Playing in Traffic

January 12, 2010
38 Views

I am inspired by the article by David Fisher, Director of the Defense Department’s Business Transformation Agency, titled Performance Management is a Team Sport. He describes how his organization shifted its emphasis from traditional individual performance appraisals to a method that aligns organizational core mission goals with objective outcome-based metrics and their targets.

The article’s title provides an obvious signal that Fisher places importance on teams. Fisher is not alone. A New York Times article title On Passion and Playing in Traffic interviews Joseph J. Plumeri, chairman and CEO of the insurance broker Willis Group Holdings. Plumeri describes how his leadership style has evolved from…


I am inspired by the article by David Fisher, Director of the Defense Department’s Business Transformation Agency, titled Performance Management is a Team Sport. He describes how his organization shifted its emphasis from traditional individual performance appraisals to a method that aligns organizational core mission goals with objective outcome-based metrics and their targets.

The article’s title provides an obvious signal that Fisher places importance on teams. Fisher is not alone. A New York Times article title On Passion and Playing in Traffic interviews Joseph J. Plumeri, chairman and CEO of the insurance broker Willis Group Holdings. Plumeri describes how his leadership style has evolved from being a command-and-control manager to one where the key is making everyone feel like they are making a contribution. He values collaboration and debate.

Plumeri further describes that he spends roughly 30 percent of his time directly communicating with individuals in his organization. He says, “A two minute phone call or a handwritten note. I can’t tell you how important that stuff is. E-mails are easy but sometimes they get in the way of really feeling how somebody feels about your effort.”

When asked what is his best career advice, Plumeri answers, “Everything I have done I’ve done because I went out and played in traffic and something happened.” I have heard this referred to as NIHITO for nothing important happens in the office. I too believe you just have to get out there. Too often our work lives are in an echo-chamber.

Returning to David Fisher, I was thrilled to see confirmation that a culture for metrics is key for driving change and improvements. If you can’t measure it, then you can’t manage and improve it. Fisher strikes me as the type of manager that race track people call a thoroughbred racehorse as a deep closer. Other types are called starters (that quickly take the lead) and stalkers (that stay close to the front runners). I expand on this in my blog, How Are Racehorses and Performance Management Implementers Similar? I like Fisher’s style because as a deep closer he apparently takes a risk by lying low and being patient but understands that the finish line is at the end of the race – not in the middle of it.

Performance management is about completing its full vision – not just pieces. Good implementers like Fisher understand that this is a process, not just an event.

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