Category Archives: Performance Management

CommitKeeper selected as finalist in Global Awards for Excellence in Knowledge Worker Innovation

In April 2013, Future Strategies Inc. invited 4Spires to submit a case study in their annual search for excellence in “knowledge worker innovations”.  Our case study described how our Fleet One customer has used CommitKeeper to improve the productivity of their marketing department.  The press release below announces our selection as a finalist in this prestigious competition.

May 22, 2013—Boston, Mass. The Workflow Management Coalition (WfMC) is pleased to announce the finalists for the 2013 Global Awards for Excellence in Adaptive Case Management.

In 2011, WfMC inaugurated a Global Awards program for Adaptive Case Management (ACM) case studies to recognize and focus upon ACM use cases. Adaptive Case Management represents a new approach to supporting knowledge workers in today’s leading edge organizations. ACM provides secure, social collaboration to create and adapt goal-oriented activities that enable informed decision-making using federated business data and content.

Finalists were selected by a 16-person program committee comprising experts in this field. Committee leader, Max J. Pucher said, “The submitted ACM solutions in 2013 are focused on showing the financial return of being a leading business that uses state-of-the-art technology. While forefront ACM functionality such as evolutionary process improvement by business performers is used by only a few entries,, the ‘Design-by-Doing’ aspect of ACM is widely represented. The spectrum of verticals this year is proof for the wide-ranging applicability of Adaptive Case Management concepts.”

Co-sponsored by WfMC and, these prestigious awards recognize user organizations worldwide that have demonstrably excelled in implementing innovative ACM solutions. Award winners will be announced at a special virtual awards ceremony on June 27th at ACM Live.
There are seven categories this year:
  • Back Office
  • Construction and Big Projects
  • Financial
  • Legal and Courts
  • Public Sector
  • Shipping and Logistics
  • Knowledge Worker Innovation
The 2013 finalists (in alphabetical order) across all categories are:
1.    Axle Group Holdings Ltd., nominated by EmergeAdapt
2.    CargoNet AS, nominated by Computas AS
3.    Department of Transport, South Africa, nominated by EMC Corporation
4.    Directorate for the Construction of Facilities for EURO 2012, nominated by PayDox Business Software
5.    Fleet One, nominated by 4Spires
6.    Info Edge Pvt. Ltd, nominated by Newgen Software Technologies Ltd
7.    National Courts Administration of Norway, nominated by Computas AS
8.    Texas Office of the Attorney General Crime Victim Services Division, nominated by IBM
9.    U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), nominated by AINS, Inc.
10.  UBS Bank, nominated by Whitestein Technologies

WfMC Chairman and founder of the ACM Awards program, Keith Swenson commented on the strength of the entries, “This year brings a significant maturing of the field of entries,” said Swenson. “We see well-rounded mainstream use cases with lots of knowledge workers as participants who use the system to innovate their processes every day. In domains where thinking matters, they show that there is a real business case, and the return on investment is really incredible.”

“This distinguished group of finalists survived very high standards and tight scrutiny by a discriminating panel of judges, representing the top influencers in our field” noted WfMC Executive Director Nathaniel Palmer. “Now in its third year, the Excellence in Adaptive Case Management program reflects not only a thriving global market for case management, but clearly demonstrates the value this sector offers to businesses and governments worldwide.”

More details on case study requirements and the finalists can be found online at  Finalists receive additional recognition by having their case studies published in the 2013 edition in the ACM Excellence Series by Future Strategies Inc., following the success of  “Taming the Unpredictable” in 2011 and “How Knowledge Workers Get Things Done” in 2012.  The Workflow Management Coalition (WfMC) and jointly sponsor the annual Global Awards for Excellence in ACM.  The Awards program is managed by Future Strategies Inc.

For further information:
Layna Fischer (Awards Director)
Future Strategies Inc.

Improving Performance Management Systems Requires More Than Paving the Cow Path

This post includes extracts from an article I wrote in ‘Performance Xpress’ – the monthly news letter for the International Society for Performance Improvement.

Thirty years ago, a performance management system included written and oral individual feedback between a manager and each of his or her direct reports.  Sometimes HR managers had to hound managers to complete those performance reviews, but employees could count on a meeting with their managers to discuss strengths and weaknesses, achievements against goals, and developmental targets for the next year.

The performance review was also seen as a way to either justify a salary increase or, in cases where there were problems, to begin a documentation trail to move an employee out of the company without legal ramifications. Managers understood this annual process was ‘necessary’, but few of those involved, not even the HR folks, believed that the annual performance review actually led to improved employee or departmental performance.

The basic process has evolved little, with the exception of two changes:

  • There is a somewhat greater emphasis on setting goals, and
  • We have new tools for constructing review documents.

Enhancements in the form of new tools have been directed primarily at speeding up the process, not improving it.

Performance review writing circa 1984 involved a manager composing a one or two-page personal appraisal report using a word processor (the newer programs at the time had spell-checking). Today, managers can ‘write’ the review with a few clicks of a mouse. Modern performance management systems enable managers to select the characteristics (e.g., ‘exhibits teamwork‘) from a predefined list (sometimes called ‘coaching tips’) and to indicate how strongly or weakly worded they want to make the point. A few clicks and voilà, a politically correct, legally correct, and spell-checked paragraph has been ‘written.’ In less than 10 minutes the reviewing manager has created the (too often dreaded) annual review document for that employee.

In touting the system’s sophistication, one industry-leading performance management system vendor boasted, “With the click of a button…the document can be automatically personalized….” Does anyone else see the oxymoron here–‘automatically personalized’?

Disguised by enhanced electronic aids, the new written reviews amount to the same antiquated practice, only with new packaging.

The cow path has been paved and the speed limit has been increased, but we have not improved the journey or the destination.  As outlined below, this approach may even serve to reduce the value of the employee performance review process.

