There are few evils which contend in destroying a Culture’s Soul more than Workplace Drama.  This wicked fiend slithers throughout an organization leaving a trail of overwhelmed, frustrated and resentful people.  Rapidly, processes break down, tasks cease to be completed, and everyone is exhausted.  The fun, the pop, the trust of a team is supplanted with a focus stealing chaos that consumes the team’s lifeblood.  Many managers living with Workplace Drama are easily confounded and can lose faith in their passion.  Their Vision becomes clouded and they begin to give up the cause.

Dealing with Workplace Drama is one of the least rewarding parts of being a Leader. It has the potential to suck the life out of you, and to eradicate your motivation.  Often it leaves mangers wondering: “Why did I choose this career?” “I just don’t get it. What is everyone’s problem? Why can’t they just do their work? It’s like dealing with children.”

Occasionally people need to blow off some steam.  They huddle around the water-cooler sounding off about a particular boss or co-worker.  Mostly it is momentary harmless banter.  The water-cooler tête-à-tête provides an outlet or release which can be healthy venting in measured doses.  But when the line is crossed and your team becomes stirred up, immobilized, upset, unhappy and otherwise dysfunctional, you have a calamity on your hands.    The culprits will begin to withhold information, manipulate situations, steal ideas, or act helpless so that others will come to their aid and give them extra help. Individuals are depicted as fools or villains and all of a sudden, everything is a big deal to the point of exhaustion. Everything is elevated to crisis proportions.  And your boss is looking at you and wondering why you can’t keep your team “under control”.

Workplace Drama must be eradicated immediately before its malignancy spreads.  Unimpeded, Workplace Drama will scathe productivity and foster a detrimental effect on accuracy and quality.  It will dissect a Team’s unity and become the focus of their work activities and priorities.  Those directly involved in the drama will take their “eye off of the ball” and induce costly mistakes.  This time waster, founded in bad behavior, prevents everyone from being great.  It reduces everything you are trying to build.  Unless you are prepared and equipped to contend with Workplace Drama, it will draw you into it as well and denigrate your standing as a Leader.  As usual everyone knows the score, and they are waiting.  Waiting to see what you are going to do about it.

Let’s start off by gaining a basic understanding of Workplace Drama.  Believe it or not the Drama is a predictable plot with predefined roles.  The moves of the “Game” are always the same.  In 1968 Stephen Karpman developed the Drama Triangle as a psychological and social model of human interaction in transactional analysis.  Karpman’s Triangle conjectures three habitual role-plays which drama seekers adopt:

● The Victim – The person who is treated or accepts the role of being vulnerable

Victim’s Moto – “I’m Blameless”             Victim’s Need – Love

● The Persecutor – The person who pressures, coerces, or persecutes the Victim

Persecutor’s Moto – “I’m Right”              Persecutor’s Need – Power

● The Rescuer – The person who intervenes; ostensibly wishing to help the situation or underdog

Rescuer’s Moto – “I’m Good”                   Rescuer’s Need – Acceptance

The Victim appears depressed, fearful, needy, having low self-esteem and looking for help or answers from others.  The Victim’s nemesis, the Persecutor, finger points, finds fault, has angry outbursts, a lack of compassion, clams perfection and judges others.    And the Rescuer demonstrates controlling tendencies, giving unwanted advice, over-extending, taking on other people’s problems while trying to be the hero.

Karpman explains a game of “con” and “hook” setting off a “switch” and finally the “payoff”.  The moves continue as the drama progresses.  In this Drama Triangle the players act out an unstable and emotionally competitive “mind game” which generates misery and discomfort for each other.  The covert purpose for each ‘player’ is to get their unspoken (and frequently unconscious) psychological wishes and needs met in a manner they feel justified, without having to acknowledge the broader dysfunction or harm done in the situation as a whole

Important in Karpman’s observations is the occurrence of the players frequently switching roles as the game progresses.  The drama plays out with the protagonist starting off in one of the three main roles: Rescuer, Persecutor, or Victim, with the other principal player (the antagonist) in one of the other roles. As the drama game progresses the two players move around the triangle switching roles, so that for example the victim turns on the rescuer, or the rescuer switches to persecuting.  Perhaps the victim goes on the offensive and begins to persecute the persecutor who then becomes the victim.  And it goes round and round.  That is, until you step up and do something about it.

