Six Boxes Performance Thinking http://www.sixboxes.com/ Welcome to the Six Boxes RSS feed. Mon, 23 Oct 2017 20:50:05 PDT en-us <![CDATA[ User Friendly ]]>

The phrase, “user friendly” means different things to different people.

For some, it means that a device, or a user interface for that device, is easy to use and perhaps even attractive. It often means simple, in contrast to “stuffing all the features we can into the software and then making it tolerable to navigate.”  It’s about user experience.

We touch on this topic when we discuss Tools & Resources (Box 2) in Performance Thinking® programs.  We emphasize the need to test and refine tools, job aids, software, processes, and other enablers that people use as they work, to ensure that they are easy to use. The ideal is for tools and resources to be intuitive, so that new users can begin taking advantage of them with little or no instruction.

In organizational performance improvement, we seek processes that are frictionless and tools that help people produce needed outputs with as little effort as possible.  These days, when people use so much technology to access information and get their jobs done, and when so much of the contact between organizations and their customers depends on technology, user friendly tools and resources are mission critical.  Users give up on web sites or customer service processes that are difficult or time-consuming. We all dislike web sites that are not intuitive. We rail against processes that waste our time or impose obstacles.  We hate tools and resources that are not user friendly, and they can make the difference between excellence and mediocrity, even between success and failure in many cases.

In Performance Thinking® programs, user friendly models and language play a central role.  Six Boxes Performance Thinking has evolved over the course of several decades during which we have continuously simplified our models and language to allow rapid and relatively easy communication and collaboration about human performance and the factors that influence it.  People at all levels and in all functions can use our models and plain English language.

We often say that our entire methodology is embodied in two simple visual models and 21 plain English words. The Performance Chain provides a basis for analyzing and describing performance, and the Six Boxes Model integrates all variables that influence behavior.

Our entire methodology, and applications that we teach performance consultants, leaders, managers, and coaches, rely on these simple models. In organizations that adopt our programs, “viral” diffusion of Performance Thinking® models and language is common – both spontaneously, and because we encourage it in recommended implementation and communication strategies. The compelling insights embedded in these models are appealing and intuitive for people, quite the opposite of the big hairy methodologies and visual “systems models” that characterize much of applied behavior science and performance improvement.

I’m currently preparing an invited presentation for an international conference next year (to be announced in coming weeks) that focuses on simplicity as a key element in effective communication. The session title will be Simple Is Better: Helping Ordinary People Apply Behavior Science.  I plan to reflect on over 40 years of my own work attempting to integrate complex bodies of research and information into simple models, messages, and methods. I’ll highlight a book that I first encountered some years ago about how Steve Jobs incorporated simplicity and elegance at many levels in his leadership at his two companies, Apple and NeXT.  Insanely Simple is a quick read and very much worth the time.

Performance Thinking models and language push back on typical organizational complexity and dis-integration when it comes to leadership, management and performance improvement.  We offer the Six Boxes Practitioner Program for staff in various departments, and our Coach-Manage-Lead programs for those in line management and leadership.

We provide a common language and simple models to make continuous performance improvement, and talent development, more user friendly and readily applicable across entire organizations.

Stay tuned as we find more organizations to take this step. Please let me know if you’re interested in exploring the possibilities.  We’re looking forward to our 9th Annual Six Boxes Summer Institute where we will report back on the impact of our work in those organizations over time.

- Carl Binder, CEO

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<![CDATA[ 2018 Summer Institute: Performance Thinking Acrcoss the Enterprise ]]> The theme for our 9th Annual Six Boxes Summer Institute,  June 17-21 on Bainbridge Island, near Seattle,  will be Performance Thinking Across the Enterprise. 

We’re pleased to announce our 2018 theme, and happy that pricing for our Summer Institute will not increase from last year . Some have called it the best professional development experience of their careersPlease consider including the Summer Institute in your 2018 budget.  

Why This Theme?

In most organizations, managing and improving performance is piecemeal and disconnected.  As a result, it is not always cost-effective and does not produce or sustain desired performance results.

