Dynamic Performance Plans Not Static Job Descriptions

“Evaluations offer little insight to workers, survey finds,” reads the headline (1) in a report on a survey of 1190 US workers by Watson Wyatt, a human resources consulting firm. “Only 30 percent of workers say their company’s evaluation process helps them improve their performance, and less than 40 percent say the process provides clear goals or feedback…It’s an exercise that may have a negative effect on companies’ bottom lines. In a previous study, Watson Wyatt found that firms that clearly lay out workers’ responsibilities and their connection to larger company goals…perform better overall…’four times the total return to shareholders.'”

This study confirms what great managers know: People need clear direction tied to the organizational goals to perform well. Too often companies, driven by legal imperatives, resort to putting everything into a “job description” that becomes obsolete the moment it hits paper. Many evaluation systems try to quantify un-quantifiable ‘attitudes’ or create hopelessly muddled descriptions of ‘competencies.’

The solution begins with a robust strategic plan for the business, government or nonprofit organization. The plan should be based on the long-term vision AND the more immediate mission of the company. The strategic plan links each employee to that mission:

* The company sets its high level goals and concrete objectives.

* Objectives describe results that move the mission forward.

* Departments create aligned plans to achieve a portion of the overall plan.

* Cascading this process continues until it reaches the individual employee.

Each manager and work group creates a very actionable plan tied directly to the objectives. Each manager discusses with each team member how his or her specific job and assignments help fulfill the mission. By the time the process is complete, every individual has an explicit knowledge of how his or her work contributes to organizational success. The manager and employee develop an Individual Performance Plan with measurable results in two areas, ongoing responsibility and growth. Then the manager and employee discuss progress against this plan (at appropriate, regular intervals) so feedback is quick enough to reinforce desired behavior and take action on undesirable performance.

In their breakthrough study, First Break all the Rules, (2) Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman found that great managers do a formal performance review quarterly. In fact, the “annual” evaluation becomes just another quarterly review. This approach provides:

* continuous feedback

* concrete performance and improvement

* results integrated with the company’s needs

* individual awareness of what he or she should be doing at any moment to accomplish the mission.

When examiners for the US Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award interview companies, they ask almost everyone “What is your company’s mission and what is your role in fulfilling it?” World-class companies invariably have a workforce that can answer this question specifically. People know what the company is trying to accomplish and what they contribute.

The tie between individual performance and mission is NOT just a ‘nice to have.’ The Gallup Organization published their latest study in 2006 based on millions of employees’ survey answers and analysis of observed business results in hundreds of companies around the world. When they asked people to rate how much they identified with the statement, ‘The mission of my company makes me feel important’ they found that “the top quartile…average from 5 to 15 percent higher profitability than bottom-quartile units. Mission-driven workgroups suffer 30 to 50 percent fewer accidents, and have 15 to 30 percent lower turnover.” They concluded that it was “as if the employee can’t energize himself to do all he could without knowing how his job fits into the grand scheme of things…For reasons that transcend the physical needs fulfilled by earning a living, [the employee] looks for her contribution to a higher purpose.”(3)

Leaders who want their organizations to be successful are converting static job descriptions and valueless annual performance evaluations into dynamic Individual Performance Plans and continuous review and improvement. Everyone is tied to the mission and clear about what they need to do to accomplish bottom line goals. It’s no wonder the data show quadrupled return to the shareholders and better morale and productivity among the workers who focus on the mission. (1) Any company can get these results if they begin with a strong, mission-driven strategic plan and cascade it to everyone to execute. The plan is only as good as its execution and execution happens at the individual level where people are fully engaged with the mission.

(1) The Miami Herald, Business Monday, page 16, Workplace column, Andrea Coombes, May 10, 2004

(2) Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman, First Break all the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently, Simon and Schuster, 1999

(3) 12: The Elements of Great Managing, Rodd Wagner and James Harter, Gallup Press, 2006

Succession Planning for Long-Term Success

One of the hardest things for people to think about is what will happen when they “move on down the road”. Moving down said road can entail everything from retirement to passing away, and this especially gets to be a hard topic when it comes to the notion of succession planning.

Succession planning, at its most basic, happens to be how someone chooses things to move forward in terms of organizing leadership in a business hierarchy when they’re no longer running things.

Such planning involves breaking down one’s business in such a way as to assess all team members and their value to the organization. This is not an easy issue to discuss, but it is imperative to the successful running of a business for the long-term. No business, regardless of its size, can operate without the right people in the right place.