So now that you realize this is a game with predetermined roles and routines, you can stop the insanity before it demolishes your team.  Your first move is a preemptive strike.  You need to firmly set the expectation in every team member’s mind that you will not tolerate “Drama”.  This should be one of your compulsory attributes for being on the A Team.  It should be discussed in Company Meetings, Team Meetings and Individual Counseling Sessions.  Make it crystal clear that you have a “No Tolerance” policy towards Workplace Drama.  Openly denounce gossip and backstabbing as inexcusable actions.  And let it be known the perpetrators, regardless of the drama role they choose, will be dealt with with severely.

Next identify your Drama Queens (or Kings).  These are those in your organization who reveal a penchant towards adopting one of the three drama roles.  In fact, they may even go further and want or need to play out the roles.  The drama queen may be a neurotic and self-centered perfectionist.  Often they are considered to be exceptionally talented, but this is not always the case.  A drama queen may be jealous or envious of others, which can make any personal failings even more painful and trigger irrational thoughts of revenge.  In a drama queen’s world, people can be either with her or against her; there are no stages in between.  The Drama Queen or King collects followers with similar proclivities and initially holds court to entertain while attempting to pull them into the game.

While a drama queen might find her forceful personality and manipulation skills useful in some situations, her inability to control her emotions and to form meaningful relationships creates a liability for you if left unchecked.  Watch your drama queens and kings for sign of instigation.  Understand the situations that will launch them into action and anticipate their play.  By thinking ahead of these divas, you will be able to control the outbreak when it happens.

In managing a drama situation, begin by ensuring you are not a participant in the drama.  Check yourself against the roles and objectively remove your emotions from game-play.  Karpman’s theory states that if you play one role, you eventually play them all. But here is the biggest eye opener of all. If you are in the midst of interpersonal challenges and you still can’t identify your part, then you are in the middle of the triangle, and that is called denial.  Know that you stand on firm ground as a Tough Leader, and you can act with integrity and authority.

Once the game is on, commence your counter attack by bringing the entire Team together.  They too, have been witness to what is going on and know far more than you about the situation.  In your meeting, treat the group as a whole.  Do not deal with the drama players specifically.  Re-establish your “No Drama” expectations and restate your no tolerance policy.  Show your dissatisfaction with the lack of teamwork in solving the current situation (without going into the details).  Reinforce to everyone that time and money is being wasted with destructive personal agendas.

Now pay attention. One of your drama players is going to try and put their issues on the table to justify them.  Your Victim is going to start off with, “Well, I just don’t think its fair when…” or your Persecutor is going to start with a direct attack or your Rescuer is going to try and make peace.  You know the game and you’re ready for it.  They are trying to drag you into it.  Now shut them down hard!  Firmly state that you are not going to get into the details of the situation.  Instead, the Team is going to reaffirm rules of behavior to go forward with.  Make clear the Team’s need for functionality is your priority and not an individual’s claim on righteousness.  Then lead the Team in developing “Rules of Engagement” for the Team.  Write them on the board for everyone to see.  Facilitate a healthy outcome by focusing on principles of respect and honesty.   Specifically discuss and agree as to how conflict situations will be handled going forward.  Starting now!  Usually they determine to first try and work out a problem directly between themselves and then elevate to management if this does not work.  You need to make sure the result is that they talk with the person they are having the problem with or they talk to you.  They are not allowed to talk to anyone else regarding their complaint.  Stress this rule!

You would think in our current world of tolerance, collaboration, and “can’t we all just get along” philosophy that this would be the end of it all and everyone would go back to work and progress.  Not even close.  In fact, I don’t ever remember one of these meetings working out.  So why did you go through all of that?  Because, remember, it is game and you are playing.  The meeting was you move to set up the final play.  Your winning play!  You didn’t take sides, you didn’t mediate, you didn’t get emotional, and most importantly you didn’t join the drama game.  All you did was establish proper standards for conduct.  After all, the issue at hand is distinct from the bad conduct of Workplace Drama.  Now sit back and watch for a few weeks.  One of your drama players will recidivate.

It is time for you to pounce into action.  Now you set up a meeting with the offender.  Get ready.  They will come armed to plead their case on the merits.  As they embark on their reasoning, let them know you are aware of the situation and you are handling it.  But this is not the purpose of the meeting.  You want to talk to them about their unacceptable conduct.  They are disregarding the company’s “No Drama” policy, they are breaking the Team “Rules of Engagement”, and they are a problem to you.  Acknowledge the difficulties they are having with the situation or the person, but reiterate the proper way to deal with those problems is not through divisive backroom games.

