Category Archives: Technology

Performance Management Programs and Annual Appraisals

Originally posted August 12, 2013. Updated October 20, 2015 with newer data.

Corporations adopting Agile practices on their way towards being Agile often struggle with many legacy operational policies and procedures. One question that always comes up is how to conduct performance management appraisals with employees when Agile Teams are supposed to be Self-Directed, Self-Managed and mostly autonomous? Adobe[1] and Motorola[2] have given us two good examples of successful transformations. Most companies not wanting to jump that far just yet don’t know where to go. This article will cover one of many paths we are exploring/piloting with some of our clients.

The typical scenario we find in organizations is a line manager who is responsible for the management of a team or group of teams, who is also responsible for the career development plans and performance appraisals of the people within those teams or groups. This has always proven to be a fool’s errand for managers. As New York Times[3] columnist Phyllis Korkki notes:

Many businesses feel that they must use formal reviews and rankings to create an objective measurement of performance and goals, so that managers can reward and promote good employees, and give poorly performing ones a chance to improve (while creating a paper trail in case they must be dismissed).

Making matters worse, in the mid–90s, a popular system for front-line employees emerged from GE’s Jack Welch which
stated that employees should be lined up along a three-piece bell curve: the top 20% would get rewarded, the middle 70% would be told how to improve, and the bottom 10% would be discarded. This is called forced or stack ranking; according to an in-depth Vanity Fair report[4], it’s the system that “crippled” Microsofts ability to innovate.

The system at Microsoft, pitted employees against one another in an attempt to reward the best and weed out the rest. However, the system back-fired. Former employees have been quoted[5] as feeing helpless and rewarded to “backstab their co-workers.” Bill Hill, a former manager, is quoted in Fast Company Magazine as saying, ”I wanted to build a team of people who would work together and whose only focus would be on making great software. But you can’t do that at Microsoft.”[6]

It is also the system still used by many of our clients and the reason why we find their cultures lacking innovation, trust, and employee engagement. We are finding the very behavior illustrated in the 2006 MIT study[7] that stated, “… the rigid distribution of the bell curve forces managers to label a high performer as a mediocre. A high performer, unmotivated by such artificial demotion, behaves like a mediocre.”

Motorola had a similar stack-ranking system which they dropped in 2013. Then CEO Greg Brown, noted in Crain’s Business Journal[8] that, “People had an unbelievable focus on their rating. So we decided to forget the rating and just link performance to pay more directly. You no longer have a forced bell curve, which can be demoralizing and can create a culture of infighting.”

Fortunately for Microsoft, stack-ranking was dismantled in late 2013/early 2014. Not so for Yahoo, which decided in the same time period to adopt stack-ranking. Yahoo later backed-off of stack ranking but it appears it has had a lasting effect. One of many bad decisions that have had a lasting effect. Motorola also made a number of mistakes too. They linked performance to pay, which the Federal Reserve study quoted in Dan Pink’s book, Drive, showed is largely a disincentive for most knowledge workers.

Which company is doing well? Microsoft is turning around. Yahoo is on life-support as of this writing. Motorola has had to sell-off most of its business units at fire-sale rates leaving only a former shell of itself to struggle to compete in the commercial and defense communications markets.

At face value, it was never the annual performance review that was the problem. It was that the line manager that didn’t do a great job of ensuring the context, contents and resulting rewards matched reality. Very few line managers have the line-of-sight to knowledge workers daily lives. Complicating the matter is the very definition of a knowledge worker: someone that knows more about a domain then their manager. Now ask that very same line manager to stack-rank their reports. The results have largely been disastrous. Using a system meant for judging the performance of factory work in the early 1900s, we attempted to adapt it to services organizations and knowledge work when we should have just replaced it entirely.

Some companies attempted to do just that in the 1990s recognizing the new era of knowledge work. In the 1990s it emerged as a method for reviewing and improving the performance of managers. It has been extended and used with employees at all levels.

