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Those Dreadful Annual Performance Evaluations

Can you believe it? The end of yet another year is upon us already. I don’t know about you but I feel like I blinked and it was June. Blinked once more and here we are in December. As I reflect back on the year I recall a few memorable accomplishments. 2012 was a great year and one that brought wonderful opportunities for me and my colleagues. But like most people, I am struggling to remember all the great things my team members accomplished this year.


Let’s face it, this is the time of year many of us are responsible for completing those dreadful annual performance evaluations. I don’t know about each of you but I can find a million other things I would rather be doing than participating in this disengaging, ineffective process. And if you ask your employees how they feel I can almost guarantee a very similar response. Unless, their salary increase is tied directly to the process and then you may see a glimpse of excitement if they believe they are getting a big, fat raise.


Let’s stop and really think about this for a minute. Many of you probably have a team of talented individuals who have worked hard over the past 12 months. Now, unless you are having continuous discussions about their performance or using some form of a social performance solution, you probably don’t have a good handle on all the things they did over the past year. Don’t beat yourself up for it. It’s reality. Many of us have a hard time remembering what we wore to work last week let alone remember the wins of our people over such a broad timeframe. Especially when we have numerous people on our team.


Add to this the fact these people are individuals. They all do their job differently based on their work style. Not everyone has the same talents or skillset yet we try to measure them all against the same set of competencies. We struggle to maintain clarity between each person when we are asked to rate them on 10-12 areas. Things become clouded, we grasp for any resemblance of a performance that could relate to one of these models. Let’s just call it what it is, an outdated, archaic process that should be thrown out with the turning of the year.


Now I realize this may sound crazy to some of you but there are better ways of measuring contributions. And what better time to start over than the start of a new year. We all make resolutions for our personal lives. Why not make a resolution that will have a profound impact on many people? Isn’t that what this time of the year is all about? Thinking about others before ourselves? Plus, wouldn’t you be much happier if you didn’t have to go through this experience next year?


So, how do you get started? Well it just so happens I have a few suggestions for you.

·          Move to a more continuous experience – meaning, have more than one or two conversations a year. At a minimum at least four.

·          Let each individual set no more than 2-3 goals for the coming year – buy-in is key – let them own this experience.

·          Get rid of all numeric rating scales – does being a 3.26 really mean anything to your people? I think not.

·          Take a strengths based approach rather than all encompassing. Let’s be honest, no two people are alike so why do we measure them all the same?

·          Disconnect compensation from contributions.

·          Build a strengths based development plan not a remedial focused plan.


This is going to take time, commitment and buy-in just like any other resolution. Think about all the goals of losing weight in a new year. The fitness centers love us because we bring them a lot of business in the first month or two of a new year. But their business strategy doesn’t rely on us. They know it will fade out quickly and they need something bigger. Don’t let that be the feeling your people get with this change. Make it part of your “lifestyle”. It needs to become part of who your organization is versus just another great idea.


Here’s to dropping the “weight” of performance reviews in 2013. Good luck to each of you!


Posted 12/20/12


Yes Engagement Does Matter…Just Ask Me

If you pay attention to any of the major HR or talent management blogs and other publications there is this continuous debate about engagement.  Does it make a difference to the business and to your people?  Is it just some conjured up philosophy for consulting firms to make money?  Do your people really care about it?

Well as someone who has been on both sides of the equation I can say with certainty it DOES matter.  That is assuming what you are measuring is really engagement and not satisfaction or happiness.  If those are what you are measuring either intentionally or unintentionally you will not arrive at your desired outcomes.  That is unless you are hoping to learn what people want in the cafeteria, if they like your benefit plans, if the holidays granted are sufficient, etc.  I think you get my point, right? 

I have seen and can recount numerous real-life examples of the positive impacts of engagement when done right.  I can also share with you as many stories of it backfiring.  In those instances the organizations made half hearted attempts at measuring engagement and then did nothing with the results.  Isn't the definition of insanity that of doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result?  Hello!  If you are going to jump into this engagement arena at least do it right.  So what does that mean you may ask?