Look them straight in the eye.  Are you ready to win this game they want to play?  Tell them directly and honestly that they will lose their job if they do not put an end to the drama.  Let them know that if they continue to threaten the culture, productivity, and teamwork of your Team you are going to fire them.  Explain this is not a time sensitive issue and you expect their attitude and behavior to change starting tomorrow.  End your session by reinforcing their value to the organization and your hope that they will take your honest warning seriously.  Check Mate!  Whatever path they choose to take, you have eliminated them as a drama player.  And everyone else watched you fortify a key value of the company.

Workplace Drama can steal your company’s soul and dishearten your personal drive.  It damages everyone associated with it and renders poor performance results.  In the end it drives a stake through the culture and any ability to have fun.  A Street Smart Leader shuts down the drama game, sets the tone of personal accountability, respect, choice, and principled behavior in the organization and work culture.  He protects the value of trust which allows people to grow and excel.


At some point in a career every manager has his authority challenged.  Typically the challenge comes towards the beginning of a new relationship with an employee.  But if it is not successfully dealt with, it can last for years. These encounters come in different forms and with varied methods.   Such contests are completely demoralizing and can leave many managers with self-doubt and asking themselves why they are in management in the first place.  Learning to deal with the undermining of these challengers is a survival skill of a Street Smart Leader.

First, let’s define when a challenge is a problem.  It is perfectly acceptable for people to challenge your ideas and methods in a professional and respectful way.  You should promote an open atmosphere which encourages vigorous and passionate debate regarding the best strategies and practices for your business. Healthy combative interaction in the arena of ideas makes them stronger and increases the likelihood of their success. A good Leader will learn to facilitate these discussions with astuteness and confidence in order to get the most out of a high performing team.  We are also not talking about someone who just makes a mistake and is out of line.  A good leader takes the higher road here.  He pauses the conversation or activity, creates an uncomfortable moment, then continues and let’s this one pass. 

When someone questions your authority on an ongoing basis, they are purposefully sabotaging your existence. They are rebuffing your ideas on the basis of rejecting your rightfulness to oversee them.  For whatever reasons they have decided, “You are not the boss of me.”  But you are and they just don’t like it.  Maybe they believe they should be the boss or maybe they want you to prove yourself or maybe they just have psychological blocks. Regardless of the reason, they are planning to undermine your effectiveness.  You are in Street Fight!

Their number one weapon in this battle is your inaction.  They are counting on the presumption that they are too clever, or that you will avoid confrontation, or that they can build an unassailable coalition.  They plan to diminish your power by ignoring your authority. They are counting on you forfeiting your power and allowing them to subsist.  Power is not lost it is relinquished. 

This point was driven home to me years ago while I was attending a charity dinner event.  The draw that evening was that business leaders were able to enjoy dinner with Professional Athletes at the table while we watched the program.  I am not one who is easily star struck, but still I attended as a part of our Executive Team.  Not knowing who he was, I found myself sitting next to Pete Vuckovich.  I quickly read the program and realized he had been a Cy Young Award winning baseball pitcher who had played in the World Series.  As I saw those at my table engaged in lively conversations with these sport’s idols, I wondered what I could say to Mr. Vuckovich.  I was far from a baseball fan and not really interested in his celebrity.  However, I didn’t want to miss an opportunity with a real Pro who was once at the top of his game. 

After some awkward silence as dinner was being served, I finally leaned over and asked, “Pete, do you mind if I ask you a question?”  He graciously smiled and replied, “Sure. Go ahead.”  I continued, “Have you ever stood on the pitching mound … against such a formidable opponent, who was on such a hot hitting streak, that you didn’t want to throw the ball?”  Mr. Vuckovich began to transform in front of my eyes.  As he lunged to within four inches from my face, his 6’4″, 220 lb frame and full Fu Manchu moustache took on an intimidating and intense bearing.  His eyes were penetrating and his posture was snarling like a charging bull on the brink of losing self-control.   Seconds seemed an eternity. He almost began shaking when he grabbed my arm and squeezed.  Then without raising his voice, almost in a whisper, he bursted, “Why would I be afraid.  I’m the one with the f—ing ball!”  Later I learned how Pete Vuckovich was famous for his intensity and competitiveness.  That night I learned what it meant to not resign your power.