My favorite commentary on the 360 Review comes from PerformanceAppraisals.org. In their article[9] on the “Strengths of 360-Degree Feedback Schemes” they state:

The 360-degree feedback process involves collecting information about performance from multiple sources or multiple raters. For example, a review of a manager’s performance might involve collecting data, opinions, and observations from his or her employees, immediate supervisor, colleagues, and even customers. A review of an employee without supervisory responsibilities might entail eliciting the perceptions of his or her supervisor, customers, and colleagues. Typically those perceptions are collected using a rating system, so in a sense 360-degree feedback is a subset of the ratings method, with all the advantages and drawbacks of any rating system.

The theory makes sense. If you want to improve performance, you can learn more by taking into account the perspectives of a number of “involved parties,” rather than only the perspective of the employee’s immediate supervisor. The implementation, however, is problematic.

Clouding the issue considerably is that the sale of 360- degree feedback instruments, particularly computer-based tools to make the process easier, has become a huge and very lucrative business. Because of the amount of money involved in the industry, there’s a huge level of hyperbole and a lot of exaggerated success stories out there. The 360 method has become one of the more common “management fads.” That’s not to say it can’t be useful, but often the problems associated with it are ignored in favor of an unbalanced focus on its strengths.

So what is the company to do when transforming themselves?

The goal should be to get to a system more like what Adobe Systems did in late 2012. They replaced their system with “check ins”. Some companies choose to jump straight to that once they have the basic organizational structures to support agility in place. (e.g. Scrum or Kanban with a Scaled Framework around it like SAFe) Others chose what I’ll outline here.

One option we are seeing happen a lot is the 4-part Performance Review. The review is broken down as follows:

  • Part One: 1/3 of the score is a 360-Review from the team.
  • Part Two: 1/3 of the score is a more traditional regarding career development goals
  • Part Three: 1/6 of the score is the Team’s Performance to all of the delivery metrics (build the thing right and the right cadence)
  • Part Four: 1/6 of the score is the Team’s Performance to all of the Pirate metrics (build the right thing)

The critical piece to make this work is to make sure all of the instrumentation is in place to make quantitative judgements.

Deeper Dive into the Performance Appraisal

To ensure that the performance appraisal is fair and an accurate representation of individual performance to plan, lets first discuss what a Performance Appraisal is and isn’t.

Again, from Performance-appraisals.org, there is a difference between Performance Appraisal and Performance Management. Performance Management. The Performance Appraisal is part of an overall Performance Management program. Where Performance Management is about the entire system of managing the performance of the organization, the performance appraisal is the natural end-point for assessing how an individual did during the performance period. It started with the development of a strategic plan that became and operational plan that became a tactical plan which became an individual development plan (sometimes called a Personal Development Plan or Professional Development Plan).

The performance management program is “an ongoing communication process, undertaken in partnership, between an employee and his or her immediate supervisor that involves establishing clear expectations and understanding”[10] Topics of collaboration should include:

  • the essential responsibilities of the employee
  • how the employee’s job contributes to the goals of the organization
  • what “doing the job well” means in concrete qualitative and quantitative terms such as specific markers for skills mastery using a framework such as the Dreyfus Model of Skills Acquisition and Bloom’s Taxonomy to inform goals in Hard Skills (Content or Technical Skills) and Core Skills (Soft Skills).
  • how employee and supervisor will work together to sustain, improve, or build on existing employee performance including professional continuing education goals
  • how job performance will be measured (What does below expectations, meets expectations and exceeds expectations really mean?)
  • identifying impediments to performance and removing them

From every work written about Performance Management, it requires regular, two-way dialogue between the performance management (line-manager) and the employee. The emphasis should be on learning and improving.

Note that Performance Management isn’t:

  • something that happens to an employee without their input
  • a means to dictate how a person is to work
  • used only for performance remediation
  • checking the box once a year

If I get some time, I’ll walk through one transition plan to the type of Performance Management program Adobe is using.

HINT: They call them “Check-ins” and it happens almost every week. It kinda sounds like a Retrospective. The 360-degree appraisals should happen once a quarter and be like a private retrospective. If using SAFe, consider using the Program Increment (PI) Inspect and Adapt (I&A) as the point for the 360-degree review and resetting goals.


