It was the training director's first day on the job. Her boss, the
senior vice president of HR, called her into his office and gave
her assignment number one. Handing her a copy of a 360-degree
instrument, he provided some background information along with the
"I've been trying for two years to get the CEO to approve our
conducting 360-degree reviews of the top 150 employees. He keeps
raising objections and offering new ideas. Go meet with him. Figure
out what's bothering him about the process and get it settled so we
can get this started."
Later in the day, the meeting with the CEO took place. The CEO was
a former engineering professor who had taken some of his
university-based research, created the company 20 years earlier,
and led it ever since.
"Have you seen all of the emails I sent on this?" asked the CEO.
"No, I haven't," replied the training director.
"Let me send you copies of the emails. Review them, and then we can
meet tomorrow morning to discuss them."
The training director returned to her desk. The emails had already
arrived - there were 28 of them, written over a period of two
years. Each of them suggested adjustments to the score that would
be generated by the 360-degree reviews:
- "If a person exceeded his goals by 10 percent, we should add
0.10 to his score; add 0.18 if the goals were exceeded by 50
- "If a person got a top rating on her last performance review,
add 0.07; if the rating was above average, add 0.03 to the person's
After all, the CEO was an engineering professor and he wanted to
come up with the perfect formula.
The next meeting took place the following morning.
"Did you read all of my emails?" asked the CEO.
"Yes, I did. And you made some very good points."
"So, you think we can come up with the perfect formula?"
"We can make many adjustments to the scores. But you need to
realize one thing - the numbers don't matter," said the training
"What do you mean the numbers don't matter?!" The CEO was getting
excited - he was a man who lived by numbers and formulas.
"Let's say that we come up with the perfect formula. After we do
all of the 360-degree reviews and make all of the necessary
adjustments to the scores, we have a rank-ordered list of the
company's top 150 employees. And let's say that the top-ranked
employee has an adjusted score of 4.34 and number two on the list
has an adjusted score of 4.27. Tomorrow, for whatever reason, one
of your direct reports leaves the company. Are you going to look at
the list and say, 'The top score is 4.34; that person gets the
"Of course not! There is a lot more that has to go into that type
"Of course, you're right. You need to look at the employees'
backgrounds and experiences, their strengths and weaknesses, and
how well they fit the requirements of the job."
"Yes, of course."
"The numbers don't matter. They will give you some indication of
how well a person is doing and how well that person is rated by his
or her boss, peers, and employees, but the decision cannot be made
solely on the basis of the scores."
The light went on in the CEO's head. "Okay," he said. "Go ahead and
get the process started."
Note: This article is excerpted from
Feeding Your Leadership Pipeline by Daniel R. Tobin.
Daniel R. Tobin is a consultant, coach, and author on corporate
learning strategies and leadership development programs. He has
worked in the training and development field for 30 years and has
extensive experience in leadership and management development,
executive education, sales and sales support training, and
technical education. Tobin earned a master's degree from the
Johnson Graduate School of Management and a PhD in the economics of
education, both from Cornell University. He was included in
Leadership Excellence magazine's 2008 - 9 Top 100 list of
thought leaders on leadership; linkedin.com/in/danieltobin;
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