Editor's Note: This week's Thought Leader is Dick Grote, someone I consider one of our profession’s foremost thinkers on the topic of performance management. Dick is President of Grote Consulting Corporation and the author of many books, including Discipline Without Punishment, The Complete Guide to Performance Appraisal, Forced Ranking: Making Performance Management Work, and the upcoming (to be released by Harvard Business School Press in 2011) Performance Appraisals: Simple, Effective, Done Right. His books have been translated into more than a dozen languages, including Russian, Vietnamese, Arabic and Serbian. His articles have appeared in the Harvard Business Review and the Wall Street Journal.
Compensation Force: What led you to choose (or land in) a career featuring the field of employee rewards?
Dick Grote: Receiving my very first performance appraisal.
I received my first performance appraisal six months after I started as a management trainee at General Electric. It was brutally frank (and spot-on accurate) in pointing out the fact that I wasn’t doing a very good job. It provided the young kid I was then with a needed wake-up call, telling me that my school days were over and that tough, rigorous performance expectations were now in place. My boss’s straight-between-the-eyes candid feedback was the jolt I needed to get me to move out of the world of school and into the world of work.
Later I became an HR manager with United Airlines and then with Frito-Lay where I continued to receive performance appraisals every year from managers who took the process seriously and put a lot of effort into making those appraisals comprehensive and valuable.
Finally, as a consultant specializing exclusively in performance management over the past thirty years, I have worked with hundreds of companies, helping them create good performance appraisal systems and helping their managers use them well.
A few years ago I started a speech at a large HR conference with the words, “I have devoted my life to performance appraisal.” A man in the audience stage-whispered to the woman next to him loudly enough for me to hear: “There is a wasted life.” Perhaps, but I couldn’t be happier with having wasted my life in this field.
Compensation Force: What person and their ideas/teaching/writing has had a significant influence on your thinking and your work?
Dick Grote: Initially it was B. F. Skinner and his concept of behavior modification. What an elegantly simple idea: Those things that you reward, you get more of; those things that you punish you get less of. What a blinding flash of the obvious.
Then I discovered Fred Herzberg and his Motivation-Hygiene theory, which I still think explains 90 percent of all we need to know about motivation.
Recently, Dan Pink’s research on motivation — that motivation is a function of autonomy, challenging work, mastery, and making a contribution — confirms what Herzberg found sixty years ago.
Compensation Force: Is there a book you’d recommend to others in the reward field that has impacted your thinking and your work?
Dick Grote: Dan Pink’s Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, and Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers are well worth reading.
But there are two books, old books, that should be resurrected. The first is Bob Mager’s Analyzing Performance Problems: Or, You Really Oughta Wanna, originally published in the 1960s. It’s long since out-of-print but can easily be found on the marvelous Abebooks.com used-book website for under five dollars.
Finally, I’d recommend A Message to Garcia by Elbert Hubbard. It’s over a hundred years old, and nothing I have ever encountered better expresses my belief in the importance of courage, individual responsibility and doing what needs to be done. Written in 1899, it’s only two dozen pages long and has never been out of print. I send a copy to each of my clients at the close of every engagement.
Compensation Force: Looking to the future, what trend or development do you think will significantly impact the reward profession and those of us working in it?
Dick Grote: I think the trend or development that unfortunately will have a significant negative impact on our future is the drift toward unnecessary complexity. I see this in my specific field of performance management, notably in the move to web-based appraisal systems.
Web-based systems can offer significant benefits. But they also add a significant level of complexity, particularly with the growing trend by vendors to offer not just a performance appraisal “solution,” but a whole suite of software products that are claimed to integrate such processes as compensation, succession planning, leadership development, learning management, competency development, and other pieces of the whole talent management process.
Buyer’s remorse is not uncommon in companies following the major expenditure and organization disruption required to evaluate, select, bring in, set up, install, and train managers and administrators in using these complicated systems that are supposed to bring simplicity and ease of administration. I know of several organizations that have spent a great deal of money to purchase a vendor’s online performance appraisal software product but after two or three years of paying their yearly license fee have never actually set the system up and got it running.
Compensation Force: What are you currently working on?
Dick Grote: Right now I’m hard at work on the final revisions to my new book Performance Appraisals: Simple, Effective, Done Right.
I spent all of September writing the manuscript and sent it to my editor at the Harvard Business School Press on October 1. Just last Friday I got an email from her with the comments from Harvard’s editorial board and the five peer reviewers that they asked to evaluate the manuscript. (All Harvard Business School Press books are peer-reviewed, and those anonymous peer-reviewers are tough.) I’ve just finished going over all of their multi-page comments, and they are all very enthusiastic.
Unlike the other books I’ve written, this one is aimed directly at working managers and supervisors, and not at compensation professionals, HR managers, or senior executives. Here’s my statement of the purpose of the book, taken from the Introduction:
In other words, this is a book for managers and supervisors — people who have to direct the performance of others and do all the tasks that an organization’s performance appraisal process requires. I hope the book is helpful to HR professionals and training specialists and senior executives, but they are not this book’s primary audience. My goal for this book is to give supervisors and managers who aren’t HR experts a solid guide to handling performance appraisal at an Exceeds Expectations level.
Given this large audience, we all expect the book to do very well.
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Our special thanks to Dick for participating in the Compensation Force Thought Leader series and taking the time to share some of his history, thoughts and ideas with us today!
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