Six Boxes Performance Thinking Welcome to the Six Boxes RSS feed. Sat, 17 Mar 2018 11:12:29 PDT en-us <![CDATA[ The Problem with 360 Degree Feedback ]]> Many organizations routinely arrange for 360 degree feedback for their managers and leaders.  They typically adopt processes and tools provided by external vendors, or sometimes execute the process themselves.  In either case, there are serious limitations with this approach, to the point where many experts think it is a waste of time and money.

Here's a good article summarizing the limitations of 360 degree feedback from Talent Development a few years ago.

Performance Thinking® Programs encourage using feedback as an essential element of any performance system. However, we teach people to arrange feedback based on the criteria for good work outputs (accomplishments) and with respect to the specific behavior required to produce good work outputs.

In a system that provides frequent, specific feedback about accomplishments and behavior, 360 degree feedback fades by comparison to yet another check-box item that organizations arrange for their people, unlikely to have much useful impact.

- Carl Binder, CEO

<![CDATA[ YouTube: Leaders & Managers Drive Continuous Talent Development ]]> Here's a recent recording of a presentation that I did virtually for the Hampton Roads, Virginia, chapter of the International Society for Performance Improvement (ISPI).  Click here for the YouTube video .

It provides an overview of our Six Boxes Performance Thinking® Approach, and how we are using our Coach-Manage-Lead programs to enable leaders, managers, and coaches to be agents of continuous talent development in their organizations.

It was a very informal presentation, roughly an hour and a half in length. So it's most certainly not a "quick hit, but intended to provide an overview and introduction to what we have been working to achieve for much of the last decade.

- Carl Binder, CEO

<![CDATA[ When Good Enough is Good Enough ]]> This blog post assumes you know about The Performance Chain.  If you don't, check it out for a minute. You'll get it.

I was cleaning up my sink after preparing a delicious dinner of vegan pizza.  I noticed that I was doing a fine job, but not the compulsively shiny job that I sometimes do when I want every single kitchen implement in place. We all have things like that, I suspect – where we might take pride in doing a superb job and produce a "work output" that surpasses all expectations, just for the sake of it. Or, as in an operating room, where we need to be very careful about our work outputs. But there are a lot of other areas in our lives where good enough is good enough. That is, we just need to finish the task to produce the work output that meets some minimal standards, or criteria for "good."

In Performance Thinking® programs we make a big deal of the discussion about criteria for "good" work outputs. They are specific, easy-to-agree upon characteristics of the work output that make it good. We can measure by counting good ones and not-good ones.

Getting clear with stakeholders about "what good looks like" can cut through all kinds of unintended problems in personal relationships, in management, and across whole organizations. That's what we call Box 1 – Expectations & Feedback.

In some situations and jobs, it's very important to meet  high standards for work outputs, and even to continue increasing standards for "good" e.g., in funding or hiring decisions, in business analyses, in proposals, in software designs, in working relationships. To produce some work outputs, people need to behave in precisely defined ways to produce the outputs to meet very exacting criteria, as in a nuclear submarine where a lot is at stake.

In other areas the criteria for "good" might not pose such a high bar, as in some marketing and sales situations where "just showing up" at the right place at the right time is about all you need to accomplish, and the rest will take care of itself. 

One of the benefits of our emphasizing that stakeholders agree on criteria for "good" is not only that it helps us set levels of excellence we need in some areas with exacting standards. It also frees us up to be less precise and sometimes quicker when criteria for a "good" work output need not be quite so precise e.g., for stacked logs of firewood, 5 feet tall that won't fall down. Not too complicated.

In any case, "good enough IS good enough," as long as we specify in advance what we mean by "good." 

In my view, the second most important thing in the Performance Thinking® process and logic, after identifying work outputs that contribute to organizatonal or societal results, is to identify the criteria for those work outputs that we consider "good."  With that done, we're halfway there.

 They don't call it Box 1 for nothing!