We use the metaphor “parts of the elephant” from the blind men and the elephant story to describe disconnects between efforts to support performance in large organizations. Depending on where you sit – at what level and in what function – efforts to support and improve performance may look quite different.  And they do not always fit together. There are different departments responsible for different performance variables, including training, process design, information systems, compensation, leadership development, and so on.  Often different efforts and programs work at cross purposes.

Collaboration via Shared Language

When staff from different departments share the same models and language for defining desired performance and configuring solutions, there is greater opportunity for cost-effectiveness.  When people see performance within the same framework, they often communicate and collaborate more effectively.

You might question whether this is possible. Our experience over the last decade suggests that it is, indeed, possible.

Line and Staff Working Together

We’ve applied Six Boxes Performance Thinking with leaders, managers and staff in different organizations.  Defining performance with the Performance Chain and configuring solutions with the Six Boxes Model enables people across functions and levels to work together for common results.  After years of research and development, we have programs that enable this to occur, and we’re now seeing the impact that we envisioned in the beginning.

In a global biotech company, over 150 certified Six Boxes Practitioners work with stakeholders to analyze performance, design improvement interventions, and sustain results.

In a large nonprofit organization, Six Boxes Practitioners and Performance Thinking Managers are creating an integrated talent development process, from initial hiring through onboarding, training, coaching, evaluation, and annual reviews – all based on Performance Thinking models and logic.

In a software company, teaching and supporting Six Boxes Performance Coaching for all leaders and managers is building a performance-driven culture that continues to evolve.

These programs create and support active learning communities of practice.

Taking It to the Next Level

As we ramp up efforts to introduce our Coach-Manage-Lead programs in larger organizations, to spread the language and tools of Performance Thinking across larger communities, we will be watching closely.  We’re looking to see how our two visual models, 21 plain English words, and “logic” of Performance Thinking can help to make performance improvement a more frictionless, collaborative and continuous process across the enterprise.

Please join us! Consider engaging us for a pilot program in your organization.

- Carl Binder, CEO

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<![CDATA[ Continuous Talent Development Through Leaders and Managers ]]>

“Beware of managers who stay in their offices!”  

This rallying cry from a manufacturing organization highlights the challenge of providing leaders and managers with meaningful ways to develop their people. An initiative labeled “Purposeful Presence” for managers in that organization sought to get them out of their offices and onto the floor with those who report to them.

A phrase from the management literature of several decades ago, Management By Wandering Around, so widely used that it became an acronym (MBWA), described a “best practice” of managers.  It encouraged them to interact with their people on a regular basis, observe them in their places of work, and provide support and opportunities for development.

While it might seem obvious to many that talent development should be part of every leader’s job, it’s surprising how often it is not.

What Can Leaders and Managers Do?

It’s surprising how few practical tools and processes organizations provide to their leaders and managers to support continuous talent development on anything like a day-to-day basis.

This poses the question: What can leaders and managers do to develop their people day-to-day, engage them in the mission of the organization, and continuously improve their results?

Two Essentials for Leaders and Managers

It boils down to two essentials, often lacking in the development of leaders and managers:

  1. How to describe the performance they want from their people in a crisp, actionable way.

  2. How to identify, arrange and revise conditions to ensure successful performance development.

Sounds simple, but why is it so often lacking?  And what can be done?

Practical Programs for Continuous Performance Improvement

That’s where our Coach-Manage-Lead family of programs comes in. Performance Thinking® programs enable leaders and managers to become active vehicles for continuous talent development while strengthening employee engagement at the same time. We teach how to use the Performance Chain model to clearly define desired performance, and to use the Six Boxes model to have conversations about current conditions and practical action steps to accelerate performance. 

Senior leaders and executives can apply the same models to execute strategy through people, create employee engagement plans for their organizations, implement and manage processes more effectively, and continuously improve results through the people whom they lead.

Our work for many years has focused on accelerating business results through the performance of people. We began over a decade ago with what has become our popular Six Boxes® Practitioner Program, a certification program that enables staff professionals in virtually any department to become accomplishment-based performance consultants. 

