Wednesday, January 5, 2011

I Own My Own Shoes

Let's suppose you and I went bowling this afternoon. We get to the center and prepare to bowl a few lines, but before you start I walk to the far end of the alley and just before the pin set-up I erect a curtain across the lane. I then invite you to bowl. You search for the perfect ball realizing as you look down the lane you can't see the pins, but with the best of intentions and to the best of your ability, you let the ball fly. It rolls down the lane, under the curtain and you hear a crash.

A moment later, I come out from behind the curtain and shout "three!" You stare at me for a moment and then ask if I meant you had struck three pins or that you had missed three pins. I don't actually answer you but shout again "three!" and then I insist you bowl again. This time, I invite a diner having coffee at the snack bar to stand behind the curtain and report on your success. Again you bowl, again the ball goes under the curtain and again you hear a crash. This time a different number is shouted to you but you still don't know what it means. To complicate matters, I'm keeping score and you can't see the tally sheet.

After awhile, your enthusiasm for bowling starts to wane. You have no idea what your score is, how well you're doing or how much longer the game will go on and decide you've had enough. When I complain you're a quitter, you tell me you it's impossible to bowl without seeing the pins. I conclude you are a sore loser and vow to never go bowling with you again, even if you do own your own shoes.

I was thinking about bowling without seeing the pins earlier this week as the discussion warmed up about a performance evaluation by the Norwich City Council of its sole employee, the City Manager. By charter, the City Manager is the city's Chief Executive Officer, who serves at the pleasure of the City Council. The challenge in successfully developing a performance evaluation may be in determining just what constitutes pleasure. And how often that definition needs to be adjusted.

Through the years, though you might not know it from looking at downtown, times and circumstances have changed. To help put that into perspective, remember only one of the seven alderpersons who hired the current City Manager thirty-seven months ago is on the current City Council. It's highly possible, if not probable, that the performance goals and measurement standards of the City Council who did the original hiring could be (quite) different from those of the current council, to say nothing of the financial circumstances in which the city finds itself.

A performance review should be a road map of where, together, a City Council and its City Manager should be headed rather than a souvenir book of where they've been. The Council and the Manager should develop an ongoing on-the-record dialogue which facilitates (and documents) a candid exchange of desired capabilities and demonstrated capacities that define mutual expectations.

Every successful enterprise creates an environment of excellence in which members know what success looks like in terms of personal achievement even as the organization benefits from professional enhancement. No one should ever have to bowl without seeing the pins. "I'm on your team, but I never know when you're not."
-bill kenny

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