There are three initial concerns with this development:

  • 1.)  Speeding up the writing process may actually reduce the effectiveness of the intended communication to the employee.

Writing is a thinking process. Managers who take the time to compose their own original paragraphs are likely to be more specific and grounded in their feedback than those who click on generalized ‘coaching tips,’

The act of the writing also helps managers to prepare their script for the face-to-face meeting with the employee. [Note: Some performance management systems enable sending the document directly to the employee to obtain his or her electronic signature. This allows the manager to skip the meeting or personal communication altogether.]

  • 2.)  Automating the document sets the wrong mood for a performance discussion with the employee.

Clicking through canned responses to generate boilerplate text implicitly suggests that the review process is mechanistic, one-size-fits-all, and mostly trivial. The sooner the manager and employee get through this annual process the quicker they can get back to the ‘real work’ as if employee development were not part of the job.

  • 3.)  This performance management system is often confused with a system designed to improve performance.

Traditional performance management systems do include a key lever for improving performance: the one-to-one communication between manager and employee. This communication, however, is often inadequate for achieving any performance improvement because it is too infrequent and of poor quality.

Performance improvement conversations benefit from annual or semi-annual goal setting and review, but the real driver is at the granular level of making and keeping weekly and monthly commitments. Every request made by a manager is an opportunity to forge an effective agreement for a specific and defined result.  Performance improvement (not “management”) is achieved in these ongoing conversations.

Each request begins a dialog that should have an explicit delivery and assessment at the end. Each dialog is an opportunity to enhance performance and build trust.

Rather than support once a year, or even once a quarter, performance management reviews, software tools with a year-round/all-the-time focus on performance improvement can facilitate a new approach to manager-employee communication. A new generation of software tools is coming that can boost the quality and frequency of the dialogue between managers and staff around project and task completion.  Elevating and illuminating these one-on-one conversations between those requesting actions and those who carry out those requests can, I believe, actually move the dial around personal and organisation performance. Rather than add speed and facilitate the use of automated/canned responses, the next generation of systems will advance performance management practices in a way that qualitatively changes the approach we’ve used for the last 30 years.

Work Management Software 2013 – toward a richer understanding of this emerging new category

A new business software category is emerging called “work management”.  We are eager to make 2013 the year where this new category really gains a foothold. We are concerned with closing the execution gap between goals, tasks, and results.  This article is intended to help develop a richer understanding of this new software category.  How we get more done is suddenly sexy and all kinds of functionality and vendors are eager to be included in the new buzz around “work management” software.  Unfortunately, this has tended to cloud the new field with a wide-ranging set of features and capabilities to the point where there is no succinct definition of what constitutes “work management” software.

The following is a primer on some of the distinctions across various work management software offerings.  Vendors will begin to stake out their differentiating features along the following dimensions:

—  Function-specific tools vs. general tools.  Some tools are designed to support managing the work of specific users.  For example, call centers or IT support desk users might use a support ticket system that integrates inquiries created via email, phone and web-based forms in order to manage, organize and archive support requests and responses.  Professional project managers could also be considered functional specialists who use project management software as a “work management” tool.  These function-specific tools are built around a specific set of features tailored to the activity of that function.

By contrast, generalized tools are designed for a broad user population. These “tools for the rest of us” (e.g. calendar apps) can be used to manage work in virtually any function or environment, small groups or large.

—  Individual vs. Group ware.  Some “work management” tools are designed primarily for single users; others for groups.  Most task management systems, for example, are fundamentally single user applications.  I make lists of “to do’s” for myself and then I work down the list.  Similarly, many project management tools are also designed primarily for input by an individual user.  Yes, tasks can be shared with others in the group, but interactivity between members is limited.

The term “group ware” was popularized in the 1990’s.  In contrast to “standalone” applications, “group ware” referred to messaging and workflow solutions designed to improve coordination across many users.  The new breed of “social” tools have many of the same attributes – sharing information with others to get work done.  See further comments on “social media” below.

—  Goal and Task management.  Managing work certainly involves setting goals and accomplishing tasks.  Goals are typically “bigger” and have no specific deadline, but, other than that, there is significant functional and practical overlap between managing goals and tasks.  Perhaps to oversimplify a bit, the distinction can be reduced to the size of the outcome (e.g. what’s the difference between a weekly goal and a task that’s due next week?).  Task management tools, of which there are dozens, can help manage an individual’s work, and they are generalized, but how are they to be included in the new “work management” category?  I can create Goals and Tasks for myself with or without conversation with others.  What is new is sharing (i.e. broadcasting) my Goals and Tasks with others in the group along with progress updates.  Tracking delivery commitments I have made to others and that others have made to me are essential for effective coordination of group work and resource allocation.  So goal and task management have shifted from being individual-ware to being group-ware; this is a significant shift in a familiar tool.

—  Collaboration vs. document sharing, videoconferencing, chat groups.  Unfortunately, the term “collaboration” is no longer a very helpful descriptor.  In the beginning, the term was hi-jacked into meaning shared documents (along with content management and searching).  A recent white paper by Info Tech Research Group, for example, gave high marks to one vendor’s “team collaboration portal” which boasted permission controls, voting by group members, and micro-blogging in addition to sharing content. Co-laboring clearly involves much more than managing shared content.

More recently the term collaboration has come to include an expanding range of features.  A recent Forrester study of “Collaboration Software Vendors” included eight companies with very different capabilities that ranged from file sharing and synch (e.g. Box) to video conferencing and instant messaging (e.g.Cisco/Webex, Citrix/GoToMeeting) to online chat groups (e.g. Salesforce Chatter and IBM’s SmartCloud Social Business Toolkit and Yammer).  Given this wide variety of features, the term “collaboration” no longer contributes much precision to the discourse.  I suggest we drop the term collaboration and use the actual features (document sharing, videoconferencing, chat groups, etc.) instead.

