Film: The Jungle Book
Release Date: May 11, 1967
Scenario: Bagheera and Mowgli are sleeping soundly in the early morning’s light when they are awakened by the ground-shaking footsteps of Col. Hathi and his Dawn Patrol. It is evidenced by the lyrics to their marching song that they drill for no apparent reason, which further adds to Bagheera’s annoyance of being awakened. Shortly after their arrival, the elephants are called to halt and take positions for inspection. The Colonel proceeds to review each member of his behemoth brigade to ensure their appearance and posture are up to snuff.
Leadership Lesson: It is important to regularly assess our teams and provide feedback on their performance.
It is very important for us as leaders to trust our teams and expect that they are performing their roles at or above what is expected. However, it is our responsibility to check-in on projects, individuals, and the team as a whole on a regular basis to ensure everyone is on the same page. These evaluations and assessments shouldn’t be performed with an aim to find individuals who aren’t pulling their weight in order to remove them, but rather to ensure that everyone understands the goal of the project and is keeping on schedule.
Evaluations are vital to the success and morale of our teams. They not only let us as leaders know that everything is on track, they also empower our people to regularly confirm what they are doing and ask any questions they may have before proceeding further. Evaluating can also save valuable time by allowing us to identify and correct any issues that may arise from misunderstandings, overloading of some individuals, or improper prioritization.
These evaluations can come in many forms: one-on-one meetings, emailed status reports, scrum boards, team huddles, etc. It is important to choose the right method for the situation. If we are wanting to assess an individual’s understanding of their role on a project, a team huddle isn’t the appropriate way to go as this can be very uncomfortable for an associate in front of the rest of the team. A private meeting would allow our associate to feel more open to express their ideas and ask questions without the fear of being judged by their peers. Conversely, individual meetings may be too tedious and compartmentalized if we need to get a sense of how the project is doing on the whole. A huddle-type meeting would prove the better choice here as it allows for all parts of the project to be discussed at once, and any change of priorities or redistribution of labor can be handled immediately.
We can’t stop at evaluating and assessing, however. Once we’ve determined the state of things, we must take the next step in providing necessary feedback based on our findings. If we don’t talk about what we have observed and provide encouragement and guidance on how to improve, then what’s the point? What impact are we making by determining an individual is behind schedule on their assigned tasks without helping them determine why and how to fix it? What is the point of standing in front of our team to declare that the project is completed without discussing the impact their results will have on the company and praising their hard work?
Back in November of 2014, I was introduced to an excellent method of providing feedback, both negative and positive, called STAR feedback. There’s a lot of great resources on the internet for learning how to use this simple-yet-very-effective tool, but you can find a short presentation on it’s benefits and uses here. If anyone struggles with providing constructive, effective feedback, this is a great way to help with that.
So, we’ve discussed why evaluations and feedback themselves are important, but guess what else makes a huge impact? Their consistency. I’m not just referring here to treating all evaluations the same, but to the fact that they must happen at regular intervals. Most companies implement a calendar requiring employee evaluations 2-to-3 times a year: initial meetings at the beginning of the year to discuss upcoming goals, mid-year talks to discuss progress and any changes/adjustments needed, and end-of-year discussions to assess how well the year’s goals were met. (Sometimes the initial and end-of-year are combined to discuss the past year and look to the upcoming simultaneously.) I would venture to say that this is a bare-bones minimum, but that individuals are more successful when we are able to provide more frequent feedback. Imagine being in a role for 6 months, only to find out that we were working with an unclear or incomplete understanding of our duties. We then have 6 more months to correct what we’ve already done while trying to keep up with new work and doing that correctly. It can be terribly frustrating, as many of us may already know from experience. By regularly assessing our team members (weekly, monthly, etc) and providing feedback on their performance in a way that is constructive and empowering, we can avoid having to make major course-corrections later down the line. This will have a major impact on the morale of our team, as well as reduce our own workload later on.
The easiest pitfall for us to get in to is that we don’t have time to meet with each individual on our team on a regular basis; we have too many meetings and other things going on. If we stick with this mentality, we will find later on that we have even less time because we now have some major messes to clean up due to our lack of guidance and coaching. If we make the time now, we will have even more time later.