Measuring Opportunities

I once had a boss at a consulting firm who was fond of after-work drinking bouts with the staff. He was also notorious after four hits of hard liquor for conducting impromptu performance reviews at the bar.

The evaluations were always black or white, never balanced. You came away from the monologue either determined to update your resume or plan a promotion party.

However, when the alcohol wasn’t talking, you could grasp his criterion for judgment: future return on investment.

The Few, the Proud … and all the Others

High-flyers (his good reviews) created opportunities that made themselves and low-flying drones (his not-so-good reviews) billable. High-flyers’ efforts secured the group’s future; low-flyers’ busy-work paid the bills. The former were few and indispensable; the latter were many and replaceable.

Except for the bar and spontaneity, what are the differences between those reviews and your organization’s annual evaluations? Ask yourself:

  • Does you organization’s review/reward system assume — or require — only a few “exceeds expectations” go-getters backed up by a large, compliant gang of “meets expectations” worker-bees?
  • Does your system reward employees for completing last year’s agenda or incentivize them to create a future agenda?
  • Is improving group effectiveness built into each individual’s performance evaluation?

Here’s a hair-brain idea: What if nearly everyone could be rated “meets very high expectations,” for which the criteria would be producing results and opportunities this year that set up greater achievements next year?


3 ways managers can increase future ROI

1   Spend 365 days preparing for the next 365 days
Anytime you witness some significant achievement or setback, jot down on a 3X5 card the date, a few words about the event, and, most important, a brief comment on how an individual’s actions contributed to advancing the department’s effectiveness. For example: “built bridge for future cooperation with previously hostile manager.” Toss your notes into files, one for each staff member. Make sure every three months that no file is empty. If so, pay closer attention to those individuals with no notes. Synthesize the cards prior to the next performance review to spot patterns.

2   Get selfish
Think about your own upcoming evaluation. What will you tell your boss about how well (or poorly) you enabled your staff last year to achieve more during this upcoming year?

3   Organize a crowd review
Gather the staff for your first annual staff performance recap. Sit in a circle. Conduct a review as if the group were an individual:

provide context

give perspective

ask for their appraisal of goals set, met, and unmet – and reasons why.


the group’s strengths and performance holes going forward

what is possible for the upcoming year

what staff members can do together to fill in the holes

Create a one-page plan and make sure it has legs and personality.


5 tips for individuals to build future ROI

1   Talk about slip-ups in your next performance review
Huh? Think about this. Selling you achievements shouldn’t be difficult. You may overstate your case somewhat but your boss expects that. Your challenge is to own up to what you were not able to do. Sure, there were extenuating circumstances and difficult people. Yet, what would you have done differently in hindsight that gives you foresight on how you can tell your boss you will take on similarly difficult projects? Be brave.

2   Anticipate a substantial raise/promotion … but next time
If you’ve done a sterling job this past year, great. Expect your due! However, perhaps you muddled your way through a year of start-stop projects and tepid motivation. Perhaps you now are emboldened to change course not by wishful thinking but by detailing and executing on what would be expected of someone in the position you want or at the salary level you desire. Go earn it.

3   Write your resume one year out
A prospective employer about to makes a substantial investment in a candidate looks for results and promise on a resume. Assume that’s what your current employer also is thinking about you. So, write a resume that looks back a year from now and features achievements that show promise. Now, convert that year-out resume into your year-forward performance plan.

4   Get smarter, faster for tomorrow
Too often, attending a seminar is considered a quick-fix for some performance deficit. Seminars help … maybe. But what you already know is that, to increase your future value, you have to get smarter and more skilled faster and continuously. You have to read more, listen more, get mentored more, risk more, and evaluate more. All of that will require more time, and that means dropping busy-work that you think is important but really isn’t.

5   Focus on the future but keep checking your rear-view mirror
You know what I’m saying. Don’t assume that the people who have been and will be most important to you are in the back seat. Don’t self-justify your ambition by saying it’s all for them. It’s not. If you transfer all that I’ve recommended from your job to your non-work life, you may be amazed by what will be accomplished in both worlds.


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