In order to best identify what it takes to have successful succession planning, it may be best to identify the mistakes that most business owners make when taking on this particular process.

As is the case with just about any facet of success, procrastination is perhaps the worst thing that can happen. All business leaders know that they need to focus on succession planning, but they sometimes direct their attention to something “more important”. Nothing is more important than the sustainability of your business, and this is a big step in that process. Waiting to long to start the process may jeopardize the decision-making process.

It’s also key to avoid choosing people you like instead of the right people. Friendly relationships can sometimes become strained when someone feels snubbed for a promotion down the line. However, a good business owner must identify the key roles in their business & the skills needed for those positions, thereby narrowing the field of candidates. Your hope is that you’ve developed a business-minded rapport with your employees so they understand that succession planning is a matter of preserving a business.

Don’t pit employees against each other. You want to be sure you put a proper succession plan in place early enough so that the work environment around your potential succession candidates, as well as your entire business, doesn’t become toxic. This, of course, means being able to see into the future, so to speak, and find a successor(s) needs to be a person with vision & the skills to back it up.

Finally, it’s also important for successful succession planning that the current leader fosters a relationship with whomever is chosen to take over. A good leader should be like a veteran quarterback that’s on the sideline sharing his knowledge and guiding the “new guy” through any pitfalls they encounter.

Successful succession planning is not an easy topic to discuss, but it is important & has substantial value for any business. It’s important to know that this type of planning is not about seeing the end in sight — it’s about understanding what your business needs now & for the future and choosing the right person/people to make it happen.

Marketing Audits, the Perfect Strategic Tool

Marketing audit, the missing link?

In order to survive in today’s highly unpredictable and competitive environment, business leaders cannot leave one stone unturned in their search for excellence! The marketing audit may just be the missing link!

A marketing audit is an invaluable instrument to help an organization to establish its unique competitive position and to identify its superior skills, resources and capabilities. This is a prerequisite for achieving a sustainable competitive advantage for your product, business unit and/or business.

Conducting a marketing audit is one of the best and most sensible decisions an entrepreneur and businessman (or -women!) can make.

What is a marketing audit?

Philip Kotler describes a marketing audit as a –

o comprehensive,

o systematic,

o independent, and

o periodic examination of an organization’s or business unit’s marketing environment, objectives, strategies, and activities with a view to identifying problem areas (and opportunities) and recommending a plan of action to improve the organization’s marketing performance.

The definition clearly confirms the strategic and operational relevance of a marketing audit, making it an indispensable research instrument – dissecting, analyzing, assessing, proposing, and advising.

About the audit process

The audit process should be thoroughly planned so that auditing time and cost are kept to a minimum, since carrying out a marketing audit can be quite expensive. It is usually done by highly skilled, experienced, and specialized marketing professionals. Kotler’s cardinal rule when conducting an audit is: “Do not rely solely on the organization’s managers for data and opinions. Employees, customers, retailers, agents, and other stakeholders must also be interviewed and be involved in the process.”

Asking the “right” questions is in actual fact the key to conducting a successful marketing audit. Questions unlock an individual’s or a group’s creative instincts and serve to stimulate the thought processes. If the right questions are asked in the right manner, refreshingly new marketing insights and ideas come to the fore.

The marketing audit also provides the auditor with a clearer picture of the organization’s marketing function and business environment. It will help him/her to identify the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats of an organization’s internal and external (marketing) environment.

Some final thoughts

Unlike a financial audit, a marketing audit has a strong dualistic character. On the one hand it has a scientific and structured side, and on the other hand it has a “chaos” side that invites and provokes intuitive, creative and “out-of-the-box” thinking.

I believe that the marketing audit process should encourage “out-of-the-box” thinking, since competitive advantage rarely comes from sameness. When businesses offer the same product and service to the same market by performing the same kind of activities no business will prosper in the long run. Information obtained from a thorough and skillfully conducted marketing audit will enable management to develop a market focused strategy that is directed by its unique capabilities, ensuring sustainable competitive advantage for their product, business unit and/or business.

Lastly, the marketing audit plays an important role in developing a (successful) strategic marketing plan. A well conducted marketing audit can provide corporate and marketing decision-makers with quality information that is relevant, practical and constructive. As a strategic instrument, the marketing audit is indispensable when developing a marketing strategy.