Communication General Internal Improvement Leadership

Recently, Bill Popp, President & CEO of the Anchorage Economic Development Corporation, reported to me that he was “all in” with putting the 7 Questions staff evaluation method and recommended job description format from Creating High Performers to work. He had recently completed a round of meetings with his staff using the Questions, and I was anxious to hear of his experience. Bill was able to make some great distinctions that I believe many leaders/supervisors would benefit from, so I want to share them with you.

First a brief background for those of you not familiar with the “7 Questions”. The 7 Questions is a tool I developed many years ago as a response to my learning (and stumbling) on the job how best to manage staff. It is a set of questions that a manager reviews with each staff member in lieu of a typical performance evaluation. The theory is that employees want to do a good job, but we as managers neglect to give them the proper tools to do just that. The 7 Questions get at which tools are missing and creates a pact between an employee and his or her manager on what is needed for them to excel at their job. For more information, visit the newsletters I wrote on the questions here or consider getting the book, Creating High Performers, that covers the questions in depth.

Here are Bill’s notes from his experience:

  1. Introducing the Concept: 

    Bill’s employees were expecting the standard evaluation they had received in prior years. They brought their self-evaluation into the meeting. So, Bill needed to change the context for the conversation. He employed the “Set the Context” dialogue laid out on pages 30-31 of the book and this seemed to work well. Basically, the dialogue explains the questions, the theory behind them and how they will be used as a new method of performance evaluation. It allows the employee to ask questions and makes sure both employee and supervisor are on the same page before the first of the seven questions is rolled out.

  2. Going Through The Questions Multiple Times:

    Despite urging honesty in setting the context, Bill found that employees were not completely forthright in their responses the first time through the Questions. As I talk about in the book, once you have been in a job for awhile, you tend to find the answers to these questions for yourself since the supervisors are not answering them for you as they should.Bill had to repeat the questions emphasizing again that he wanted to know if they were certain of his expectations, standards for performance, etc. Often, the second time through the Questions, “yes” turned to “somewhat” or even to “no”. A third time through the Questions got even more in the “somewhat” or “no” category.

    It is hard for employees to make the shift from thinking that a “somewhat” or a “no” answer is a criticism of one’s boss to it being a response to a sincere request from the supervisor for how can I better help you win. Such a view simply doesn’t follow their experience to date with supervisors.

  3. When to Move On to How to Get to “Yes”:

    Bill went through the Questions on the average 3 times with each employee before he thought he had the truth, i.e., that the employee understood the question and the intent to give help that is behind it. I would expect that to be normal for any supervisor/employee the first time through the questions.

    Only then did Bill circle back to each Question and begin a dialogue re. what would get to a “yes”. What this means is that, once the employee understands the intent of the question, what is needed, primarily from the supervisor, for the employee to give a “yes” answer.

  4. Introducing “Can’t Do” vs. “Won’t Do”

    As Bill dialogued with each employee re. expectations, performance standards and quality of feedback, gaps between his expectations and current performance arose. That is, where his standards for performance or feedback were not sufficient, he proceeded to fill in the blanks. This uncovered areas in which performance of the employee was not what Bill hoped for. As discussion continued on how to get performance up to those expectations, Bill introduced the “Can’t Do” vs. “Won’t Do” concept.

    “Can’t Do” vs “Won’t Do” is a description of a task that is not being completed from the employee’s perspective. Is it a task where the employee has all that is needed to complete the task, but they choose not to? That is a “won’t do”. Or is it a task that the employee wants to do, but is missing needed information or skills? That is a “can’t do”.

    An example of a “won’t do” was Bill’s expectation that employees put in extended hours to help the team when critical deadlines are approaching. An example of a blend of “can’t do” and “won’t do” was fear of networking or speaking before groups. These are “won’t do’s” in the sense that the employee was not performing in these areas out of fear but fear can be overcome with some coaching, so these are a blend. That is, the employee is responsible to try and the supervisor to coach.

  5. Consensus Points
    There were areas of agreement across all the employees that are worth noting:

    • These conversations were much more valuable than the former annual evaluations
    • The feedback in these sessions was much more precise and valuable
    • All agreed that feedback needed to be more frequent
    • Bill has agreed to meet regularly with employees going forward to continue dialogue on the Questions

Moving forward, Bill will be implementing the job description format described on p. 36-39 in Creating High Performers and in my last blog post. I will update on what is learned there in a future blog.