Thursday, November 16, 2006

Focalization #2

There were a couple of good comments to the last post. If you haven't read them, please do so, as they give some good background relevant to this one.

As one of the comments mentioned, focal has changed recently and rank groups are more focused on in-tact teams. The advantage to this is that you don't have managers of other organizations gunning for you rather than their own people. The disadvantage is that your manager now has to hit distribution numbers with his own people rather than going after someone else's.

The basic idea of focal is that the top people get rewarded well, the bottom people get a strong message, and everyone else in the middle gets about the same (typically mediocre) raise and stock package. For the sake or argument, let's say that top 15% of performers get 2-3x better annual compensation, and that the bottom 15% get nothing. That means that the 70% in the middle are treated about equally. The difference in effort between someone who ranked at the 84th percentile vs. the 16th can be huge. But they will get about the same compensation.

My recommendations for focal:

1. Know your peers and know your boss. Focal is all about you being ranked relative to your peers. If you want to be competitive, you need to know what they're doing, how well they're doing it, and what your boss thinks of them. I'm not recommending that you act duplicitously, just that you pay attention to what people are doing and the team interactions with your boss.

2. Know where you are, and where you want to be. Don't work to be near the top. An "almost there" doesn't count at focal, and working your butt off to get near the top will often result in frustration. If you aren't competitive enough to be at the top, or don't want to work that hard, being in the 40-50th percentile is the sweet spot. This generally keeps you far enough away from the bottom that nobody is questioning your performance, but it doesn't have you working as hard as those in the 90th percentile for no additional reward. Knowing exactly where you will fall is nearly impossible, but you should be able to gauge yourself relative to your peers after going through focal or mid-year one time.

3. Write a good work sheet. Over and over I see people turning in crappy, overly verbose summaries of their own work for focal. Your boss will get 2-3 minutes to explain to other managers what you did for the year, and the results and impact it had. They'll also get to cover 3-4 items - no more. So when you summarize your accomplishments, focus on impact. Don't write about what you thought was important, or on what you did particularly well, but what other managers will think was important to Intel. It's all about the result and the impact. If you can put a real dollar figure or some other quantifiable metric, it's even better. If you didn't quite hit expectations for an item, either don't mention that or have a good explanation. If you did better than expected, flaunt it. "Conceived of and drove the xyz project to target and removed redundant servers in Oregon. This resulted in 47 servers being identified and shut down. The program target was $125K in savings, but Bob's efforts resulted in $300K savings for support, maintenance, and licensing." This is short, specific, and demonstrates that you not only hit a goal, but exceeded it.

4. Take advantage of bad mid-year reviews. Not all groups do a mid-year review, and in those that do everyone hates it. But getting a bad performance message at mid-year is far better than getting one at focal. Your boss has an obligation to help you be successful, so if you have a mid-year performance problem, they will work with you to turn it around before the end of the year. It's a reflection on them if they don't. Mid-year documentation tends to be treated informally, so it's far less likely that a future manager will know that you had a performance problem. A formal performance problem at focal will stay with you forever. But here's the real kicker: your boss can take credit for a bad mid-year message at focal. If he needs to have 3 poor performers at focal to hit distribution, and gave 2 messages at mid-year, he only has to find one more at focal. So he hits his target and you don't get a permanent mark.

5. Poor performance messages should not be a surprise. Once focal starts, it can take on a life of it's own and the target goals may force a manager to give a performance message they don't agree with. Or they may think you deserve a performance message, but hadn't mentioned it to you previously. Either way, if you had no idea that you were performing poorly before your review the momentum is in your favor. If you're boss didn't give you an indication that you needed to do anything differently during the year, it's going to be hard to make a performance message stick at focal.

5b. Take advantage of good mid-year reviews. If your mid-year review is good or better, you should expect to have the same review at focal, unless something has changed. If you find yourself in a situation where you did OK at mid-year and poorly at focal, your boss really needs to have given you some indication of this. If not, you have a good argument for reversing the bad message.

5c. Use the open-door policy. Intel has an process that allows you to speak to HR or your boss's boss when you feel you've been wronged. People rarely take advantage of this at focal, but I've seen it work over and over. It won't change a poor performance message that you deserved, but if you were treated unfairly, there's a good chance of it being changed. And people often think that their manager will hold it against them for escalating. That could happen. But sometimes your manager is frustrated at being forced to hit a target, and would welcome HR overturning the poor performance message they delivered.

6. Make a job change if needed. If you're in a group where you can't be competitive, consider finding a group where you can. I've had peers that made me look positively below average no matter how hard I worked. I've also been the rock star in other groups. This is usually up to luck or circumstance, but when possible don't move into a job where where you be the weak link.

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

I appreciate your positive recommendations on how best to handle focal. I've unfortunately never been able to look at it in a constructive manor during my time at Intel. I got a BE review by a manager from another country who wasn't even my official manager while we were both on seed assignments during my 2nd yr with the company. I've been mad at myself for not disputing this review ever since, as you recommended. That experience left a terrible taste in my mouth for the entire game. One that I've never been able to get past. I know employees have to be reviewed in one form or another, and just about anyway you do it someone's not going to be happy, but strongly believe that it is this process that is ruining the company's culture and is a huge tax on the entire organization, both in time and emotional drain, that doesn't even come close to producing any viable ROI in form in which it's carried out. Though I do appreciate the fundamental goal of rewarding high performance and trying to improve lower performers, there's just too much colateral damage the way it's handled. Thanks for talking about this issue!