- Carl Binder


<![CDATA[ We Love Situational Leadership®, but... ]]>

Many of our clients use Situational Leadership® programs, based on the popular model to improve the interpersonal skills of leaders and managers. Situational Leadership helps leaders and managers adapt their communication approach with those whose performance they need to support and develop. It’s a powerful program that has helped many leaders and managers communicate more effectively in key working relationships. Like other programs that teach critical interpersonal soft skills, it can have significant impact on how leaders and managers relate with their people.

Like many programs for leaders and managers, Situational Leadership teaches how to communicate, how to relate to others, and how to have important conversations. We’re always happy when client organizations have adopted one of the Situational Leadership programs, or other coaching and leadership models and programs that teach critical soft skills.

However, when it comes to talent development, performance management, and conversations aimed at helping people improve how they contribute to the organization, it is also critical to know what to discuss.  Leaders and managers must know how to describe two things, in actionable terms:

  • Desired performance for individuals or teams, and how it contributes to business results
  • Possible action steps for developing, improving or supporting that performance.

This might seem obvious, but most coaching or management development programs are vague, incomplete, or open to wide interpretation about what to talk about in coaching or management situations. They don't teach a vocabulary for describing the elements of performance that leaders and managers seek to develop or improve.

Our Performance Thinking® programs are distilled from decades of research in behavior science and performance engineering, then time-tested and refined in client organizations. We teach participants exactly what to discuss when pinpointing performance and agreeing on action steps for development or improvement of employee performance. We give participants an easy-to-understand, plain English, research-based vocabulary for describing performance and its drivers.

We use two visual models – the Performance Chain and the Six Boxes Model – to serve as guides and integrating frameworks for day-to-day performance development and leadership. Labeled with 21 plain English words, the models are easy to understand and apply. Participants in our programs begin with simple 1:1 coaching or management conversations, and then learn to extend application of  the same models and logic to more complex team, departmental, or business unit performance. They literally learn a way of thinking and talking about performance that is flexible, precise, and powerful when applied at any level.

Our programs enable leaders and managers to accelerate business results through the performance of their people, and to support continuous talent development. Clients love these programs because they fill an important gap left between programs that help leaders and managers know how to talk with their people (such as Situational Leadership® and GROW coaching programs), and the specifics of the business performance they need to achieve, by teaching what to talk about.

We encourage you to super-charge soft skills training of your leaders and managers with Performance Thinking® programs and tools that enable them to:

  • Conduct conversations that pinpoint performance in actionable ways
  • Identify and agree on action steps for improving target performance, and
  • Easily monitor and measure the performance they want to see in their people.

Our Coach-Manage-Lead programs provide a lot more than leadership or management development. Their greatest value comes from empowering leaders and managers as point people for continuous talent development with those who work for them, effectively increasing the organization's human capital and accelerating business results through people.

By Carl Binder, CEO

<![CDATA[ User Friendly ]]>

The phrase, “user friendly” means different things to different people.

For some, it means that a device, or a user interface for that device, is easy to use and perhaps even attractive. It often means simple, in contrast to “stuffing all the features we can into the software and then making it tolerable to navigate.”  It’s about user experience.

We touch on this topic when we discuss Tools & Resources (Box 2) in Performance Thinking® programs.  We emphasize the need to test and refine tools, job aids, software, processes, and other enablers that people use as they work, to ensure that they are easy to use. The ideal is for tools and resources to be intuitive, so that new users can begin taking advantage of them with little or no instruction.

In organizational performance improvement, we seek processes that are frictionless and tools that help people produce needed outputs with as little effort as possible.  These days, when people use so much technology to access information and get their jobs done, and when so much of the contact between organizations and their customers depends on technology, user friendly tools and resources are mission critical.  Users give up on web sites or customer service processes that are difficult or time-consuming. We all dislike web sites that are not intuitive. We rail against processes that waste our time or impose obstacles.  We hate tools and resources that are not user friendly, and they can make the difference between excellence and mediocrity, even between success and failure in many cases.

