Thursday, February 26

Rahm Emanuel and what the mayoral race means

Actually, I don't know what the mayoral race means. Not really. But I do find some of the implications interesting and it's fun to watch the pundits pile on as though they really know what's going on.

What we do know is this: Mayor Emanuel did not get the margin of votes he needed to escape a run-off. So now he and former Senator and current Cook County commissioner "Chuy" Garcia go head-to-head. Did the other three candidates siphon off enough votes to make sure Emanuel didn't get the votes he needed? Maybe. Or those votes could have tipped more in Garcia's favor. Meh. We'll never know. Move on.

First, Mr. Garcia needs some help with his on-TV and on-stage presence. He has yet to look comfortable there. In my uninformed opinion, Mr. Garcia got as many votes he did because people were voting against Mr. Emanuel.

As for Mr. Garcia, well, no one seems to be sure what he stands for or how he would make Chicago work more efficiently or effectively if elected mayor. He has the endorsement of Karen Lewis, CTU president. Anyone who knows anything about Chicagoland politics knows that Ms. Lewis was planning to run for mayor but was sidelined with a brain tumor. Even so, she remains a force to be reckoned with and clearly has the ear of Mr. Garcia. Just sayin'.

On the other hand, Garcia is well-known among the Latino population and is viewed with admiration and respect. Cook County commissioners have not always been known for their honesty and integrity, so that he is an exception to that rule is good. However, he has to be realistic about the deep financial problems of Chicago and he has to be realistic about solutions, none of which will be popular and all of which will be hard.

I'm concerned there are any points of reference about personality in the mayoral race. This isn't or shouldn't be a popularity contest, and no one should be surprised by Mr. Emanuel's personality. We saw him in action in the White House and we've seen him in action as mayor.

I've read a lot of the articles analyzing the differences between Mr. Emanuel and Mr. Garcia. Nothing new there. The question is who can get the job done? Who can step up to all of the hard problems; make the hard and unpopular decisions; address or ignore the sniping from all sides, especially the special interest groups; and still keep focus on the job that needs to be done?

We know that last year's school closings are still a big issue in Chicago. We also know that plenty of the current schools are still struggling. We know that solving the problems of education is not an easy one even if we don't talk about pensions and union contracts.

No one wants to experience cuts. No one likes austerity; just ask the Greeks. But we cannot expect "the government"--city, state, or federal--to pay when "the government" has no money. Why? Because "the government" is us: the taxpayers. If we can't afford it, we can't have it. It doesn't matter if we think we deserve whatever "it" is.

I have to wonder if some of the folks who voted against Mr. Emanuel did so because he is not Mayor Daley because they are remembering the Mayor Daley who did so much good for the city and the county. That same Mayor Daley who did not address some of the hard problems and added a few new ones to the mix.

Somehow, I think, Mayor Emanuel has to convince voters that he is the guy who can step up to the hard problems, who can weather all the criticism any mayor is going to get, but who is going to focus on the tasks at hand. . .and that he is and can be a nice guy who is more than his reputation with the 1-percenters and his friendship with Governor Rauner.

I think Mayor Emanuel and Governor Rauner are uniquely suited to these troubled times in the state of Illinois and the city of Chicago. I think they have to be coaches, though. They have to help Chicago and Illinois realize that we are well below .500 in our conference and that we don't have a chance at a winning season unless we make some hard choices.

Maybe I do know what this race means. I don't know much about Mr. Garcia except what I've seen and heard in his campaign ads and read about it. In my opinion, not a lot of substance. I'm not sure Mr. Garcia can help move Chicago out of its malaise. I think Mr. Garcia could be a useful buffer for Mr. Emanuel to try to repair or moderate Mr. Emanuel's relationship with Ms. Lewis who seems mostly pissed off that Mr. Emanuel did not approach her for her counsel on school-related issues.

In the long run, I think this race is an indicator of whether or not Chicago can and will survive and thrive. We'll see what the people of Chicago believe, but actions after April 7th will be far more important than the words between now and then.

Monday, February 23

Performance Reviews: Useful or Useless?

