personal record.

  1. When the group reconvenes, I use some highly visual method to publicly record the results of each individual’s card sort into the group profile. Again, I make sure that they “verbalize” their input to me in front of the entire group.

Sometimes I do this as simply as possible, building a group profile, individual by individual, on flipchart or poster paper. At times, I get more technological, recording the individual’s input into a pre-prepared excel spreadsheet, using a computer and computer projector to project the process of building the profile on a wall or screen[7].  It depends on the group. Rapport is key. Using technology with a non-technology comfortable group is a problem, as is using paper based methods with a technology using group.

I am more likely to use 0 to 10 scales used in Systematic Consensus when I have to work with the group in a single session. I use a break out period to allow them to do the personal decision making. Using scales is easier to explain to a whole group in real time. They understand it, and need less personal direction than using card sorts. The time needed to “develop” the issues / options out of personal interaction is not needed.

Working Through Differences

Once the group profile has been built and is publicly apparent to everyone, the profile itself becomes a resource that I as the facilitator can use to encourage and to focus dialogue in the group. I can use it to explicitly move conflict from people to issues. I work with the group as follows.

  1. On the group profile, I visually identify two individuals who are “at opposite ends” on an item.  I ask each person to talk to the whole group about the reasons they made the personal decisions they did. My verbal directions to each person indicate that I’m asking them to talk as a resource to the group, helping the group understand how and why they as a person came to the judgments that are apparent in the group profile.
  2. I create the opportunity for the other members of the people to ask the presenting individual questions. But I manage this to ensure that these are understanding questions, not personal statements in the form of questions that are really an indirect form of disagreement.
  3. Once both individuals have described their personal reasons, I turn to the group. I ask if, based on what each person has heard from these two individuals, does any member want to make a change in the judgments that is been recorded for them on the group profile.

If any individual does indicate a desire to do so, I first record the changes on the group profile in a way which is immediately apparent to the whole group. Then I ask the person who has made the change to tell the whole group their reasons for making this change. I facilitate this “change in judgment” process until no one indicates a desire to change their recorded judgment.

Clearly group dynamics, and interpersonal pressure, impact what is happening in the group during this activity. However, because each individual is changing a personal judgment which has been recorded in a disassociated fashion in a group profile, the change tends to be about the content of the ideas, not the implicit and explicit interpersonal alignments in the group. People usually provide content credible reasons for their changes.

Sometimes, the group members start to engage in discussions which lead to consideration of blended or new options that do not exist on the group profile. Often this creativity leads to clear and readily apparent consensus in the group.

What Happens Next

My experience indicates that the dialogue in the group at this point is a function of many different and interacting factors The length and intensity of this dialogue will depend on the issue, the history of the group, the nature of the individual personalities, the patterns in the group profile (large degree of similarity, bi-polar or tri-polar or … sub-groupings,) and the feelings that individual group members about the likely outcome.

But this dialogue now occurs in an environment which is deeply enriched by the amount of data about the group dynamic that is available to each individual. Groups seldom stay stuck; regardless of the difficulty of the issues they are dealing with, when this information is available to them. If consensus does not emerge from within the group, the new options can be clarified as a new place from which to recycle and start the individual judgment over again. “Stuck groups” often welcome this way of moving beyond their lack of progress.

What Happens to Individual Outliers

There is one other consequence of this type of group profile based consensus seeking that facilitators must be aware before they start using these processes. Individuals whose personal perspective on issues is dramatically different from the pattern that emerges during the group profiling are immediately identified in a public way as being different from most or all of the other members of the group. This individual must now deal with the consequences of being “distant” from the group in this way. This person can come to feel isolated, even blocked out from fruitfully participating in the groups’ further dialogue.

Sometimes such individuals simply treat this being related to the issues at hand, and continue their active participation in the life of the group or community. At other times, such persons feel alienated from the group.

People who end up with these feelings may do one of two things – withdraw from the life of the group or take a public stance of agreement with the group even when the person does not feel this. Facilitators need to be aware of this possibility, and when it occurs respond dynamically in a way that is respectful both to the individual, and to the whole group. These consensus seeking / facilitating techniques are not mechanical. They require facilitators to have deep skills, both as group process leaders and as sensitive human beings.

[1] Hedley is long retired, although some of his books on group process continue to help and to inspire folks who work with groups.

[2] Doing so often helps me decide on the exact format to use during the real time profiling session with the group. I tend to do it this “self step” if the timing and the dynamics of working with a particular group allow me to do so. If not, I develop the profiling format on-the-fly with the group.

[4] Severely disassociated personal states are considered sub-optimal by psychologists (see However, a level of disassociation from the immediacy of one’s feelings and judgments can allow an individual to be more productive in group situations. See Robert Kegan”s “In Over Our Heads” for insight into this type  of disassociation. Google Robert Kegan for much more on these “mature adult processes” when participating in public/ social life.

[5] Robert Kegan’s classic 1994 book “In Over Our Heads” for more insight into the benefit of moving from 1st to 2nd and 3rd position, and the importance of this ability in our journey through life to mature adulthood.

[6] The modification of these facilitation techniques for large groups is beyond the scope of this article. But it can be done. Google “large group methods” to gain some insight into the richness possible.

[7] At one point in my facilitation career, I “decreased the time needed for this process” by preparing these profiles in advance of the group and simply distributing or projecting them to the group. I learned that the time I saved led to unanticipated consequence. Because each group member no longer went through the process of publicly providing their input to the profile, there was far less ownership of personal stances. The subsequent dialogue in the group was often far less rich and creative. I now resist the personal temptation, and often the urging of one or more group members, to do “save” this time. The process of publicly verbalizing personal decisions, and seeing them recorded as they are verbalized, is important to the dynamics among the group members.


Four Core Things I Believe About Life in Organizations


I learned something important about myself on the weekend. I am less patient with myself now and much less accepting of some of the things others in my society believe about life in organizations. I don’t expect to be seen as being any more “right” in my views now than in my earlier years. I don’t expect folks in general to agree with me any more than they did in the past – that is up to them. But I do find that I am not prepared to engage in as much dialogue about these beliefs with those who see things differently, unless that dialogue leads to real constructive action that benefits both of us.

I have worked for a long time. Over the course of my career, I have kept up a constant involvement in academic life – as a night student, graduate student, part time lecturer and distance education participant. I have and still read widely in management and workplace psychology. I have thought hard about what I was doing at work and how I was leading the folks who worked for me.

I have come to these four conclusions by reflecting on both the reading and the experience. I have quietly held them for years. They underlie all my consulting work and business related writing.

1. Performance appraisal is a waste of time if you are looking for business results.

Our evolved instinctive approaches to living in tribes makes power based interpersonal relationships vey much part of the way that we work together. We like tribally defined hierarchies. We need leaders and followers. We need to know where we stand in these tribal power structures. Performance appraisal does a fine job of addressing these needs. But it does nothing at all to increase an organization’s ability to generate results.

I have personally appraised dozens of direct reports. I have directed the building of innovative computer based performance appraisal systems. I have led the implementation of such performance appraisal systems in large large IT organizations (> 1500 professionals).