Not if, but when, you find yourself in this predicament there are a couple of overall guidelines to follow.  Most importantly, you must remain “cool-headed”.  You cannot become emotionally reactive and let the perpetrator push your buttons.  You are in a battle for credibility and the fastest way to lose it is to over-react to a situation.  Be committed to defeating your challenger, but make sure you let them escalate each level of the interaction.  It is never long before such a contest enters the public square, so your boss will be evaluating your actions.  He will be watching to see if you are in any way “going after” the employee to settle your own grudge.  It is important for you to demonstrate the truth of your reluctance to participant in this conflict.  Make sure you are on solid ground. 

When someone is continually challenging your authority they provide many opportunities to make themselves look bad.  You don’t have to take them on at each one.  Wait for the battles where you are on firm unquestionable ground.  Be patient and be right – chose winning conflicts with which to discredit your opponent.  In truth, it is difficult not to be emotional when under this kind of attack.  It is personal but your emotions will work against you.  This is a time to “out-think” your opponent.

Usually their tactics fall into one of two general buckets: Direct Confrontation or Indirect Manipulations.  If you are to defend against these tactics, you must be able to recognize them and counter attack with veracious action.

Direct confrontations take several forms.  They include obvious hostile behaviors such as rudeness, inappropriate complaining, sarcasm, and insubordination.  Less visible, but just as aggressive, are the plots of backstabbing and gossip which are designed to build a collective resistance.  Direct confrontations are usually exploited by the arrogant.  They believe they are either “untouchable” or that they will gather support from others which will corroborate their bad behavior and disentangle you.  They are bullies and they are counting on you to avoid the confrontation.

As a Leader, you need to meet this confrontation head-on.  The trick is to do it in a way that is non-confrontational.  They are baiting you with their bad behavior and setting the trap.  The mistake many managers make in this situation is to react and take the bait.  They make a spectacle of the situation drawing the attention to their own behavior.  The over-reaction replaces the bad behavior as the topic among employees, peers and their boss.  Instead, you must have a plan thought out and be ready to execute it in an ultra-professional way.

Let’s look at a few examples of the Direct Confronter:

1.)    Take the person who challenges your authority in a meeting with sarcasm or anger.  You are sure this is no mistake and you have been waiting for it.  Instead of taking the bait, you stop the meeting with silence and allow that uncomfortable moment to sit with everyone and then continue the meeting.  Just before the meeting adjourns, while everyone is still seated, you look directly at your offender and calmly say, “Dennis, I’d like you to stay for a few minutes.” Be prepared, for he will most likely tell you how he can’t because he has something urgent to do.  With your eyes focused on his, tell him this will only take a moment and to please sit down. Watch everyone’s faces as they get up leaving Dennis sitting in the room.  Then you handle Dennis’s misconduct in an ultra-professional manner.  With no emotion, you point out how his behavior was unacceptable and that it will not be tolerated in the future.  Let him know if it does happen again, he will be asked to leave the room immediately.  If this happens again, you are on very firm ground and can begin replacing Dennis.

2.)   Having successfully shut Dennis down in a way that curbs his public grandstanding, you can next expect Dennis to concentrate on building his collective through backstabbing and gossip.  Backstabbing is most effectively put into play by going around you to your boss and complaining.  Nothing can be as upsetting as when you realize this is going on and your boss is listening to your adversary behind closed doors.  In today’s world of “open door” policies this is a predictable route for them to take.  Well since it is predictable, you will have a plan.  Whether or not your boss initiates a discussion with you, let him know you think it would be good for the three of you to get together and discuss Dennis’s unhappiness.  Dennis might relish the opportunity to “take you on” with the boss.  But you have chosen you battles carefully and you are going to focus the conversation on the indefensible – Dennis’s behavior and not on your ideas or style which he disagrees with.  Through your preparation, you make certain this meeting is about him.

After a few such interactions the Direct Confronter will lose credibility and will recognize your authority and the personal cost of challenging it.


Those who use Indirect Manipulation characteristically rely on “Passive Aggressive” tactics.  These tactics will usually manifest themselves as helplessness, procrastination, stubbornness, bitterness, moodiness, or deliberate and repeated failure to accomplish requested tasks for which one is responsible.  They do not disagree or confront you.  Instead they wear you down with friction and attitude.  They wage their war with deliberate actions of resistance which, individually do not justify a response from you.  With these employees you find yourself terribly frustrated and insecure.  The good ones are masters at making you think there is something wrong with you as a manager.  They accomplish their jobs proficiently enough to make any application of your management over them seem trivial and as if you are picking on them. 