Samuel A. Culbert, professor of management and organizations at UCLA Anderson, believes performance reviews serve no useful purpose. Actually, they don't serve any purpose other than to waste time and increase anxiety.

His editorial in Thursday's edition of Chicago Tribune is bluntly titled "Get rid of the performance review." The tag line on his web site reads "It's time to put the performance review out of its misery."

I remember doing and getting performance reviews. I remember the HR team sending out reminders about how to do performance reviews, explaining that no one should get a 5 (exceptional) on anything unless they have really been, well, exceptional, and also explaining that performance review notes from the manager had to be reviewed by HR before they could be shared with the employee. To avoid lawsuits. Well, they didn't say that last part but it was clear that liability was a concern.

I hated doing and getting performance reviews. We had to stretch too hard to figure out goals and objectives that really made sense, that could be achieved, and that were measurable. And yet, as Dr. Culbert points out, we have to hold employees accountable.

At some of my employers, there was talk of 360 reviews, but those never happened. I don't know if it was lack of time, lack of a protocol to do the 360 reviews, or if no one really wanted to know what the results might be. I fear the latter.

Dr. Culbert prescribes replacing the performance review with the performance preview. Slippery that. But this isn't Dr. Culbert's first dance at this particular party. He first published an article in 2008 and in the Wall Street Journal on the same topic. It was in the WSJ article he first mentioned his concept of the preview.

Now before I talk about that, take a moment, please, to consider the words "review" and "preview." A review is done after the fact. It's like taking a test and getting a grade. Depending on one's interaction with one's manager, the manager may have no idea there are any real problems until the review. By then, it's too late. The preview, on the other hand, takes place before. And it's at that point we can see how there could be a discernible and interesting difference between "review" and "preview."

In the WSJ article, Dr. Culbert describes the performance preview.
The alternative to one-side-accountable, boss-administered/subordinate-received performance reviews is two-side, reciprocally accountable, performance previews. . . .
The boss's assignment is to guide, coach, tutor, provide oversight and generally do whatever is required to assist a subordinate to perform successfully. That's why I claim that the boss-direct report team should be held jointly accountable for the quality of work the subordinate performs. . .
. . . Previews are problem-solving, not problem-creating, discussions about how we, as teammates, are going to work together even more effectively and efficiently than we've done in the past. They feature descriptive conversations about how each person is inclined to operate, using past events for illustrative purposes, and how we worked well or did not work well individually and together. . . .
Realistic assessment of someone's positive qualities requires replacing scores on standardized checklists with inquiry. As a result, step No. 1 in giving effective feedback almost always involves "active questioning" inquiry. Inquiry contrasts with most performance reviews, which begin with how the evaluator sees the individual and what that boss has already decided most needs enhancing. Both participants need an answer to the most significant issue at hand: "Given who I am and what I'm learning about this other individual, what's the best way for us to complement one another in getting work accomplished with excellence?". . . 
Bosses should be asking all the questions that occur to them in inquiring about how a subordinate thinks he or she can best perform the job. Then, after they have exhausted their questions, they should ask the subordinate for what else they need to know. At a minimum, they should be asking "How will you be going about it?" and "Specifically, what help do you need from me?"
When I was responsible for doing performance reviews, I tried to spend time during my 1:1 meetings to review the performance review documents to measure and monitor progress. We also talked about whether or not we needed adjust any of the objectives, so, when needed, we'd document that. The performance review wasn't really a review, but we used that document as a resource to determine if and how the employee was going to be successful in completing his or her tasks and how well I was doing to ensure that employee's success.

Maybe I was ahead of my time on that.

In the long run, I don't think we should eradicate performance reviews. I think we need to refine the structure and structure of the performance review. But I also think managers need to be better trained in helping their employees write their goals and objectives, in managing their employees' expectations about those performance reviews, and in monitoring that performance. There are too many managers who don't bother to think about the performance review until it's time to complete them and, again, that's too late. The manager who meets regularly with his or her employees should schedule time, maybe only once a month, to do a review of the review. That helps everyone stay on track and, I think, means the review and the process of review might actually be useful. . .for the employee, the manager, and the company.