We’ve helped to develop teams of performance consultants in many organizations, some spanning locations across the globe.  They conduct projects to optimize performance and build employee engagement. The Six Boxes Practitioner Program has been successful, based on its simple models and plain language that make communication and collaboration between performance consultants and their stakeholders easier, quicker, and some describe as “viral.”

Empowering Leaders and Managers with Field Tested Programs

There are many more leaders and managers than there are staff performance-focused professionals. Consequently, we set out to enable leaders and managers at all levels to accelerate the performance of individuals, teams, and whole organizations. We envisioned this approach several years ago in a white paper.  And now we’ve got the goods! 

We’ve designed, pilot tested, refined and implemented our Coach-Manage-Lead programs in organizations with hundreds of leaders and managers. These programs offer a breakthrough in how businesses and non-profits can choose to deploy and develop their supervisors, managers, leaders, and executives as direct agents of continuous talent development.

A Foundation for Performance Focused Culture

Six Boxes Performance Thinking® programs can lay a foundation for a performance-focused organizational culture, enabling both line and staff to continuously improve the conditions for successful performance and employee engagement.

While this approach might seem obvious, it is surprising how rarely organizations encourage and enable their leaders and managers to develop talent as part of their day-to-day jobs.

Find out more by reviewing our white paper, taking a look at the product descriptions, and passing these things on to colleagues and decision-makers in your organization or in client organizations.

Stay in touch for a significant ramp-up this fall of blog posts, video clips, and other resources addressing issues of leadership, management, strategy execution, and continuous talent development.

 

By Carl Binder

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<![CDATA[ Feedback from The 2017 Six Boxes® Summer Institute ]]>  

We had a great group of participants at our 2017 Six Boxes® Summer Institute. People were bubbling over with new ideas, great questions, and a lot of fun.

We filled up  the rooms this year and expect that will happen even earlier next year. We love it small – under 50 participants – to keep things friendly and human-sized. That’s part of what makes it so good. 

You always leave with  new friends!

2018 Dates and Fees

The 9th Annual Six Boxes® Summer Institute will be June 17-21, 2018.  Please mark your calendar, even if you don't yet know you can attend. It'll prompt you to ask for budget and plan for time away. We’ll maintain the same pricing for 2018, so you can submit your budget request accordingly. This is a great development opportunity for you and your team.

While the theme and specific topics will change in 2018, we’ll keep the same overall design. We'll announce more details in coming months. If you’ve never been, check out the schedule and pricing for 2017 to get a good overall idea of what happens.

Many New Ideas!

Participants recorded new ideas during the program. One of my mentors, Dr. Ogden Lindsley, used to write down new ideas at conferences, and say he was having a "good" conference if he came up with 10 or 12 good new ideas.

This year, our top ideas person recorded 61 new ideas!  The average was in the mid-20s. People came away with a lot to think about and many practical ideas to apply.

Feedback from 2017 Participants

Here are a few comments from participants:

Staff Trainer:  "Top-notch experts. A beautiful and comfortable rural setting. Knowledge-hungry and driven participants. All from different backgrounds, with a common goal of furthering the culture of Performance Thinking."

Organizational Behavior Management Specialist:  "The Six Boxes Summer Institute taught me techniques and terms that I can apply to my job that help turn average performers into great performers. Performance Thinking helps you remember that your organization is set up to produce exactly the results that it produces now, and that we often need to change the system to change performance."

Program Manager:  "I found my time at the Summer Institute valuable for learning, professional development and networking with a variety of bright people –  all passionate about improving performance in their chosen field."  

Learning Business Partner:  "When attending conferences I've always felt they were worth my investment of time and money if I return to work with at least one great idea per day to try that will make me more effective. During three days at the Summer Institute I captured 25 new ideas from which to choose.  Talk about exceeding expectations!  And the whole experience nourished my soul." 

HR Business Consultant:  "You need to attend, even as a seasoned practitioner.  It proved more valuable than any ATD or ISPI conference I have attended, plus the food is really good. I really liked the mix of scholarly research-based, and anecdotal material presented.  The Summer Institute was the best conference or seminar type of learning opportunity that I have ever attended."

For the 8th year in a row, someone told us that the Six Boxes® Summer Institute was the best professional development experience of their careers. We must be doing something right!