Learn to recognize the manipulations of the Passive Aggressive employee and prepare yourself to again deal directly with them.  Let’s look at some passive aggressive situations:

1.)    Many passive aggressive employees constantly test your will by not following policies and procedures, but still get the job done.  They don’t agree with the rules and they are not going to follow them.  When you call it to their attention, they’ll say they forgot, or they will try and improve, or they don’t see why it is such a big deal, but okay.  Just like their confrontational counterparts, they are baiting a trap for you.  They have set you up for a false choice.  You either become upset with them and appear completely irrational by making a big deal over such a small thing or you let them off the hook not wanting to deal with it.  They are very good at knowing where the line is drawn and running right up to it.  As a Leader you must take on the passive aggressive with a deliberate, constant, non-wavering campaign.  You need to move the line back.  Keep your responses proportional and do not over react.  This doesn’t mean you let things slide.  You risk looking aggressive if you go after everything at once.  So again, pick your battles and fight them.  Concentrate on policies that are already being followed by everyone else without a problem.  This eliminates any controversy on the right and wrong of the matter.  Find several areas that you are going to enforce “every day”, from everyone, even if it kills you.  Set deadlines and follow-up on them.  You must “break” your passive aggressive employee methodically, consistently and relentlessly. Without any emotion, excitement, or drama. 

2.)   Once they lose this battle your passive aggressive will most likely fight back with a bad attitude.  Since they are passive in their choice of weapon they will not be openly disgruntled.  Instead they will choose moodiness, sulkiness, irritability or the like.  Even worse they may try apathy or setting up others for failure.  All of these are unacceptable and should be dealt with immediately.  A serious conversation in your office with them will fix it for a week.  They will be dismissive and defensive and they will again test your will.  Do not let them get away with it.  As uncomfortable and upsetting as these meetings are for you, rest assured, they are hell for the passive aggressive.  If they persist in forcing you to meet with them again and again, begin taking notes of the conversations right in front of them.  Make it clear that you would rather not escalate the situation, but if they insist on it, you are prepared to win.

If you are constantly dealing with authority challenges, you need to take a strong deep look at yourself and ask if you are the problem.  Otherwise, you must be prepared to take on the occasional Underminer.  They are dangerous to you, your team and your company.  They focus attention on themselves and detract from the goals your team is working so hard to accomplish.   Take notice, everyone is aware that the game is on and they are watching how you deal with it.  They are evaluating your Leadership capability in these situations.  If you can conquer adversity without becoming emotional and reactionary, your team will respect you.  Take your victories with grace and silence.  There is no need to showboat or strut.  Everyone has noticed what just transpired.  Remember no one wants to follow a Leader who can’t stand up for himself when he is right and win!  Play it Street Smart and as Pete Vuckovich taught me – don’t relinquish your power.  You’ve got the Ball – KEEP IT!

This week I received a question from a good friend Dave Denny, the entrepreneur of a great Contract Furniture business in the Bay Area, Inside Source.  Dave asked what I think of 360° Performance Reviews.  To answer that question, I have to talk about reviews in general.  Honestly, I can’t say I am a fan of the Performance Review. I wonder who even came up with this idea and somehow managed to get us all to buy into it year after year without question.  Somehow we adopted this process where we sit down with an employee once a year, find some way to rate their performance, and then give them a raise.  Does anybody really like Performance Reviews?  Does anybody think they make a real difference?

First of all, are we evaluating performance or determining how much to pay someone?  Are these the same thing or different?  Their connection during this process is tenuous at best.   For example, I have been at companies which have not handed out raises in a while.  Either they were successfully working an incentive program focused on performance bonuses or times were tough and they were holding the line on expenses.  Eventually, after a normalization period, the braver employees will start asking for a review.  They attempt to make management feel guilty for their “dereliction” to this “fundamental right” every employee has.  If this happens to you, make no mistake, they could care less about a review, they are asking for a raise.  And they know if they can get you to review them, they will get a raise.  Once you review the brave employee, word gets out and the rest will follow.  You just increased payroll 5% to 7% and have nothing to show for it.  When I sense someone trying this set-up on me, I immediately take them over to their manager’s office and sit them down, and before I close the door and leave, I tell the manager to take the next fifteen minutes and tell Joe exactly how he is doing and where he could be better.  You should see the look on Joe’s face when he realizes he isn’t getting a raise, but instead he is getting exactly what he asked for, a review.  Let that spread around the company.