But I now accept very little of my work around performance appraisal contributed to improving the results we delivered in the organizations for which I worked. I now know that backward looking performance appraisal simply does not justify the energy it takes to do and the anxiety and mistrust that it creates in the people who were appraised.

Forward looking performance contracting is different. Performance contracting means looking ahead, not looking back. It consists of:

  1. negotiating what an individual will do in the coming months and year,
  2. clarifying how this relates to what others, including the person whom the individual is dependent on, are doing,
  3. agreeing on how the to be delivered by the individual are going to be measured  by both the person and the boss (i.e. they each need independent access to the data that makes up the measures);
  4. and then getting together regularly to review delivered personal results against the agreed upon performance objectives.

Managers who do performance contract in this way lead at work. They inspire. They shape the future through the actions of the people who work for them.

It worked for me. I have twice created IT organizations that outside auditors independently judged to be “world class excellent”. In both organizations, I did performance contracting with my direct reports, and encouraged them to do so with the people who worked for them. Together, we supported the cascade of this approach down our organization.

Performance contracting is not easy. The boss must make a personal commitment to simultaneously treating the people who work for the boss as problem solving peers and as results-responsible direct reports. Doing so involves accepting and working with the dynamic contradictions between these two roles. As power solving peers, the two people share power and a kind of equality. As direct report and boss, they are in a clearly defined power hierarchy. Recognizing and respecting these differences, and dealing with the conflict they create, takes self awareness and self containment on the part of the boss.

Bosses must discipline themselves to continuously clarify when they are behaving as a problem solving peer and when they are behaving as a results evaluating superior.

At times, bosses must negate the “power surge” that comes from being a results evaluating superior so they can effectively coach as a problem solving peer They must resist the temptation to use the power component of the relationship to simply dictate the solutions to problems when the two of them engage as problem solving peers. They must accept that simply telling does not always lead to understanding on the part of the direct report. They must act as if this is the boss’s failure, not the direct report’s, when this occurs.

At other times, particularly at the end of the performance period, bosses must take on the tough challenge of carrying though on negative consequences when the direct report’s performance has been lacking. This is not easy if the boss has developed a “liking” for the person through working with the individual as a problem solving peer. It will be even harder if the boss has failed to coach effectively in the regular review meetings between the two.

Human beings’ instinctive approach to managing performance in organizations – power based performance appraisal – is much easier, especially on bosses. It just does not motivate the folks who are appraised to produce “above every day” or excellent results.

2. Organizations waste the dollars they spend on interpersonal skill training (e.g. programs on leading others, resolving conflict …).

If behavior on the job does not change as a result of training, the money spent on it is wasted.

Very little interpersonal behavior training leads changes on the job, despite the millions of dollars spent on managerial, supervisory and interpersonal skills training. Every one “kind of” knows this. That is why there is so few systematic follow up programs to measure actual “on the job” behavior after such training programs. As long as we don’t have to face the facts, we can continue to believe.

There are two reasons why behavior change back on the job after participating in interpersonal skill type of training program is so hard.

1. Unless individuals are personally motivated, they are not going to change their behavior back at work (or in their personal lives), even it they learn the underlying ideas and concepts.

Self selection and self initiation of participation in such training is a good indicator of the needed motivation. Personally enrolling oneself in this type of course is a good predictor that the individual might have the needed motivation needed to actually change behavior back on the job. Expending personal resources to pay for the training is an even better one.

Being “sent” on such program by your organization has very little to do with having the level of personal motivation needed to actually change behavior on the job. Yet many organizations ask people to attend such training programs because the “boss” thinks it is a good thing, or because it is the norm for all people who first enter a certain job level, or because some executive has come to believe that this type of training has pay back.

2. Individuals behave in interlocked patterns at work. If one person changes his or her interpersonal behavior, the others the person interacts with have to change theirs as well. These other people are often not motivated to do so. Instead, they put group peer pressure on the person who changes his or her behavior after attending a training program to revert back to the old behaviors the person had before they went on the training program – the social extinction effect. Most individuals who try to implement new behaviors do revert back to the old behaviors in the face of this implicit social pressure. The training investment is lost.

The individuals who persist in wanting to change their behavior after such training often respond to the peer pressure by finding new people to work with. Usually, this means moving to a new job. Often, that new job is with another employer. The training investment is lost.

Organizations who want to really change interpersonal behavior patterns need to engage in systematic culture change programs. As well as training, such programs involve visible recognition and compensation programs that reward the “new behavior”. These programs also involve specific activities that counter “resistance” to change on the part of current members of the culture.

Such programs are difficult to plan and to execute. They must work from the top down and the bottom up in a coordinated way. They are intensely resource demanding. They require persistence over extended periods of time. Few organizations succeed at such culture change programs at the level of “walk”.  Most organizations though engage in “talk” as if they are doing such things, even if they don’t really do them.

There are a couple of simple things to consider as a result of these dynamics.

If you invest in an individual’s interpersonal behavior change, you need to move them into a new job to have a reasonable chance of recouping on your investment.

When individuals are motivated to spend personal resources on changing their interpersonal behavior at work, they are also at high risk for leaving your organization in order to find another job where they can practice those new skills.

3. Interview based recruiting is all about “good enough” hiring, not future performance excellence on the job.

The academic research is clear – talk during recruiting interviews is not correlated with eventual final candidate performance on the job. But everybody continues to do to use talk based interviewing as their primary recruiting tool. Why?

Talk based interviewing finds “good enough” candidates – both on the technical skill level and culture fit level. Talk based interviewing does not systematically succeed in finding the “best candidates”. It does not need to. Good enough is good enough for most organizations. Few organizations are really excellent. Most organizations talk ‘excellence”, even when they don’t “walk” it.

It is possible to recruit for excellence. It takes “show us how you will perform with the people that you will be working with” recruiting techniques. This means crafting work based role plays and work based simulations. They are more difficult to set up and to facilitate than interviews. Creating them, and then facilitating them, is far beyond the skill of most recruiting professionals.

The best way to see how a person will behave in the future – on the job, is to get them to behave currently.  Get candidates to do, not talk about what they have done. Even “behavior based interviewing” does not do that.

Job based role plays and work simulations go some way to allowing the assessment of performance fit. Involving future peers in interacting with candidates and then systematically collecting their impression of fit allows some level of assessment of cultural fit.

The best hires – excellent performance fit to a particular job and superb emotional fit to a specific organization’s culture – are often temporary folks who have already “demonstrated” how they will perform on the job. You see what they can do and how they will interact with their fellow co-workers during their temporary assignment. The best predictor of future behavior is always past behavior.

Bringing the person in on a temporary basis is the best way to assess both performance fit and culture fit. It remains the best hiring tactic if you are hiring for excellence. If you are not, and most organizations do hire for good enough, then the talk that happens in recruiting interviews will do.

4. Many human abilities are as much instinctive as thoughtful. Excellence at work requires thought rather than just responding instinctively.

More and more, modern research is showing how much of our human capability to do and to interact with others utilizes ability systems that located in the pre-conscious parts of our brains. These evolved ability systems let us become the dominant species on the planet hundreds of thousands of years ago.