We hope you can attend in 2018.  Please be sure we have your email address (form at the bottom of our home page ), and we'll let you know as our plans develop for the 9th Annual Six Boxes Summer Institute, June  17-21, 2018, at beautiful Islandwood on Bainbridge Island, near Seattle. 

I think it's safe to say that we'll have another really good one!

- Carl Binder, CEO

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<![CDATA[ Performance Coaching: A Different Approach ]]> As we've worked with clients and adapted our Coach-Manage-Lead family of programs for different organizations and participants, we've identified two big differences between our programs and most others that we've seen.

  1. We emphasize continuous performance development of employees NOT ONLY development of leaders and managers: While most programs for managers and leaders are positioned as management or leadership development, ours emphasize the role of leaders and managers as vehicles for continuous performance development of their people. While this might at first seem academic, it plays itself out in important ways.

    For example, we recommend measuring program impact by counting new and improved accomplishments or work outputs produced by individuals and teams rather than focusing so much on the behavior of the managers or leaders as they help to improve their people. We view the role of leaders and managers as helping to identify important areas for development and then collaborating with their people to configure the best conditions for improving target performance. Yes, managers and leaders in our programs gain improved capabilities. But their changed behavior is worth very little if not for the improved and expanded performance of the people whom they coach, manage, or lead.

  2. We teach what to coach or manage, NOT ONLY how: Most coaching, management and leadership programs enable participants to develop new ways of conducting conversations, relating to their people, knowing how directive or supportive to be, and so forth. In other words, leaders and managers learn "soft" skills for working with people more effectively. This is very important, and a number of popular programs are quite effective in establishing these new skills.

    On the other hand, with a focus on employee performance, our programs enable participants to precisely define performance for development, and then configure behavior influences to help accelerate desired performance. In other words, we emphasize the what, not just the how of performance development. We teach the Performance Chain and the Six Boxes® Model as guides for defining what to improve or develop and what to configure to achieve greater performance. When used on a daily basis and communicated among team members at all levels in the organization, this Performance Thinking approach becomes a vocabulary for continuous performance improvement and a  powerful ongoing talent development process. In addition, over time it produces an organizational culture focused positively on performance development and accelerated results.

An important implication of this difference is that our programs fit well with, rather than competing with other programs. In fact, some of our clients claim that Performance Thinking® programs provide the "missing link" between other programs and measurable performance results. One well-known program, for example, Situational Leadership, is quite compatible with our offerings, because when combined, the two programs teach both what to discuss with employees and how to conduct discussions most effectively. In short, our programs play very well with others!

For more insight about the Performance Thinking approach, check out our white paper Accelerating Business Results Through Leadership and Management.  And take a look at our program descriptions for the Coach-Manage-Lead family of programs.

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<![CDATA[ Performance Thinking® Programs Stand the Test of Time ]]> It’s gratifying to know that our models, tools and programs for driving performance improvement across organizations have shown long-term viability, not just “flavor of the month” popularity. They are sustaining over time, and growing.

Expanding from one organization to another:  A Chief Learning Officer brought the Six Boxes Practitioner Program and the Six Boxes Champions Program into her organization in 2010, where we learned a lot over several years about how to establish a strong internal community of practice. Last year she brought Six Boxes Performance Coaching  for managers and leaders into her current company, expanding an initial adoption by certifying two additional Program Facilitators and four Program Coaches. Our programs deliver a strategic advantage for performance-oriented leaders and their organizations.

Embedding Performance Thinking Models and Tools in HR processes:  At an organization where several hundred managers have completed The Performance Thinking Manager, we’re now developing a team of Six Boxes Practitioners.  As an outgrowth of that work, Human Resources is re-designing their talent management process – from hiring and on-boarding through quarterly reviews and coaching, continuous performance development, and decisions about salary and promotion –  all using Performance Thinking models and tools.

