You know the old saying, "Don't throw the baby out with the bath water." It's a good one. Very cinematic. You can visualize a wee baby flapping its chubby little arms as it sails in slo mo through an open window with a shower of grimy bubble bath.
The essential gist of the saying is, When you decide to toss something, make sure you don't lose a thing that's worth keeping.
This is a message of the utmost importance to anyone in business who is trying to improve things. An individual improving their time management. A team improving a work process. A continuous improvement guru improving how an entire business unit operates.
In a nutshell: When you are improving things, be careful to preserve what is working well now. In other words, take good care of the baby.
What's tricky, sometimes, is when the baby is ugly. And you think it ought to be tossed right along with the dirty water.
When is an Ugly Baby worth keeping?
Over the years, I have often entered the arena when the fight is about performance reviews. You can read some of my past postings here at Here We Are. Now What? As one who advocates "blowing up" (or "throwing out," or whatever destructive metaphor works for you) the annual performance appraisal, I usually can'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 ask: 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 the 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.
A final thought: Anyone studying to become a Change Agent should take a course in The Wisdom in Old Sayings. 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 Hanna liked, 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.
Posted by Terrence Seamon on Monday January 17, 2011. For more ideas on performance, coaching and recogntion, contact Terry and invite him to speak to your managers.