Somewhere in the past 40,000 years or so, we began to move from being tribal creatures to being societal ones. We started to live in conglomerations of individuals which were bigger than one tribe. Previously, as simple tribal members, we might have had occasional interactions with members of a number of other geographically local tribes. But as societal creatures, we developed (i.e. added) the ability to be concurrent members of a number of tribe-like social collections that exist within our societies.

As societal creatures, we developed organizations that specialized in achieving at least some of the objectives of each of their members. We shaped these organizations in which that reflected our evolution as tribal beings. Our organizations have hierarchies and insider/outsider dynamics that we developed as tribal creatures. At the same time, as societal creatures, we developed shared mechanisms and processes for collaborating within and across these organizations.

Organizations traded with other organizations for the resources needed to achieve those objectives of each organization’s members. Thoughtful, structured, planned ways of interacting with individuals in these other organizations became as important a part of our human abilities as our instinctive ways of interacting with other individuals in families and in tribes.

Today, we have all these types of ability. Our gene based evolutionary history adds new abilities to our competency repertoires. It does replace the ones we already have with new ones. Neither does evolution act to integrate new abilities with old ones in balanced way. As a species, we have simply added the new more thought based organizational abilities to our older instinctive interpersonal familial and tribal ones.

Stress is a large of our organizational and societal life. Under stress, we tend to fall back on our instinctive abilities, even when they might not be as effective for dealing with a given situation as our thoughtful abilities. Our instinctive abilities often define our business and societal interactions. Much confusion and turbulence occurs in organizations and in societies as a result.

Understanding and mitigating the results of these dynamics requires that managers in organizations consciously override their instinctive first responses with careful, thoughtful, analytically-based responses. The next generation of organizational behavior writing and business professional development curriculum needs to be much more clearly explicit about the evolutionary nature of human abilities. We need to move from theories of “emotional intelligence” to ones that more clearly reflect the additive evolution of our abilities. We need to make sure that managers understand that they concurrently have instinctive interpersonal and thoughtful organizational abilities. We need to help them recognize that our instinctive abilities, the ones we all move to under most levels of stress, are not the best ones to use to respond to the demands of organizational and societal life.


There is tremendous hope for us as human beings. Our evolution has given us the ability to shape our collection future through collaborative, thoughtful organizational action. But we often do not. Our evolution has also given us the capacity to interact in ways that are firmly embedded in the pre-conscious instinctive abilities that evolved when we were members of families living in tribes. We need to move beyond the familial and tribal in organizational and societal life in order to have a future of hope, not one of self defeating strife.

The Jobs and Technology Elephant in the Room No One Wants to Talks About


A Little History

It’s 1965. I am working as a junior clerk in the research and development department of a national railway in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. My main task is to type up the results of pricing estimate calculations done by one of the approximately 125 men who sit in 10 ranks of desks behind me, 12 to a rank. They all work on the most advanced Friedan mechanical calculators. Their job is to use the local knowledge that they developed through practical train handling experience on parts of the cross country rail network to work up price estimates for the point to point potential movement of goods for customers.

These men share some important traditions. For the most part, they are all older men with a long career working around freight trains on the railway. When one of them retires, they all move up a desk. Understanding your career path is easy in this department.

Whenever this happens, a new recruit is found out on the rails. Many men out there want this desk job. It pays better, and the work is warm – office work. But not all of the who want the job have the math skills needed to do the job. Only the ones that can demonstrate them get a chance.

The department chief clerk also takes care to ensure that knowledge of the rail configuration for entire railroad is always present in the room. Understanding your career path is easy in this department.

Once here, the new man rapidly learns to take part in the group’s Friday afternoon tradition.  They called it “the train leaving the station”. At 4:30, the most junior of them, sitting at desk one in rank one, entered 999999999 times 111111111 into his calculator. As his Friedan started chugging out the calculation, the man behind him did the same, and then the next man and so on. The sound in the room sounded just like an diesel engine picking up speed as it started out of a train station. By just before 5PM, the last calculator sighed to a stop. The men got up and go home for their weekend.

Then along came a young engineer called Russ. He has just learned FORTRAN at a special course for engineers at the local university. He thought he could program an IBM 60s mainframe computer to do these calculations.

It took Russ just three months to write a computer program which estimated pricing for movement of various goods from point to point in the network. It took him another 3 months or so to capture the local knowledge of the 125 men in the desks behind me in a variety of tables that he used in the program.

The men and the program work side by side for a month. At the end of the month it is clear.  The program can produces results at least as accurate as the calculations done by the men. And the program can do it must quicker, even in a batch card mainframe computer environment. Beside speed of calculation is not that important. Overnight results are perfectly acceptable. That is faster than the fastest of the men, who usually took two days to complete a pricing estimate.

The computer program is implemented. 126 jobs disappear overnight (theirs plus mine). It’s the first first time in my career that I experience the ability of technology to destroy jobs. My response is simple. I learn how to program computers.

Since Then, I Have Been in the Business of Destroying Jobs

First as a computer professional, and then as an IT executive, I have delivered on countless technology project. Every time, the business case was based on replacing the cost of people time with far less expensive, and often much more reliable, machine time And I am not the only person to do so. Business has been doing this steadily since the beginning of the industrial revolution. But computers made it possible to extend this from the factory floor to every aspect of enterprise.

At First, We All Benefited

The tremendous increase in productivity that we have experienced in the Western world since the Second World War is the result of the applying technology to making of things, the growing of food, the harvesting of useful things from nature, and the management of information in offices. The resulting productivity growth has driven a dramatic increase in our quality of life. Every thing became cheaper at the same time as average income increased. To most of us who grew up after the Second World War, it seemed like this would never stop.

But I never forgot that first lesson. The economics of technology investment is simple. Replace something that costs more in the long run – human labor – with some that cost less in the long run – machine labor. As long as we lived in a world where we could endlessly expand – because we were trading with the underdeveloped economics that were far behind us – or because there seemed to be no ecological cost to exploiting natural resources, our societies just boomed along.

Technology Ruled, and Had a Hugh Impact on Defining our Society’s Culture

We live in societies where jobs, as well as being the source of family income needed to maintain the family’s members, are an important part of our identity as social beings. More and more, after the beginning of the 20th Century, a job defined who a person was. Job based income was the primary way to support a family. Sometime during the 19th century, for most people, who you were socially became less a function of the land you owned and more a function of the work that you did.

And this trend continued during the 20th Century. By the end of the century, this was true for most of the women in Western societies as well. Women entered the labor force in large numbers after the Second World War. Their jobs, as well as the job based income they contributed to their families, became an important part of their personal identities as well.

Increasing Productivity, and Aggregate Growth In the Size of the Gross Domestic Product, Became the Core Way We Defined Progress in the 20th Century

Throughout the 20th century, we kept finding new ways to use technology to reduce the hours of labor (which translates to the number of jobs) needed to produce the products we needed, the food we eat, the raw resources we harvest, and the services we consume. As we were doing so, we were also constantly increasing the “quality of our lives”, measured largely by disposable family income, and an ever increasing supply of products, food and services. We knew that we had it good. And in the short term, year over year, we did.