Evolving generations of Six Boxes Practitioners:  One of our longest-standing clients certified a single team of Six Boxes Practitioners in Operations Learning and Performance over seven years ago. Since then, they have certified over 150 Six Boxes Practitioners in multiple functions worldwide. The global Director of Learning & Performance, responsible for developing and supporting over 16,000 employees, is a second generation Certified Six Boxes Practitioner Program Facilitator/Coach, and is building a global community of practice and continuous improvement.

Expanding in the Middle East:  An organization in Dubai is completing certification of a second team of performance consultants, and requesting that we work with a third group. They’re seeking our help to expand the effort more broadly across roughly 75 different businesses.

Growing a Global Community of Practice: We’re starting to build an active global community of Six Boxes Practitioners for sharing cases, learning from one another, and expanding applications and expertise across the network. This is just getting started.  Bob Reticker, our Director of Certification, and I are planning to host quarterly Community of Practice meetings on the web, starting in the summer.

Our 8th Annual Six Boxes Summer Institute:  Can you believe it?  What started out 8 years ago has become a pretty big deal. Still small, to maintain that intimate experience of learning and sharing together, the impact has been anything but small. We’re more excited than ever to be accepting registrations for our 8th year, with a program of engaging sessions and mini workshops devoted to the theme of sustainment.  (Early registration ends May 12, and seats are filling up!)

Still a Six Boxes Champion after 30 years: A client from the 1990’s, who was a Senior Vice President of Sales at a big corporation when the Six Boxes Approach was first being developed, is coming on board as a major account representative for us. Our goal is to bring Performance Thinking programs to even larger organizations. He's the one who said years ago as a senior leader, "As an executive or manager, if I can't fit what I'm about to do into the Six Boxes Model, then I don't do it."

Our original vision of a simple yet powerful approach to continuous performance improvement, usable by anyone at any level and in any function, based on decades of research and application in behavior science and performance engineering, is proving itself over and over again. This bolsters our eagerness to push forward as we expand the reach and effectiveness of our suite of programs. 

If you want to be part of our expanding network of practitioners, leaders, and managers across the globe, please check out our white papers on a variety of topics and applications, and consider attending the 8th Annual Six Boxes Summer Institute. 

The Summer Institute is a great way to meet experienced users from around the globe in an intimate, comfortable retreat-like setting, and learn more about performance improvement than you ever thought possible in just a few days. We have many repeat participants, some of whom have described our Summer Institute as the most important professional development experience of their careers.  You can still register , before it fills up.

By Carl Binder

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<![CDATA[ Sustaining Performance and Continuous Improvement ]]> Our overall theme this year for the 8th Annual Six Boxes® Summer Institute (June 18-22)  will be SUSTAINMENT of performance improvement. Most of the sessions we are planning will explore or unpack issues and methods emerging from Six Boxes Performance Thinking for ensuring long-term return on investments in performance interventions. We'll be talking about sustainment at different levels.

Minimally, there is the question as to whether a new performance trained or coached in one or more sessions or modules will actually occur on the job.  This is the classic issue of getting out of the training box with the Six Boxes® Model –  recognizing that in order for new performance to appear reliably when and where it is needed, we need to plan for behavior influences in other cells of the Six Boxes Model beside Skills and Knowledge (box 4).  In many respects, this is at the root of the shift that many organizations are making from training to performance improvement. How can we ensure that training will "stick" on the job?

Then, once we have initiated a given performance intervention – whether we are conducting projects as staff performance professionals or implementing performance development plans for individuals or teams as leaders or managers – we need to be sure that desired performance continues, that it becomes part of ongoing performance in our organizations. This is a matter of checking back to be sure we "got it right" with the elements of our intervention.  We might tweak the original behavior influences to revise aspects of the plan that aren't working as well as they could, identify factors that we overlooked or misunderstood in our initial implementation, or take changes in the performance environment into account and adjust accordingly. This is what our colleague, Gina Rester-Zodrow from Amgen calls, "putting the S in ADDIES."  Many of us are familiar with the acronym ADDIE, which stands for Analysis Design Development Implementation and Evaluation, a widely used approach to creating and implementing performance improvement. At this year's Summer Institute, Gina will tell us more about how her global teams of certified Six Boxes® Practitioners have standardized a process for following up and revising interventions to ensure sustainment.