But for now, Performance Reviews are a part of our reality so let’s deal with them.  They basically fall within three different methods:  Employee Ratings, MBO Systems, and the newer 360° Feedback.  Regardless which of these is used, you then have a whole myriad of different options regarding how to adjust compensation within them.  Then you need to decide timing issues (all at once, anniversary dates, etc.).  And remember, management sees a review as a method to gain higher levels of performance.  Employees see reviews as salary negotiations.  Each of these topics is an in-depth subject, but as a manager of the review process here is what you should know.


With its roots in the historic Xerox dynasty, the Employee Rating system has been used in almost every company at one time or another.  This system list different criteria deemed to be valuable and asks the manager to rate an employee on a scale from, usually 1 for unsatisfactory to 5 for excellent, in each category.  Categories can cover areas from work habits to skill levels.  There is sometimes a small section at the bottom for some comments regarding strengths and weaknesses and how an employee can improve during the next year.  The score is added up and then averaged and the employee finds out they are a 3.8.   The problem with this evaluation is its subjectivity.  Manager’s can’t really remember the in and outs of a full year’s of performance, so they are left to resort to scoring the employee based on how they feel today.  Is today a good day?

Next the manager knows his ratings will determine his group’s compensation and that he is often competing for available compensation increases against other departments.  This is compiled by the unintended consequence created in asking a manager to rate his group.  You are in effect asking them to rate themselves on an aggregate basis.  How can a manager being doing his job superbly if his group average is a 2.6.  So with the manager stuck between bringing home “pork” for his group and his own abstract evaluation, the game rigged for scores to average between 3.6 and 4.2.  That’s right; take out last year’s reviews and see if I am right.  So why do we need a five point scale? You really didn’t need a review to identify your 2.0 employee.  You already know they aren’t performing and the review process isn’t going to fix them.  As I discuss in, Building the A Team, they need to go and if you’re looking for the review process to help, you’re moving too slow on getting rid of them.

If you are using an Employee Rating system, I recommend you throw away those forms bought at the stationery store.  Replace the rating criteria with three sections: 1) How strong is the skill level of the employee as it pertains to doing an excellent job. 2) List your A Player Attributes and score the employee against them. 3) Increase the size of the comments section and spend your time here, writing how the employee can move to the Next Level (not just improve minor aggravations). Also have the employee self rate themselves prior to the meeting using your form.  This will help focus the discussion.

In the 1950’s Peter Drucker, management guru, developed the idea of Mannagement By Objectives or MBOs.  And somehow they became the basis for many company’s performance reviews.  The idea was to take out the subjective flaws in the Employee Rating system and determine measurable and time driven criteria for performance evaluations.  With a MBO Program, an employee is given five or six objectives and goals for each.  They are then scored after some set period of time to determine if the employee met, almost met, or exceeded the goal.  MBO Programs have the benefit of at least raising compensation for the attainment of goals and if set up properly, should advance your company.  But again, they have had their major problems.  First, employees quickly figure out they only need accomplish five goals to receive high review scores and raises.  This has received a great deal of criticism particularly at the Executive Level for often gaining only short-term results.  MBO Programs do not address the basics of someone’s job performance and they do not address whether the employee is an A Player.  Too many have figured out how to scam the system leaving managers with a bad taste after giving high scores to an employee who is marginal at best.  And then being told by HR, it is because they didn’t set the objectives right in the first place.  MBOs can become a fractionalized system where the general health of the company fails.

MBOs have their place.  They can be effective in implementing a specific program or when used in Change Management practices.  Sometimes the need to “change”, for the future health of the company, far outweighs daily job performance and MBOs can be a hammer to drive specific behavior.  If used, I prefer it for Incentive Plans rather than annual reviews.

With the flaws of these systems we have seen a new model espoused by consultants everywhere – The 360° Feedback.  So here’s your answer Dave, Yuck!  Who came up with this one?  A Leader is to set expectations based on what the business needs to accomplish in order to thrive. If he can not do this he fails.  Then the Leader needs to Build an A Team to achieve these expectations.  These are critical to your business’s survival and success.  Now you’re going to ask for the results to be evaluated by a consensus of the same group who is responsible for the results and give them more money based on their answers?