For a further discussion of the distinctions between document sharing and collaboration see my blog “Collaboration 2.0 – More Than Sharing Documents”.

—  Social media.  The word “social” has crept in everywhere.  We have: social media, social enterprise, social strategy, social collaboration tools, social work management, social workflow, social performance management, and social goals among others.  Let’s be clear that the term “social” has now been pretty much defined to mean a one-to-many communication pattern.  While it is possible to have one-on-one conversations, the “social” tools are designed primarily to enable an individual user to broadcast a question or a “posting” to the larger forum.  The term “social” has come to mean “shared with the group”.  The “group” can be a predefined group of limited members or a public, undefined group.  Familiar examples include Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Chatter, Yammer. These are generalized tools without a functional focus.  Facebook and have begun promoting the value of individuals posting entries and updates to help groups get work done.  See blog post about Facebook’s new group features (

At the “Dreamforce” convention last fall “social performance management” was the rage.  A number of sessions promoted “new ways to work”, “working together better”, “rebooting work”, “fixing work”, “new management practices”, “openness”, “transparency”.  As represented by Rypple/, “social performance management” emphasizes broadcasting individual goals, awarding badges in a public forum, and then cobbling together the badges and coaching notes for individuals into a performance review.  Interaction is primarily only one-way – one person awards a badge to another and your manager writes your review.  Social media adds value and can set the background context, for example, by aligning shared goals. Recognition and rewards add positive energy to the workplace.  Feedback, recognition, coaching, and rewards are motivating, but it remains to be seen whether changing how we write performance reviews, and how often we write them, will actually have any real effect on productivity.  Even Salesforce execs at the convention reported that “70% of all sales reps leave because of poor relationships with their boss”.  This problem cannot be fixed with purely social media tools.

—  Messaging/dialog.  In contrast to the new “social” tools, stand the old personal messaging tools, i.e. that support two-way dialog.  Email, IM and SMS are still the dominant ways two people communicate about getting work done (i.e. one-to-one communication pattern).  Emails can be shared with the group with cc’s to others, but the primary function is one-on-one conversation. This is the most personal, the most urgent, and still the most effective means for actually getting work done.  Just because these tools lack a modern marketing spin does not mean they are any less effective than they were 10 years ago.  The buzz around “work management” should not delude us into thinking that the new “social” tools come anywhere close to the power and effectiveness of such interactive media.  One can, of course, communicate one-to-one in Facebook, and emails can be shared more broadly using CC’s and blasts, but the dominant distinctions hold – Facebook is mostly a social media, email is primarily a personal messaging tool.  Read more about the distinctions between the one-to-many vs. one-to-one tools in my blog post “Bringing The Social Model to Human Capital Management“.

—  Metrics.  There is no question that measurement and feedback drive behaviors and, in turn, productivity.  Let’s be clear, however, that there are important distinctions regarding the metrics that can be obtained from social vs. interactive tools.  Tuning in to the social buzz around what has been called the ‘enterprise social water cooler’ can certainly provide a more real-time picture of employee concerns than a survey.  Employees can share comments and suggestions in an open forum that can result in improved operations.  Badges awarded to colleagues can be accumulated (even counted) at review time.  However, while creating a “social enterprise” can render new information and even insights, meaningful metrics require something more.  Social media has very limited data potential for actually informing/improving how work gets done.  Meaningful metrics rely on facts that are documented and comparable.  The system for collecting data must be structured and consistent across the entire enterprise.  These are not typically the qualities of a purely social, one-to-many network. The inherent diffusion of a large social group, coupled with its anonymity and randomness of participation severely limit meaningful metrics.  On the other hand, messaging media has the potential to be a rich source of data for tracking who is speaking to whom, how long it took to get what done, and when was it delivered.  A new era of work management and productivity metrics is emerging which will include such measures as an individual’s (or department’s) on-time delivery record, average amount to time to complete a certain standard task, or total resources expended in completing a goal to name a few.

Summary Discussion

So how does each category of tools mentioned above relate to actually improving how we “get work done”?  Which features and capabilities will actually improve execution?  In my view, the best “work management” tools will be a blend of the capabilities discussed above.  They will be generalized tools that capture and expose individual goals and tasks, that enable sharing of documents, that incorporate both social media and one-to-one dialog in real-time, and that provide a new class of productivity and performance metrics (See my blog “Nine Part System for Effective Business Execution“).

Beyond the features, the new tools will affect behaviors and practices and ultimately the culture of the organization.  New visibility into work activity will drive new approaches to accountability.  New ways of relating person-to-person will emerge that can increase trust.  The new tools will effect who speaks to whom, how they speak to each other, and even the words they use.  Organizational hierarchies will become less relevant as information sharing increases across departmental boundaries.  Personal networks with an ever-expanding number of respondents will need to be tempered with tools that clarify individual delivery commitments.  Network management will eclipse matrix management, and working in an egalitarian workplace will take on new meaning.  In the end, we expect new “work management” tools will dramatically improve productivity in the years ahead.

Electronic Office Born 25 Years Ago This Month – A Retrospective

The first use of desktop computers to process electronic forms occurred at Apple Computer 25 years ago this month.  It was an enterprise-wide, HR application that enabled every manager in the company to fill out and approve salary changes, department transfers, and performance reviews for 5,000 employees.  800 managers signed-on to access personalised data from a mainframe computer, routed forms through an approval chain, and automatically updated the host database.  This was the beginning of what soon became called “manager-self-service”.  The system was called “HyperGOLD”.  The year before, Apple launched the first “employee self-service” solution which enabled all employees to access and update their benefit elections using a personal computer.