Human Beings are Not Great Long Term Anticipators

We are human. Our evolved strength as individuals is to look out over this season, and do some planning for next one, and maybe the one after that. A few of us think about over longer periods of time – as measures by generations and decades. But most of this is speculation. Of all of the speculation that was done in the 20th Century about the future, only a very small percentage turned out to be accurate, as evaluated by the passage of historical time.

Even when those of us who speculate about the future share their speculations in writings and other forms of communication, most of us don’t act on what they say, either as individuals or as societies.

The Consequences of the Destruction of Jobs by Technology Has Built Up Steadily

In the last five decades, we destroyed jobs in manufacturing, in agricultural, and in harvesting natural resources. When we first realized that this was happen, we talked about becoming a service based economy. The productive use of technology in manufacturing, agriculture and harvesting allowed us to create more jobs in the service sectors in our economics.  We took some of the economic “wealth”[1] created by this growth in productivity, and used it to “finance” the creation of these jobs.

Then toward the end of the 20th century, we started to apply technology to office and other service jobs. We began to have some sense of what the inevitable impact of this trend. But we were not clear about it. So we talked about becoming a knowledge based economy.

We still needed jobs, both for the identity they created, and for the job based income we needed to support families. As we used technology to destroy office and service jobs in the public sector, we created more and more new jobs in government. We also expanded tax financed service sectors such as health care and education. To pay for it all, through the magic of money, we also started to accumulate growing government debt. We used money to put off the real bill for all of this somewhere into the future. We believe that the growth boom we had been on for the past 100 or so would never come to an end. We believed that future productivity increase would somehow allow us to cope with this debt.

The Internet and the Export of Jobs

Then in the last decade of the 20th century, we created a technology which made distance largely irrelevant to doing work with information focused work – the Internet.

The relentless economic logic of our short term, year over year, profit maximizing capitalistic investment models led to us continued to kick in. We use the Internet to export more and more of our remaining manufacturing and agricultural jobs to “offshore” economies where the lower cost of living generated a short term profit maximizing advantage.  Communication over the Internet, combined with the technology of air travel, allowed us to effectively manage these distance jobs.

We are now doing the same with public sector information based and other service jobs. Only political pressure, exerted through lobbying on our politicians, has slowed the pace at which we export agricultural, health care, education and government jobs to the lower cost of living parts of our globe.

A Short Term Blessing, Long Term Pain

Our dedication to the relentless economic logic of short term, year over year, profit maximizing investment that has helped us become more productive over the past 5 decades is being to catch up with us. It had huge benefits. We expanded technology under its logic. We increased the quality of life for most Western people under its influence. It is a classic example of the vision strength that our evolution has given us – the ability to act energetically this year’s seasons, and to look ahead to next year’s seasons, and perhaps the year beyond. Sure, the theory for looking longer is there. We do 5 and 10 and 20 year return on investment calculations. But we act in much shorter time frames. We are not really very good at anticipating the longer term consequences of our short term smart actions. Most decision makers did not want to create global warming and environment destruction and resource deletion. But we did anyway.

The Same Pain is Now Starting to Happen With respect To Jobs.

As we destroyed jobs in manufacturing, agricultural and natural resource harvesting, we compensated by creating more jobs in government and tax-finances services. The consequences of doing so are now become dramatically clear.

  • The more government jobs we created, the more government gets involved in the day to day detail of our commercial and private lives.
  • The more health care and education jobs we created, the larger their proportionate cost when compared to our gross domestic product became apparent. We are being to become concerned about our ability to pay for all of them out of tax based finances.
  • The more jobs we exported to lower cost of living economies, the less national family income there is to support our families and the smaller our tax base for paying for those government, education and health care jobs.

No One Openly Talks about this “Elephant in the Room”

We don’t talk about this “Jobs and Technology Elephant in the Room” dilemma in our public discourse. We can’t blame anyone for it, tempting as it is for some of us to blame big business or political leaders. It is simply another consequence of our evolved strength as human beings – act to shape this year’s seasons, and next year’s, and maybe the seasons after.  We might talk about longer time frames.  But we find it almost impossible to collectively come to consensus about how we should act in the short term to avoid negative impact of job destruction in the longer term[2].

Instead, our politicians talk about investing in innovation or in small business or in new infrastructure programs as ways to create new jobs, and solve the loss of job problem.  They are out of touch with the longer term dynamic inherent in investing in increasing productivity through the use of technology.

It is a Deep Structural Problem that Comes From Being Human

None of our current political talk will solve these basic underlying structural problems.

Some people reading this essay will respond by saying “your logic is too simple”. But like all such logical simplifications, it has one great value – it illuminates.

Because the logic used here is rather simple, you can point out lots of specific counter instances. Unfortunately, doing so does not invalidate the relentless reality of the following logic.

  1. As human beings, we extract things from nature, through harvesting or through growing, to meet the needs of our lives – sustaining ourselves and creating and supporting our next generation.
  2. As tribally evolved creatures, we have invented complex forms of social collaboration to make that process more productive – the sum of what we accomplish in groups through specialization of labor and trade of goods / services is far greater than what we can produce as individuals.
  3. We now use work based income as the main means to distribute the economic results of that social collaboration. We use jobs to allow individuals to get the income they need to participate in the highly symbolic societies that we have created in the past 10,000 years or so.
  4. We participate in those societies because we evolved as human beings to develop ourselves (I-Me), take part in relationships (We Two), live in families to nurture the next generation (Our Family) and belong to tribes in order to define our social identities (My Tribe).

Of course, we no longer do all of these things as simply as our ancestors did millions of years ago. Most of us belong to more than one tribe for instance. But the underlying psychodynamic of being a human being has not changed all that much in that time.

  1.  In the past 150 years or so, our ability to develop and to apply technology in an ever more productive ways has resulted in the integration of our societies into a global network, inter-dependent on trade in goods and services to ensure our collective well being.
  2. In the past 50 years or so, the relentless logic of our short term, year over year, capitalistic pursuit of profit in our integrated global economy has led us to substitute technological labor for human labor, or to export human labor to the lowest cost part of the global.

We will of course eventually use substitute technological labor for human labor there as well, once the cost of living standards become more equal across the global.

But this whole approach to managing technology – substituting technological labor for human labor while using job based income to support individuals and families – is no longer sustainable in its current form. It is destabilizing our societies, both nationally and globally. The signs of this are all around us.

The Signs of Global Destabilization

  1. The global debt crisis threatens international stability and personal well being.
  2. The growing loss of employment opportunities for our youth threatens the stability of our societies.
  3. The growing pension crisis threatens the well being of the older part of our population. This will undermine the stability of our societies.
  4. Global warning, which is the result of the unanticipated consequence of our current ways of producing and using energy to mobilize our societies,  can undermine our societies.
  5. Our collective inability to control our societies’ dependence on the limited natural resources like oil and gas and the ocean’s clearly declining fish stocks will undermine our societies.
  6. The unlimited exploitation / destruction of forests could have a negative impact in the natural process that refreshes the air that we breathe. Our collective inability to address that and institute a substantial approach to the harvesting of resources form our forests can undermine our societies.
  7. The growing political instability in parts of our world and the associated confrontation dynamics engaged in by leaders at the national level fuels the constant nagging concern that that we could experience fuel nuclear based confrontations that could dramatically alter the nature of our globe, at least in part.
  8. The growing distrust of the average citizen in the ability of their governors / governments, whether elected or imposed or hired, to address these dynamics, never minds solve these problems is undermining our societies.

