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Rating The Supervisors

It's that time of year again. Time to do your annual self-rating and submit it to your boss, after which time you have a performance discussion, and after that you get a report card that you have to sign.

Personally I find the whole process utterly painful. Somewhat inefficient. Incomplete. Even degrading.

The real performance discussions happen all year round (or they don't) and you know what your boss is looking for from you. You know that you do well on some of those fronts, but certainly not all. It's like marriage: You may be the most devoted spouse in the world but then again you are the most irritating one, too. Especially when you leave the cap off the toothpaste no matter how many times they tell you to put it back on.

(For me it's the goddamn Outlook calendar.)

You know and your boss knows that there's a whole thicket of issues around writing the formal performance appraisal and you do this dance, saying and not saying, thinking and they're thinking, and the result is...well it is something. It's not clear what it is, but the words look like English written on a page.

A really good performance appraisal helps you, for sure. It's a piece of paper that says to somebody else, hey this person did a good job there, they've got value as an employee. Hire them.

You know that and so does your boss.

Conversely a bad performance appraisal, or even one that is nonchalant, doesn't do very much for your career...obviously.

So you really want that piece of paper to be good.

But you also want it to be honest. You do a lot of work during the year that the boss doesn't see, work outside your strict performance requirements probably, work that you innovated and which may or may not have seen a reward.

You want recognition. You want some respect. You want the people in charge to value you.

It's hard to say what motivates your boss. Maybe they care about your professional development. Maybe they're devoted to honesty and integrity, and want to capture something accurate about your positives and negatives as a staffer. Certainly they don't have a lot of time, because they have to do actual work in addition to managing you. And they don't want to have to argue later on about whether the appraisal was fair, or worse get into a legal tangle.

There is also the larger system to think of, of course: Both you and your supervisor are situated in a complicated web of reporting requirements. The paperwork has to be in on time, no matter what state of perfection it's in.

And the other thing. Nowhere in the system are you actually rating your supervisor.

Nowhere in the system is the supervisor pledging to perform against certain management metrics, and assigning key performance indicators and weights to those.

As a result, they can be the shittiest, most abusive, most arbitrary and incompetent boss alive, and nobody on the planet is going to know it, other than if you sink your career by making a stink.

So performance appraisals don't help organizational productivity much. At best, they provide a partial picture or employee performance. At worst, they misrepresent reality, create ill will between employee and supervisor, and entrench poor performers in place, while totally ignoring a critical question: How well are the bosses bossing the employees?

Obviously this question is a critical one if our greatest asset is our people, as we are frequently wont to say.

If I had a magic wand I would eliminate performance appraisals entirely, and substitute instead six quantitative "pulse" surveys a year, followed by appointments to have real conversations. Employees would rate supervisors anonymously. Supervisors would rate employees one at a time, and they would have to provide at least one sentence of explanatory information after any highly positive or negative rating.

The result of these conversations would be rolled up into an annual review, which would be relatively automatic and based on the previous conversations.

It isn't a perfect suggestion I'm offering. But I think it would get us closer to whatever representation of reality one might call "the truth."


All opinions are Dr. Blumenthal's own and do not represent those of her agency or the federal government as a whole. Photo by Mindaugas Danys via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Facebook vs. LinkedIn: 5 Key Differences In Etiquette

Increasingly I observe that people are using Facebook in addition to LinkedIn for professional networking, albeit of a subtler kind. It's the natural thing to do, as well as the strategic one, for the reasons outlined here.

If you want to boost your use of Facebook for professional branding, here are some basic cultural differences between the two platforms to keep in mind.

1. Trust: The universal currency of social media is trust. On Facebook, it's trust that you're a decent and honest person - a mensch. On LinkedIn, it's trust that you know what you are talking about, as measured by your level of stature and/or wealth. If you're a mensch as well, that's a bonus. This distinction alone is reason to focus your efforts increasingly on Facebook-based networking, because people prefer to do business with those they feel positively about. Generally speaking, being a good person enhances the likelihood of this happening.
2. Status: Facebook favors the humble person striving to be more than their challenging circumstances would dictate. LinkedIn favors the person, humble or not, who has amassed an impressive portfolio of professional accomplishments. Again, this is a reason to focus your efforts more on Facebook than on LinkedIn, because anyone can meet the first criteria versus few can truly own the second.
3. Emotion: On Facebook, it's a positive thing to share your passion for causes you care about. LinkedIn favors dispassionate discussions of topics related to professional expertise. Where passion is "allowed" it's normally about improving some facet of the workplace. One is always conscious on LinkedIn that a boss, potential boss, or partner could be watching. Even the most stilted and self-conscious person can manage some level of emotion on Facebook, because it can be accomplished through posting or sharing a photo or other graphic that expresses an emotion that one agrees with. Yet a third reason to migrate toward FB.
4. Expansiveness: Facebook is about displaying one's dimensionality as a human being. Therefore, multiple kinds of sharing are encouraged. Unless they're promoting a product, service, or cause, people who focus only on one thing are seen as a bit obsessive. LinkedIn, on the other hand, is about brand specialization and focusing on a single area of expertise is a positive. Unless you are a one-note pony, a fourth reason why Facebook suits most regular people.
5. Boundaries: Facebook is about being the same person at all times. That is the source of your authenticity - that you don't "put on a face" depending on which environment you're in. As a practical matter this means mixing the personal and the professional. LinkedIn is about keeping the two worlds separate, and excessive sharing of personal matters is frowned upon just as it is in the workplace. As a practical matter, life and work commingle frequently, so Facebook wins out on this count as well.
Photo by Andrea Costa Creative via Flickr (Creative Commons). All opinions are the author's own.