These applications broke new ground in two areas – one technical and one behavioural.  The technical breakthrough had to do with managing user permissions and routing rules.  The system needed to accommodate “personalised” access and permissions by hundreds of users at different departments and levels of the company.  Line managers initiated various actions that had to be approved by others along the line before updating the database.  The other breakthrough had to do with the vast increase in the number of users.  Previously, computer systems, even those accessed from personal computers, required extensive training for use by a limited number of specialists.  It was untenable to consider training hundreds of new users.  The Apple systems were the first-ever to require no training!

The result was truly transformational.  Over the next three years Apple totally revamped how HR services were conceived and delivered, and the ratio of HR staff to line staff went from 1/30 to 1/300.  Getting stuff done was not only more efficient, but new policies, better practices, and improved behaviours were initiated that enhanced the Apple culture.

It was no coincidence this breakthrough occurred at Apple.  There were three enabling factors.  First, Apple was the only company in the world at that time that had a personal computer on every employee’s desk.  This accessibility meant that paper forms (and the associated double-data entry by administrative staff) could, indeed, be completely eliminated.  Second, Apple had pioneered the graphic user interface (especially valuable was HyperCard) that would support the “no-user-training-required” standard.  Third, then as now, Apple had an appetite for innovation.  These applications were not available in the market place, and Apple had to build them from scratch.  These pioneering applications took investments of millions of dollars over several years.

The team was co-led by David Arella (this author), who was Apple’s first Manager of the HR Systems Technology & Innovation Group, and Steve Austin, Information Systems & Technology Manager.  Their team included Lynne Hoppe, Dawn Black, Suzanne Summers, Aaron Hyde, Tim Hayes, Ted Ives, Ann Altman, Bill Lee, Paul Foraker, Wayne Robertson, and David Donaldson.

It turned out that Apple was way ahead of the crowd.  Many years passed before other companies implemented similar solutions.  Quantum and Adobe did their first employee benefit enrollment systems in 1992 and 1993 respectively.  Cisco did their first manager-self-service HR application in 1995, a full 7 years after Apple.  Dell Computer’s first enterprise-wide solution for line managers was not implemented until 1997 on their brand new intranet.  Other leading companies like Schering-Plough, Southwestern Bell, Colgate Palmolive, Marriott, AMD, MasterCard, Reuters, NY Times, and CNA Insurance came along in the late 1990’s.

Of course, these solutions are commonplace today, and we take all of this pioneering work for granted.  Companies that don’t have similar solutions in place are now in the minority.  New social media technologies have opened up possibilities for new advances.  So here’s an alert:  stay tuned because some of the same people who contributed this seminal work 25 years ago have been busy working on the next breakthrough solutions.

4Spires Welcomes New Customer – Fleet One

4Spires is happy to kick off the New Year by welcoming our newest customer – Fleet One.

Fleet One® provides fuel cards and fleet-related payment solutions to businesses and government agencies with vehicles. The firm offers fuel and maintenance purchasing controls, detailed reporting, online account management, and other cost-saving services.  Our CommitKeeper solution was acquired for use by Fleet One’s marketing department.

Business Situation

As with most marketing departments, Fleet One needed to handle many projects simultaneously, and each one demanded close coordination of many participants (e.g. art, copy, procurement, production, etc.) against tight deadlines.  Multiple people and groups are often involved in each project.  It was not uncommon for the department to be working on 150 tasks, but only 50 projects.  In addition, Fleet One’s Vice President, Marketing, Stacey Bright, identified two specific challenges; they needed a solution that could easily link main projects to supporting tasks and one which provided an easy-to-read, understand, and manage project summary that showed the status of any individual task at any time.  Prior to CommitKeeper, Fleet One had used Microsoft Outlook’s task system, but this product does not permit supporting tasks, making it hard to effectively manage and review the status of each project, every deliverable, and each employee’s status.  Without a proper work management solution, managing all 150 tasks in Outlook was untenable.   Stacey had been looking for a solution for a long time.  Work and project management solutions were too cumbersome and task tools were not robust enough.


Once the marketing group began using Salesforce, Stacey was delighted to find 4Spires‘ Salesforce version of our CommitKeeper product on the AppExchange.  Marketing now has the ability to assign secondary tasks within a commitment.  They have completed 200 plus commitments in less than three months across 59 active projects.  Stacey can tell at a glance where each project stands – negotiation, in progress, delivered, accepted, canceled or declined –  along with a complete audit trail.  The department now has the ability to understand where its time and efforts are being utilized.  The group-individual making the request is identified and the associated budgeted hours are captured.

By using CommitKeeper’s Observer feature, the Marketing VP is able to provide executive management with a simple summary dashboard to review and update every project.  Requests for new projects from other departments are entered in CommitKeeper so the marketing department can negotiate clear delivery agreements.  The Marketing VP is now managing down, up, and across the organisation with one integrated tool.  CommitKeeper has improved oversight, coordination, and business processes within Stacey’s team and across the company.

Stacey summed it up this way: “CommitKeeper is a fantastic solution.  It is very easy to use which equates to getting people to accept the solution; the team has already ‘committed’ to the program 100%.  The 4Spires team is top notch and really made the decision to use the solution an easy proposition.  They have been extremely supportive from day 1 and continue to work with my team. This is a great company and Fleet One looks forward to their long-term success.”

Thanks, Stacey, welcome to the group.


Bringing the Social Model to Human Capital Management

John Wookey, Executive Vice President, Social Applications at , published “Why Human Capital Management Really Needs a Social Model” on TLNT ( in the May 2, 2012 issue.

Without diminishing what John has written, I want to elaborate upon and recommend counterpoints and further enhancements to the general themes he espouses.  I will elaborate on five quotes from the article:

1.     “People-centric systems should promote connection, communication, and collaboration.  That is the core of the social enterprise”. 

