Archive for the ‘performance evaluations’ Category

Tuesday, December 1st, 2020

The Source of Truth

“How to give people feedback is one of the hottest topics in business today.” – Marcus Buckingham 

This is a follow-up to yesterday’s post about giving and receiving feedback. It is an excerpt from the article, The Feedback Fallacy, via HBR, written by Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall.

Just in case you didn’t read the entire article, here is a segment that speaks volumes.

The Source of Truth

The first problem with feedback is that humans are unreliable raters of other humans. Over the past 40 years psychometricians have shown in study after study that people don’t have the objectivity to hold in their heads a stable definition of an abstract quality, such as business acumen or assertiveness, and then accurately evaluate someone else on it. Our evaluations are deeply colored by our own understanding of what we’re rating others on, our own sense of what good looks like for a particular competency, our harshness or leniency as raters, and our own inherent and unconscious biases. This phenomenon is called the idiosyncratic rater effect, and it’s large (more than half of your rating of someone else reflects your characteristics, not hers) and resilient (no training can lessen it). In other words, the research shows that feedback is more distortion than truth.

This is why, despite all the training available on how to receive feedback, it’s such hard work: Recipients have to struggle through this forest of distortion in search of something that they recognize as themselves.

Next summer, when all the unique and unusual circumstances surrounding work has calmed down. Your firm should be ready to give feedback in a new and refreshing way. Do the homework and begin now. Maybe even some new behaviors surrounding feedback should begin happening much sooner than next summer. How about starting January 1st?

  • Just as your doctor doesn’t know the truth of your pain, we don’t know the truth about our colleagues, at least not in any objective way.
  • Marcus Buckingham

Monday, November 30th, 2020

Thrive & Excel


“The key to learning is feedback. It is nearly impossible to learn anything without it.” – Steven Levitt

What kind of feedback are you offering at your firm? Is it an annual performance feedback session, a semi-annual review, or maybe quarterly “touch-base” type feedback meetings? Some firms have eliminated formal performance reviews completely.

Hopefully, firms are offering frequent feedback and keeping the entire process very simple and direct.

No matter what process you are using, be sure you are always searching for better ways to give feedback. Rather than giving people feedback on how they can do better, why not ask “How can we help each person thrive and excel?” This question comes from Marcus Buckingham. If we ask that question, we might just find that the answers take us in a different direction.

Don’t get this feedback confused with actual training type feedback actually called instruction. Per Buckingham, “To be clear, instruction – telling people what steps to follow or what factual knowledge they’re lacking – can be truly useful. That’s why we have checklists in airplane cockpits.”

Also, per Buckingham, there are three theories that we in the business world commonly accept as truths. 

  • Theory of the source of truth
  • Theory of learning
  • Theory of excellence

Read Buckingham’s informative article, The Feedback Fallacy, here.

  • Make feedback normal. Not a performance review.
  • Ed Batista

Tuesday, October 20th, 2020

Be Honest With Yourself

“This above all: to thine ownself be true.” – William Shakespeare

I hope, at your firm, you are asking your team members to do a self-evaluation periodically. I also hope that those evaluating the performance of others read the self-evaluations.

So many times I hear the stories about an accounting firm team member who is asked to do a self-evaluation. They take the task very seriously. They reflect back on the period of time being evaluated and expertly list their accomplishments and often also note some deficiencies.

It seems that the above Shakespeare quotation truly applies to them.

It has been my observation that people really do know themselves. They realize their strengths and their weaknesses.

When you compare their self-critique with the evaluations supplied by others, they usually align quite well.

The problem is, many people with power over the person’s career progress often do not study the self-evaluations or even read them at all.

  • A company could put a top man at every position and be swallowed by a competitor with people only half as good, but who are working together.
  • W. Edwards Deming

Monday, October 5th, 2020

After the Retreat

“Unless commitment is made, there are only promises and hopes; but no plans.” – Peter Drucker

Think about how you felt immediately after your last strategic planning retreat. I have observed it first-hand many times. During the wrap-up conversations partners and other attendees feel relieved, enthused, optimistic even happy.