Just so happens I have a few pointers up my sleeve for you.  First and most important, don't think of this as an HR initiative.  This needs to become a foundational people and business experience.  Second, get your leadership team onboard.   And I don't mean just your Executive team.  You need the support of leadership across the organization.  This is going to impact leaders more than anyone else in the organization.  If they are not onboard they can very easily be what derails your success.  Third, if you don't have people internally who have significant experience with engagement be prepared to hire someone to help you.  Fourth, ensure what you are measuring are actually the motivators of your people and not satisfiers.  There is a HUGE difference. If your items aren't focused on leadership effectiveness, future vision, strategic alignment, people development, etc. you may be measuring the wrong things.

While I have a lot of other suggestions I will end with this.  Do something with the results.  You are asking your people to take time to tell you about their perceptions, opinions and feelings.  The least you can do is acknowledge them. You need to commit to taking action on those things that can have the biggest impact on the organization and your people.  Asking for input and then simply ignoring it or discounting it will guarantee you one outcome.  A mass frustration and environment of distrust from your employees.  You would be better off to forgo engagement all together than to do a survey and then do nothing.

If you want some additional free advice catch my segment on The Balancing Act  Or, you can try the old fashion way and drop me an email (, catch me on Twitter (lisamsterling) or send me a text (4024164426).  I can talk about this stuff for hours.  How much time do you have?

Good luck to you and your people.

Posted 11/26/12

How Do I Get There From Here?

Have you ever been on one of those road trips where you think you know where you're going but all of a sudden you find yourself lost?  I remember trips with my family as a child and my dad would find himself in this situation frequently.  Rather than stopping and asking for some direction, he would break out a wrinkled atlas and fumble through the best route for us to get to our destination.  While this worked, I think we took the scenic route many times.

Now, with the technology we have today we can just call up Siri and ask for help.  But, does she always give you the direction you want or more importantly, need?  I know from my experiences with her I find myself frustrated after speaking with her because I haven't gotten the direction I need or want.  It is time for us to take control and stop relying on others to guide us to where we want to go. And I am no longer talking about driving directions. 

Not being able to see where you are going or how to get there causes a great deal of disengagement with workers in the US every year.  A recent Gallup survey estimates that lost productivity from a disengaged workforce costs the U.S. approximately $370 billion annually.  Yes, I did say billion!  Further research from this study tells us that roughly 72% of our workforce is "sleep walking" through their day.  One of the main reasons for this level of disengagement is the lack of career direction and opportunity.  

Our employees desperately want guidance on where to go.  They want to understand what journey lies in front of them.  We need to have deliberate, ongoing conversations with our people about the paths that are available.  We need to understand what they want to do but more importantly, what they can do with great success.  Any one can jump in a car and head down the road.  But if they aren't in the right car for the terrain their trip will be significantly less enjoyable and in some instances, they will not be able to continue forward successfully.  Again, not much different than the experiences our people are faced with today.
Now, that all said, I am not suggesting the ownness falls entirely on us as HR professionals or leaders within the organization.  We have to hold our people accountable for clearly articulating where they want to go.  We need to make them responsible for understanding where their final desirable destination is and then help them figure how to get there.  And keep in mind; just like Siri, there are typically multiple routes a person can take to get to that final destination.

Posted 10/24/12

Do You Have Skin In The Game?

A while back I attended a soccer game at the high school my daughter will be attending this fall.  As an avid soccer mom I love to watch games regardless of who is playing.  However, our reason for attending this game was selfish.  My daughter has hopes of playing for the team next Spring.  Our goal of attending was to see how they played.  How they communicated as a team, their passing abilities, and overall harmony.


What I didn't expect to do was learn something about myself.  Something I guess I really always knew, but didn't acknowledge.  Something that impacts all of us every day in the workplace, at home, anywhere really.  What I realized is that if I don't have skin in the game, I am tend to not be engaged.  While I sat there watching this game I noticed I was not very engaged.  I didn’t have that same sense of involvement I do at other games.  I cheered when they scored (which they did 10 times) and when a shot was blocked.  But I never got into the game the way I do when one of my girls is on the field.

I have to admit when I am engaged, I have been known as "that mom" once or twice in my past because of my enthusiasm for the game and my girls.  But I never even came close to that level of engagement at this game.  It was then, that I realized I didn’t have skin in the game.  My girls weren't on the field so my purpose was gone.