At face value, this statement is true.  There are, however, various ‘flavors’ of connection, communication, and collaboration that offer and support alternate objectives.

As commonly practiced, the social enterprise advocates promote a one-to-many communication paradigm in which each individual broadcasts information out to everyone in the group.  Examples include:

  • Project team members share their personal goals with the whole team.
  • Individuals send out queries company-wide seeking help.
  • Shared document edits are seen by everyone.
  • Coworkers award badges to each other in an open feedback forum.

The benefits can be readily appreciated, but there are also limitations to these practices:

  • Participation can be spotty; some people participate a lot (sometimes too much), others not at all.
  • Kudos are happily awarded, while critiques are rarely entered.
  • Broadcasting needs and gathering input from a larger and larger social group has value, but social networks do a poor job coordinating work and actually taking action.
  • Groups tend to diffuse responsibility; information sharing is very different from accountability.
  • Too much sharing can challenge a healthy respect for privacy and appropriate confidentiality.

Lastly, due to its more random nature, a one-to-many forum produces little hard data from which to develop meaningful performance metrics.

Moving forward the most effective social enterprises will blend the one-to-many social paradigm with its newer counter-part, the one-to-one paradigm: two specific people having a focused interaction.  It is still about connection, communication, and collaboration, but at a granular level taking action involves a performer delivering some outcome to someone else who can assess the completeness and express specific satisfaction.

This dialog can be either private (visible only to the two parties) or open (visible to a broader group of interested parties).  The key principle is the authenticity and personal integrity of the two parties.  This emphasis is less freewheeling than the one-to-many paradigm, but this more disciplined communication drives greater intimacy and personal accountability by making commitments explicit and tracking each deliverable.  Accountability and engagement are made palpable, and tracking deliveries against commitments yields a wealth of actionable metrics.

2.     “Lack of meaningful information is the hallmark and curse of every legacy HR system.”

This comment is perhaps a bit overstated; though the point has merit.  I would urge, however, that while creating a social enterprise will render new information, the data’s meaningfulness has limits.  Tuning in to the social buzz around what has been called the ‘enterprise social water cooler’ can certainly provide a more real-time picture of employee concerns than a survey.  Employees can share comments and suggestions that may result in improved operations.  Badges awarded to colleagues can be accumulated at review time.

I submit, however, the inherent diffusion of a large social group, coupled with its anonymity and randomness of participation severely limits real meaningful metrics.

3.     “Making the [performance management] process collaborative – and allowing people to commit – creates and fosters a real dialogue across an organization.” 

I have spent years studying, and understanding the process and practices associated with making commitments.  Commitments are, indeed, what really drive actions.   But just making performance management ‘collaborative’ does not get stuff done.  Commitments can and, to be most effective, should be publicly shared, but the actual formation of a commitment is a person-to-person endeavor.  Some enterprises are certainly moving away from command-and-control practices and toward more bottom-up participation and engagement.  On the other hand, the actual process of making and tracking commitments, plus the feedback and metrics associated with delivering on those commitments, requires more discipline and rigor than is typically offered in purely social one-to-many dialogues.

4.     “Feedback should be open and collaborative…which results in transparency, trust, and alignment”. 

This observation is certainly overstated.  Sure, some feedback can be more open and it is fine to get kudos from colleagues in other departments, but other client-customer or manager-employee/performer feedback (one could even argue the most important feedback) should certainly not be done in an open forum.  And it is oversimplified to make the leap that open and collaborative communication automatically yields more transparency and trust.

5.     “A social HCM system still supports the creation of formal reviews and metrics-based assessments.” 

Yes, sharing goals with the group and accumulating badges and feedback from colleagues across the enterprise is a step beyond the old 360review process, but providing metrics-based assessment, not so much.

Meaningful metrics rely on facts that are documented and comparable.  The system for collecting data must be structured and consistent across the entire enterprise.  These are not typically the qualities of a purely social, one-to-many network.  The evolving complementary one-to-one social systems will add an important adjunct that can provide meaningful metrics.


The social enterprise is coming and with it comes a wealth of new opportunities. But, let’s include in our enthusiasm an appropriate understanding of the deeper practices and behaviors we all seek to transform, as well as the new communication structures that will actually support performance improvement.

One Simple Behavior to Elevate Employee Engagement

There is a growing recognition of the close relationship between an organization’s performance and its employee engagement.  Many observers share a concern that employee engagement is in decline; which is directly affecting how an organization internally and externally meets its obligations.  There is particular concern regarding Millennials.  (For an overview of this age group read The Millennials.)

This article describes one specific management behavior that can elevate engagement.

In a recent article Arthur Lerner, Principal at Arthur Lerner Associates, has done a nice job of describing a hierarchy of the levels of engagement.  He writes:

“This isn’t precisely what Senge et al wrote in The Fifth Discipline, but close and slightly expanded. (The original had four types of compliance – grudging, formal, ‘regular’, and genuine, and require comment to differentiate.  I’ve substituted the words below, which includes adding in coercion as the lowest level, probably needing a line above it because it connotes no willingness.)

It was written well before the current passion for engagement, and has served well in my experience to differentiate some of what others have pointed to in this discussion already.  It presumes leader-follower/hierarchical relationship. Read the following from bottom up:


From the bottom, each higher stage indicates a greater degree in the willingness to subordinate to do what a leader (organization) wants, in particular via greater ‘buy-in’ to the vision and perhaps the goals that underlay what is asked. . .  As it stands, with no explanation, it does not include ways to attain the stages in terms of intrinsic or extrinsic rewards, etc.  The line between volunteering and being committed indicates an internal shift from doing – even enthusiastically – what the ‘other wants’ to taking on internal ownership for the behavior or result desired.  Enrolled connotes going beyond commitment in that someone who is enrolled so fully cares about and wants to see the success that s/he will carry forth even in the absence of a prior leader of the effort.  One could collapse some of the stages as shown, but the drift is definite, and the line is a distinctive qualitative divider.  I won’t go into connections between the stages and progression between them and issues of motivation, enthusiasm, engagement etc. but they are many.”

