Tim on Leadership

Musings on Management and Leadership from Tim Parker

Assessing Yourself

I am a huge proponent of assessments for my team members (that's the subject of another posting), as they measure each person's progress towards a set of goals, professionally, personally, and for the company.  And yet, assessments of the leaders and executives of the companies is something that is seldom done.  If it is done, it can be a frustrating exercise too, because we're all from different departments and have little except social interactions to judge each other by.  But then, that too is another posting.

I have developed a routine over the years to provide myself with assessments, and I tend to do them every six months (as I do employee assessments every six months, although I tend to do my own assessment out of phase with the employee assessments for convenience).  These assessments take three forms: formal feedback, informal feedback, and personal feedback.  Each is important to help me do my job, and support my company and my team, as well as possible.

Formal feedback to the executives of a company from the employees is pretty rare.  In all the companies I've been involved with, only two have actually provided this sort of feedback (often called 360 degree feedback because when I assess my team, they assess me).  Formal feedback is sometimes very useful, but also sometimes not.  The positive side is when certain points I may have overlooked or judged not important arise from several sources, showing that I either need to correct something in my behaviour to the team, or that I misjudged the importance of some factor.  (Note that we're talking about specifics about my leadership of the team, not other factors about the team such as parties and free Cokes!)  The negative side of formal feedback is it can be used as a venting mechanism, especially when the feedback is anonymous.  (For the record, I think anonymous feedback has a place, but has to be taken with a grain of salt as people will say things anonymously that they would not when attributed: this is both good and bad.)  General vents about interactions with the team can be useful, but also sometimes simply show a small number of individual's dissatisfaction with their job and needs to be taken in context.  Still, I welcome formal feedback mechanisms from my team, especially smaller teams where I interact a lot more than large teams, and think it's an important gauge of how the team sees me.

Informal feedback is something I do with most of my team leads and selected individuals.  This takes the form of a meeting either in my office or somewhere external over a coffee, and usually takes the simple form of "how am I doing?" and "what could I do better?" questions.  While some of the people I talk to will be careful what they say and perhaps not be totally honest, the vast majority seem to welcome the opportunity to be open and offer comments.  Of course, they have to trust that I will accept what they say openly and not be vindictive, and that all comes back to trust, which builds the longer you are in the company and the longer you interact with the people there.  When an individual does select their words carefully, it's obvious there's something they are getting at but can't find a non-negative way to say it, so I will often try to draw that out.  These informal feedback sessions tend to be very useful, and I enjoy doing them.  I think the people I talk to in these sessions also welcome the opportunity to talk to me, and when they see some changes because of their comments it sets up a very strong feeling that their opinions are welcome and accepted.

The personal feedback is something I do every six months or so.  When I start at a company, after a month or two to learn everything I can, I set a number of goals for myself and the team to accomplish.  These tend to be of two types: specific company-oriented goals, and personal goals.  For example, I may set a goal of getting a particular project out the door in 9 months, or improving the quality of a software project to reduce the number of outstanding bug reports by 50%, or adding ten useful new features to our software.  These are all goals that the team embraces and that drives us to a common goal.  The personal goals are things for both me and the team, like better understanding some technology I didn't understand enough about when I started, ensuring I make sure the salaries of the team are normalized and competitive, developing stronger team morale, and ensuring I review every piece of code that leaves the team.  Then, every six months, I look at the previous set of goals and see which are completed (that's good!), which are ongoing (could be good or bad) and which I failed at (bad!) and work to set a whole new set of goals.  By constantly pushing myself to learn more, contribute more, help develop my teammates more, and generally enhance the company value as well as justify my salary, I find I tend not to become complacent and bored.

There's always something new to learn.  Whether it's dealing with a specific issue differently, or learning something brand new, setting goals is the way to measure progress for yourself and ensure your team and your company get the very best they can expect from you.  Never give less than your all.  To do so is cheating.