  1. D. Baer, “Why Adobe Abolished The Annual Performance Review And You Should, Too,” Business Insider, 10-Apr–2014.  ↩
  2. J. Pletz, “The end of ‘valued performers’ at Motorola,” Crain’s Chicago Business, 02-Nov–2013.  ↩
  3. P. Korkki, “Invasion of the Annual Reviews,” The New York Times, Job Market, 23-Nov–2013.  ↩
  4. K. Eichenwald, “How Microsoft Lost Its Mojo: Steve Ballmer and Corporate America’s Most Spectacular Decline,” Vanity Fair, Aug–2012.  ↩
  5. J. Brustein, “Microsoft Kills Its Hated Stack Rankings. Does Anyone Do Employee Reviews Right? – Businessweek,” Bloomberg-Businessweek, 13-Nov–2013.  ↩
  6. D. Baer, “Performance Reviews Don’t Have To Be Absolutely Awful,” FastCompany, 02-Dec–2013.  ↩
  7. C. Vaishnav, A. Khakifirooz, and M. Devos, “Punishing by Rewards: When the Performance Bell-curve Stops Working For You,” Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA, Masters Thesis, 2006.  ↩
  8. J. Pletz, “The end of ‘valued performers’ at Motorola,” Crain’s Chicago Business, 02-Nov–2013.  ↩
  9. Bacal & Associates, “Strengths Of 360-Degree Feedback Schemes,” The Performance Management & Appraisal Resource Center.  ↩
  10. Bacal & Associates, “What Performance Management ‘Is’ And ‘Isn’t,’” The Performance Management & Appraisal Resource Center.  ↩

Why I predict the 2013 Mac Pro will be DOA

Mac Pro, Mac keyboard, Mac cup, Mac iPod Class...

Mac Pro, Mac keyboard, Mac cup, Mac iPod Classic, Mac iPod Nano, Mac iPod Shuffle, (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Apple gave us another look at the 2013 Mac Pro this week at the update release announcement for the iPad line. Today another person noted what I’ve been mulling over for some time: the interesting design is missing two major features that will keep it out of the hands of a lot of video, audio and graphics professionals. You know… the target market for that machine?

The three big features are:

  1. Upgradability: If I can’t put the video or audio cards that I already have in it or can’t install newer versions of the same cards the the system has no use to me. Examples are:
  2. Rackmountable: If I can’t put the workstation in a server half-rack, which most studios and live production crews use, then the workstation will need a custom installation in a space where space is a premium and there are already standards for such things.
  3. External storage: SAS Drive array cards to connect to MiniSAS and SAS Desktop Video Drive Arrays for HD and 4K Video editing. Examples are the PROAVIO, Sonnet and Promise desktop and rackmount solutions.

My point. Apple’s Mac Pro looks pretty, but professionals don’t buy machines to look pretty. We all bought Macs because they were the best functional machine I never had to think about. It just worked and anything designed for it just worked. It may be that Apple is banking on the expanded use of the Lightning Bolt port, but most professionals, self included, don’t need more cables and junk lying around. Also, there are limits to the Lightning Bolt port that can only be overcome with Bus Speeds. Live rendering all those pretty graphics you see in sports shows is a perfect example.

This may be the end of my journey with Apple hardware for a while until Apple realizes how badly they are alienating the Pro Media community.

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Review of Writing Kit for iPad

Writing Kit for iPadI’ve started using Writing Kit for writing on the iPad a lot more often these days. It supports Markdown, Dropbox sync, has an integrated Browser with DuckDuckGo as one of the integrated search engines. It is distraction free. All-in-all, it is as close as I’ve came to having the perfect on-the-go, in-the-moment everywhere writing tool. It even includes limited integration with Instapaper and Readability. There are three key features that prevent this from being THE perfect writing tool. They are:

  • Two-way integration with Evernote
  • Integrated Zotero client
  • Ability to write sections of documents and stitch them together, re-organize them, and compile them into a final document.

The work-arounds that I have used so far have been as follows:

For Evernote references — I either hot-swap to Evernote for iPad and use the “share link” feature to grab a reference to a specific note, or using the browser integrated into Writing Kit to navigate to Evernote’s web client to grab the link to an Evernote entry. Then I paste the link into my document using Writing Kit’s Markup or Insert Link tool. It is a pain in the neck and still doesn’t give me what I want. What I want is to be able to open an Evernote window in a side-tray (Blogsy style), high-light a section of text and insert the text into my Writing Kit document with the link to where that text came from automatically generated for me.