I like this hierarchy; we can all recognize the levels.  But how do we make changes that move engagement up the hierarchy?  What are the work practices and manager behaviors that can move the needle?

One dimension that is both practical and observable is the character of the dialog that’s going on between the parties.  For the bottom five levels (Coerced through Supportive) the conversation is top-down.  In fact, there is no real dialog at all.  The manager-leader simply tells the team members what they must do.  This ranges from a direct order, with consequences, to a stated need.  The ‘demand’ or assignment changes in style (i.e. harsh direct order to kindly assignment) but not in character.  “I need this done by you by this date”.  It’s a statement.

At the Volunteering level there is a fundamentally different type of conversation.  At this level and for the first time, an actual two-way person-to-person or manager-to-employee dialog occurs.  The difference is the manager asks a question rather than making a statement (e.g. “I need this done, which one of you can get it done?”)  The performer, aware of the need, responds with an explicit agreement to fill the need.  Even though the dialog is still a bit ‘tilted’ in favor of what the manager wants, there is at least an opening for a response to express willingness by the performer.

Something very different happens when moving up to the Committed level.  To get to this level, there must be a genuine dialog between two individuals, more or less on equal footing, where the performer is making an explicit agreement to deliver.  The key change is that this conversation starts with a request (e.g. “Can you complete this project or task by Friday?”) versus beginning with a statement.

What follows is equally important.  The performer has the ability to respond by saying yes, no or by proposing an alternate completion date.  They are able to negotiate what they are able to successfully complete by a specific deadline or make a counter-offer to the request.  Most importantly, with the real opportunity to negotiate, they make a commitment (e.g. “I will get this done for you by next Monday.”).  This statement expressing “ownership” by the performer is the hallmark of the jump to the Committed level in the hierarchy of engagement.

The top level in the hierarchy is Enrolled.  At this stage, the engagement is spontaneous, even anticipatory.  As with the other levels, this one is also characterized by a certain type of dialog.  This level is characterized not by requests from the manager, but by offers from the performers; e.g. “I understand what needs to be done, have the time, resources, and enthusiasm to get it done, and therefore I am making an offer to do it.”).  Again, the performer is engaged in a negotiation with the manager-customer that results in a clear commitment for delivery.

While I readily grant the substantial over-simplification of a complex issue, managers who want to increase engagement can begin by changing one thing – the character of the dialog with the performer(s).  Changing statements to requests is a good first start.  This simple step releases the power of the performer to respond at a higher level of engagement.



Nine Part System for Effective Business Execution

What we have here is a failure to execute!

The biggest management problem today is not creating visions, nor developing strategic or tactical plans.  The real problem is the failure to effectively execute.  Balls get dropped, deadlines are missed, deliveries are half-done, priorities constantly change, projects overrun budgets, and initiatives do not get satisfactorily accomplished.  It is easy to see why.

We have an overload of messages and communication to wade through.  Communication about execution is not face-to-face or even in real-time but more and more conducted remotely.  Coordination is more difficult as organizations become more decentralized and matrixed.  As the need for collaboration increases, personal accountability is increasingly diluted and unclear.  True employee engagement is in decline.  A return to 20th century command and control hierarchy will not work, as today’s workforce wants and expects more influence over decisions that affect their day-to-day work, not less.  The solution is to deploy new practices and systems that improve execution while simultaneously creating more commitment.

Nine Aspects of Effective Execution Support Systems

A comprehensive approach to deploying practices and systems to support execution involves nine distinct aspects that can be grouped into three categories: Set Up for Success, Follow Through, and Feedback.

Set up for Success

Set up for Success involves four aspects that assure teams as well as individual members are aligned and in agreement with the desired outcomes.  If the task or initiative is missing certain elements or is poorly structured at the start, execution will be hit or miss.

  1. Goals – Much has already been written about the importance of linking individual team member goals with those of the overall enterprise and department. This provides each member with a clear “line of sight” up to the broader organization goals.  If tracked by the system, senior managers can also “look down” the chain of command to see activity and status of how goals are being accomplished in real time.
  2. Clear Requests – This is an underrated management skill.  It involves identifying an individual performer, explaining the context for the request, and then making a clear request that includes a specific due date and deliverable.  Priorities do not deliver, only due dates matter.
  3. Employee Engagement – In the context of the modern workforce command and control practices will no longer assure employee engagement in outcomes.  And neither does “drive-by” task assignments where managers dole out assignments without any real dialog with the intended performers.  Hierarchy is out; managers and employees now operate on a near-level playing field.  Managers need to learn to make requests and then gain individual commitment from each performer through a more peer-to-peer dialog.
  4. Accountability – This is more than getting a clear plan of who will do what by when.  The key to accountability is achieving a negotiated commitment by the performer.   For example, performers are given the option to make counter-offers to requests with alternate due dates or alternate deliverables.  The dialog concludes with the performer saying “you can count on me”.

Follow Through

It is surprising in this day and age to see what poor tools, policies and procedures companies, managers and even employees have for tracking project and task follow through.  Email, still the most prevalent communication system, is ill-equipped to handle structured follow up.  Project management tools track outcomes, but are generally “overkill” for tracking ongoing activities.  The practice of delivering should be much more explicit.  Effective follow through involves three aspects.

