Tag Archives: General Electric

Sharing Perspectives in a Diverse Workplace Holds Water

The newsletters I review each week recently contained two items that caught my eye.  One topic was inevitable for this time of year and one was unexpected.  Generally in December, managers are thinking about a number of year-end or annual tasks, so the article on year-end performance reviews was not a surprise.  I, however, was not familiar with the concept of reverse mentoring, although according to the recent Wall Street Journal article, another one from Foxbusiness.com and one from Forbes that appeared a full year ago, the concept has been around for about a decade and was championed by Jack Welch during his tenure as General Electric’s CEO.

Reverse mentoring – the idea that younger, less experienced workers can educate older, more senior employees – tends to be discussed in a framework of technology and/or social media and assumes that younger employees have more expertise in those areas than older workers.  The other commonly mentioned benefit of reverse mentoring is that it creates access to upper management (and their business experience) for employees who don’t normally have that opportunity.

My guess is that those ideas were truer a decade ago when the concept was first introduced than they are today.  I hope there aren’t too many of you who believe those things describe your organization or any organization where top performance is a daily focus.  Top performers aren’t likely to allow themselves to become technological dinosaurs or to find themselves reliant on junior staffers to manage important business trends.  Top organizations are also likely to encourage open communication and knowledge sharing rather than restrict the flow of information and ideas.

So even if the idea of reverse mentoring needs some updating, I’m not ready to accept the premise that “it is a gimmick” as Lance Haun says in his recent blog for TLNT.com. To me, Mr. Haun seems to be hung up on definitions and details that may have outlived their relevance.  I believe that the underlying idea that older, more senior employees might be able to learn something from other workers is still valid.

Perhaps Mr. Haun would be more receptive if the concept was redefined as a broader sharing of ideas and expertise among diverse members of a team or organization.  In some organizations, that concept might already exist under a different umbrella – we provide “cross training” for team members or groups regardless of seniority or experience so that we don’t lose expertise when a process specialist is away or leaves the company.  While that doesn’t exactly satisfy the original definition of reverse mentoring, I think it upholds the spirit of the concept.  We also hold brainstorming or problem solving sessions when faced with certain business challenges or opportunities and appreciate the value that different employees bring to the conversation.

I started this blog by stating that two items caught my attention recently – reverse mentoring and annual performance reviews.  While one was new to me and the other was routine, I came to see how they could blend and reinforce each other.  As a manager, when you are reviewing employee performance and setting goals for the coming year, it makes sense to identify targets for improving existing skills or learning new ones.  It might also make sense to pair up your younger workers with others who need reinforcement or training on critical department processes.  Whether you label it reverse mentoring or not, it’s a good idea to take advantage of the talent in your organization and the annual review process is a great time to set new goals and responsibilities for your team.

Nancy Lane, Director of Human Resources, Red Book Solutions

Ranking Top Performing Managers Means What?

Our company was presenting a program about improving the performance level of what we call “B” managers to more closely mirror the behavior of Top performing “A” managers to 7 different CEOs representing companies with multi-unit locations ranging from less than 10 to over 100.  What resulted was a lively discussion as to how you evaluate who your “A”, “B”, and “C” managers are.

What we heard varied from, “You know when you see them,” to “We measure them on a lot of different factors.” We discussed that good managers follow the systems in place, while the managers doing their own thing were not as successful.  We also heard that you may have an “A” manager in a “C” location.  A story was told about a location that was about to go out of business until they brought in a seasoned “A” manager. It became one of their highest profit stores. Unfortunately we did not reach a conclusion on how to best grade managers.

 This discussion made me think that maybe companies are struggling with management performance because they refuse to set simple and objective measurement criteria.  Jack Welch at GE was famous for setting up a 10-80-10 system where the bottom 10% got cut every year and top 10% would get special attention.  Nowhere in this system were there excuses or rationalizations about the manager.  If they performed they stayed, if they didn’t they were gone.  Very simple, very objective and, some would say, very harsh.   The question is, did it work?  Many people would say that it worked well.

So what measurement(s) should a multi-unit location company use to determine the performance level of a manager?  Each location has a multitude of variables to consider from demographics, footprint, facility condition, and competition, just to name a few.   Many believe that due to these variables there is no valid objective measurement.   Are these just excuses or rationalizations to not grade performance on an individual level?

Next, do managers who have a single simple objective measurement do better than managers who have a very complex system that allows for numerous variables?  Studies have shown that simple ,easy-to-understand measurement systems work the best as long as they are fair.  Can you select a single measurement system that is fair to everyone?  Jack Welch seemed to believe so and his businesses were in many different industries.  For a multi-unit operator, all your locations are basically the same and therefore, it seems that creating a fair measurement system would be inherently easier.

If you believe that this makes sense, there are many different measurements from return on sales, EBITDARreturn on invested capital, or 3-5 key metrics.   At Red Book Solutions we found that a  focused scorecard which measures 3-5 key metrics allows us to rate our employees and management team as “A”, “B”, and “C” performers. We then provide the appropriate resources to close the performance gap between the “B” and “A” players—thus increasing our field of top performers.

Once again the key is to make it simple, objective and to the greatest extent possible, make it fair.   You might find it easier to evaluate your managers and, just as importantly, your managers can easily evaluate themselves;  both for the sake of heightening your overall company’s performance around your core standards and initiatives.

Greg Thiesen, CEO, Red Book Solutions