Now take soccer out of the equation and think about this from a work perspective.  How many times have you not been engaged in what you were doing?  For some, it's how we live our lives at our jobs.  We are good at what we do but we don’t enjoy.  We have quit but stayed.  For others it may just be on a project, with a certain colleague or a manager.  But we all have felt it at one point or another.  Many of our organizations have mounds of survey data to confirm our lack of engagement.

After leaving the game, I sat and thought about this for some time.  I began asking myself questions around what I could have done to get myself to be more engaged.  The answer was easy.  Figure out a purpose that is meaningful to me that would drive me to be engaged.  This is my daughter's future team (hopefully).  The better they play the better their chance of getting other good players to come their way.  I just needed to find my purpose and just like that I have skin in the game. 

The same can be said for our engagement at work.  Organizations, managers and employees all have equal responsibilities to find their purpose and have it guide them.  It is no longer enough to put the responsibility of engagement on just the managers or just the employees.  We all have to create and be held responsible to driving an engaged workforce.  The more skin we all have in the game, the better chance we are going to come out on top.  You may get lucky like I did last week (Southeast won 10-0).  But why risk your happiness and success on luck.  Go get in the game!

Posted: 8/2/12

Did Someone Turn Out the Lights?

Like many of you, I spend a great deal of time in airports waiting with my travel schedule.  Waiting for security lines, waiting food, waiting to board.  Unfortunately, I have spent a lot of time waiting.  Especially this past week.  I had the pleasure waiting a significant amount of time.

Waiting at my gate for my ON TIME departure home I look up at the board and see our departure time has recently changed.  My first response is to pull out my phone, access my app and check the flight status just to verify we are indeed delayed.  Of course, my app confirms what I already know, we are going to be here for a while.  While somewhat annoying it's not what frustrates me.  As everyone begins to notice the time change people start stirring in their seats.  Yet all this time, not a single announcement is made from our gate agent.  He sits there at the podium caught up in his own world on his iPhone. 

Now don't get me wrong, I am not asking for a play by play of what is occurring but I am expecting some explanation.  See, I like to have options and in order for me to identify what my options are this particular evening, I need to understand the situation.  Is the plane having mechanical issues?  Is our inbound flight delayed?  Is there bad weather at my arrival destination?  Having an understanding of the situation would allow me to make some decisions about what to do next.  Do I go to a restaurant order dinner and a drink because we are going to be here for a while?  Do I go grab something quick from a fast food joint and bring it back because we will be taking off sooner than anticipated or should I hang out here staring intently at the screen wondering what's next?

Well I hate to say it but this isn't the first time I have felt this way before.  Through a show of hands, how many of you have felt this way in your career?  Come on, be honest and raise your hand.  Nobody is actually going to see you.  I am confident many of you feel like you are in the dark about your career the same way I felt about what time I was going to arrive at home.  We walk around with little to no information and wonder what next?  Is there a plan in place for me to grow in my career here?  Am I considered a high-performing and/or high-potential employee?  We are all essentially walking around with the lights out because we aren't given any guidance.

This is where my take on this situation comes in.  Turn on the lights for crying out loud.  Why do organizations and leaders feel it's so important to keep us all in the dark?  Are they afraid that telling us we rock might some how cloud our focus and make us less productive?  Are they concerned that by engaging us in those conversations others might get jealous?  Yes, yes and yes!  But that’s not okay.  It's time to stop being paranoid.  When was the last time you recognized someone for outstanding contributions and they went back and stopped working?  When was the last time you knew someone was out performing you and the thought alone encouraged you to work even harder so that you were first? 

The same holds true for the engagement and development of your people.  I am a huge believer in turning on those lights and allowing people to have visibility into their own future.  By being open and honest with people you give them the ability to make choices.  You learn about their aspirations and goals.  And most importantly, they strive to work even harder so they can achieve those goals and grow their career.  Let's face it, if you don't turn the lights on for them they will eventually see a light at the end of the tunnel only it will be a light somewhere else.  Are you willing to risk your best and brightest (no pun intended) stumbling out the door?

Posted 7/20/12

What’s Your Level of Loyalty

As a frequent flyer I have become accustomed to the "perks" of being a loyal carrier X flyer. Separate security lines, early boarding, consistent upgrades, double miles for each trip, roll-over miles each year, great customer service and attention, and the list goes on. It’s these fabulous benefits award to me that keep me coming back to carrier X whenever I have travel plans.