Anonymous said...

Another recommendation I would have for focals is the peer selection process which, I believe, plays a big factor in the rankings. My observations are that people usually pick their "buddies" for peer reviews and most managers are too lazy to add or change any of these picks. People can easily avoid bad performance comments this way. So, my proposal would be to have managers exclusively pick the peer reviewers for each employee. As a check-and-balance, the peer reviews would be mutual, so that nobody can be unfairly critical without some ramifications.

Heath said...

Employees and managers share equal obligation to make sure that performance messages are delivered all throughout the year. If you are not receiving regular updates from your manager, ASK them. Make sure you are still meeting their expectations - identify where you are going above and beyond, and where you might want to improve. Performance management has to be done 365 days a year - don't let it sneak up on you.

I've seen it go very well, and I've seen it go very wrong - most of the time, hinging on the integrity of the manager. If you don't have a manager that puts your growth as a top priority, get out of that organization and find one who does. If they don't put you first, they certainly aren't going to fight for you at FOCAL.

Intel IT Guy said...

I always hate hearing about people getting bad reviews in unreasonable circumstances. But an BE doesn't have to be an issue - I know some senior people who have had BE reviews in their past.

I agree that good managers should be requesting feedback from people other than those recommended by the employee. Some managers only go looking for good data, but the good ones look for representative sources.

Sound advice, Heath. Also nice to hear from you.

Anonymous said...

What never gets any notice is that there have been many external studies done on the focal process. They all conclude that it is a negative that actually hurts a company's P&L. It's all about control... not about improving anything. Face it, people are subjective, not objective. Focal destroys teamwork and the new process will simply ensure less teamwork than ever.

Anonymous said...

What never gets any "air time" is that there have been quite a few external studies on the focal process. They all conclude that focal is a negative for corporations and actually hurt P&L. Teamwork is the thing that suffers most and the new process will simply compound that issue. Focal is about control; it is not about being fair or "meritocracy". Face it, people are subjective not objective.

Anonymous said...

anonymous post #2 ...

very good comment on the fact that many look to get peer reviews from only their "buddies" and many managers not ensuring a more unbiased cross section. When this occurs, it just makes focal a more political process where unobjective, biased opinions/comments are what final conclusions are drawn from.

Anonymous said...

I have always worked as hard as possible for my gropup's goals. several times in the past, I considered my contributions to be superior to my peers, however R&R did not meet my expectations. I tried the "ass-kiss" routine one year. That was a terrible way to go. Since then, for the past 5 years, I just do my absolute best, I help others in my group to be their best, and I promote others to my managers as much as possible. Since then I have never worried about focal.

Anonymous said...

One thing that is not discussed directly about focal is the importance of the relationship between the manager and employee. Manager’s and employees that conflict in personality and style are not as likely to perform as well as managers and employees that connect in personality and style. All things being equal, a manager that has employees that connect with them will likely give them a better focal result. Employees with poor focal results including BE’s or IR’s may simply be suffering from a poor manager and employee relationship. Over time focal will tend to cause the culture to become homogeneous. Those that are similar in personality and style as their managers will be rewarded and tend to stay. Those with difference will tend to be punished and leave. Because of this, Intel is destined to become a homogenous culture of similar personalities and styles that will have a difficult time recognizing the need for open discussion and change. Focal is a primary contributor to this inevitable outcome.

Anonymous said...

I agree with all the comments here... it's a shame that we can't have internal comments / discussions such as this even though the vast major of my peers seem to feel the same way. Who is this 1% or so that force this system on the rest of us? Anyhow, I've heard there could be changes coming to the process but haven't heard of any specifics... anyone have any news on the front?

Intel IT Guy said...

I have not heard much about Focal changes, other than managers needing to hit targets with their own people. This will prevent managers from being predatory in R&R, which we have all done. Early in the ranking and rating session many managers will determine who to target for poor ratings to keep the heat off their own people. Eliminating this behavior will be a big change, but doesn't solve the other Focal issues.

Anonymous said...

The focal distribution targets are so bogus it's not even funny. The age old argument that I've always heard from mgmt is that human behavior generally fits a normal distribution so the focal targets fit and can be used. It's unfortunately that such educated folks fail to remember that normal distributions assume a random sampling from a given population. Unless the people doing the hiring are not selecting some of the top folks who apply to Intel, there's nothing random about our employees and thus annual distribution targets shouldn't be used. Now that I vented, our group heard there are likely to be some significant changes this year. But who knows.

Anonymous said...

You do need to check some of your facts. A negative message at mid-year is just as damaging as one at annual focal. It goes into your permanent record, will probably result in a zero increase at next annual and could be a factor in redeployment options. While it's less rigorous many organizations do demand some portion of the distribution be achieved at mid-year.

Intel IT Guy said...

I guess we'll have to agree to disagree on this. What's you're saying is technically true, but after many years writing reviews, it's not consistent with how I've seen things work. Go look at an employee file and tell me how many mid-year reviews you see relative to focal reviews. I typically see focal reviews at a ratio of about 5:1 vs. mid-years. People tend to treat the far less formally.

And getting performance message at mid-year likely will result in a 0% increase for the year. But I'm talking about the long term impact. You have a much better chance of recovering from a poor performance message at mid-year than you do a bad focal message.