And finally, we address the sustainment of Performance Thinking® models, tools, and application in organizations after implementation of programs for practitioners or leaders and managers.  How can we sustain, support, and continuously improve application of systematic performance improvement efforts in an organization over time, to counter-act the drift or "flavor of the month" phenomenon that occurs so often after introduction of any new method or approach? Simply stated, things tend to drift back to where they were before the introduction if we do not plan for sustainment. Here we can talk about the bottoms-up communication and viral diffusion that tends to happen with the simple language and models of Six Boxes Performance Thinking, and how some of our long-time thought leaders and champions have worked within their companies to accelerate spread of the Performance Thinking "virus."

We'll also talk about the impact of proactive implementation planning , where we apply Performance Thinking to itself.  We use the Performance Thinking Network's Program Implementation Checklists to plan and then arrange conditions in our organizations to support continued application, develop and expand communities of practice, and be sure that the right behavior influences are in place to sustain application.

In the end, this topic of sustainment is simply about return on investment.  So often in organizations, great ideas do not get fully implemented and valuable programs or interventions do not sustain. We're going to address this issue head on at this year's Summer Institute , and we're looking forward to discussion among our colleagues at the Institute about challenges and solutions related to this important topic. Please join us.

 

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<![CDATA[ Slow Down to Go Fast ]]> As I've looked into organizations that are our clients, as well as some where I have colleagues or professional friends, it has become clear to me that the pace of business growth and change these days often causes leaders to "save time" in ways that can be counter-productive. Supposedly saving time, or moving too fast, leaders and managers often skip over opportunities to clearly specify expectations, provide positive or corrective feedback to keep people on track, or to recognize successful performance or milestones toward important goals. These are among the most valuable and impactful things that a manager or organizational leader can do. And yet, we often don't take the relatively small amount of time required to do them well.

We know very well from research on employee engagement and from behavior science that when people have clear expectations they perform better. It's important to remember, too, that "expectations" are only effective if the people for whom they are intended actually hear, understand, and can behave accordingly. When those whom we manage or lead don't "get" what we expect them to do and produce, we need to look at and revise our methods for setting and refining expectations, NOT blame the performers. If there is one thing we've learned from the science of behavior it's that "the organism is always right." That is, people behave lawfully, and it is our responsibility as leaders and managers to communicate expectations until "communication has occurred" – until we can see that the message has gotten through by watching their behavior. Unfortunately, many leaders and managers are moving so quickly that they fail to attend to this aspect of their roles. Our people are not mind-readers, and they might not even understand what we say if we don't slow down to be sure they have heard it.  Box 1 (Expectations and Feedback) is #1 for a reason – it represents the greatest point of leverage in the system.

Similarly, in our hurry we often fail to provide effective feedback and meaningful recognition or rewards to people when they DO "get it" and demonstrate that they are moving in the right direction. Our old friend and colleague, Aubrey Daniels , has written many books on this topic alone. He call it "the astonishing power of positive reinforcement."  If there is a single most powerful finding from decades of behavior science it is that behavior is governed by its consequences.  Engagement and discretionary effort ONLY happen when leaders and managers effectively set expectations and provide recognition and positive feedback when people do things right, or take steps toward doing things right. This is literally a "law of behavior" and cannot be ignored, if you want to be successful.

If you see employees in your organization who are stressed, confused, and unhappy on the job, then you need to communicate and verify clear expectations, and provide frequent confirming feedback and positive recognition or consequences for doing the right thing.

Recognize that you have to pause a little bit to do these things right. Everything we know from research and practice, however, suggests that by adopting these leadership and management practices, we will accelerate positive change and results in our organizations.

Here's a simple but powerful self-improvement tactic for all managers and leaders reading this blog: Try keeping a tally on a piece of paper or a cell phone app of the number of times each day you say or do something POSITIVE when you see someone doing the right thing.  Also count when you say or do something CORRECTIVE or NEGATIVE. Compare the counts of positives and negatives each day. Your goal is to have a 5:1 ratio.

