“He’s Makin’ a List, and Checkin’ it Twice…”

Oh how many times have we heard that little jingle in the last few weeks?

I’ve got to tell you, that little ‘diddy has come in soooo handy with my 8 and 10 year old sons over the years, I don’t know what I’d do without it. Something about Christmas time, that chubby old bean counter, and his insistence of good behavior, that tends to keep those little guys on the straight and narrow over the holidays. If only we could keep it going all year long.

Since we’re all in the holiday spirit, I thought I’d use this week’s column to reinforce Santa’s message of accountability, at least for us grown up performance managers out there. I should warn you, however, that I’ve kept this one a little “light” and “fun” since most of us tend to be distracted this time of year with more important things like family and loved ones. Nevertheless, it should drive home some key points we’ve been making all year.

For starters, it’s worth acknowledging that Santa has clearly mastered the art of generating good behavior. And as I’ve watched him year in and year out, he appears to only get better at it with time. I can only conclude that he is a great student of the PM discipline, constantly learning from others, and applying these best practices to his Northern Operation. Santa has clearly learned from the best, and so should we.

A few weeks ago, I referenced a speech by David Walker, the Comptroller General of the US, and head of the General Accounting Office – the GAO, which is incidentally being transitioned to be called the Government Accountability Office- a much more appropriate name for this important government function. His overriding message was that performance is maximized when:

1) there are clear incentives for doing the right things,
2) there is transparency of information so that employees know when they are doing the right things, and
3) there are clear accountabilities and consequences when people do the wrong thing.

While Saint Nick only shows his face once a year, he does exemplify these three key principles quite well. At Christmas time, kids prepare their lists- the incentives if you will, for what is likely to happen if Santa concludes they have done the right things most of the time. Santa also has an extensive network of helpers, including billions of parents who help translate these expectations and let those little ones know when they happen to veer off course (i.e. -transparency of performance information). Furthermore, there are those constant reminders us parents give in the way of “time outs” and punishments if our little guys don’t get back on track quickly. And while I’ve never experienced it first hand, there are those horror stories we’ve all heard about the stockings full of coal.

One of these days I’ll have to arrange a “best practice” site visit to the North Pole to see this stuff first hand. How does he keep track of all of those performance reports? “Checking it twice” has got to be a huge undertaking, but somehow it all gets done right since I haven’t heard of any North Pole Enron’s, WorldCom’s, or Tyco’s lately. And there is certainly no shortage of rewards for good performance- the plethora of toys and games that magically show up every Christmas Eve. Yup, this is definitely a business model worth exploring.

So as we prepare our organizations, systems, and processes for 2006, let’s take a page out of Santa’s playbook and focus on these three key elements of performance management. I’m sure if we do, 2006 will bring us a much stronger PM process, better and more consistent performance results, and the good fortune that often comes with it.

I wish all of you the best this holiday season, and remember to keep an eye on that chubby old guy from the North. He’s likely to teach us some more great lessons in the days to come.


Author: Bob Champagne is Managing Partner of onVector Consulting Group, a privately held international management consulting organization specializing in the design and deployment of Performance Management tools, systems, and solutions. Bob has over 25 years of Performance Management experience and has consulted with hundreds of companies across numerous industries and geographies. Bob can be contacted at bob.champagne@onvectorconsulting.com


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