So what is the solution? 

I have ideas, but I fully accept that I DO NOT KNOW. I also do not believe that any other INDIVIDUAL knows. The issues need collective responses. The only thing that I can do is express my ideas on these issues in order to contribute to this collective dialogue. If others agree, then I have done what I can do. If others have been ideas, then I need to listen and be persuaded by them.

I believe that we need new forums (and also forms) of dialogue that bring people together, both within and across societies, to talk about these issues and invent new ways of address them collaboratively[3].

Collectively, we have evolved as collaborating tribal creatures.[4] We need to come up with new shared models – ways of thinking – new forms of culture – new shared ethical norms –  which allow us to tackle the following challenges.

  1. Move beyond the relentless short term, year over year, pursue of profit, while retaining the positive aspects of capitalism – its fostering of innovation, its creative destruction of old ways of doing things so that they are replaced with new ways that produce more with less and do so in a way that is not destructive of either people or the ecology of our globe.
  2. Create ways of living that allow human beings to live as dignified family members that are committed to the successful rearing of next generations, however the family is defined and takes into account personal sexual preferences.
  3. Create models of work that allow human beings to excel as individuals while as the same time recognizing the vast variety and variability of individual capacity, motivation, and drive, which at least in part results from the differences in the genetic and rearing endowment we each receive before we can exercise effective personal choice.
  4. Create political institutions that recognize limitations of our “I-Me, We Two, Our Family, My Tribe” psychodynamic inheritance from our evolutionary history, while more effectively dealing the needs to plan and to anticipate the consequences of our social decisions on our ecology over time spans that exceed the current and next generation, so that we don’t inadvertently destroy the future quality of life of our descendants not yet born.
  5. Replace the current societal definition of personal identity as being partially dependent having (or having had) a job that is current in at least Western societies with one that is more focused on making a contribution to society over the course of one’s life in a variety of ways.
  6. Replace the current use of job based income as the way in which the majority of individuals get the economic resources they need to support themselves and their families with an alternative that still fosters personal initiative and a sense of responsibility for self (i.e. not living out of your neighbor’s “wallet” by saying that the “government should” support” your or provide services and resources you need at no cost to you).
  7. Create forms of economic, governmental, and personal accountability, based on complete transparency of information, that essentially eliminate the large amount of intended fraud and societal posturing that allows those of us who are most self serving to take advantage of those of us who are more narrowly focused on the meeting the needs of our personal and family lives.

None of this will be easy. But we better start, or we will lose control of our future, both as individuals and as members of our societies. If we start to do this, we will also come up with solutions that make the “Job and Technology Elephant No One Wants to Talk About” go away of its own accord.

I believe that the Internet, and talent from the so called underdeveloped world, will be a large part of meeting this challenge.

I also believe that our understanding of the nature of leadership will need to be completely redefined, moving from a model that is based on “I am the leader of the tribe and therefore you follow” to one that asserts “I am highly skilled at facilitating, both through my personal persuasion of others and through my use of Internet  to facilitate dialogue which allows people to collectively invent and communicate new ways of thinking and acting about how we live on our globe”.

We are an amazing species. We have the ability to recognize our limitations. At our best, we cope with any long term dynamic our short term strengths create for us. At our worse, we engage in mutual destruction (e.g. war) fuelled by fantasies[5] of what the world and others are like.

We have a choice. We have free will when it comes to the future.  We can create solutions out of collective dialogue that will also get beyond all of this. Or we will not. It is simply a question of choosing in our personal lives. The other amazing thing is that we now have a technology, the Internet, where personal expression has the potential to persuade others in a way never before experienced on our globe.

[1] The role and nature of money, a form of shared social meaning created by human beings to facilitate the development of ever more complex forms of social organization, really needs to be part of this story. But this is beyond the current scope. As a result, I use worlds like income, wealth, finance, and economy knowing full well that I am avoiding explaining how the human creation and use of the idea and social reality of money impacts this all.

[2] Our ongoing collective failure to respond in a coordinated fashion to climate change and the over exploitation of the ocean’s natural resources are the two clearest examples I know of this dynamic result of our evolution.

[3] These forums and forms of dialogue must be much more effective that the current international set of meetings in which politicians and bureaucrats (the governors) engage (e.g. on international trade, climate, regulation of the oceans …). These current gatherings are really just meetings of the privileged. Unless they become far transparent and far more accountable to the world at large, not nation’s internal political elites, their only real result will be to continue to convince the globe’s people at large that politicians and governments are completely ineffective in dealing with the globe’s real dynamics.

[4] As well as warring ones – but that is a topic for another day.

[5] I wanted to say “paranoid fantasies”.

Shape The Future, Don’t Appraise the Past: Performance Contracting is the Key to Employee Engagement and Organizational Excellence


Performance ContractsThe HR and business press is full of articles about how Generation X, Generation Y and the next Generation now entering the work force are different from the Baby Boomers ware about to retire. But in one way they are not so different. Employee satisfaction surveys still tell us, like they have for the past forty years, that employees do not believe that performance appraisal helps them improve their performance.

So why are we as managers not listening? There are a variety of reasons. Some have to do with organizational inertia. Some have to do with the fact that managers appreciate the re-enforcement of the relative power positions inherent in performance appraisal. But most importantly, we, as managers, really haven’t had the business support systems that we need to move from performance appraisal performance to performance contracting.

Contracting for performance with our direct reports requires that we commit to the regular independent delivery of feedback to them. That feedback has to be based on agreed upon metrics. Those metrics, in the majority of cases, need to be tied to the automated business applications that we now use to run our business.

So the business tools that we need are finally there. Now all we need to do is change our attitudes. We need to stop appraising people. We need to stop telling them what they did and did not do in the past. We need to stop rating them on a scale that invariably involves subjective judgment.

We need to move to contracting about the future with these individuals. We need to help them get crystal clear on what it is they are expected to do. We tell them exactly how we will evaluate whether or not they accomplish the things they contract to do. And finally, we need to make sure that they get the data on these metrics directly from the automated business applications that we both use to do our work.

For the organizations that do this, magic happens. Most people want to do well. Most people want to contribute to the organization for which they work. Most people, when they get regular independent feedback on how they’re doing, will take steps to correct their performance when they go off track. The best of them will strive to exceed their contracted delivery levels

That’s the essence of performance contracting for excellence. It is also the basis of effective boss – direct report coaching. Together, these two are the key to engaging people in the workplace. That engagement is, and will be ever more crucial, in the current and coming competition for skills and talent.

Let us as managers demonstrate to the people who work for us that we can do what we expect them to do: listen to feedback. Let us take what we’ve been hearing on employee satisfaction survey after employee satisfaction survey seriously. Let’s start shaping the future, and stop appraising the past. Commit yourself to performance contracting with your direct reports.

