performance management“Sudakow!! Bad pass!”
“Sudakow!! Keep your head up so you can see the play!”
“Sudakow!! Good box out on that rebound. That’s exactly what we want to see.”
“Sudakow!! You rotated too slowly there and they got a layup! We can’t give up layups!”

Yes that was life for me on my high school basketball team. If I did something wrong (which was frequently the case), I heard about it loud and clear right then and there. If I somehow did something right (mostly by pure luck), I also heard about it in the moment I did it. That was how performance was managed on my team and quite honestly every other sports team I played on through the years with varying degrees of yelling, of course.

But we in the corporate world manage performance differently. Given that we do this for thousands and thousands of employees all over the world, we must know better than my old ex-head coach, right? Let’s face it, Gary Popovich – or “Coach Popp” as we called him – didn’t even own a pair of long pants or a tie that we knew of and was a former member of the Washington Generals (the team that lost to The Harlem Globe Trotters 2,000 times in a row). So how could he possibly manage performance better than those of us who work in multi-billion dollar massive corporations?

Well, I’ve often imagined what my basketball experience might have been like if Coach Popp had managed my performance like we often do in the corporate world:

“Hi Sudakow. Take a seat. It’s mid-year review time. We are now 10 games into our 20 game season. I’m meeting with all of the players to talk about each of your individual performances throughout the first half of the season. As you know, we have a mid-season and end of season review process, so this is our first time during the season to provide feedback on how you are doing. I’ve been documenting things for the first 10 games and will share them with you now:

  1. You’ve been making the same bad read on your pass when breaking the press for the last 7 games. We actually lost 4 games because of it. You probably know which games I’m talking about – games five through eight. During those games, I took careful notes of what you were doing wrong so we could discuss them now at our formal mid-year review.
  2. Also, you keep missing the rotation on the zone defense, and the other teams are scoring easily on that. We’ve lost some big leads because of that the last 3 games in a row.
  3. I like how you are boxing out for rebounds. But your box out form is inconsistent, which is why you’ve had a few games where the other team has gotten around you for easy offensive rebounds. That has cost us a lot of points in those close games we lost because of it. I noticed several times where you were doing it right with good results – somewhere in our first few games if you remember those. Let’s focus on that during the second half of the season.
  4. Keep up the good hustle and energy.
  5. We’ll talk more after the next 10 games when we do our formal end of season review. If you can sign this document acknowledging this performance conversation, I can get it filed. Thanks, Sudakow.”

So uh, great. Sounds like I cost the team 5 losses. But at least I now know what I was doing wrong and can focus on that for the next 10 games. Hopefully, I’ll get those corrections right since I won’t have another discussion with Coach Popp until the end of the season.

Do any of us know any sports coaches who would withhold feedback from their players until half way through the season? Most of the coaches I know have trouble controlling themselves for the 30 seconds it takes to pull a player out of the game. But strangely enough, we as managers in the corporate world do often withhold much of our feedback from our teams until it is “mid-year” or “end of year” review time because that’s the process we have in place. It’s no wonder the Performance Management process is often one of the most complained about processes within a company. It’s late. It’s looking backwards. It seems to be less about managing and driving high performance as much as it is about tracking and documenting performance way after it happened.

So the big question might be whether my basketball performance improved because of Coach Popp’s real time feedback. Somewhat. But if I have to accept the painful reality, my limited improvements were solely due to my limited, or dare I say, complete lack of talent. Others with more natural talent than me improved greatly because they got the message about what needed to change or stay the same right away and within the context of the feedback being provided while it was still fresh in their minds.

I for one would have appreciated the real time, behavior modifying, in the moment, true performance management I got on my high school basketball team applied in the corporate world. Interestingly, despite being a culture shift for many companies, it’s not that hard to implement. We did something to get that going at a company I worked for years ago. After every meeting, we took five minutes to discuss what was good about it and what could have been better. We took actions based on it and contemplated how we replicated what was good and changed what wasn’t. Then we did it again at the next meeting. We got feedback right then and there and did something with it. Within a short period of time, we saw less of the stuff that wasn’t working and more of the stuff that was.

It was a good start. Who knew that Coach Popp was so smart?

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