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WHAT'S NEXT?[edit]

At times in business, the congruence of principles and practice--or their incongruence--comes sharply into focus. Reviewing performance is a time like that, a time to ask what we are trying to do, evaluate how we are doing, and then ask "What's next?"

Performance reviews, done well, are a good way of reexamining goals, realigning principles and practices, and gauging progress. Everyone should do this. Reviewing performance should be done in a timely way, with the direct involvement of the person whose performance is being reviewed. Both the people and the process should be directed toward reaching human potential.

For jobs easily described and work easily measured, there are good procedures to follow in cooperations and institutions. But many jobs, especially those entailing responsibility for leadership of the cooperation or institution, are not black-and-white, cannot be measured easily, and must be examined over long periods of time.

Leaders, in a special way, are liable for what happens in the future, rather than what is happening day to day. This liability is difficult to measure, and thus the performance of leaders is difficult to measure. Though we do need to review past results and processes, the emphasis on the duties and performance of leaders has to be on the future. It is especially hard to remember that today's performance from a leader succeeds or fails only in the months or years to come. Much of a leader's performance cannot be reviewed until after the fact.

Today's trust enables the future. We also enable the future by forgiving the mistakes we all make while growing up. We free each other to perform in the future through the medium of thrust.

I recently led a discussion group of about fifteen people at Herman Miller. We had introduced a "just in time" inventory-management program. One of the women in the group asked if I understood and was committed to this program. My answer was I did not understand it completely but was committed to its success. This gave her pause. She was trying to figure out a tactful way of asking me how that could possibly be true.

When I asked her what her job was, she said that she worked in the engineering department. "How are things going there?" I asked. "Just fine," she daid. I asked her if I should be comfortable about what was going on in the engineering department, and she told me that, by and large, I could be.

Then I asked if she was comfortable about the way I was doing my job. She told me that she was, Catching the drift of the conversation, she added quickly that she did not understand everything I did. It was quite easy for the two of us, under the watchful eyes of the group, to agree that it was not necessary for us to understand completely what the other did or was accountable for. We could, nevertheless, be wholeheartedly committed to each other's role and each other's success.

As the group talked this idea over, we realized that, while understanding is an essential part of organized activity, it just is not possible for everybody to know everything and understand everything. The following is essential: We must trust one another to be accountable for our own assignments. When that kind of thrust is present, it is a beautifully liberating thing.

Even trust will not make the nature of the future more certain. But the uncertain nature of the future does not necessarily make leadership a hazardous occupation. Many of the things in this book might be discussed in a thoughtful and effective way when linked with corporate strategy. Philosophy can, and should, be put into practice.

An effective CEO will review the performance of the senior management team. As part of a covenantal relationship, every leader must review the performance of the people he or she leads, and no doubt there are many ways of doing this. Usually I send members of my management team a list of requests and questions ahead of time. Anything else they wish to bring to the review is fine with me. Our agreement is always "no holds barred."

Here are some requests I have made to each senior manager before the performance review.

  • Please prepare a brief review, one or two pages, of how you feel you have done in comparison to your annual plan. What is the most important achievement in your area?
  • Please prepare a one-page or shorter statement of your personal management philosophy. Describe your personal plans for continuing education and development for the coming year.
  • Please think about ways for us to approach our accountability (with many others) for the future of the cooperation, and our joint accountability for your future career in the cooperation. What kind of changes will be required by the growth picture we are plotting?
  • Review your thoughts on team building at the senior management team level, commenting perhaps on parity in responsibility, in accountability, in compensation, and as part of our succession plan. What ideas do you have for things we should reflect on at future senior management retreats?
  • Prepare to discuss your thoughts on our competition and where we need to respond to it and what our response should be. Perhaps the following can trigger your thinking: Who is creeping up on us? How do various competitors beat us out? In product, service, selling capability, marketing and advertising, dealer distribution, or price?
  • Please describe for me what you think your role at Herman Miller can be as one of the "corporate storytellers" who play an active role in transmission of the corporate culture. What do you think this corporate culture is?
  • How can I personally have more time to focus of such things as strategy, our value system, participation, continuity, and team building?
  • Please identify five key projects and/or goals you have as a key leader at Herman Miller and in which you feel I can be of help or support.

Simply asking questions is another important part of performance reviews. Asking the right questions is a knack that needs working on. Here are a few questions I have asked my senior managers to consider.

  • Would you be willing to share your philosophy of management with your work team?
  • What are a few of the things that you expect most and need most from the CEO?
  • What do you want to do (to be)? What are you planning to do about it?
  • Who are you? How do you see yourself personally, professionally, and organizationally?
  • Does Herman Miller need you?
  • Do you need Herman Miller?
  • What are you doing to realize the potential of our Scanlon Plan philosophically, functionally, educationally, and in the management of relationships?
  • If you were "in my shoes," what one key area or matter would you focus on?
  • What significant areas are there in the company where you feel you can make a contribution but feel you cannot get a hearing?
  • What have you abandoned?
  • Do you have any feeling of failure in any particular area?
  • What two things should we do to work toward being a great company?
  • What should grace enable us to be?
  • What will you do in the coming year to develop your three highest-potential persons (and who are they)?
  • In the past year, what, from the perspective of integrity, most affected you personally, professionally, and organizationally?
  • What are three signals of impending entropy you see at Herman Miller? What are you doing about it?
  • What are three examples of budding synergy in your area and how we can capitalize on them?

Finally, I think there is value in considering thoughts from other leaders, leaders not necessarily in the same area as one's own. Mohandas Gandhi once wrote that there were seven sins in the world: wealth without work; pleasure without conscience; knowledge without character; commerce without morality; science without humanity; worship without sacrifice; politics without principle. Performance considered in light of those seven sins would be a well-reviewed performance indeed.