However, just a few short months ago I had a trip that required me to fly from my lovely Omaha airport to Las Vegas. Unfortunately carrier X does not provide the easiest or shortest way to get from point A to point B. So for this particular trip I conceded and booked my flight with another carrier. This was not my first time flying them but it had been some time since my last flight.

To my surprise, it was a great experience. My flights were on-time, I was entertained by flight attendants who truly were focused on creating a great customer experience. I received a very nice snack on-board and had my choice of seating. There was definitely something to be said about the treatment I received. If I had been someone who did already have a connection with my preferred airline, it could have been enough to cause me to switch. While it was a great experience my loyalty still remains with carrier X. Now, can you say the same thing about your employees?

Many of us take for granted our employees' loyalty. We just expect that they will stay with us no matter what. Some organizations believe their employees should feel honored or even lucky to work for their organization. Well as someone who spends her entire day thinking about our people and the experiences we create for them, I am here to tell you that you are going to lose your best and brightest with this mindset.

People are loyal to organizations for the same reasons I am loyal to my airline carrier. For the recognition they receive, for the feeling of inclusion they get, for belief in where the organization is headed. People just simply want to feel valued, included and connected. They aren't expecting huge commitments from you. They just want the basic elements we want from our experiences. So I ask you, when was the last time you thought about your own loyalty to your organization? Or even better, when was the last time you thought about your employee's loyalty to your company. It doesn't take a lot to make a person loyal. But it does take a lot to convince them to stay when they have decided to leave or even worse, to get them back if they have already left.

If they already have that loyalty to you it won't matter when they hear about great experiences somewhere else. They will have already made their commitment to you. Have you earned your employee's loyalty? If not, now is the time to start!
Posted 6/25/2012  

Spring Forward in Your Performance Process 

Over the past few months there have been numerous blog posts about performance management, identifying the challenges with current processes and the impacts to our people. While we all continue to read them and for the most part, agree with them, we don’t seem to be springing forward in creating engaging performance experiences for our people.

If you pick up any recent article from HBR, Gartner, TowersWatson, etc. there is a consistent theme regarding the need for our organizations to change the way we think about performance management. I have said it time and time again that annual performance reviews can cause dis-engagement, act as a de-motivator and add little to any real value to employees. While many of the organizations we speak to agree, they don’t know where or how to get started.

Well I am here to give you a few pointers to help you jump start the transformation. If you really think about it, it’s similar to training for a marathon. You don’t start out running 26+ miles all at once. You begin to make incremental changes to your behavior that will ultimately get you to your desired goal.

But just as you need a solid training plan to get up to 26+ miles, you have to have a solid strategy outlining your end goal for the performance experience. Before you begin creating your strategy, ask yourself and others involved the following questions:

  • What is the purpose of our performance review process?
  • Who owns the performance experience? Leadership and managers or HR?
  • Who can best provide objective feedback on our employees?
  • How often should we provide feedback to our employees?
  • What do our employees like/dislike about our current process?
  • Does our current process add value to our employee’s experience?

There are many additional questions you will want to ask but this should spring you in the right direction. When all is said and done, people just want to understand how they are doing and more importantly, how they can do better. Simple modifications like providing real-time observations of performance or journaling on goal and competency progress can turn an annual, HR driven event, into an ongoing, collaborative experience for your people.

Believe me, your people will thank you for focusing on them and not just compliance.

 Posted 4/11/2012  

March Madness Gets A Bad Rap 
By Lisa Sterling, Ultimate Software
I know, I know. Not everyone is focused on the NCAA Men’s Basketball tournament the way that I am. Many of you probably have never filled out a bracket or watched a single game. Well all worries aside, you don’t have to be an avid fan for what I’m about to say.

This time of year brings about countless articles, blogs, tweets, etc. about the loss of productivity that occurs over the length of the tournament. One research study conducted by Challenger, Gray & Christmas found that about 90 minutes of productivity are lost a day during the tournament. Meanwhile, a blog in HBR reported an estimated $175 million to $1 billion in productivity lost this year alone. The numbers have grown tremendously with the onslaught of tablets and smartphones. People are no longer watching the games or checking their brackets on their computers. They are bypassing IT all together. There is more accessibility than ever before.