5 Brand Destroyers To Fire Today

Brand-Destroying Employees Are Like Barnacles Slowly Corroding Your Organizational "Ship"

Like barnacles corroding a ship, these people appear like benign growths on the edge of your organization, not really adding but not really taking away, either. The truth is, they’ll actively sink your boat in the water.

Think of them as the 5 A’s:
  1. Abusive: Usually covertly, subtly, and implicitly rather than explicitly, these people shrink and shred the self-worth of those they supervise, work with and work for, alike. They’re not just “crabby,” they’re downright sadistic and they get an orgasmic thrill from making other people feel like s**t. Delete them from your organization at once, and watch the morale of everybody else go up immediately and drastically. Nobody wants to work with, around or for a soul-murdering pig, much less build a brand with them. Fire them ASAP and you’ll literally hear the sounds of cheering in the hallways. Or the bathrooms. Or both.
  2. Angry: Some people are just always in a fury. It takes almost nothing, or even nothing, to set them off. The guy in front of them cut them off on the freeway driving to work, the cashier overcharged at Whole Foods, the state of Russia-U.S. relations, the candidate they don’t like who will “ruin the country,” even a piece of toilet paper stuck to the bottom of their shoe “because somebody else was too rude to pick it up when they left the bathroom.” Everything gets them hopping mad. No matter how seemingly brilliant or productive they are, hit the “delete” key when it comes to payroll. Brands are above all a figment of the imagination, and imagination cannot coexist with toxic rage.
  3. Adamant: “You’re right!” That’s the only answer where these employees are concerned. They know more, they’ve been there, they’ve got it all figured out, and you are clueless. Don’t get into it with them, because it’s an argument their entire self-esteem depends on. A brand requires evolution and adaptability in order to survive. Don’t bother.
  4. Apathetic: These people have just been in the organization for too long, or they’re just in it for the money, and it’s all the same to them. “Whatever, I don’t care, as long as I get paid,” is how they live their work lives, and they’re not ashamed to admit it. While it’s true that a thick skin is required to survive the frequent irrationality of any work environment, it is also true that a brand-building employee never loses hope. In challenging economic times, you cannot afford to have these people dragging you down.
  5. Ass-Kissers: This can be a tough one. After all, the sycophant seems like they’re doing the brand a favor by being supportive. But people know the difference between sincerity and a fake, normally back-stabbing career-climber. These individuals are really treacherous, even treasonous to the brand, not treasures at all. This is so because they will sell you, and your mother, and all that your mother holds dear, to the very highest bidder, even if it means taking the walls down with the transaction. It might hurt your ego a little bit to admit that you’ve hired badly, especially when the person likely presents so well. At the same time it’s a cruel world and the competition is unforgiving. So you must be both discerning and determined in your actions.
If you’re having trouble dealing with this advice, think of it this way: Everything can be copied, except your brand. Only it sets you apart from the rest.

So if someone isn’t doing your equity justice, you have a duty to everyone else.

Get rid of them.


All opinions are the author’s own. Photo credit: John-Paul Verkamp via Flickr (Creative Commons).

G-d's Truth and Your Truth: Magen David Sephardic Congregation, N. Bethesda, MD (Shabbat, September 26, 2015)

שׁבעים פּנים לתורה

G-d's Truth and your truth. Both valid, both real.

Differing interpretations of Halacha as valid. 

Your job on this Earth is to find your way. 

A bigger job - to create inclusive spaces that allow for like-minded community. 

That's what I learned this week in Shul. 