There are three basic usages of the 360°.  The first is a Peer to Peer review.  This is plagued with the politics of friendships, jealousy, power-plays and alliance building.  The process is conducted with the promise of anonymity creating a secret behind closed doors backroom scheme.  Am I the only one who thinks this sounds like and episode of Survivor or Big Brother?  I know the consultants will tell you it is only a part of the process.  Here’s a money-saving tip.  Spend the time you should, out of your office and among your employees and you will know how they “feel” about each other.  They still love to gossip about each other. You can then build this into the evaluation process however you want.

Secondly, we see the subordinate to manager 360° Review.  This one is to meant to ask Manager’s group how they “feel” about him.  The first question is, how well do the employees understand the job responsibilities, demands and expectations of their boss?  Have they read his job description? Did they set the expectations of his performance?  As a COO, I believe most employees have about a 10% awareness of what I do.  So rather than rating performance, this 360° can at best rate a manager’s accepted style.  Are you willing to put your manager’s performance in the background and make his style the priority?  This isn’t about becoming Homecoming Queen, save the popularity contests for something other than your business.  Use feedback to help, but as a Leader you must be able to accurately evaluate your manger’s performance – good and bad.  This is a battlefield necessity!

Sometimes customers are compromised into participating in this 360° process.  Just like floor time, someone needs to get in the car with your salespeople and see how customers are reacting to them.  Ignore the instinct to take over the sales call and just sit back and watch them.  You might find that sales results will tell you everything you need to know here.  And again, does it matter if you have a really popular salesperson that is at 50% of his goal?  If anything you would want a 360° from non-customers; those who chose not to buy from him.

The fact is that eventually an under-performing teammate will be exposed and executed by the team.  And someone with bad leadership style will fail.  Yes, even poor sales ability will surface with complaints and goals not being met.  But as a Leader it is your job to sit across from someone for whom you have set expectations and tell them how “you” have evaluated their performance and results.  If you can not do this, you will not have their respect and you are wasting time setting the expectations in the first place.  I believe in Tough Leadership and the 360° is a circumvention of one of those tough duties.  This is a moment of truth.  This is the eyeball to eyeball stuff that counts!

So what is the answer?  Start by making sure you are reviewing people all of the time.  Go back and read the One Minute Manager by Kenneth Blanchard and Spencer Johnson.  I know it is not a cool book anymore, but it still works.  When you see something good happen, talk about it … when you see something wrong happen, talk about it.  No one who works for you should need a review to know exactly where they stand at any given moment.  And the idea we are planning to do this once a year, sorry HR guys, is just preposterous and builds an environment of distrust.

If you are firing C Players, like you should, you will end up with an A Team.  Your focus shouldn’t be so much to review them.  They are still working with you because you have already reviewed them in your mind.  They are doing their jobs and have the A Team Attributes you need for success.   Your focus should be on Coaching and Leading them to the Next Level.  Instead of formally reviewing how well people are doing their jobs, create a Development Program.  Make it known that getting a 5.0 for doing your job is not the goal. That is the expectation!  The goal is to raise the level of your job’s contribution.  Start with a blank piece of paper and ask how this employee can bring in additional revenue or increase profit margins.  Ask what they can do to create new or additional value in their positions.  Then work on the game plan to get them there.  Do this across your entire group and you will see results that far exceed anything gained from performance reviews.  You will see a Best in Class Organization.


You may find some of the review methods I’ve discounted can actually work very well in a Development Program.  For example a MBO Program that restructures someone’s job for higher performance makes sense.  Or a 360° for a young manager who needs to develop a higher self-awareness to move to the next level is a good idea.  Reviews focus on the past.  Development Programs are future bound!

Still there remains the compensation side of things.  I don’t have the time to write my thoughts here, but let me ask this question. Why pay someone more money for doing the job you are already paying them for?  Make it clear to everyone that annual raises for doing your job really well will be at the market rate only (at best -10% to 2% these days).  Increases above this rate will be for bringing added value to the company.  You are going to pay people more for delivering more.  This is how your employees and your business will move forward together.  What a concept!

For the last twenty years the Review Process has been softened and watered down.  Management has been managed into worrying about being popular, political correctness, internal politics, and the pressures of entitlement.  These strains have encouraged many to avoid the confrontation and step back from one of the primary duties of a Leader; looking someone in the eye and evaluating their performance against the expectations which have been set.   Being a Street Smart Leader means you have to know when to step up!