Sunday, February 8

Harper Lee and her not new novel

Go Set a Watchman is the soon-to-be published not-new novel. The press has been having a field day speculating about the manuscript, positing conspiracy theories, suggesting that Lee's lawyer is claiming to have uncovered a manuscript that was not really written by Harper Lee, and offering up theories that there are many who are trying to take advantage of Harper Lee.

We could ask why. Why go after Harper Lee? Sure, To Kill a Mockingbird is and has been a hugely popular book. Sure, people have long wondered why Lee never wrote another novel. Sure, people have often talked about Lee's unwillingness to be a celebrity and public figure, calling her reclusive. So it stands to reason the controversy would get a bit out of hand, with some asserting that Lee isn't capable of knowing and acknowledging the history of Go Set a Watchman while others state she remains "sharp as a tack."

Several, including The New York Times, have reported that Go Set a Watchman was actually Harper Lee's first novel, but her editor rejected it and that Lee was told to write a "version from Scout's perspective as a young girl."

Harper Lee is not alone in being a hugely successful writer who chose to publish no other novels. Others include Margaret Mitchell, Ralph Ellison, Boris Pasternak, Syliva Plath, and Emily Bronte. While J.D. Salinger wrote several short stories, his only novel was Catcher in the Rye.

I appreciated Mary Schmich's column stating that this may be a mystery that doesn't need solving.

Let's assume she is well enough and being taken care of, that she has enough of her sensibilities to respond the way her caretakers, family, and lawyer suggest. And let's assume that it's really up to her, then, and them to make the decision about whether or not to publish the thing. And let's assume it really is a manuscript believed lost. Which makes the find that much more exciting.

I'm content to leave the conspiracy speculation to others. I'm not sure I'm going to add my name to the pre-order list as I'm not sure I want to read about Scout as a grown-up though it might be interesting to read the story that might have been intended to be first, and think about what Lee needed to do to construct the story that preceded and informed Go Set a Watchman.

Monday, February 2

Handwriting letters: the humane art

I used to write letters by hand. I enjoyed selecting the writing paper I would use, picking out the pen. When I fell in love with fountain pens, I enjoyed taking the time to make sure the pen was ready to use and, because I have more than one, selecting the pen I wanted to use. While I was going through my preparations, I'd think about the person to whom I was going to write, what that individual liked, our history, what I wanted to share with him or her. Because writing a letter is a personal act.

“A letter should be regarded not merely as a medium for the communication of intelligence,” advised an 1876 guide to the art of epistolary etiquette, “but also as a work of art.”

Oh yes. I cannot and will not attempt to argue with that. And that was in 1876 when writing required a LOT of work. Quill pens were still being used in the 1850s, but the use of steel nibs was on the rise. Even so, using a dip pen requires practices. And the first truly practical fountain pen was not invented until 1884 by Lewis Edson Waterman.

Virginia Woolf called letter writing "the humane art."  She acknowledged the peculiar power of a handwritten letter.

Today a letter might seem an excessive waste of time when it's so much easier to send a text or post a tweet or even one's status on Facebook. While a text can be specific and personalized, so often it isn't because it's a means of conveying something quickly and with convenience. A letter, even one written on lined paper and with a ballpoint pen, takes time. But it also conveys a message that the letter writer is willing to invest time, has given thought to the words used, and has considered what it is to be shared and to what extent.  Letters say "you matter enough to me that I want to invest this time and this though in you."

An article published in Harvard Business Review in 2013 affirms the value of the handwritten note for business purposes. Sure, the handwritten note could be a smokescreen, but it could also be genuine in that in generally "notes of gratitude, civility, and appreciation that reach beyond the conventional thank-you."

Handwritten letters take time, but they convey so much to the recipient. When I left a job not too long ago, I left handwritten notes for each member of my team and for some specific others who had been important to my success in my work. I wanted to be sure to convey that to them and I wanted it to be personal. Writing each note by hand made it personal, and being able to say something particular about their work with and for me and what they meant to me made it even more personal. Though it took time, it was worth every second. And that the gesture and the content made a difference to many of the recipients simply reinforced the value.

I am reminded of the power and pleasure of a handwritten letter, and encouraged to make the time to write more such letters.