Poor performance can be improved. Good performance can become great. Here’s what we’ve learned working for the U.S. military.
I spent 24 years learning the military from the inside out, and I can tell you it does some things well, and some things not so much. But without a doubt, one of its greatest strengths is its ability to understand and overcome its weaknesses. This idea, that poor performance can be improved and good performance can be sustained, isn’t just well documented within the military structure—it’s potentially transformative for your business. The process the military uses to do this can be adapted very simply. And it involves not a single push-up.
If you read nothing else in this post, read this: In my experience, almost all employees want to do well at whatever task they were hired to do.
Nobody wakes up and says, “Today, I will fail.” Or, “Today, I will strive for mediocrity!!” The reality is that if your employees aren’t doing exactly what you want, the most likely problem is they just aren’t aware of … what you actually want. One of my personal mottos is “I can fix I don’t know. I can’t work with I don’t care.” I believe the former causes many more employee problems than the latter. Fix those I don’t know problems, and you should see an uptick in employee performance.
Thing #1 the military does really well: It ensures employees and supervisors know what they’re supposed to do, and how.
The Army does this from day 1 of Basic Combat Training all the way through to retirement. The foundations are Training and Performance Counseling. In the military, you are trained on all aspects of your particular job—including both the tools used and the result expected. This is done continuously throughout your career. For a beginner (the Joe), this process includes monthly counseling, quarterly counseling and annual reviews conducted by the first-line supervisor (the sergeants), who are there shadowing the Joes through everything.
Behaviors that warrant correction and praise are documented when they happen, to corroborate the scheduled reviews. And as rank increases, so do the items that are evaluated, and more in-depth performance goals are set. This process is so important to the military that it has devoted volumes of regulations to the process for different ranks and grades.
For iostudio’s Customer Engagement Team, this process works like this. Our Quality Assurance Manager monitors engagements in real time, daily and randomly, to give a QA evaluation to each Customer Service Representative (CSR). This is not an arbitrary assessment, where personal feelings, likes or dislikes could come into play, but instead is based on a very detailed score sheet. For customer engagement on calls, we look at things like enunciation, conversation flow or demonstrated knowledge. For chats, we focus on our employees answering all questions, using proper grammar, and having the right tone (yes you can have tone in a chat). Then at the end of each month, the QA Manager submits these regular evaluations to the Shift Supervisor for review and discussion with the CSR.
It’s important that our CSRs know their standard, so they learn this process during their initial training, including what specifically they’ll be evaluated on. Their criteria are also found in our Standard Operating Procedures and User Guides for their task.
Thing #2: It dictates a regular evaluation cadence.
The military combines lengthy annual evaluations with immediate feedback loops. Shoot your weapon wrong and you’ll get corrected on the spot. Show up late and you’ll get talked to (OK, you’ll probably get talked “at” more than “to.”) This makes for a better soldier now, not next year.
Similarly, in the corporate world, crucial tasks that take little time to master but might easily affect your bottom line—like politeness on customer service phone calls—need constant evaluation. On the other hand, more advanced tasks that take a long time to master, like in-depth knowledge of your entire product line, will require the weight of time to have a clearer picture. Just remember that performing the evals themselves takes resources. Overdoing your frequency also risks making them seem unimportant, as daily tasks are much more likely to lose their feeling of importance.
In other words, evaluate too often and your supervisors will be filling out their millionth evaluation report with their eyes closed just to get it over with. On the other hand, finding out how well you’re doing your job shouldn’t be a yearly wait. You should be regularly afforded the opportunity to correct your performance—or hear that you’re doing a great job.
Thing #3: It embeds its evaluators with the people they’re evaluating.
In the Army, sergeants who are evaluating soldiers often literally live with their soldiers (not just on deployments, but also for long stretches of training in the field).
If you’re evaluating your employees using someone who doesn’t see them working day-to-day, you’re not getting an accurate picture of their performance.
At iostudio, Shift Supervisors, who are in the trenches with our CSRs everyday, perform a quarterly review with each CSR. These reviews are a combination of their daily evaluations, plus a few extra items that will ultimately be evaluated in their big annual review. These items revolve around bigger-picture items, like adherence to scheduled shifts, HR policy violations, adherence to SOPs, etc. Again, we evaluate and document as many measurable criteria as possible, removing as much as possible the perception that office politics or personal disagreements might be coming into play.
And at any point in the process, the Supervisory Team can implement retraining or a personal development plan. No need to wait for the big annual eval. At any point in the process, the employee can also voice concerns or ask for assistance. This shorter communication loop means quicker feedback and quicker results. It also prevents big surprises at the end of the year.
Thing #4: It gives its biggest asset their biggest chance for success.
At the end of the day, this is what evaluations are all about—giving your employees their best chance for success. With the right evaluation program, at the end of the annual performance period you’ll have an entire year’s worth of documented employee effort at your disposal to talk about the possibility of a raise or promotion. This documentation isn’t based on how your employee did in recent memory, but how they performed over the entire review period. And it’ll give your employees, and your company, the best chance to accomplish your mission.