In my line of work, I sometimes run across—or into—discussions around “performance management,” which is a way of saying “how do you tell whether someone is doing their job?”

And in those conversations, I have seen it asked whether you are really evaluating performance effectively if you are generally not having to ask people to leave/firing them, which is also termed “managing them out,” an absolutely horrible term, for reasons I’ll get into in a moment here.

What’s interesting about this question is that it assumes both a certain mode of evaluating performance, and also a mode of “managing” that performance, neither of which I believe are productive ways to lead a team.

First, there are two relatively basic things I would like people to understand regarding how I believe you should evaluate individual performance for just about any role. They are:

  1. A person’s peak performance is not their sustainable performance.
  2. Performance should not be compared from one team member to another, but each person should be judged independently against set, defined criteria.

I hope to expound on this in future posts, but I believe these are core to evaluating people against their work ethically and fairly. It is enough for now to say that a person’s performance needs to be judged against previously agreed-upon and concretely-set criteria for the role, and not against the “time trial ghost” of their own previous work at a peak output, or against the other racers on the track.

Whether someone is effectively doing their job should only be evaluated against whether they are doing the job they have been asked to do.

To touch on the other point briefly: a lead should never elect to “manage someone out” except as a method of last resort. If I am someone’s lead, and either something is brought to my attention that may result in their eventual termination, or I (or they!) notice that their performance against that criteria has reached a critical point, the very next thing I should be saying to the team member is “yo, this is looking bad; how can I help you get this back into a positive state?”

A good leader doesn’t jump at the chance to remove someone from their position. A good leader communicates well and regularly with that person both to stop poor performance from happening in the first place, and partners with them to recover if they begin to falter.

In short: It is wrong to expect 100% from people all of the time. Don’t compare your team members to each other (you should also try to prevent them from self-evaluating this way). And don’t “manage people out;” lead them to results.

When I was much younger, my parents fulfilled the wishes of a dreamer of a kid by sending me to Space Camp.

It was an interesting experience. One week of being away from my parents, learning to get along with about one hundred total strangers, and investigating the science, the excitement, and the teamwork behind space travel and our country’s space program. Looking back on it as an adult, it was merely a slight taste of what the real thing is, but it was nonetheless exciting and taught me many things.

As part of the curriculum, there was a “simulated” Shuttle mission (I use the term loosely as it was very time-condensed and largely automatic). Part of the exercises during the week led up to the part you would play within this (mostly) scripted exercise. It was with no small amount of pride that I took the role of Mission Commander. I was very excited and—looking back on it—about as ambitious as someone in elementary school could have been.

There is an award given to one of the teams from each “class” in a given week. The award is hyped up and much talked-about throughout the week. Every team wanted to win it.

At the end of the week we participated in the simulated mission. It involved a highly scripted set of actions, with a computer console that you punched “commands” into that would move the computer simulation from point to point. It was very structured. There were, however, “break points” within the structure that asked a question of the team. This question would involve dealing with some kind of simulated crisis or problem.

Not long into our simulation, we were faced with one of those problems. As we’d practiced and had been instructed, I acted in my role and asked the other team members for their opinions regarding the problem. Most of them gave the same answer. There was a clock running; a decision had to be made.

I acted like an idiot. I assumed that I knew better and could answer the question correctly while they could not, so I chose another answer from the list. The wrong answer. The majority of the team had been right, and I had overruled them simply because I was in charge and I thought I had the answer. My recollection is that I’d basically decided what I was going to say even before I asked them the question.

Needless to say, we didn’t win the award, and I had let down the rest of my team. I failed them as a leader by not listening to them.

“Management often works to maintain the status quo, to deliver average products to average people. In a stable environment, this is exactly the right strategy. Build reliability and predictability, cut costs, and make a profit.

Traditional marketing, the marketing of push, understands this. The most stable thing to do is push a standard product to a standard audience and succeed with discounts or distribution.

But for tribes, average can mean mediocre…

The end result of this is that many people spend all day trying to defend what they do, trying to sell what they’ve always sold, and trying to prevent their organizations from being devoured by the forces of the new. It must be wearing them out. Defending mediocrity is exhausting.”–Seth Godin, Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us

“Managers manage by using the authority the factory gives them. You listen to your manager or you lose your job. A manager can’t make change because that’s not his job. His job is to complete tasks assigned to him by someone else in the factory.

Leaders, on the other hand, don’t care very much for organizational structure or the official blessing of whatever factory they work for. They use passion and ideas to lead people, as opposed to using threats and bureaucracy to manage them.”Seth Godin: Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us

“Managers manage a process they’ve seen before, and they react to the outside world, striving to make that process as fast and as cheap as possible.

Leadership, on the other hand, is about creating change that you believe in… leaders have followers. Managers have employees.

Managers make widgets. Leaders make change.

Change? Change is frightening, and to many people who would be leaders, it seems more of a threat than a promise. That’s too bad, because the future belongs to our leaders, regardless of where they work or what they do.”–Seth Godin: Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us

“A rock star is not someone who takes the temperature, who gauges the marketplace before he creates his “art”. A rock star is someone who needs to create and is willing to tolerate the haters along with the fans. He’s someone who incites controversy just by existing. That’s what we lost in the dash for cash. Unique voices.

I’m not saying we haven’t ended up with some pleasant music, but it just hasn’t hit you in the gut, it’s the aural equivalent of Splenda, it might do the trick, but it’s not the real thing. The real thing grabs your attention, drives down deep into your heart and lodges itself there.

A rock star doesn’t follow conventions, doesn’t go disco or add drum machines just because everybody else does. A rock star exists in his own unique space, and if you met him you probably wouldn’t like him. Because he tends to be self-focused to the point of being narcissistic. Because he cares. He needs to get his message out.”–Bob Lefsetz

“We live in a world where we have the leverage to make things happen, the desire to do work we believe in, and a marketplace that is begging us to be remarkable. And yet, in the middle of these changes, we still get stuck.

Stuck following archaic rules.

Stuck in industries that not only avoid change but actively fight it.

Stuck in fear of what our boss will say, stuck because we’re afraid we’ll get into trouble.

Most of all, we’re stuck acting like managers or employees, instead of like the leaders we could become. We’re embracing a factory instead of a tribe.”Seth Godin: Tribes, We Need You to Lead Us

I am the very recent recipient of a copy of Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us, the newest book by Seth Godin, a rather outspoken and important voice in marketing, specifically in social and “permission” marketing. Over the past couple of months, I have been participating in an online community based around the premise of this book: the Internet has torn down the physical and spatial walls that used to impede the ability of people to band together under a common cause and with common interests.

Now, no such problem exists. The freedom of information and the ability of people to find each other and communicate with each other is now at a level unsurpassed in human history—and it’s only becoming even more so with each passing day.

The thing about people who share opinions and who share interests is that they are in desperate need of leadership. Leaders come in all shapes and sizes. They don’t (and almost never do) sit at the top of the org chart. They don’t protect the status quo, but are always moving; they are always shifting and changing to adapt to their “tribe” and to the changes that await them. Leaders don’t ask if obedience is any good, nor do they obey without question; leaders do what they need to do.

I lead a tribe in my life. It is small, not very influential, and I will gain little to no notoriety for it, but the tribe needs me and I need the tribe.

Over the next few weeks, I will be pulling relevant quotes from the book and posting them to the site, so you’ll be seeing a larger percentage than usual of Seth Godin’s name in the citation. If you like what you see, and you think Tribes looks like an interesting buy, then by all means, grab yourself a copy of the book. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

Do you have a tribe?