An Understanding Of All Things Brand: The 10K Foot View

You have to understand that a brand is way beyond a logo now. You do understand that, because the Mad Men paradigm where we cook up Frankenstein in the lab and serve it up to you has been destroyed.
In its place is an open kitchen where you can see me cooking, and if I put sulfuric acid in the chocolate pudding you'll know right away, you'll Tweet it and Instagram it and my restaurant will close before the first menu ever gets printed.
If we begin with this "first principle" or common assumption then the rest of the major questions about branding, the tired debates we've been engaging in for more than a decade now, have been resolved.
And while scientific studies about which tactical approach are useful for marketing journals, it is the unresolved theoretical issues that have screwed the profession up badly. To the point where the word "branding" in some circles has become a kind of poison, a valid and critical discipline that cannot be uttered in name lest everybody in the room get kind of nauseous and walk out of the conference room, agreeing to disagree.
We can finally agree to agree (get ready for some upper-case shouting) that:
It is a product of the COLLECTIVE CONSCIOUSNESS that only has meaning insofar as we all agree to agree on what it means.
If you don't know what I'm talking about, then think about your top five Hollywood portrayals of romance. They aren't X-rated, nor NC-17, nor R. Frequently there is no sex in them! Maybe we see a passionate kiss. Do you want to know why? Because passion is created IN THE MIND. A moviemaker that has to resort to porn is like a host that serves you Twinkies for dinner and thinks your sugar high is an appreciation for the quality of the cuisine.
Brands are in the mind. So for the logo to work (it's not "logo or operations," it's both), the logo has to evoke something. When I see the American flag I feel all sorts of emotions welling up in me. Pride. Gratitude. Anger at the sins committed in the name of patriotism. Oneness with other Americans. Freedom. Love.
The American flag is a great brand, but it's not a great brand because someone had a good idea to put red, white and blue together with stars and stripes. It's a great brand because of action on the ground, the discussion of that action and the ensuing collective belief that what we have is something worth fighting for.
I don't advocate for using other words to replace the correct one. Your brand is your brand. It is a verb (the act of branding) and a noun (your ensuing image in the collective consciousness). Your brand is associated with your reputation, but your reputation does not encompass all of the factors that go into the brand.
You can't reduce your brand to a set of activities nor do the collection of activities you do create the brand in and of themselves. Your brand is intentionally built by advertising, marketing, communications, PR, social media, sales, customer service, knowledge management, collaboration tools, internal communications, HR, training, organizational development, IT, and even facilities. Every person associated with your company, and every structure and process you've set up to represent you, represents your brand.
You can't control the brand. You can partially engineer it. The way you do that is by having a sense of the process by which brands are built. Roughly, loosely, based on the lived experience I've had in my professional life, these are the stages. The sequence of events may differ or overlap.
  1. Recognition - the brand becomes "a problem" or "an issue" or "something we need to deal with."
  2. Research - formal or informal, paid or unpaid, short-term or long-term, qualitative or quantitative, based on experience and "gut feel," conversations and anecdotal feedback over time. Some form of data collection.
  3. Discussion - there is a conversation or a series of conversations about what to do about "the problem."
  4. Decision - someone takes action, either formally and with the blessing of others involved or informally and working around them. They move to implementation and the implementation affects other decisions, conversations, research and perhaps generates additional recognition that "something needs to be done."
  5. Implementation - this is the normal range of brand implementation activities, the ones you think of when you think of classic Madison Avenue branding.
  6. Revision - these are the things you do when your brand begins to be the subject of the news media, social media, stakeholder discussion, etc. Or when others start to copy it.
  7. Co-creation - these are the range of activities associated with enabling your stakeholders/audience to involve themselves in the evolution of your brand.
This model is about to be upended.
Why? You only have a very short period of time within which you "control" your branding efforts.
It is as if your brand is a child. In the olden days of branding you could hold the child within your grasp practically forever, and only "unleash," release or leak the parts you wanted to, to gain the equity you needed while also revitalizing and rebranding so that you could outrun the competition.
Like Madonna. She is the quintessential model of "old branding," and to an extent that model remains. It is impossible for anyone to copy her, because she's...Madonna.
In the new days of branding, you basically have six weeks of maternity leave to give the infant some basic milk and cuddling. After that, if it has any value, the world descends on it and everybody wants a piece.
Bill Cosby's brand was once like Madonna's and it is now destroyed, because we know why. It's not about a trial in a court of law, it is about the impact of social media and the news media and the women who have come forward to say that he is not what he presented himself to be.
As the technical subject matter expert on branding what you want to do is be in front of the up-ended model we now face. You want to establish that you are in fact, so to speak, pregnant with a very valuable baby and you want to sell that kid very well before it ever sees daylight. Celebrities know this well and that's why they market the hell out of their kids while they are still, literally, infants.
Then you shorten the cycle time on 1-6, because you have to go out with something and iterate.
You involve the public in #7, co-creating, much earlier rather than later - you don't wait until you've marketed something for them to react and "help."
If Starbucks were to use co-creation I can assure you they would stop showing a display of dead pastries basically ASAP, as it really ruins the quality image of the rest of the organization.
Waze, the travel app is the epitome of the co-created brand. I love this little app and if I had money to invest, I would invest the kitchen sink in this thing. Useful, social, nobody is falsely engineering it, and it actually helps people. It has an identity over and above that, but the identity is very close to a meaning we all, literally, create.
I am a "Wazer" now.
Think about your role as a formal or informal communicator. What brand are you building? How are you involving other people? How are you taking in feedback? How are you turning that feedback into activity that changes the way the brand displays itself? Is there a core set of values, beliefs, mission requirements that cannot change regardless of the feedback you get?
These are the things you need to be thinking about. And because brand-building is resource-intensive, it's critical to leverage all available resources who can help. You don't have to be a technical expert, but you do have to understand what you're doing, and be able to explain it to others.
All opinions my own. Photo by Chris Goldberg via Flickr (Creative Commons).