Here are some links that will help you accomplish this.

Why Performance Contracting?

C-Level Performance Contracting: Getting It Done (A How To Guide)

Both are short voice over presentations that run in a browser over the Internet.

“Shape the Future, don’t appraise the past”. ™

How do you use performance contracting to pick “good”, rather than “bad” organizational leaders?


“Why Are We Bad At Picking Good Leaders” is 5th on Harvey Schachter’s Toronto Globe and Mail Ten Best Business books of 2011. In it, Jeffrey Cohn and Jay Moran present the 7 characteristics that they correlate with good leaders.

1. Integrity
2. Empathy
3. Emotional Intelligence
4. Vision
5. Judgment
6. Courage
7. Passion

These qualities have been praised by many other “leadership” writers over the years. Cohen and Moran tell organizations to select for organizational leaders who demonstrate these qualities. They provide “stories” which illustrate how they believe that organizations can do so.

But all of this advice may be missing an essential point. Finding a person who is exceptional on these 7 qualities may be a next to impossible task for most organizations.

Suppose that a “good” leader needs to demonstrate possession of all 7 qualities at a level that is at least 2 standard deviations above average. Simple math will shows that the likelihood of finding, i.e. selecting, such a person is very slight.

The Normal Distribution

The normal distribution graph shows that only 2.4% (=2.2% + .2%) of the population will be 2 standard deviations above average when you consider 1 characteristic. If you expect an individual to be 2 standard deviations above average on 7 qualities, you have to multiply 2.4% by itself 7 times. If you do this on your calculator or in Excel, you will get a very small number indeed. The following table shows the probability of finding a person who is 2 standard deviations above average on a progressively greater number of qualities. As you can see as you want people to have such outstanding levels on more and more qualities, the less likely you are to find them.

Let’s make it easier. Say that a good leader only needs to demonstrate these 7 qualities at a level that is 1 standard deviation above average. Even in this case, the chances of finding individuals who demonstrate most or all 7 of these qualities at this above average level are still pretty slim (2.7 people in each 1,000,000).

But we need to move beyond statistics. Cohn and Moran’s 7 qualities are not “simple” human behaviors. They are human characteristics that depend on a complex interactive mix of genetics, up-bringing, experience and education. This is the reason why years of time and millions of dollars of organizational investment in “leadership” training and development have not really produced an abundance of “effective leaders” who posses these 7 qualities at these levels.

Does this mean that most organizations might as well forget the process of “finding” or “developing” good leaders? I don’t believe so. What can an organization do find and to develop better leaders?

Organizations certainly need the succession planning processes that Cohn and Moran advocate. But organizations need to be base their decisions about individuals in such succession planning processes on an underlying performance management process that is strongly based on forward-looking, metric-based performance contracting.

An individual who consistently achieves or betters metric based performance targets over a number of years, in a variety of executive positions, is a potential future organizational leader. That person is demonstrating that she or he can apply the “right” personal characteristics to stand out from the average performer in “this” organization. Useful leadership is always demonstrated in the context of an organization’s shifting specific economic, technological, social and cultural conditions over a number of years.

The abstract “leadership characteristic” labels used by Cohn and Moran, and many other writers on leadership, tend to ignore this. Executive search consultants and academic writers turn “leadership” into an abstraction precisely because they are removed from the day-to-day performance of people in their client organizations. They do not have to deal with leadership as a concrete set of behaviours demonstrated by a specific individual that lead to valued results in a specific organization as over a significant period of time.

Executive search consultants perpetuate this tendency to relate “leading” to these kinds of highly abstract personal characteristics. It is a core assumption necessary to the continuation of their business. Unless clients believe that leadership is “transferable” from one organization to another, retained executive search for leaders from outside an organization makes no business sense.

If we approach “leading” in a less abstract way, and focus more on demonstrated “in context” performance, organizations are more likely to succeed at picking “good” leaders. Organizations that seriously want to “pick and develop” the leaders they need for the future will do the following.

1. Organizations will take care to develop their internal performance contracting competencies. They will use forward-looking performance contracts. These contracts will include a process by which boss and subordinate contract to use metrics to track subordinate progress. These metrics will derive from the automated business applications the organization uses to track and to manage the work done on a day-to-day basis.

Once such a forward looking contract is “signed” by both boss and subordinate, these metrics will be delivered independently to both boss and subordinator over the course of the performance period. As a result, the power relationship between them will shift. Bosses are more likely to become coaches when subordinate performance goes off-track. Subordinates are more likely to “ask” for help when they see that they are under achieving.

This performance contracting and progress monitoring process will be in place for at least the “manager of others” levels and above in the organization.

2. The senior most executives in such organizations will systematically review actual performance on such performance contracts to identify top performers: – individuals who consistently achieve and deliver at or beyond their contracted performance metrics.

3. These organizations will promote such top performing individuals so that over the years their job scope becomes more complex and wide ranging. As a result, maintaining “top performance” status will become harder and harder over time. This will refine the identification of potential leaders based on actual performance, not personal loyalty or personality fit between boss and subordinate.

4. These organizations will “move” such top performing individuals to a variety of assignments over the course of their career. This will allow the organization to see if their ability to deliver at or beyond contracted performance levels remains consistent in a variety of organization environments (functional, operational and geographic).

”Picking good leaders” in this way will take commitment over a number of years. The performance contracts for the CEO and the CEO’s immediate reports will consistently require the presence of metrics that “show” that this is being well done.

Organizations that do this will not be “bad” at picking good leaders. Instead, they will be shaping their futures in way that increase their probability of long lasting competitive success over a number of executive generations.

“Shape The Future, don’t appraise the past.”™

Engage your staff – start performance contracting and stop performance appraising


Are you, like thousands of managers, dreading the performance appraisals that you need to do at the end of every year? You are not alone. Just about every survey of working professionals that asks questions about performance appraisal document the discontent that people feel with the performance appraisal process.

So how do you make this better? How do you avoid the year end performance appraisal blues? Simple, really. Make a resolution to move from performance appraisal to performance contracting in 2012. Here’s how to do it in seven easy steps.

1. Start by making a list of each of the people for work for you. Then for each one, brainstorm the things that they do for you. Use the outline facility in Word or a software tool like Inspiration or paper and pencil, whatever works for you.

2. Once you have an initial list, re-organize it until you have between 3 and 7 main responsibilities for each person. It’s hard to work with more. if your list is longer, group things together until you have the 3 to 7 you need.

3. Now imagine that this person is going to do a great job on each of these 3 to 7 items throughout 2012. Visualize this. Run an internal film or set of pictures if that works for you. Ask yourself the following questions about each of the 3 to 7 responsibilities. Use the following script to help you do this.

“Jack (or whatever the person’s name is) is doing a great job at xxxx (fill in one of the responsibilities in your list). So what will I be:

◦ Seeing – what’s showing me that … (the person’s name) … is doing a great at this?
◦ Hearing – who’s telling me that that …. (the person’s name) … is doing a great job at this? What are they telling me?”