If you're like me, you'll almost certainly start out with the discovery that your ratio of positives-to-negatives is less than 1:1. I have sometimes counted my own behavior in times of stress to discover that I was finding employees and colleagues being "wrong" 5 or more times for every once I found them being "right".  That's exactly the opposite of what research says that ratio should be.  What I have learned, and what I think you also will learn by doing this, is that just paying attention and LOOKING FOR and recognizing employee behavior that is in the right direction, you will be able to improve both the performance and the engagement of people whom you manage and lead. 

Try to find and point out 5 times more good stuff than bad stuff. It turns out to be easy if you look for it. By slowing down just a little bit to "find the employee being good," you will likely accelerate the pace of improvement in your organization and accelerate business results.

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<![CDATA[ I wish I knew then... ]]> I often look back over my management career and wish I could go back and re-solve some of those performance problems with the Six Boxes. How much time and energy was wasted! One of the most memorable for me, especially because the outcome was the loss of a good employee, always comes to mind.

I was part of the senior management team in a venture-backed telecom start-up. We were small, less than 30 people at that stage, and our functional staffing needs changed faster than we could hire (or even plan for). But we did hire strong players who we thought could flexibly contribute in many roles if needed. Unfortunately, we described that as hiring people “with the right attitude”. In this case, we hired a fellow with an excellent track record of bringing major divisions of global companies into ISO certification to set up our quality system as we needed to rapidly ramp a large scale manufacturing operation. Many of us had worked with him before and been impressed with his capabilities and easy nature. But that ‘rapid ramp’ turned into a slow crawl and we actually needed project managers to get the products developed. He’d be perfect, we all thought. But shortly, the CEO was grumbling, we still didn’t have product development under control, and it was all “an attitude problem”. He wasn’t “getting it” (no one ever told him what they meant by project management), he wasn’t “committed” (he wasn’t around at 9 pm with the engineers), he wouldn’t “get his hands dirty” (he didn’t know he was expected to be in the lab measuring the parts or even how to), and he was “a light weight” (he had a pretty interesting life outside the office). So without clear expectations of what project management entailed for this set of engineers (Box 1), or what constituted success (Box 1), without project management software and tools (Box 2), without being included in the personal satisfaction of being part of a team (Box 3), or ever having been taught the lab skills (Box 4), we had an “attitude” problem (Box 6). And he was the first to be laid off when the money got tight.

He did, of course, quickly get another job where he was successfully employed for many years, even through that company’s ups and downs. In retrospect, I see how unfortunate it was that we didn’t have the Six Boxes to diagnose and correct the challenge. While his personal capacity (Box 5) might not have been a perfect fit, he was a highly capable and valuable resource for a struggling young company that had precious little time and money to waste. Hours were lost as the CEO and others discussed his “attitude problem” while Rome burned (i.e. no working products). With the Six Boxes, we would have looked at our contribution before we jumped to his motives. Does he know what we mean by project management? What was the level of effort that the culture expected? Did he have what he needed to do the job? Was anyone coaching him and providing daily feedback? What would be a positive pay-off for him in this new role? How do we fit him in to a tight engineering team and make him feel accepted? With just a small amount of structured examination of the problem, I’m convinced he’d have been a valuable contributor.

Start-ups often claim there’s no time to bring people up to speed, to work with performance problems.  But the way that most companies are evolving, flatter organizations look a lot like start-ups and this challenge has to be approached differently. A quick, systematic approach to solving performance challenges is critical to not losing time or value from existing investments in people. Everyone needs to “think” in a way that gets to quick results and change without jumping to replacing the performer. Agility includes development of people and teams. Moving quickly and working with the people you have are what makes for successful companies.

I can't go back and change what I didn't know, but I sure hope I can help a lot of other people avoid the trauma that often accompanies unresolved performance problems. I truly believe that we can easily meet business goals and develop great people with really simple methods.

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<![CDATA[ For ISPI History Buffs ]]> At an ISPI conference in San Francisco some years ago, our colleague Guy Wallace did another round of interviews for his legacy series exploring the foundations and history of ISPI. He interviewed Carl and asked him about his own part of that history, while pulling out anecdotes and stories of some of the more interesting personalities who originated this wonderful technology on which we base our work. Watch it here.

 

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