Next, think about how you felt one month after your retreat. Do you even remember that you felt relieved, enthused, optimistic and even happy?

You return to the office and there are voice messages and emails that need attention. There are team members awaiting your return so they can ask questions or obtain your opinion and there are family and other personal commitments you must meet. That is why I strongly urge you to develop specific action steps that will help you accomplish the FEW important initiatives identified at your planning retreat.

Everything is changing so rapidly that it is difficult to really comprehend what your firm will need to do two years from now. To keep your firm moving forward, identify two or three initiatives, document the steps it takes to accomplish each one and commit to getting them accomplished in 12 to 18 months.

It is each participant’s duty to actively participate. See the quotation above. If you don’t commit, there are only promises and hopes, but no plans.

  • Duty is what one expects from others; it is not what one does one’s self.
  • Oscar Wilde

Thursday, October 1st, 2020

Performance Management is Evolving

“My motto was always to keep swinging. Whether I was in a slump or feeling badly or having trouble off the field, the only thing to do was keep swinging.”  – Hank Aaron

A great resource for firm administrators/practice managers, managing partners, and HR directors working in public accounting is Sharlyn Lauby, an HR pro turned consultant. She created HR Bartender so people would have a friendly place to discuss workplace issues. I follow her on Twitter so that I can keep abreast of all the current issues facing HR professionals.

I constantly remind you to focus on the importance of performance feedback and make it a process that is simple, easy, and effective. In light of COVID and the fact that so many team members are working remotely, you have new challenges with providing helpful feedback to a remote workforce. Even before the pandemic, a PWC survey found that about 60% of employees were able to work at least one day a week remotely.

Performance feedback is evolving and the old days of judging a person’s performance based upon chargeable hours is a thing of the past. Firms utilizing value pricing have realized that moving away from a chargeable hour culture is not an easy task. It actually requires managers (and partners) to manage people and processes.

Lauby gives us five performance management activities to consider. The following are my comments on each of the five but please read her article to gain the full impact.

Take performance management online – Many firms have already done this and it is a must when people are not physically working from one location.

Create measurable goals, including stretch goals – I always remind you to ask less experienced staff to stretch and take on more responsibility. Instead of looking to hire a Manager, ask a Senior to step up.

Build a feedback mechanism – Managers and employees should have regular feedback sessions, not just once per year.

Allow multi-rater feedback – I believe most CPA firms are doing this now and obtaining a self-evaluation. However, read Lauby’s comments on this one.

Offer training programs for managers (and employees) – I have observed that accounting firms do not train their managers on how to truly manage people. Firms make a person a manger because they are a highly-skilled technician. Don’t forget the softer skills!

  • If the employee doesn’t understand the goal or the process, it’s difficult to achieve successful performance.
  • Sharlyn Lauby

Thursday, June 4th, 2020

Evaluate Using Words

“Handle them carefully, for words have more power than atom bombs.” -Pearl Strachan Hurd

Early in my career, I remember my firm’s partners providing feedback to me in the form of words. Yes, simple words. I have always remembered those words and I still think that keeping feedback simple is the best policy.

That is why I like the Keep Stop Start method of feedback.

The “Words” feedback method used on me was not quite that simple but it gave me more information about how I was viewed. It was a one-sheet form with many descriptive words under the categories of: Planner, Problem Solver, Communicator, Leader, Decision Maker, Trainer, Team Member and Job Expertise.

The people providing feedback would simply circle the words that described me (relating to a Planner, Problem Solver, etc.) and then indicate where I ranked (1 to 5) as a Planner, etc.

I think it is simple and powerful. I believe it must have originally came from the AICPA MAP Handbook, but I am not sure.

If you want to see a copy, you can download it here.

Keep your feedback system simple and remember the power of words!

