Sometimes, you just have to jump. Things come together to force you to do something. Sometimes, it is easier to just step up and do things. Sometimes…

With plenty of things on today’s agenda, I opened an email from an old friend in the UK and he sent me a story with the subject: “Saw this and thought of you.” Yep. And, I am also in a LinkedIn discussion about Performance Management and the relationship of that to Performance Appraisal. A goodly number of the responses are from newbies, who think that they even know what Performance Management is. (More on that later…) So, I like what Geoff sent and jumped!

So, I first went to check out the origins of Geoff Cook’s story and it turns out that it appears as a parable on line in a couple of places, once of which is a blog post by my old pal, Fred Nickols. I mean we were on Message Boards back 15 years ago when I had a CompuServe email address and no website (1995?)! (I seldom use the word “old” loosely these days–grin–.) Fred posted his embellished version and ideas here (click this link).

So, I popped in LinkedIn and sent Fred a note that I wanted to use his graphic here in this blog, using the “forgiveness prior to permission” approach. Of course, he just responded back and said to send him the link to this.

Here is the story that Geoff sent me – and I will admit to making a couple of minor changes and there are some differences in the published versions of this:

Once upon a time, there was a man named Clarence who had a pet frog named Felix. Clarence lived a very modest life based on what he earned working retail but he never gave up his dream of being rich. One day, hit by sudden inspiration, he exclaimed, “Felix, we’re going to be rich! You will learn to fly!”

Felix was terrified at the prospect. “I can’t fly, Clarence! I’m a frog, not a bird!” Clarence, disappointed at the initial response, told Felix: “Your attitude isn’t helping matters. I think you can benefit from some training.”

So off Felix went to a three-day course where he learned about the history of aviation, the basics of aeronautical engineering (e.g., lift, thrust, drag, etc), gliders, parasailing and the lives of famous fliers. (For obvious reasons, the instructor did not mention Icarus, but they did talk about Why Geese fly in a V.)

After the training and on the first day of the “flying lessons,” Clarence could barely control his excitement (and Felix could barely control his bladder). Clarence pointed out that their apartment building had 7 floors, and each day Felix would jump out of a window, starting with the first floor and working his way up to the top.

After each jump, Clarence and Felix would analyze how well he flew, isolate the most effective flying techniques and implement the improved process for the next flight. By the time they reached the top floor, Felix would surely be able to fly.

felixthefrog Felix pleaded for his life but his pleas fell on deaf ears. “He just doesn’t understand how important this is,” thought Clarence. “He can’t see the big picture.”

So, with that, Clarence opened the window and threw Felix out. He landed with a thud. They discussed and analyzed his performance…

The next day, poised for his second flying lesson, Felix again begged not to be thrown out of the window. Clarence opened his pocket guide to “Managing More Effectively” and showed Felix the part about how one must always expect resistance when introducing new, innovative programs. With that, he threw Felix out the window again. THUD!

On the third day (on the third floor), Felix tried a different ploy: stalling. He asked for a delay in the “project” until better weather would make flying conditions more favorable. But Clarence was ready for him: He produced a timeline and pointed to the third milestone and asked, “You don’t want to mess up the schedule, do you?”

From his performance appraisal feedback, Felix knew that not jumping today meant he would have to jump TWICE tomorrow. So he just muttered, “OK, let’s go.” And out the window he went.

Now this is not to say that Felix wasn’t trying his best. On the fourth day he flapped his legs madly in a vain attempt at flying. On the fifth day, he tried “visualization.” He tied a small red cape around his neck and tried to think “Superman” thoughts. It didn’t help.

By the sixth day, Felix, accepting his fate, no longer begged for mercy. He simply looked at Clarence and said, “You know you’re killing me, don’t you?”

Clarence pointed out that Felix’s performance so far had been less than exemplary; failing to meet any of the milestones he had set for him. With that, and knowing that there was one more floor, Felix said quietly, “Shut up and open the window.” He leaped out, taking careful aim at the large jagged rock by the corner of the building.

And Felix went to that great lily pad in the sky.

Clarence was devastated. His project failed to meet a single objective he set out to accomplish. Felix not only failed to fly, he hadn’t even learned to steer his fall; instead, he dropped like a sack of cement. Nor had Felix heeded Clarence’s advice to “Fall smarter, not harder.”

The only thing left for Clarence to do was to conduct an after-action-review and try to determine where things had gone wrong. After reviewing the records and giving the data much thought, Clarence smiled knowingly and said, “Next time, I’m getting a smarter frog!”

Fred Nickols said this in his introduction and asked these questions:

I first heard the parable of Felix the Flying Frog in the early 1970s. It appears in many places nowadays and its author is unknown. I think its staying power owes to the many points it illustrates – some subtly and some not so subtly. It has great utility as a discussion piece for use in reflecting on life in organizations – and life in general for that matter. Toward that end, you will find some potentially useful questions at the end of this version.