4. Translate what you are imagining – seeing and hearing – into a single statement – a measure or metric that lets you and others know that this person is doing a great job at this item. Ask yourself the following question as you do this.

“Will I be hearing and seeing this every day, every week, every quarter, …?”

That adds an important time dimension. The shorter, the better. Keep then under a quarter.

5. Organize your results into a single page. List the 5 to 7 responsibilities. Put the appropriate measure or metric below each one. Title the page “Draft performance contract for … the person’s name.” Make two copies.

6. Now you are ready to have a meeting with the person. Give the person a copy of the draft performance contract. Work through it together. See if the individual is clear about each item and each measure. Listen to any issues the individual has about any item. If these concerns help clarify things and make the measures even more concrete and specific, modify the page to reflect these concerns.

7. When the two of you are through, you negotiated a straight forward performance contract between you. Turn the modified draft into a final version. Make two copies of it. Each of you sign both copies, and then take one for yourself. Doing so finalizes the contracting process between you.

Only 1 more thing to do and you are on your way a hassle free performance appraisal at year end.

Schedule a meeting once a month with each person who works for you. Bring your copies of the performance contract. As you go through your one page together, ask yourselves:

“Am I seeing and hearing what we thought we would be seeing and hearing? Are the measures being met?”

“If yes, great -.let’s keep going.”
“If no, what can we do to get back on track?”

There, you have stopped performance appraising and become a performance contractor. Instead of looking back and evaluating, you are looking ahead and coaching.

You will find that your folks appreciate knowing what they have to and how it will be measured. They will probably surprise you by exceeding some of the measures.

If performance problems do occur, then the two of you have become collaborative problems solvers. Together, you will focus on fixing performance problems as they occur, not evaluating them after the fact.

“Shape The Future, don’t appraise the past.”™

You Can’t Manage What You Can’t Measure – More From the C-Level Consultants Discussion on Linked In


Incorporating Management Measurements into Managed Work Flow

Let’s take the point of view of an innovative manager. I have a bunch of software in place in my organization that manages workflow. That is, for transaction-based events that must be handled inside the organization, we developed piece of software which routes activities from person-to-person based on the contents of the previous event. Data or documents flow along this this workflow as appropriate. Scheduling events allow individuals to assign pieces of work to either the next available person in a role, or to specific individuals. Decision events route the work down one sub path or another. Essentially this is a managed workflow. With some thought and care it can be implemented in a variety of ERP or other packages.

Now let’s add a measurement component.First, let’s lay out some some basic principles or values on which we want to base our measurements.

1. Not every occurrence of an event in the workflow will take the same time. Some will take longer than others on both the actual time put in any calendar elapsed basis. This will be a function of both the content of each actual occurrence of the event, and on outside events (e.g. vacations).

2. Individuals who do a particular event in the workflow are the best judge of how long a particular occurrence should take based on the knowledge they bring to the doing of the event.

3. The point is to provide feedback which helps them complete the task, as well as aggregated measures which help management decide if intervention of some kind is necessary either with an individual(e.g. coaching) or with the structure of the work flow itself.

So how would you do that? Remember you can’t manage what you can’t measure. What do you can measure here? And how would you do that in a way that is not obnoxious and over rigid, but still respects the capability of the individuals doing the work during the particular events in the workflow.

Here is how I would do it.

1. Add a component to the software which measures the elapsed calendar time between the initiation of an event in the completion of that event. That’s reasonably easy to do.

2. Store this information in a database.3. Provide periodic reports to the individuals who complete events in the workflow which show:

a. Their distribution of completion times,

b. as compared to the average distribution of completion times for all of the people who do this event,

c. as compared to the normal curve.

Why provide these three levels of feedback in this way?

1. It respects the fact that many things can affect the completion of a particular instance of the event – some of which may be beyond the control of the person completing it.

2. It provides individual with feedback that compares their distribution of completion times against the average distribution of completion times. It provides them with direct information about their level of performance, not subjective judgments by others.

3. It provides a norm, a normal distribution, which says that management expects variation in completion times. We are not just providing you with this feedback to try to drive you into completing events in the shortest time possible.

So, if we implement this we have a very sophisticated measure and manage system which is really not beyond the capacity of much of the software we have today.

The point I’m making here is that it’s not just about what we can measure and not measure, but also about the values we bring into the process of implementing measures in a management context.

I built primitive versions of feedback mechanisms like this and have been deeply impressed by the willingness of the people handling the events in the workflow to take this feedback and find ways to improve the quality of what they do.

“A Measure What You Manage” System that Works


Sandy Pentland’s book “Honest Signals” ( ) makes it clear how much our evolved internal psycho-dynamics are still functioning as if we were living in tribal and other “survival” situations.

I personally think that management has to “consciously” work with and “against” our evolved interpersonal judgment mechanisms. I believe that this has deep application in recruiting and in performance management.

Our evolved psycho-dynamics precondition us to “rapid judgment of others” and to “action”. That made sense in a tribal, hunter-gatherer world, where meeting a new person required “instant” assessments and “flight / fight” reactions. It does not in modern society, and certainly not in modern management.

Performance management in organization must move us beyond the inappropriate use of our evolved human “natural” abilities. Our performance management processes must meet the requirement of managing complex organizations and technologies that populate our world. (The subject of my last blog.)

But we can move even further down this path. I once worked for a CEO who said three things.

“1. I need to get the folks who work for me thinking about the same things that I am. I need a way to convey that to them without having to tell them in talk all the time.

2. What counts is not the past. Explanations about the past don’t help me any. What counts is commitment on the part of the folks working for me  to doing something which changes non-positive trends – trends starting in the past that will continue to happen if my people don’t do something to keep these trends from continuing to happen.

3. The numbers which are important to me today are not the numbers which may be important to me 6 months from now. Sure, some numbers are perpetually important, but I need others as I and my folks do things to manage and to change the business and make it better.”

He said these things to an innovative systems chap who happened to be a physicist working for his organization as a lead business application designer. That chap said:

“I don’t understand management. It is like a big cloud bubble chamber experiment in particle physics to me. You get all kinds of data and the best that you can do is look for patterns which you think explains some things.”

This systems chap worked with the CEO to implement a “measurement system” that was based on the following ideas and principles.

1. Each person can only get as many numbers from the “system” as will fit on one 8/2 by 11 inch page.

2. You can only get numbers that already exist in one of the transaction processing business systems that are already used to run the business. If you want new numbers, you can only get them through the process of improving the functioning of these systems.

3. All the numbers that are available are listed in a data catalog which the system made available to each individual executive. (Getting this data catalog up and maintaining was a real “roll up your shelves and catalog” effort in meta-data management.

4. Librarians and public relations people provided input on how to “structure” the presentation of this data catalog to executives so that they would find it “user friendly”, and could navigate through it in ways that made sense to them, not systems analysts.

5. Each executive could pick the numbers they wanted to see. They would get a personalized report of their numbers every day, even though not all the numbers changed every day. Changed numbers were highlighted. Individuals could request supporting graphs showing the historical patterns of any of the numbers on their personalized report. These “supporting” graphs also showed the trend lines that were being used to predict the “at year end” projections of these numbers. (See point 8 below.)