For Zotero — This would be the holy-grail of iPad functionality. What I would like is to open the integrated browser for researching a topic, highlight text in web pages or pdfs, send the bibliographic information along with the captured text to Zotero, be prompted for a description and note about the reference, AND capture the web reference in a specified Evernote note. Then inside my Writing Kit doc, be able to open a Zotero Client in a side-tray (Blogsy style), search for a find a reference, insert the quoted text, insert the note I made about the text, and maintain a markdown link to the Zotero record so that it can be compiled into an inline reference and Bibliography section when I’m ready to compile the document for “print” (usually a blog post or PDF white-paper).

For writing sections and document compilation — I’ll just say, I want to mimic a watered down version of the functionality of Scrivener for Mac and leave it at that.

Overall, though, I am really happy with Writing Kit. I’ve tried Pages, Plain Text, Plainnote, iA Writer, TextTastic, WriteRoom*, and others. I’m looking at Editorial next, but you can only throw down so much bank before you realize there should be a way to get a “free 30-day trial” before being required to buy an app in Apple App Store. That, of course, is a topic for another time.

*NOTE: I really love WriteRoom and OmmWriter for Mac. My favorite of the two is OmmWriter because of the Zen-Like interface, inspirational backgrounds and meditative music. I once got up from writing using OmmWriter and was in deep pain because I had been sitting for over two hours “in-the-zone” and hadn’t realized my back and legs were numb.

Further Reading on the Topic:
*10 Awesome iPad Writing Apps
*Make Your iPad A True Writing Tool With These Notebook Apps
*The art and science of writing on an iPad
*8 iPad Apps for Brilliant Writing
*Review: “Writing On The iPad: Text Automation with Editorial” is a textbook for iOS automation
*The Novelist’s iPad: 10 Apps for Writers
*The 10 best writing apps on the iPad
*Why I’m writing on the iPad
Editorial, iPad Writing Re-Imagined

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Me pondering Business Executive Decisions

NFL and ESPN leaving money on the table?

Continue reading

Delta Airbus A320 Taking Flight

Essential Travel Tools for iPhone and iPad

A close friend recently asked me if I liked TripIt after he noticed the automated posts of my travel plans. This came on the heals of almost a year of constant business travel, so I figured I would give back my tips for the Road Warriors out there trying to remember what city and time zone they are in… trying to get back home to their loved ones without getting all wrapped around the travel arrangement axel.

Kayak for iPhone and iPad

Kayak for iPad

Kayak for iPad

First stop is my chief means of flights of fancy and those homes away from home. The Kayak iPhone and iPad apps are extensions to the powerful online site that harvests deals from Priceline, Expedia, Hotwire, Travelocity, and CheapOair for airline tickets. They also have hooks into hotel sites, car rentals and cruises. The only thing they don’t have is the ability to book tickets on Amtrak.

The thing I like about Kayak is that you can set alerts on fare changes and cheap hotel deals. Kayak combined with the next app has saved me hundreds of dollars over the last year in refunds, vouchers and opportunities to save money.

TripIt Pro for iDevices

TripIt Pro for iPad

TripIt Pro for iPad

Next stop on this journey of travel apps is TripIt Pro. Like Kayak, TripIt Pro is first a Web-based app and the mobile apps for iDevices works in tandem with the mothership.

I use TripIt Pro for itinerary management, awards points tracking and price alerts (I’ve found out about price drops on flights I’ve already booked and received vouchers for the difference.) It also gives me flight info and has quickly told me about alternate flights when I had a flight delayed or cancelled. It also integrates with my calendar and email. It picks up email reservations, logs it in my itinerary, and then puts the event on my calendar. And all of my colleagues use it to know who is in what town on what dates: it also broadcasts this info on our corporate IM feed (Yammer.com). It posts general travel plans to LinkedIn and Facebook in the form of “Devin is preparing to leave for… ” and “Devin is returning to DC from …”. As an added bonus, I can designate people like close friends and my lovely wife as members of my Inner Circle. These members get look at the intimate details of any itinerary. Finally, I can always see my itinerary on my iDevice either through the app or through integration with my calendar.