  1. Dialog during delivery – Forging an agreement to deliver an outcome by a certain date is not the end of the conversation, it is the beginning.  Stuff happens along the way, priorities shift, new information surfaces, problems arise.  A threaded dialog, in the context of the task, enables all parties to keep in close touch along the way with status updates and adjustments.   Relying on unstructured email messages in your in/out box does not work; new systems are needed to manage and present these conversations along with workflow to show who has the responsibility for the next action.
  2. Real time visibility into progress – A Gantt chart shows the task start and predicted end dates, but it does not provide any real-time visibility into the progress of the project or task.  Weekly status review meetings are fine for general department or project updates, but there is no need to experience a week-long time delay for resolving critical issues and updates.  Systems that provide immediate notice to all concerned parties of progress and issues enable earlier identification and resolution of issues that impact delivery dates.
  3. Explicit delivery and assessment – In lieu of sliding in partially complete outcomes over a soft due date, managers and employees need to “crisp up” the final stage of task completion.  Having made a clear agreement to deliver a certain outcome by a certain date, the performer should conclude the task by making an explicit delivery (i.e. “I am delivering what I said I would deliver.”).  The manager-requester is then obliged to explicitly accept the delivery and offer an assessment of their satisfaction level with the outcome.  Waiting to provide feedback until the year-end performance review misses innumerable opportunities for management, employee and overall process improvement.


No system is complete without feedback mechanisms that inform all participants and guide future performance improvements.  Organizational learning depends on feedback that is relevant and actionable.  All concerned parties need and expect to know “how are we doing” from a near term and long term historical organization and personal perspective.

  1. Scorecards/batting averages/metrics – Providing real time metrics indicating quantity and status of every commitment each individual is currently accountable for with the associated agreement for completion date enables better resource allocation.  Status and delivery statistics not only drive performance; they also drive trust.  The best systems provide measurement for performance of managers as well as team members (e.g. identifying managers who have a high rate of making requests and then canceling them may provide previously hidden opportunities for productivity gains).  Summary metrics that reflect a large number of specific delivery commitments (e.g. on time deliveries) can be incorporated into annual performance reviews.
  2. History to learn from – A historical record of “what went down” can benefit managers and employees by providing a comprehensive record of who-said-what-to-whom-and-when associated with a particular task/initiative.  By reviewing a series of past commitments, patterns of behavior emerge that can guide performance feedback with very specific, granular examples.  Moreover, organizing past deliveries in the context of whole projects can guide future improvements on a more macro scale.

When looked at closely, execution actually depends on a number of identifiable and interrelated factors that address setup, follow-through, and feedback.  Setting goals and conducting weekly follow-up meetings only scratches the surface.  Managers need to develop a better understanding of the many aspects of effective execution.  Better tools that support these aspects are in the Beta and customer-testing phase.


5 Disruptive Practices That Boost Commitment

Talking is good; taking action together is better.  At the end of the day, what really matters and defines each of us on an individual, group and organization level is what was executed.  In any organization, all accomplishments are the result of individuals taking action together.  What a simplistic thing to say.

And yet, there exist many flaws in how we take action together.  People make vague requests.  Actual performers are unspecified.  Delivery dates are proposed without confirmation – if they are mentioned at all.  Agreements to deliver, when they are defined, shift and derail without a clear dialog between the person requesting or expecting an outcome and the performer(s).  Outcomes and deliveries are submitted willy-nilly.  Expressions of satisfaction, or not, with the delivery are absent.

Worse than these mechanical flaws, we are all familiar with the attendant interpersonal breakdowns.  Team members are silent about their cynicism toward the proposed requests.  Real engagement by employees is lacking.  People work on their favored assignments and leave other tasks to decay.  Low trust that deliveries will be met on time forces a need for backup systems and frequent check-ups by “management”.  Can we not recognize and acknowledge that the current model of working together is broken?

There is nothing in what I’ve just outlined that is unfamiliar to every reader.  We all have allowed (even colluded) in this “system” for a long time.  Isn’t it time to disrupt the existing system and try a new approach which provides results and benefits to all parties?  Let’s get back to basics and recreate our working relations around the golden rule:  “Say what you’re going to do, and do what you said”.

The core of this idea is making/remaking our work agreements personal.  Saying out loud, “I intend to accomplish the following by this date”, has powerful implications for both the speaker and the audience.

  • The speaker articulates their personal understanding of the desired outcome.
  • Accountability is taken on; the speaker has assumed ownership.
  • Giving voice creates commitment and in so doing discretionary effort is invoked to make good on the commitment.
  • Transparency builds trust.  Customer confidence is increased many fold.

The quality of the ensuing dialog between performer and customer moves from vague assumptions to clear agreements. Our word creates a bond with another person.  Personal honor and reputation are now at stake.

The following five simple, but profound, practices describe what such a system would actually look like:

(1)  Make requests and offers, not assignments. Clarify roles involved in this action – some one person is the performer and some one person will be recipient/customer for the delivery.  This practice is not limited to hierarchical roles; requests go down, up, and sideways throughout the organization.  This is the step that sets up the conversation for action between two people.  Others are/may be stakeholders and observers but let’s be clear on who is being asked, or who is offering, to deliver what to whom.  It’s personal!

(2)  Make clear agreements. Clarify expectations and negotiate commitments.  Say no if you mean no; unless you can say no, there is not the possibility of a committed yes.  This is the part about “saying what you’re going to do”.

(3)  Keep communications going between the requestor and the performer throughout the delivery stage.  Stuff happens along the way.  Agreements are not guarantees, but agreements must be honored.

(4)  Present the deliverable explicitly, i.e. the performer says “here is what I said I would deliver” or “this is why I could not deliver”.  This is the essence and evidence of accountability.