  • How did Clarence’s expectations get so out of line with Felix’ capabilities and how might better alignment have been achieved?
  • Why did Clarence reach so quickly for training as a solution?
  • What role did the power differential between Clarence and Felix play in shaping the course of events?
  • Why was Felix so compliant, even in the face of his own destruction?
  • What blinded Clarence to the role he played in the failure of his attempt to make Felix fly?
  • What talent did Felix possess that might actually have made Clarence and he rich and why didn’t Clarence see that?

I had never seen this parable before. And there are lots of things to consider related to performance, capability, perspective, leadership and engagement. And Fred uses it in a great way. And could Clarence have made some money by having a talking frog? He was too enraptured about flying…

The irony for me, as I mentioned, was this LinkedIn discussion about Performance Management and Performance Appraisal, generally with a bunch of young HR people chatting about what they think these things are and talking about “performance.” I think they get at the concept of people and work, but feel like they are trying to teach Felix to fly. Some said things like:

  • I see Performance Management oriented towards Indicators (much more quantitative) on the other side Performance Appraisals cover both, quantitative as well as qualitative, thus I see them as two different tools
  • Performance Management is a process, whereas, Appraisal is an activity (part of Performance Management).
  • Performance Management is a technique to measure the level of performance of an Employee. Its result is Excellent, Good, Average, Poor. Action is ‘IMPROVEMENT’  Appraisal Management is a technique to measure the result of a performance. Its result is used for ‘Salary Hike’ & ‘Promotion’
  • Performance Management is the policy guidance which will vary as per existing need, progress made and future demand of the company. Performance Appraisal is the periodical matching aspect of the prescribed criteria with the actual performance of the employee, for compensation and career planning purpose.

Me. I posted this up to explain that there are real differences in these things and that Performance Management has nothing to do with Performance Appraisal and that it was simply a substitution of words that were an attempt to cover up the appraisal and subjective evaluation and assessment of the person:

Performance Management was the term applied to the issue of Human Behavioral Improvement as used by people like Tom Gilbert, Aubrey Daniels, Ed Feeney and many others back in the mid 1970s to look at ORGANIZATIONAL performance. It was generally anchored to Skinnerian Operant Behavioral Psychology and applied systems for behavioral analysis (such as Feeney’s BEST Program: Behavioral Engineering Systems Training), the analysis of performance feedback programs, and the application of contingent extrinsic rewards to drive desired behaviors.

As pretty brief explanation is available at:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Performance_management

Tom Gilbert’s book, “Human Competence: Engineering Worthy Performance” is one of the critical works in the field, comparable to Peter Senge’s work on “Learning Organizations.”

In the mid 1980s, the phrase was co-opted by Human Resource people to try to make the concept of “Performance Appraisal” less offensive and less emotional, kind of like how “Re-Engineering” was used in place of the concept of “Downsizing.”

I say this, watching the name of the company I founded in 1984 – Performance Management Company – undergo a shift in anchor points from my focus on systemic organizational and human performance improvement to having people think we did performance appraisal systems. You can read a lot of different articles on human behavior at www.PerformanceManagementCompanyBlog.com

Many of us Old Guard still work in the area of best practices, organizational alignment to goals and expectations, refining performance feedback systems and using extrinsic and intrinsic reward systems to drive performance improvement. And it seems like a shift back toward organizational improvement is happening once again.

But Performance Management sure isn’t Performance Appraisal, much like preparing a Christmas dinner sure isn’t popping a frozen dinner into the microwave. (grin)

So, I read that Clarence / Felix The Frog parable as linking right up into the issues related to performance and capability. Could Felix fly? Yeah, we have this new drone technology where we could strap that little guy into a helicopter and fly him anywhere we want.

But a Talking Frog? Now THAT is really something.

Let me end this with a brief discussion of the thoughts of W. Edwards Deming, one of those really key guys in the whole quality improvement leadership literature.

Deming was really clear in his writings that he felt that merit pay, incentives, numerical targets without discussion of methods, quota systems, and annual performance appraisals are some of highly counter-productive management practices. He clearly thought that Performance Appraisal was one of the Seven Deadly Sins of management and lots of us have lots of good examples of how appraisals screw things up for people.

Deming said, “Evaluation of performance, merit rating, or annual review… The idea of a merit rating is alluring.The sound of the words captivates the imagination: pay for what you get; get what you pay for; motivate people to do their best, for their own good. The effect is exactly the opposite of what the words promise.” (W. Edwards Deming, “Out of The Crisis”)

There are lots of issues with evaluation and being evaluated that do NOT contribute to organization improvement and operational effectiveness. Many of these are deadly when it comes to implementing teamwork and innovation.

Get your people to talk. Get out there and talk about what things are not working well and what might be improved. The Round Wheels are already in the wagon! Just DO it!

SWs One 300 © green words

Scott SimmermanDr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant.
Connect with Scott on Google+ – you can reach Scott at scott@squarewheels.com

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