Self Appraisals in the first grade

Several people I work with attended an interesting training here at Oracle.  It was a course designed to give you tips on how to do presentations to executives.  I heard some key themes included: being on message,  brief,  in control, prepared, etc.

Most importantly,  you should make sure you talk about things they care about (not what you care about) and in words they use.

It’s not just that you shouldn’t use jargon, you should be purposeful in your intent to communicate your ideas from the point of view of the audience. Of course, this is always useful, but the higher the career stakes, the more you really want to get it right.

I have a been thinking about this for a few days now as I have a much harder task in front of me than a meeting with executives,  I have to present “what I do” to my daughter’s first grade class.


Here is what I do.

Meetings, emails, meetings, emails, IMs, emails, reviewing reports, emails about reports, twitter, blogging, email, thinking, email, email about thinking, document review, email about document review, and so on…

pretty much email. That’s what I do.  Nothing very concrete there.  In fact, I’m sure there are a lot of people who do a lot of email and their jobs would be wildly different than mine.

Of course, I’m not really worried about putting this into first grade language.  I have regular access to a first grader, and I have a good idea what she does and does not understand (or care about). But I do realize that I need to be more specific about what is in the meetings and emails or I will confuse and bore them.

So as I was thinking about what exactly to talk about, I realized that her class is already familiar with the concept of performance feedback.  They do self appraisals every day. The class uses what they call  “Reflection sheets”* to capture when they do (and do not) show evidence of following the school rules (Respect, Useful, Listener, Ethical, Safe).  As you can see, it’s an optimized process for minimal paperwork with maximum utility.

As I work to define what I do in a way that is interesting and meaningful to a first grader, I realize that maybe what I really should be doing is recommending that business consider having more reflection sheets and less self appraisals.

I am finding myself especially fond of the useful one, I think that’s worth a second look.


*I could only get agreement to have a copy if I promised to black out her name

Ladies please stop [inappropriately] apologizing

As a mother of girls I’m highly sensative to female behaviors — those that I want my girls to exhibit and those I’d like them to avoid.  My rant today is about the inappropriate apology. I am sure that there are men who also have this annoying habit, but I tend to notice it in women.

So as a matter of public service I would like to call out those apologies that you should retain and those that you should drop

You probably owe me an apology if you

  • Run into my car
  • Step on my toe
  • Ruin my outfit
  • Say something mean to me
  • etc.

You do not owe me an apology if you

  • Call my house and the person you are looking for is not there
  • Want to ask for 5 minutes of my time to talk about something
  • Want to disagree with me about a topic or idea
  • etc

Whoever taught you that you need to apologize for your existence got it wrong.  Trust me, you have a lot of great things to contribute.  Don’t tell me to undervalue you.  It’s silly and it’s time to stop.

My Intentional Remembering Self

As promised, I’m ready to share a TED learning.  As it happens this was the first session I heard so it has the benefit of being less jumbled.

The talk was from Daniel Kahneman the founder of Behavioral Economics (and yes, everything about that title appeals to me…. seriously — see previous confessions of geek-dom).

His talk was about the difference between our experiencing and our remembering selves.  Essentially,  we remember things differently than we experience them.  It is the memory of the event that we use in further decision making and it is often the expected memory that we use to decide our futures.

I’ll give you a minute to let that sink in as it has a big implication on everything from the types of vacations you take, to the places you choose to live, to the career decisions you make.

After the session, I asked my new friends at lunch how they thought they might use that information,and most people went down the path that they wanted to be more in the moment and intentional in their daily lives.  Essentially getting (and giving) more value to their experiencing selves.

I went the other way — I decided I want to put more effort into intentionally using my remembering self to my career and personal benefit.  Ironically, I had already started down this path I just didn’t have the behavioral economics rationale.

At the start of 2010, I began keeping a gratitude journal (yes, there’s an app for that).  I did this for a very selfish reason.  I had read about a study that suggested the gratitude journals helped college students have a better sense of well being, better outcomes in their schooling and better general health and wellness.

My selfish reason for giving this a try, was that I was tired of being sick so frequently and I was annoyed with myself for not having any fitness goals.  If I am completely honest, I didn’t really want to set a fitness goal, so when I read about the gratitude journal thing, I figured it might be a way to ease myself into a fitness goal.

I figured, instead of trying to do more, I would focus some energy on being happy about what I did manage to do.   A plan with zero downside and possible upside.  Exactly my kind of initiative.

Thanks to this outstanding TEDTalk,  I realize that I was using a gratitude journal to put effort in focusing my remembering self on the positive things in my life, my work and my relationships.

So, while I do think there is a lot of merit in being in the moment, I think you might be able to achieve faster results taking your remembering self a bit more seriously and being intentional in how you define your memories.

In other words, your mother might have been right in her advice to focus on the positives.  I’m currently experimenting with myself, I’ll keep you posted on my progress.


Update 3/1 — this talk is posted if you want to watch it.

Sundance for Nerds

I am just back in the office after my first TED experience and a quick ski trip with the family.  There is so much to tell and frankly my brain is still absorbing and classifying all my thoughts (or at least that is what I keep telling myself as I have a series of very odd dreams each night).

I will say this, the event was all I had hoped and then some.  The talks were inspiring, mind blowing and thought provoking but the people were amazing.  There were people from so many different backgrounds, disciplines and ideologies who were inspiring in their own right.

I do expect to do a bit of a “best of” kind of post at some point with links to TED talks but right now all the ideas and topics are a bit mixed up in my mind (and only a few of the talks are posted).

I am pretty sure that I’m wrong when I say that what I learned from the talks were

Vaccinating bed nets with zero carbon emissions using video games, suspended animation, condoms and meat houses grown in e Coli, while playing the ukulele and farming sustainable fish with lasers.

So I’m going to take a little bit more time and attempt to work the above into posts that actually make sense, as well as to organize all the interesting tweets, links, etc. that I’ve put into a “save for later” folder.

You might find it interesting to read Scoble’s take on the event, acknowledging the elitist element.  I will also note I have already given away my phone in case you were still hoping…

but why?

I hear a lot of people talking about their Talent strategy in a way that makes me think that they might be missing the big picture.

A good example is the current focus on Performance Management solutions.  Conversations often go something like this

HR group:

Our talent strategy is to have 100% participation in the performance process, where every person in our organization has a recorded performance rating.

Me: Why?

HR Group:

So we can make sure we have a common measurement of our resources

Me: Why?

HR Group:

So we can benefit from the Pay for Performance best practice. [Alternate: So that we can make sure we are “right sizing” the correct people]

Me: Groan

While it’s hard to know where to begin in deconstructing this discussion in a single blog post, let me start with the idea that I think we are again, confusing strategy with tactics.

A Talent strategy is one that shows how you can to achieve critical business results with people [your most important resource].  Technology might be  important, but for it to be effective, you must first make sure you know how to define success.

Of course, I’m a huge fan of Performance management systems/plans/initiatives.  I think having a solid system to measure people is a good thing.  I also believe that the communication of achievement, competency, etc. is important for both managers, employees and human resources.   I just get frustrated when I realize that people often forget that, at the end of the day, it is also a lot of paperwork.

The value is real, but so is the cost and in any event, this can only ever be a stepping stone for an effective Talent strategy.  You need this measurement to help you understand your workforce, to ultimately be able to better utilize them.

Without appropriate line of sight between the required effort and the desired outcome of the activity you will end up with a lot of frustrated people in the middle and no real results for the business.    Your strategy needs to connect the dots between the activity and the business results.  What does the business get from your [insert current talent focus here] initiative?

Do you know?  Do they care?