In a recent work session with a wonderful new client, we had a discussion about some of their key executives and how they were performing in their roles. While not a start-up, this is a small, high growth, privately funded company filled with opportunities and challenges. As the discussion expanded, I realized that my client had a lot of opinions/feelings/perspectives and experiences with these associates, just no framework to assess/discuss their performance.
Quickly, in typical “Levisay fashion,” I grabbed a marker and went to the flip chart and started drawing out my “Four Corner Strategy” for talent assessment. While certainly not groundbreaking in any way, it gave us a framework to work through relating to each exec, allowing us to have a more structured discussion, and in a number of cases was pretty illuminating in it’s implications.
“Four Corner” Approach
With marker in hand, I drew out a large box, with a 4x4 grid inside, and identified each of the four quadrants: 1.) Skills, 2.) Experience, 3) Motivation, 4.) Work Ethic. We then had a discussion as to whether any of the boxes should be weighted more or less than one another. For our discussion, we kept each the equal weight, but could have made adjustments at this step. With the grid set, we pulled up a specific individual and their specific role and made sure that we were clear about the role’s requirements. With that set, we went through each of the grids with surprising clarity and efficiency:
1 1.) Skills: having just reviewed the skills required for the role, it was pretty easy to assess whether the individual had the skills, and more importantly had demonstrated those required skills on the job. After a quick review, I asked my client to rate the associate 1-10 (1 being low, 5 being fair, 10 being exceptional)
2 2.) Experience: In the same manner, we thought about the experiences someone needed to perform this role well, and again after a quick review, I hade my client rate the associate 1-10.
3 3.) Motivation: While a little less tangible that the “factors” above, we discussed how “motivated/energized/engaged” the associate was to do their role; not overall in their work life, but the specific job that we were discussing. Again another rating 1-10.
4 4.) Work Ethic: Was the associate showing a strong drive to get their job done, close out emails/calls with peers or customers, working hard to get major objectives done, etc. This is a very “visible” part of the review and drove a quick review and rating. Again score 1-10.
With the 4x4 grid complete, it was interesting to review the ratings! While only the first time through, we had rated a few associates in similar roles, and their “cumulative scores” ranged dramatically. One individual scored a 17, while another scored a 28 and at the beginning of the discussion we knew there were differences, but now we had a way/framework to dig in. While not exactly like an academic grading system, I did encourage my client to think that a cumulative score of 36 (9 out of 10 average score on each factor) would be outstanding, a 32 (8 out of 10 average) would be very good, a 28 (7 out of 10 average) adequate, and anything below 26 (a 6.5 out of 10 average) we should think about as unacceptable. Well to say the least the scores of the individuals raised some serious questions, and actions are underway to work on performance improvement plans and possibly an impending exit.
I share this story not to myopically advocate this approach over another model. There are numerous talent assessment frameworks being utilized broadly in business today, and many of them work very well. I am a strong advocate of adopting a single framework and “working it hard’ across your team. Find an approach that works for you and use it consistently across departments and functions. Build skills as senior executives on how to assess and develop talent within your organization, and after a 30+year business career I am more convinced than ever that human talent is and will be the most precious resource for executives in business.