(5)  Last, but by no means least, the recipient/customer must acknowledge and assess the delivery.  Honesty and truth demand an assessment as to whether the delivery met the original expectations.  Answering the question – were you satisfied? – completes the cycle and assures closure.  This underutilized practice is the minimum quid pro quo to the effort of the performer and serves to represent the customer’s accountability to honor the agreement.  Moreover, these are often the “golden moments” when feedback can enhance both future performance and trust.


We have colluded to make task delivery conversations vague and impersonal.  Our common work practices are packed with inefficiencies that dilute personal accountability.  We need to get back to basic fundamentals by saying what you’ll do and doing what you say.

Eight Game Changing Ideas – Reflections on Games People Play at Work

Assigning and managing work tasks involves some well-worn “games people play”.  If you look closely, you discover these games can interfere with efficiently accomplishing the task-activity.  Here are 8 ways to use simple task management to change the games, increase commitment and boost performance.

The term “game changer” is in vogue and there is a great buzz surrounding this idiom.  What does this term mean and what situation, term, idea or person qualifies as being a real game-changer?  For this article I will use the term literally by describing the Old game and the New game.  Anyone can debate the significance of what constitutes a change, but I will be as definitive as possible about what game is being changed.

The context for these ideas revolves around the “games people play” with each other about getting stuff done in an enterprise:

—  how tasks are assigned and collaborated upon,

—  how customers and vendors work with each other,

—  how project managers relate to their team, and

—  how leaders lead and followers follow.

The eight ideas expressed below are not fluffy industry speak, like “build more trust”, or “increase accountability”, or “pay for performance”, etc.  I often encourage these approaches as well, but the concepts listed below are all executable.  They relate to specific behaviors and tools that can be tangibly implemented and observed.  One can tell at a glance whether the parties are playing the old game or a new one.

Each can be individually implemented, or can be co-jointly applied to good advantage as complementary behaviors in an entirely new game.

1.  Ask, Don’t Tell

  • Old Game: The project manager assigns tasks to a team member(s) along with desired delivery dates.  The performer(s) is expected to hit the assigned dates or face consequences.
  • New Game: The project manager describes a task and ASKS the intended performer(s) if and when the task can be successfully delivered.

To accomplish a task, one party (the customer or manager) makes a request of another instead of assigning a task.  Putting a person’s name next to a task does not equal real commitment to fulfillment. Making a request presumes a more egalitarian relationship between the requester and the performer (i.e. not a command-and-control management style).

2.  Performers negotiate delivery dates

  • Old Game: Delivery date is entered in the project plan or specified by the requester as the date they need it done by.
  • New Game: The performer responds to the request by clearly stating if and when the requested task can be delivered.  Counter-offers are commonplace.

The performer engages in a negotiated agreement (including the ability to decline or counter-offer).  The ability to say NO enables a performer to make a committed YES. Moving from task assignments to a two-way agreement that is explicit and public encourages added discretionary effort by the performer to deliver on time.

3.  Response required

  • Old Game: Manager says “I sent out the request, but have yet to receive any response.”  Staff person replies: “I received the new task email from my boss, but I do not want to do it so I will delay or not respond and see if he brings it up again.”
  • New Game: Performer provides an explicit agreement, negotiates an alternative, or declines the request, and each party knows exactly where the negotiation stands and who has the ball for the next action.

The intended performer provides an explicit response to a work request or task.  No more unanswered emails.

4.  Track dialogs in context

  • Old Game: The twists and turns, shifting priorities, and new information encountered along the way that ultimately affects task delivery is lost in a myriad of emails, chats, text messages, and voice mails.
  • New Game:  Every comment and stage of the dialog is captured and available for immediate reference and future review.  Each party contributes and creates a comprehensive record of events, activities, issues, and deliverables.

The real performance lever is the quality of the dialog between the requester and the performer. This is where relationships are built and maintained. The complete dialog thread, in context of who said what to whom, provides new insights into execution details.  As the task or project progresses there is a defined and viewable documentation which can be analyzed and used to learn and mentor the individual as well as the team.

5.  Close the loop

  • Old Game: Performers “slide in” partial deliveries in a haphazard fashion and managers do not formally accept or evaluate their satisfaction with the outcome.
  • New Game: Performers explicitly assert they have a made a delivery in response to a specific request, and managers explicitly accept, acknowledge and assess the result.

Deliveries should be made explicitly and actually accepted and acknowledged by the requester. How satisfied was the requesting manager/customer with the outcome and the deliverable?

6.  Track commitments

  • Old Game: “I have a general idea of the promises I have made, but I regularly forget something along the way.  I do not maintain or update a comprehensive list of all my commitments”.
  • New Game: “I do not lose track of my commitments to others, and therefore my reputation is backed up by hard data.  I know exactly where I stand with all my commitments”.

Keep track of commitments you have made to others and those that others have made to you.  A promise-keeper builds trust and reputation.

7.  History matters

  • Old Game: After the task is completed it falls off the Gantt chart without any memory of how it turned out or what transpired along the way.
  • New Game: A detailed record of all requests, tasks, and deliverables is preserved for mid and post project analysis and review.  Everyone has something to learn from.

Keep an historical record of past conversations and deliveries.  What approaches, policies and best business practices are deployed to capture past experiences and learn how to do it better next time? Break the cycle of past miscues and wasted efforts.

8.  Report performance metrics

  • Old Game: Managers write the annual performance review based on their general impressions and recent memory (e.g. last six weeks) of the employee’s performance.  Employees have no shared record of specific achievements and contributions they have made throughout the year.
  • New Game: Managers and employees have a detailed shared record of all the specific requests and deliverables including specific on-time delivery metrics.

Real metrics about personal and organization performance drive extraordinary improvements. No more performance reviews based only on limited memory of recent events.

The games people play at work no longer serve anyone well.  Forward thinking organizations looking to establish more effective and more powerful work norms will find that paying closer attention to the actual interactions between people will bring big dividends by improving commitment and productivity.