  • Be mindful when it comes to your words. A string of some that don't mean much to you, may stick with someone else for a lifetime.
  • Rachel Wolchin

Friday, May 22nd, 2020

Flashback Friday – Performance Feedback

“If we did the things we are capable of, we would astound ourselves.” – Thomas Edison

Many firms are postponing their annual performance feedback sessions. During these unusual times and because due dates for taxes have been pushed back, firm leaders declare that they just don’t have time right now.

I hope this is not the case in your firm. Feedback should be on-going, not saved up for some formal, boring, dreaded annual ordeal.

Read this flashback post on the topic of performance feedback.

  • Start by doing what is necessary, then what is possible, and suddenly you are doing the impossible.
  • Francis of Assisi

Wednesday, April 29th, 2020

Let Go Of The Past

“Treat people with their strengths in mind, not their past offenses.” – Dan Rockwell

We hear and read about lots of different ways to build on your strengths. You should also be guiding others in your firm to do the same.

What really happens inside some CPA firms? The managers and partners have very long memories.

I have heard the stories for years. “Don’t give me Tony for this engagement. Remember how he messed up on that John Doe job?” “I don’t want Brenda for this assignment. She has no clue about (fill-in the blank).”

Tony messed up that job three years ago during his first year with the firm. Brenda had no clue about whatever five years ago!

I think it is somewhat part of human nature. Well, accountants’ nature anyway. People remember the bad things that happen and so often forget to recognize the good things.

Be more in tune with how people progress in your firm. Some beginners catch on fast and some not so fast. Don’t give up on them too quickly. Learn to build on people’s strengths and down-play their weaknesses. Even when giving feedback, don’t always make it constructive criticism. Constructive criticism is a term used all to often within CPA firms. Criticism is criticism and the person receiving the criticism only hears criticism (not constructive).

Take advantage of the great resource of strengths of the people working in your firm. Downplay, and even forget, past mistakes.

There are plenty of resources out there:

Now, Discover Your Strengths by Marcus Buckingham & Donald Clifton

Here’s a good article via Forbes.

  • With the new day comes new strength and new thoughts.
  • Eleanor Roosevelt

Friday, April 24th, 2020

Don’t Forget! – Feedback!

“Feedback is the breakfast of champions.” – Ken Blanchard

So many things are on your mind right now. How will we cope in the new normal? How will we permanently establish a remote workforce? Which team members should be in the office and which ones should stay away? What about the most vulnerable on our team?

Yes, lots of challenges and so much to do. But, don’t forget one of the most important things your team needs… feedback. You don’t see them in person and most of your contact is via email so you might forget that important ingredient to a person’s success in their job.

Here’s a flashback post about feedback – it’s Flashback Friday. Stay Safe.

  • Mistakes should be examined, learned from, and discarded; not dwelled upon and stored.
  • Tim Fargo

Monday, February 10th, 2020

Allow Your Team to Set Their Own Goals

“Focusing on strengths is the surest way to greater job satisfaction, team performance and organizational excellence.” – Marcus Buckingham

Does your CPA firm, as part of the performance feedback system, give employees certain goals to attain? Sometimes it makes sense but not always.

One firm told me they have one goal for all new college graduates entering the firm. That one goal, until it is achieved, is to pass the CPA exam. Maybe, even this one important goal, doesn’t make sense any longer.

According to Marcus Buckingham, goals that are pushed down from on high are un-goals. Goals should have meaning for the individual and, thus, should be created by that individual for themselves.

Firms should be creating meaning for everyone in the firm. Do your people know and understand what the firm is trying to achieve and where it is going in the future? Do they realize that the firm is a service organization focused on improving the lives and financial success of their clients? Do they understand the firm’s purpose? More importantly, have you effectively communicated the firm’s purpose?

If your people truly understand the purpose of the firm and buy-in to that journey, they will be able to set meaningful goals for themselves.

Read this interesting article about goals via Marcus Buckingham titled, “The best leaders do not set goals. Here’s what they do instead.”

  • You will excel only by maximizing your strengths, never by fixing your weaknesses.
  • Marcus Buckingham