Show Me Your Family & I’ll Show You Your Brand

Show me who your family is, I’ll read your tea leaves in an instant.
That’s Grandma & Grandpa, on my mother’s side, Murray and Muriel Garfinkel, may they rest in peace. Lived in the countryside, up in Monticello, New York – “the Catskills.”
Remember Dirty Dancing?  Those Catskills, except mine was a little later than the movie.
My Monticello was: Passover with the whole extended family and “my aunt the feminist,” driving past Grossinger’s and the Homowack on the way to Camp Tagola, heading out to Woodbourne on a Saturday night in an overloaded station wagon with an underage driver, trying not to get killed; Joe Rota’s candy store and atomic fireballs on Main Street, walking to the courthouse on Shabbos. Three-hour walks down unmarked country roads, and looking at the daffodils.
Grandma and Grandpa watching TV upstairs on Yom Tov, but not Shabbos, because they knew what was and wasn’t allowed. All fifteen of us getting under the covers and watching Days of Our Lives together, NBC-4, exactly at 1:00.
Scrambling around the shul at the end of the street, peering out the stained glass windows. My Grandpa standing at the bimah.
Sitting next to Grandma & Grandpa, “Mur & Mur,” my aunt Sari, who raised me from the time I was born. Sari teaching me how to put on makeup, and wash my face (yes, in that order…we don’t remove our makeup except for brief periods of about 5 seconds or less.) Sari with her holistic health books and art easels and a gigantic mug full of ice cream on a Saturday evening, just as Shabbos was about to end, talking to me about the meaning of life.
Sari prepping me for my second date with my husband Andy, and peering out the window shades and gasping, “Wow! He’s cute!”
“He’s also taken,” I remember saying with a laugh.
My uncle Abie, standing behind my aunt, on the rock. Looking straight at the camera, never afraid, never one to back down from doing what is right. Abie the caretaker of my Grandma & Grandpa, Abie the med student, Abie who couldn’t stand girls who were fat, short, complacent, and dumb.
Abie, a man of few words but strong principles.
On Grandpa’s lap, my uncle Chaim, pretty much a fixture in my house with me and my mom and dad when I was a kid. More like a brother than an uncle, who told stories about getting mugged in New York City (“always have a $20”). A cheerleader for basically whatever crackpot idea I would come up with; a permanent fixture at my endless parade of speeches, musical plays, piano recitals, and whatever other cockeyed dreams of fame and fortune I’d be working on whatever day.
Next to Sari and Abie, my parents, Debbie and Alex Stroli. My dad always with a dream, a plan, a Big Idea certain to make us millions or at least make our network about a thousand times bigger. Famous for selling the Hollywood Cookie Diet, “just one delicious cookie three times a day.” My mom a devotee of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, about which I always thought, “so what they’re not Jewish, they give a great speech,” as I watched Tammy Faye cry weekly for the TV. My mom the fan of Dr. David Visconti, the self-help guru, Phil Donahue, Oprah Winfrey and all things related to writing and creative growth.
My dad the ex-hasid who was really a trucker, who drove overnight to take us to Canada to visit Bubbie and Zayde, may they rest in peace. Who took me into truck stops at 3:00 a.m., and bought me little light-up trucks which endlessly delighted me. Who had a collection of irrelevant promotional mugs, that were relevant to me because promotion.
Maybe you make your own way in this world, who knows?
I say you never really leave your family behind.
What does your family say about you?
All opinions are my own and do not represent those of my agency or the federal government as a whole.