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Building a High Performance Team: Doing Better Evaluations and Getting Aligned with Boss/HR

first 100 days / career leadership: developing others/building teams

The last few Using the Tools Beyond the First 100 Days emails/posts have been focused on my Building a High Performance Team roadmap, outlined again here:

  1. Start with the Blank Piece of Paper exercise to define your "Dream Team," one that if you had that exact number of people, skills, and structure you know you would crush your goals
  2. Conduct the Famous “Silicon Valley” Thought Experiment with Existing Players...know what your gut judgment is for each person on your team
  3. Evaluate each person along Key Sub Dimensions and Get Aligned with your Boss/HR on your Assessment, Development Plan, and Timing
  4. Once the Evaluations have been communicated, apply my Five Levers to Help the People on Your Team Grow
  5. Make sure you understand the difference between a group and a team, and build the right level of coordination and cohesion amongst your directs. A “group" can get by with relatively independent actions and still produce the needed outcomes...think gymnastics, wrestling, track and field athletes. A team is not the same as a group because a team has to work closely together to accomplish tasks and achieve goals...think basketball, hockey, and soccer athletes. A leader can frustrate his/her team by not seeing this difference and doing either too much or too little coordination and team building.

The last two emails/posts covered #1 and #2. Both of those exercise rely heavily on gut level judgments: your sense of what a Dream Team would look like and what you guess your gut reaction would be if someone on your team told you they were leaving.

I am not dissing gut judgments. They are normal and an important part of being a leader.  It is just that they don’t translate well when trying to communicate and get aligned with others.  

In this email/post, I am going to talk about translating your gut judgments of your team into more refined evaluations to help with that alignment. Yes you are still making judgments, but they are "a level down" and slightly less prone to cognitive biases.

One apology, as much for me as to you. This post is full of numbered lists: the "five steps to building a high performance team", the "five levers to help your team grow," the "four steps for doing effective evaluations and getting alignment." I don't know about you, but I positively hate posts like this. However, the fact is that few are very good at this employee & team development game and our employees and organizations are desperate for leaders to be better at it. For many, this Arthur Murray-like, footprints-on-the-floor approach, can be helpful until one has mental models of their own.

Hold your nose. Here we go.


Step 1: break jobs/roles into dimensions and rate each person separately on each dimension.  

Many if not most companies assign overall ratings to people. Many other companies do 9-blockers, where they evaluate two dimensions:  Performance and Potential. Both of these approaches are fine, but I don’t believe they go far enough to translate your gut reactions into actionable performance evaluations.  

There are several reasons why breaking the job into dimensions and then rating the dimensions is a best practice:    

  1. It helps you avoid common performance rating biases, including the well known Halo and Horn effects
  2. It helps you communicate your judgments, which is what we are trying to do here with your boss and HR
  3. It helps you tailor your development recommendations and/or next steps for each employee.


In the slide below, I recommend the following generic dimensions: Setting Strategy/Prioritizing, Executing Effectively, Developing Others, Low Drama, Right Values, Motivation/Drive.  There is nothing magic about my dimensions. You might, for example, substitute in Influence Skills or Team Player or Customer Obsession or Quality or Attention to Detail or Change Management. Come up with what works for you and the jobs and people under you.

Rate each person on each dimension. You can use 1-5 or H-M-L.

Rating each team member by dimension helps you better drill into the strengths and weaknesses of someone's performance: "Is Kaitlyn really a 3 on everything?" It also allows you to calibrate better: "I gave Marcus a 3 on Strategic Thinking and Lenora a 5. Is she really that much better at setting the strategic context than he is?"

Sidebar: Delegation as an Evaluative Lens.  As you are trying to decide how each person is doing on the job dimensions you come up with, one incredibly helpful lens is thinking about what you can and cannot delegate to them.  If there is something you can’t delegate to someone, which dimension would that mean you might have to give them a lower rating on? This delegation perspective also really helps with development planning. What do they need to work on and what are you going to do to make sure that six months or a year from now, you can delegate that thing to them?  I wrote more about that here: Delegation: Through the Looking Glass

Step 2: When you get done with your evaluations across your dimensions, sketch out the next steps for growing/developing each employee. Two to three development actions is usually plenty.

Step 3: Armed with a more detailed evaluation of your team and development next steps, meet with your boss and with HR to make sure they agree with a) your evaluation, b) your development steps, and c) your timing/urgency. Try to meet with your boss and HR together so everyone hears the various perspectives and less is lost in translation.

Step 4: And then, obviously, communicate the agreed upon assessments and plans to your team so they can begin/continue their development work.

One question you might have is when during the year you should do this. Obviously, if the business has a performance evaluation cycle, you do this as part of that exercise.

But I think it is beneficial to also do this evaluation and meeting off cycle, say at the six-month mark.

When you started your job and were in your first 100 days, this boss/HR alignment meeting was a critical step because a very common way executives in transition shoot themselves in the foot is to make moves that are counter to the culture. I obviously wanted you to avoid that.  

Once you are established in the job however, periodically doing this shows your boss and HR that you are a leader who thinks 1) regularly, 2) proactively, and 3) systematically, about employee growth and development and 4) that you don't make these assessments in a vacuum, but share them with others to ensure alignment and support.

Not only should that reflect well on you, but more important, if developing others and building strong teams is ever not going to be the "runt of the litter" of critical executive competencies, we are all going to have to spend more time thinking and talking about employee development and acting on it.

An "off-cycle" performance evaluation and development discussion, initiated by you, is a step towards that end.