The Baby and the Bath Water

There are some old sayings that are worth their weight in gold. Such as:

~ Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater.

This is one that should be taught to anyone studying to become a Change Agent. During my education in change management, I had the good fortune of being taught by David Hanna, author of Designing Organizations for High Performance (1988). He had lots of good maxims, perhaps the most famous being: "All organizations are perfectly designed to get the results they are getting."

Another one, related to the baby and the bathwater, has really stayed with me over the years:

~ When setting out to change (and improve) an organization or process, be careful not to lose what's working well right now.

Recently, at LinkedIn, someone asked about ways to improve the annual process of performance review. As one who advocates "blowing up" (or "throwing out," or whatever destructive metaphor works for you) the annual performance appraisal, I couldn't resist jumping in.

As a change agent who understands the wisdom in the old adage, "Don't throw out the baby with the bath water," I responded: Where is the baby?

In other words, before pressing the detonator on the process of performance review, step back and ask, What's right about this? What could be great about this? How can we re-think and re-imagine this tired old practice so that it actually engages people and improves our organization's performance?

With that frame of mind, here are the babies I'd rescue from the bathwater:

- Goals: Everyone in the organizations needs to know the goals and objectives of the business and their team. This way, everyone can align their thinking and their efforts toward the performance and results the organization needs.

- Coaching and Feedback: Look at the Olympics. Every high performing player and team has a coach. Coaches continuously provide specific and helpful feedback intended to bring out the best performance in each player.

- Development: The best performers are never satisfied, are always working on their performance, and are always looking for ways to improve themselves. Development plans are key to building a high performance organization.

- Recognition and Reward: When someone turns in an extraordinary performance, or brings home a win for the team, why would you wait until the end of the year to praise it or reward it? If you want more of something from an employee, you've got to recognize it, reinforce it, and reward it there and then. Timing is everything, as they say, and in the case of great performance, it's essential.

And one more:

- Self-appraisal: Great performers are often their own toughest critics. A structured self-appraisal, guided by a coach, can be a healthy and effective way to identify strengths and pinpoint areas for improvement.

Posted by Terrence Seamon, March 5, 2010


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