by Steve Benfield
Senior Director, Corporate Communications and Creative Director
SAS Institute Inc.
Most performance management systems focus on tasks and outcomes, clarifying what each individual needs to do or deliver, and what is the result. This is important. After all, that’s why we are employed. There is work to be done, and results are required.
However, for a creative team—and arguably for every employee— there is a critical dimension missing from the above simplistic approach to performance management. It’s the measure of behavior. You’re probably thinking, behavior…we’re not in grade school anymore!
Think about it this way: If you’ve been in a creative team leadership role for any period of time, you’ve probably seen a creative team member or client that works like a bull in a china shop. Such individuals may achieve the required results, but they leave a path of destruction along the way…including ”ticked-off” colleagues, stretching the truth or downright lying to get what they want, playing the name-dropping game to jerk people around or misstating the priority to get it their way now.
I suspect you’re nodding your head in agreement and probably visualizing someone’s face right now.
A great creative team requires great collaboration among team members and with clients. Great collaboration is based on trust, mutual respect and cooperation…ah, yes—behavioral-based attributes. If this is required, then it has to be measured with performance feedback given to the individuals on the team.
So if behavior is part of the equation, how do we account for it when communicating performance feedback? Since we’re a visual bunch, let’s consider using a visual method. One way I’ve found that works well with our team is to use a two-dimensional grid to communicate results, placing what we call Productivity/Quality on the vertical axis and Behavior on the horizontal axis.
Let’s examine the grid for a moment. This nine-by-nine (9×9) grid is subdivided into nine 3×3 spaces and allows us to label the grid in such a way to help explain the performance level in each dimension—Productivity/Quality and Behavior. The assigned labels are: Needs Improvement, Meets (Expectations) and Exceeds (Expectations).
Keep in mind that this system is providing structure to the art of performance management. As much as we would like to think this can be a completely objective process, I have yet to find a system that is completely objective without spending a significant amount of overhead in measuring every thing a person does…daily! And even then, I believe a certain level of subjectivity and judgment still has to be applied.
Let’s define Productivity/Quality and what it means to Need Improvement, Meet or Exceed in this area. In general, Productivity/Quality is a relative—and to some degree a subjective—measure of the overall output-level (production) and the quality of the work assigned to the individual.
Why do I say “relative” measure? You have to think about the job level of the person who is being measured. For example, your work assignments for a new graduate designer will be simpler and more structured than what you will give to the most experienced and accomplished designer. Therefore, your expectations of the speed and quality of the work from the seasoned designer are higher than that of the new graduate. In other words, the measure is relative to what is expected, given one’s experience and the complexity of the work assigned. This allows for the new graduate and the art director to receive the same performance ratings using the method being described here.
Back to defining the Productivity/Quality dimension. If this dimension is a relative, subjective measure of production level and work quality (given the types and complexity of the projects and tasks assigned for the job level), then here is a list of things to think about when assessing this performance dimension:
• Think about the quantity of work, the quality of the work produced and the amount of errors or rework that is required to finalize the work.
• Think about the level of complexity and difficulty for the individual as compared to all the work your team does (another “relative” assessment).
• Think about the individual’s ability to work with respect to the direction provided, the level of ambiguity and one’s ability to keep the work moving forward, seeking help when needed.
• Think about the overall impact of the work completed. Ask the question, did it advance the business being supported? You can also think about it this way: If the work had not been done, who would care and why?
How do we determine what constitutes the three different levels— Exceeds, Meets or Needs Improvement—for productivity/quality?
• Exceeds range: productivity and quality of work most often or always exceeds expectations relative to what’s typical for the type of work and for the job level within the creative team.
• Meets range: productivity and quality of work typically or always meets expectations, or occasionally exceeds expectations relative to what’s typical for the type of work and for the job level within the creative team.
• Needs Improvement range: productivity and quality of work never or seldom meets expectations relative to what’s typical for the type of work and for the job level within the creative team.
Behaviors are also relative and somewhat subjective. We define this measure as the level of adherence to operational and departmental norms for work behaviors, which include, but are not limited to:
• Communication with clients and colleagues in a timely and effective manner that fosters cooperation, accuracy, goodwill and productive teamwork.
• Demonstrated a global or big-picture understanding of who is affected by the individual’s work and decisions.
• Demonstrated commitment to keeping interested parties informed, seeking input or approval when appropriate.
• Adherence to department procedures and norms. This includes such tasks as keeping one’s manager, colleagues and clients informed when out of the office, accurately tracking time worked on a project and treating others with respect during brainstorming sessions or meetings
Departmental procedures and norms should be defined and communicated to everyone in the department. If this isn’t already in place for your team, then stop here and do this before implementing a performance management system that has behavior measures.
By now, you might be thinking, “Wow, this seems so complicated.” In part 2, we’ll look at a specific example on how to apply this approach.
Steve Benfield, Senior Director, Corporate Communications and Creative Director at SAS Institute Inc. has led the creative team at SAS for the past six years. His team is a full service in-house creative team, responsible for print, online and out-of-home advertising, promotional and direct marketing campaign creative, trade show and event creative, product print and Web collateral, Web and interactive media design. Steve is also responsible for brand, visual identity and creative standards for the company.
SAS is the leader in business intelligence and analytical software and services. Customers at 43,000 sites use SAS software to improve performance through insight from data, resulting in faster, more accurate business decisions; more profitable relationships with customers and suppliers; compliance with governmental regulations; research breakthroughs; and better products and processes. Only SAS offers leading data integration, storage, analytics and business intelligence applications within a comprehensive enterprise intelligence platform. Since 1976, SAS has been giving customers around the world THE POWER TO KNOW®. SAS
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