Thursday, January 28, 2016

Four Corner Approach for Talent Assessment and Review

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.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Turn your intentions into action in 2016

Over the years and numerous essays on this blog, I have often commented on the need to focus on the “actions” of the moment. Whether when I was advising the reader to “act with an intent” or when I advised readers to “watch the feet” (both previous essays), my focus was and continues to be on the power of action in our business and personal lives. I deeply believe that while we have an infinite inability to affect yesterday, we have an infinite ability to affect “the tomorrows” of our lives by taking action now.

It is traditional to start the new-year with a set of resolutions or “intentions”, things we aspire to do or stop doing in the year ahead. My focus today is on the spark of action required to make good intentions come true, and the realization that the time to act is now!

In a very unusual way, I am living this axiom out in my personal life, having had knee replacement surgery on December 30, 2015. Over the past few years I have struggled with a worsening condition with an arthritic knee. As a college student, I was injured playing soccer and after 30 years of “babying the knee”, I started having significant issues three years ago. Like many in my situation, I tried a number of therapies, hoping to avoid surgery. A year of PT, followed by cortisone shots seemed a good approach but the knee continued to weaken. I am not sure what I was waiting on, but I guess I just “hoped” it would improve on its’ own. Well to say “hope is not a strategy” is an understatement in my case.

Last November, hiking in the NC Mountains with a friend, I lost my footing and fell, partly due to my weak knee, and suffered a head injury. Luckily I did not fracture my skull, but did suffer a concussion and received 12 “staples” in my head. A major wakeup call for sure, when an afternoon walk/hike turns into almost a life-threatening incident! I was lucky for sure, and am doing fine, but my “hope it improves” strategy nearly had significant negative consequences.

Once I recovered a bit, I immediately investigated knee surgeons in Atlanta, scheduled appointments, and long story short, had a very successful operation just before the new year and have been recovering well since the surgery. While I have a long way to go to get “back to normal,” I know that I am on the right path and with the right focus on my PT regimen, I will be stronger and more capable than I had been in just a few months. Progress and improvement through action!

It’s in this spirit that I write this essay today; and while my story is personal and deals with a health/medical situation, the same spirit relates to the landscape of business. We have been in the midst of a tremendous growth cycle coming out of the pits of the “great recession” in March of 2009. Since the end of World War Two, the average U.S. growth cycle has been between 5 and 6 years and while that does not predict the length of our current cycle, we must all agree that business and economics do move in cycles and that we are well into a mature growth cycle as we enter 2016. Regardless of the almost 400 pt. drop of the Dow last Friday, it’s impossible to predict the timing of the market so don't try. Stay focused on your business instead and push yourselves to drive those lurking “good ideas” or “emerging hypotheses” into actions in the market quickly. Before you know it, the cycle might change, you and your business might find itself behind plan, and you will NEED ideas immediately to deploy into the marketplace to change unacceptable trends. Don’t wait for you business to slip and have it’s proverbial “head injury.” Take action immediately and be the guide /director of the results and success that lie in your future.

As you enter 2016, take a few moments and scan you business, personal and possibly even you medical landscapes. Are there situations that you just “hope will get better on their own?” Are there ideas or innovations that are on a back burner somewhere that you just haven’t had the time or inclination to pursue fully? Regardless of the situation, don’t wait, and don’t let yourself be deceived that “hope is a strategy.” Take actions now and turn your intentions into action in 2016!