But for some reason, this time of year we become concerned and want to measure productivity. But why? Why don’t we care about productivity measurements the rest of the year? Let’s be honest, this is not the first time you have had employees waste 90 minutes of time during a day. We get so focused on this timeframe and forget to look at the bigger picture. Which for some people can be a good thing and not so good for others.

Think about it for just a minute. How much time is wasted every day in your organization? Employees’ taking extended breaks to walk to Starbucks or the cafeteria to get a cup of coffee? Taking an extra 10 or 15 minutes for lunch? Checking their Facebook from their phone for 20 minutes? Coming in late or leaving early? Getting caught up on the latest gossip? This stuff happens every day. Yet March Madness initiates a tremendous amount of research and analysis to tell us something we already know. People are not productive all day, every day at work.

There could be a number of reasons for this lack of productivity. People could have become disengaged and “checked out”. They could we working for an ineffective manager. They could also just plain not be a fit for your company. Regardless of the reason, this is your opportunity to act.

Provide them with an opportunity to share their voice through engagement initiatives. Provide them with tools that facilitate collaboration internally so they can engage with the people in your organization. Conduct informal, ongoing discussions with them about their career and future. You might be shocked to find out how easy it is to get people back into the game.

So, how will you look at this in the future? Will you measure productivity more frequently or will you focus on the bright side. Some studies suggest engagement amongst employees actually goes up during this time of year. Is camaraderie a bad thing? Only when I am losing in my bracket. 
Posted 3/30/2012  

Building A Great First Impression and Keeping It
By Lisa Sterling, Ultimate Software
Oh the excitement of learning you just landed that job you always wanted. It’s with a company you’ve aspired to work for and one that is different from anywhere else you have ever worked. They take care of their people, they’re engaged with the community and they have a great business model. You’ve definitely hit the big one with this opportunity.

Now, the true testament of the organization comes in to play. It’s time for you to start your new career and begin your introduction into the organization. This is your opportunity to see first hand how this company engages with their people. In some organizations this engagement occurs on your first day of employment but luckily for you, this company is more progressive and the engagement begins before you ever set foot onsite.

The timing of engagement is only one measurement of an organization’s commitment to their people. It’s also how they engage with their employees. Did you receive a large FedEx or UPS package with 30 different forms to read, sign and send back with photocopies? Will you show up that first day with no idea of where to go or who to speak with? Or, are you already engaged through in a way that begins with educating you on what it’s like to work there, who you’ll be working with, their stories and of course, a more manageable process to completing all the necessary documentation.

This is a crucial phase in successfully hitting the ground running. 85% of new hires decide within the first six months if they will stay with an organization or not. Many of those individuals use their onboarding or orientation process to formulate that decision. It’s costly to the organization ($4 Billion spent by North American companies each year on new hire orientation) and demoralizing to the new hire when this is done in a haphazard manner.

This is where you can step in and engage with your new hires more quickly. Your focus should be to move from simple orientation to strategic onboarding of new hires. It’s time to begin thinking about the engagement and interaction with the new hire before they become an employee and well after they are “oriented”. Onboarding is an ongoing experience and not an event. But why stop there. Onboarding is not the only time this level of interaction should take place. Think about other experiences individuals go through that could warrant this level of interaction. An employee relocates geographically or an individual gets a promotion moving them to another department within the company. We should be thinking about the experiences our employees have and identify deliberate ways to improve the interaction, engagement and outcomes.

The sooner organizations can connect with individuals in the onboarding process the better. Their communication can exhibit the culture of the organization with every interaction. Yes, the management and acknowledgement of forms and provisioning of processes are instrumental but don’t stop there. Identify the additional socialization opportunities you have and execute on them throughout the onboarding experience. Have an executive send a welcome note to the new hire. Send them a communication about a new hire lunch or celebration. Communicate the process for their first payday. Engage them in a 30, 60, 90 day assessment and observation experience. The opportunities to interact with your new hires are limitless.

Just remember, everything you do or more importantly, don’t do, is being judged by your new hires. Make it a great experience so they can achieve success right out of the gate and continue to believe you are the best place to work.
Posted 3/19/2012  

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