TripIt also has a version for businesses. I and my colleagues have floated the idea of subscribing to this so that it is easy to coordinate pair-coaching opportunities as we float about the World.

FlightTrack Pro

FlightTrack Pro for iPhone

FlightTrack Pro for iPhone

I use FlightTrack Pro for gate information, flight delays, alternate flights, navigation around airports, weather delays, etc. It pulls my flight information directly from TripIt Pro (tight integration). I get notified of delays and gate changes typically before the majority of the crowd (including the gate employees), and can switch flights before the crowd has even figured out what is going on. Another nice thing about combining FlightTrack Pro with TripIt Pro is that I can invite my inner circle from TripIt Pro to view my trips. Then they can know when to meet me at the airport using FlightTrack Pro on thier iDevice. I also love that I can view the map of an airport that I’m not familiar with before I get there and know how to get through the maze of terminals and concourses without looking like a mouse that has lost its cheese.

TripAdvisor

TripAdvisor for iPhone and iPad

TripAdvisor for iPhone and iPad

Another one of my essential iDevice travel apps is TripAdvisor. The TripAdvisor is just a better interface for my mobile device with their Webapp as the back-end. It allows me to find and read reviews of hotels, restaurants, and venues using either an address or geolocation. The app is also integrated with TripIt Pro so I can go from the address in my itinerary to TripAdvisor to find out other places around that address. When combined with the online Webapp, I can monitor airfares between locations that I frequent. I can also check for alternate hotels if I find the one I booked has suddenly had an outbreak of Bed Bugs.

Honorable Mentions:

Bed Bug Tracker

Bed Bug Tracker for iPhone

Bed Bug Tracker for iPhone

I’ve now tacked this one onto my essential travel apps as I have started visiting cities where there are Bed Bug problems in the hotels. So far this app hasn’t failed me. Eventually I need to write a blog about my one and only bed bug experience. I never want to experience that again. That was before a colleague referred me to this app. Now I check this app every time I go to make a reservation.

Egencia/Expedia TripAssist

Expedia TripAssist for iPhone

Expedia TripAssist for iPhone

I’ve been using Egencia for work related travel for a couple months now. It really isn’t that great, but it is worth a mention because when flights are cancelled, changed or when a hotel messes up my reservation or overbooks, I can simply use the app itself to autodial customer service to fix everything for me.

 

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Getting started with Applescript

AppleScriptI’ve started writing quite a bit more lately. My tools of choice are OmmWriter for short pieces or parts of larger projects, a specific playlist in iTunes, Apimac Timer (to timebox myself), and Scrivener for larger projects. Me being lazy in a productive way, I was looking for a way to just lauch and setup all of the above for writing with a short couple QuickSilver keystrokes. Enter Applescript. In order to make it all work, I had to first LEARN enough Applescript to pull it all together. That is where this site came in handy for learning the basics of Applescript. I’ll grab a quick video later that shows how it all works, but for now, enjoy learning how to automate a lot of the repetitive things you do everyday.

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Two Mail.app plug-ins all Exchange users need

Mail.app

Mail.app

If you are using Mail.app with with MS Exchange, you know the frustration of sending attachments and opening those dreaded winmail.dat files (the sender sent a MS Exchange email file as an attachment). Grr.

To get around dealing with Microsoft’s refusal to comply with email standards, I recommend two mail.app plug-ins:
Lokiware’s Attachment Tamer and Christopher Atlan’s Letter Opener Pro. Both programs will end the your MS Exchange email attachment problems. Here’s what they do:

Attachment Tamer (from the Lokiware product description):

  • Display (and print) images, PDFs, audio and video as icons with an optional file size limit and exceptions;
  • Send messages compatible with Microsoft Outlook, Exchange and other software, preventing the superfluous “ATT0001” attachments;
  • Send images as regular attachments, making it easier for the recipient to manipulate the image files;
  • Send images embedded in HTML layout and safely mix embedded images with other attachments;
  • Display full attachment names regardless of length instead of truncated names;
  • Automatically display attachments at the top of messages;
  • Prevent unwanted image resizing or set a default size for automatic image resizing.

