I frequently ask managers how they evaluate, or attempt to know, how they are doing in their jobs.  What never ceases to surprise me is the number of respondents that are unable to provide anything but a rather vague “OK” or “pretty well I think”.  When I ask such respondents what criteria they are using to render that judgment, I often receive a rather blank expression.

Imagine going to your doctor, presenting her or him with a list of symptoms — headaches, a rash, weight loss, insomnia, etc. — and having her or him provide an instant diagnosis and prescription slip for some drug or another.  Most of us would almost certainly immediately seek another doctor who preferred to run a few tests  before rendering a definitive professional opinion.

The best managers, like good physicians, are astute diagnosticians.  They understand the importance and power of measurement; of testing their assumptions against some factual, evidentiary criteria.

Now I realize that medicine, unlike management, has deep scientific roots that allow a precision of measurement most managers can only envy.  How nice it would be if we could test the blood of, scan, and magnetically image our organizations.  Unfortunately, because we can not and because identifying our own version of  measurement criteria is often difficult given what our organizations are about, many managers simply shy away from the measurement task.

True, many organizations conduct yearly employee surveys which provide some indication of overall manager performance.  But these measurements are of an aggregate nature, not of specific individuals.  There are also the 360, upward, and peer review evaluations that are individually specific and common in many of today’s organizations, but they are usually annual in nature and not always helpful on a weekly or monthly basis.

The best managers are those who prefer to have a far more regular and real-time sense of their own — and their organization’s — job performance, and progress toward clearly defined goals.  These managers understand that “the perfect is the enemy of the good” and that the task of devising effective measurement criteria can be significantly simplified with a little initiative and imagination.  Moreover, permission from the higher-ups is not required for either of the two simple suggestions I am about to make, that hopefully will get your imaginative juices flowing.

First, whatever your organization does, it almost certainly has clearly definable goals, objectives, and targets of some kind to meet.  These are hopefully the same benchmarks your superiors will use to evaluate how well you and your organization are doing.

Gather your staff of subordinates and tap their collective, networked intelligence in devising a simple set of indicators that would suggest you are making progress, or are on schedule, toward making your goals.  Inherent in this sort of collective brainstorming, you will generate many ideas.  Keep at it until you can reduce the list to no more than five things.  The goal is not perfect measurement.  Rather you want the most predictive indicators you can collectively imagine that will either reassure you that you are on course, or warn you that some corrective action is required.  If your list of indicators is too large, overly complex, or excessively time-consuming to employ, they will be quickly abandoned.

Set a specific short-term time frame for evaluating your indicators, a process for doing so, and a collective gathering forum for discussing results.  Get everybody involved, which in turn, helps make everybody feel a sense of ownership in achieving success.  If some of your initial indicators prove less than satisfactory, or some of your goals change, generate substitutes.  Just be persistent in your measurement efforts.

 Second, for you personally as a manager, think carefully about the four or five critical things you believe you must do for you to create a working environment in your organization that is conducive to initiative, creativity, passion, a sense of empowerment, and a willingness to take risks that foster goal achievement.  Let’s say your list looks something like this:

  • Maintain Open Communication
  • Build Trust
  • Provide Clear Expectations
  • Be Readily Accessable
  • Provide Regular Performance Feedback

Share it with your staff — that is everybody you supervise — and inform them that you will ask them monthly to give you a plus (+) or minus (-) in each of those categories for your performance during the previous 30/31 days.  Have them do it individually on a simple written form and then use your results to generate a conversation with your staff.  It may seem clumsy at first, but over time it’s amazing the thoughts, suggestions, and ideas you will generate that will help you hone and tailor your management efforts to the needs of your particular subordinates and your organizational goals.

Have the monthly conversation even if you get all plus marks; you can always keep it short.  The point is not only to get your subordinate’s view of your management performance but to maintain the open and honest communication that builds the trusting relationship you seek.

As I said earlier, the above suggestions are far from perfect measurement tools.  But they will give you a much more precise idea of how you and your organization are doing, than your intuitive sense alone.  They are also a valuable managing-up tool for shaping your superior’s sense of your performance as well.

Categories: Exercising Responsibility, Learning Managers, Managing & Leading

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