Lesson From The Oscars

If you look closely enough, you can find lessons about leadership just about anywhere, including the Academy Awards.

It is kind of like peeking in on the final stage of Hollywood’s performance management process. Supposedly, the top people in a number of categories are competing for the highest honor of “Best.” And the challenge – if you are going to have a ranking process among A-Players, how do you select the best of the best, without alienating those who come in second?

As you may have heard, Director Spike Lee was none too thrilled when his movie, Black Klansman, lost best picture to Green Book. His comments about the winner, which he told while sipping champagne and trying to prompt some laughter, made his thoughts about that decision quite clear. Let’s just say he was not a happy camper.

Come performance review time, you likely face a similar situation. The results of your evaluations are not as public, with close-ups of your people when results are announced. But quite often, people feel like winners and losers. And yes, there is typically some grumbling.

The problem which occurs with both the Academy Awards and organization performance reviews is this. The objective criteria used for selecting the winner is seldom articulated clearly enough. So by default, the decision is seen as mostly subjective. And as we all know, that term has pretty well been replaced by the word, political.

Think about the movie business term, “critically acclaimed.” Just what does that really mean?” Is there discernable and measurable criteria, or does it merely reflect the opinion of a critic or two? The same question can be asked about the classification of “Best” for an Oscar. As a movie customer, I don’t have a need to know the standards used for determining what is good, outstanding, or extraordinary, but those being judged on their performances certainly do.

Of course I get the mystery involved with the Academy Awards. It not only creates drama, but one can only imagine the enormous amount of direct and indirect revenue associated with the great unveiling. If every month a scorecard was published with the current ranking of movies, actors and all other categories, there would be no need for Oscar night.

Since there is already more than enough drama in workplaces, here are two things to remember around your performance measurement process. First, the more clearly you can determine and articulate objective criteria, the better it will be. People benefit from knowing specifics goals around production, sales, rejects, and the like.

That said, the second lesson is that nothing can ever be totally objective. There is subjectivity involved in setting the original targets. And assuming that all criteria could be totally objective, most performance plans have an arbitrary number of slots in the various performance level categories. No more than 15% can be rated top notch, while around 60% must be rated “meets objectives.” You know the drill.

One final note: regardless of whether evaluations are objective or subjective, tell the truth when discussing performance with your people. “You are nailing your numbers, but you are not seen as a collaborator, which is deeply valued here. That will impact your ability to maximize your earnings and advance.” People deserve to know the full story.

And give performance updates frequently. Don’t make performance feedback a once – a – year, big night of drama – followed by after-party grumbling.

May your people always know where they stand, and that they have you in their corner to help them reach new heights.

Share Your Thoughts