Letter Opener Pro:

  • Allows Browser addachment of a winmail.dat file
  • Adds the capability to add appointments contained in winmail.dat files directly to iCal
  • Adds the capability to create contacts contained in winmail.dat files directly in Address Book
  • Adds the capability to display those dreaded nested messages
  • Allows you to convert attached winmail.dat Outlook Notes to plain text
  • And reads and delivers MS Exchange receipts (for those nutbags that subscribe to Level 3 Leadership)

Powered by ScribeFire.

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IRC Client for OS X

ircI’m looking for an IRC client for OS X. I’ve run acros several but I’m not sure which will fit my needs.

Here are the current candidates:

I’m leaning toward X-Chat Aqua, but would like to hear other suggestions.

Thoughts?

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Disable infrared receiver on Apple computers

I’ve had this annoyance for a while now and was too lazy to Google it. I have an iPhone docking station, an iPod docking station and my Apple MacBook. All three devices accept signals from the Apple Remote.The only device I wanted to accept signals from the remote control is my iPod since it is powering my speakers.

The solution was easier to fix than I wanted to admit. First, I switched out my iPhone dock for a Griffin Simplifi Dock for iPod and iPhone, Media Card Reader, and USB Hub in One Device (Aluminum).

Griffin Simplifi Dock for iPod and iPhone, Media Card Reader, and USB Hub in One Device

Next I used this article on TUAW to disable my IR receiver on my MacBook.

Easy as Pie.

Why I don’t typically use any browser other than Firefox

Mozilla-FirefoxI’ve talked about Internet Browser security briefly before, but I thought it might be best to follow up with a commonsense commentary on why I favor Firefox over other browsers.
On March 18, 2009, TippingPoint‘s Charlie Miller, for the second year in a row, hacked an Apple OS-X based laptop in mere seconds. The source was an unpatched vulnerability in Apple’s browser, Safari. Safari ships pre-installed on every Apple computer just like Microsoft’s Internet Explorer is pre-installed on every Windows based computer.
Since then, Apple has released exactly ZERO patches to their browser to address the vulnerability. A similar vulnerability in the Firefox browser was exploited at the same time at the Pwn2Own competition and, in contrast to Safari, Firefox was patched nine days later. Firefox has subsequently had a second security patch release less than a month later for other discovered vulnerabilities.

So why hasn’t Apple responded as quickly? It boils down to numbers: development resources and probably that the attack vector of the exploit can actually be used.
For the Safari exploit two things had to happen: the exploit had to be embedded on a Website that people would go to, and then the hackers had to actually get you to go to the site. The later is pretty easy to do because of all the Pavlovian-like responses hackers get through specially crafted emails. Actually installing the crack on a website without being caught is pretty hard to do. Servers have logs. Logs create a fingerprint of who did what to a server. Even if the hacker attempts to erase the logs, there are other ways to “sniff” who came from where to attack the server in the first place. In most cases, in order to get to a server the hacker has to jump through more hoops to remain masked than it is worth it: the risk isn’t worth attacking the server.

So back to Apple’s “arrogance” (as it has been called by others). Apple doesn’t see the risk as being high and they have limited resources. Patches generally take a while to fix when using limited corporate resources. If you dedicate resources to defects and vulnerabilities, then you taking them away from new innovations and making new products.

This is always a problem in closed-source software. In one past project I took over, the software had so many bugs in it, that we had problems turning out a new release with the much-needed critical mission-oriented functionality. All of my resources were too busy addressing software defects. The source of the software defects was poor configuration management and software quality testing practices by the incumbent development firm coupled with a corporate culture by the client that refused to allow the incumbent to swap-out resources that knew how to use automated testing tools… even though the tools were free.

Contrast the limited resources problem with Open Source Software (OSS) with thousands of developers/testers coupled with well managed testing and configuration management practices. The simple statistics are that OSS is only limited by the number of people contributing and the maturity of software development management practices being used.

Number of Apple OSX developers vs. number of Firefox developers. Firefox wins.
What Firefox can’t prevent is the risky end-user behavior… but that is another conversation for another time.