6. An individual’s immediate reports would get a copy of that executive’s personalized report at the same time that the individual got the report. Usually, they were delivered to all of these folks in-boxes at the same time. That meant that people in the top three or four ranks of this company got the following each day.

• A copy of their boss’s personalized report.
• Their own personalized report.
• Any support “graphs” of any numbers on their personalized report they had requested. Everything was always printed out on 8½ by 11 inch paper.

7. Executives did not have to explain their choice of numbers to their bosses.

The physicist-systems chap trained in physics believed that management was a process that depended a great deal on individual intuition and experience. He did not understand management. He believed that many executives did not either. He thought that executives often acted on “intuitions” that were beyond rational explanation before the fact. He did feel that he should in any way interfere with their personalized approaches to the “bubble chamber” experiment called management.

The CEO thought his job was to get his folks to produce results, not do this in ways that reflected his own approach to problems.

This combination of beliefs was extremely important in setting up this system. I believe that it was also key to its success.

8. Once an executive asked for a number in the data catalog, that person would get the following versions of that number:

• Actual to date
• Budgeted ( if available),


• Projected to year end.

These projections were based on estimating systems that the physicist developed for each of the entries in the data catalogue. The physicist and his system team developed statistical processes which they used to project these numbers. These process were based on “curve fitting” technologies, as well as dialogue with folks responsible for operating the source transaction processing systems about the nature of each of these numbers.

This team regularly reviewed the success of their projection routine by comparing their projections against actual numbers as they became available. As they learned to from these regular comparisons, they updated these prediction- to-year-end mechanisms.

Regular updates to the data catalog communicated the results of this assessment and updating process. This also quelled the inevitable debate about “how to predict” among the executives.

9. Each number in the data catalog was classified as either an output number the result of effort put in) or an input number (some kind of effort put in to produce some output). The data catalog preparation team based this on dialogue with the individuals responsible for the source transaction processing business applications.

Although there was a little bit of flurry among the executives about this classification in the beginning, it rapidly settled down, once the daily reports started going out.

It took the best part of a year for this “measure what we manage” system or application to settle in. The CEO’s sponsorship of it was extremely important in its initial “acceptance”, even if this acceptance was less than enthusiastic on the part of some of the executive team.

The system really took off when the CEO insisted that his report consist entirely of ratios – of outputs over inputs. He explained his reasoning for his choice for this in his personalized report. The first part of it simply reflected long term ratios that he considered important to his understanding of the up and the downs of the business They were stable.

The second part of his personal report he regarded as “experimental”. He chose ratios for it that reflected his current attempt to delve deeper into the dynamics in the business that he thought could be improved or were changing. They were his way of gaining insight into some of the dynamics of the business about which he had preliminary, unconfirmed hunches.

Others in the executive group started to experiment with similar approaches on their personalized reports. Again, they never had to explain their choices to anyone other than their direct reports. Before long, the personalized reports of the top 1 or 2 ranks of the executive group consisted almost entirely or ratios.

Again and again, the CEO in this organization emphasized what he wanted to hear from folks when things were considered less than positive. He asked them to tell him what they were going to do to attempt to change that, not provide explanations about the past. He considered simple focus on understanding the past as a form of “analysis paralysis”. He wanted such “insight” linked to actions they were taking to change the projected trends in raw numbers being taken from the transaction processing systems used to run the business.

As the CEO changed the some of the ratios that made up his personalized report, this reports able to follow the things he was concerned about in the business. Often, these changes were based on intuitions or hunches or curiosities he had. They did not always make sense. They did not always provide “useful” information after a couple of days or weeks. He simply dropped them when he die not find them helpful to him, and replaced them with other things which intrigued him. As his direct reports followed these changes, they “started to read his mind more accurately’, based on following the patterns of his changes in his personalized report.

The projections-to-year end focused people lower down in the executive ranks, who often did not interact with the CEO on a day-to-day, basis on doing things rather than explaining things. The culture became less concerned about blame and more focused on doing. Over time, the executive ranks “got” that not doing something about a “downward productivity” trend was the real thing for which they got into trouble with their bosses.

In some cases, an individual executive’s dis-satisfaction with the quality of some of the ratios on a personalized reports led to that executive taking an interest in the source transaction processing business application and requesting upgrades to it. Over a number of years, there was a commonly noticed improvement in the quality of both operational and customer facing transaction processing applications.

This system became known as the “management daily”. The CEO attributed a year-over-year annual 10% increase in the operational productivity and profitability of his organization for the period that he was CEO directly to the “management daily”. He claimed that it created an “cascading alignment of thinking and concern” in the executive ranks of the organization – a pulling towards constant productive improvement that he had never experienced before.

To me, this is a “you can’t manage what you don’t measure” system which makes sense for an organization.

1. It respects the fact that individual executives have different insights and intuitions about what is important in management.

2. It encourages dialogue between an executive and his or her immediate reports. At the same time, it allows these immediate reports to shape a different kind of dialogue with their own immediate reports.

3. It insists that the numbers – the measures – come from the transaction processing systems used operate the organization.

4. It builds feedback loops from the management team back to these transaction processing systems.

No additional measurement effort, other than the collation and reporting system itself, is required to generate numbers. The transaction processing systems can be used to handle internal operational activities or be used to manage customer centric ones.

5. It follows change over time, as the management team makes change to improve the organization.

6. It focuses management dialogue on the future, and on acting to change the future, not explaining the past.

7. It focuses management dialogue on productivity, on outputs over input, where it should be, and on trends in productivity, not point in time measures.

This point in time focus is one of the weaknesses of many external investment analysts who focus on quarter by quarter results. Their time frame is simply too limited to truly “get” what is happening inside an organization.

Some of the features of this “management daily system” have found their way the balance scorecard systems. Unfortunately, I believe that in many cases balance scorecard implementations have lost two of the great strengths of this management daily system.

• First, balanced scorecards are often static – reflecting one individual’s point of view about what counts, or a consensus of individuals ‘view about what’s important at a certain point in time. Balanced scorecards may include ratios, but they often lack the “experimental component” of the management daily. They are not “personalized” to each executive like the management daily

• Second, balanced scorecard systems seldom implement the projection element of the management daily system. The lack the “learning element” – comparing projections against actuals – which the physicist-systems chap implemented in the management daily. As a result, balanced scorecards often become systems which focus executives on explaining the past rather than achieving value results in the future.

Link such a “management daily “measure what you manage” system to appropriate performance management incentive schemes. Let the incentives consist of a thoughtful mixture of individual, business area team and organization wide incentives. Get this linkage right, and you create the environment needed to focus people on creating extraordinary organizational excellence.

I have implemented “management daily or weekly” approaches in each organization unit that I have managed since my exposure to this organization. It has been relatively straight forward to set up the necessary data extract and numbers processing systems, given the advances in business intelligence and business analytic software.

In each case, I have been deeply impressed by the change in thinking that resulted in my direct reports. They became future action oriented, rather than past explanation bound. We achieved significantly enhanced performance results as a team, and as individuals. This is a form of “measure what you manage” that works.