In Performance Thinking® programs, user friendly models and language play a central role.  Six Boxes Performance Thinking has evolved over the course of several decades during which we have continuously simplified our models and language to allow rapid and relatively easy communication and collaboration about human performance and the factors that influence it.  People at all levels and in all functions can use our models and plain English language.

We often say that our entire methodology is embodied in two simple visual models and 21 plain English words. The Performance Chain provides a basis for analyzing and describing performance, and the Six Boxes Model integrates all variables that influence behavior.

Our entire methodology, and applications that we teach performance consultants, leaders, managers, and coaches, rely on these simple models. In organizations that adopt our programs, “viral” diffusion of Performance Thinking® models and language is common – both spontaneously, and because we encourage it in recommended implementation and communication strategies. The compelling insights embedded in these models are appealing and intuitive for people, quite the opposite of the big hairy methodologies and visual “systems models” that characterize much of applied behavior science and performance improvement.

I’m currently preparing an invited presentation for an international conference next year (to be announced in coming weeks) that focuses on simplicity as a key element in effective communication. The session title will be Simple Is Better: Helping Ordinary People Apply Behavior Science.  I plan to reflect on over 40 years of my own work attempting to integrate complex bodies of research and information into simple models, messages, and methods. I’ll highlight a book that I first encountered some years ago about how Steve Jobs incorporated simplicity and elegance at many levels in his leadership at his two companies, Apple and NeXT.  Insanely Simple is a quick read and very much worth the time.

Performance Thinking models and language push back on typical organizational complexity and dis-integration when it comes to leadership, management and performance improvement.  We offer the Six Boxes Practitioner Program for staff in various departments, and our Coach-Manage-Lead programs for those in line management and leadership.

We provide a common language and simple models to make continuous performance improvement, and talent development, more user friendly and readily applicable across entire organizations.

Stay tuned as we find more organizations to take this step. Please let me know if you’re interested in exploring the possibilities.  We’re looking forward to our 9th Annual Six Boxes Summer Institute where we will report back on the impact of our work in those organizations over time.

- Carl Binder, CEO

<![CDATA[ 2018 Summer Institute: Performance Thinking Acrcoss the Enterprise ]]> The theme for our 9th Annual Six Boxes Summer Institute,  June 17-21 on Bainbridge Island, near Seattle,  will be Performance Thinking Across the Enterprise. 

We’re pleased to announce our 2018 theme, and happy that pricing for our Summer Institute will not increase from last year . Some have called it the best professional development experience of their careersPlease consider including the Summer Institute in your 2018 budget.  

Why This Theme?

In most organizations, managing and improving performance is piecemeal and disconnected.  As a result, it is not always cost-effective and does not produce or sustain desired performance results.

We use the metaphor “parts of the elephant” from the blind men and the elephant story to describe disconnects between efforts to support performance in large organizations. Depending on where you sit – at what level and in what function – efforts to support and improve performance may look quite different.  And they do not always fit together. There are different departments responsible for different performance variables, including training, process design, information systems, compensation, leadership development, and so on.  Often different efforts and programs work at cross purposes.

Collaboration via Shared Language

When staff from different departments share the same models and language for defining desired performance and configuring solutions, there is greater opportunity for cost-effectiveness.  When people see performance within the same framework, they often communicate and collaborate more effectively.

You might question whether this is possible. Our experience over the last decade suggests that it is, indeed, possible.

Line and Staff Working Together

We’ve applied Six Boxes Performance Thinking with leaders, managers and staff in different organizations.  Defining performance with the Performance Chain and configuring solutions with the Six Boxes Model enables people across functions and levels to work together for common results.  After years of research and development, we have programs that enable this to occur, and we’re now seeing the impact that we envisioned in the beginning.

In a global biotech company, over 150 certified Six Boxes Practitioners work with stakeholders to analyze performance, design improvement interventions, and sustain results.

In a large nonprofit organization, Six Boxes Practitioners and Performance Thinking Managers are creating an integrated talent development process, from initial hiring through onboarding, training, coaching, evaluation, and annual reviews – all based on Performance Thinking models and logic.

In a software company, teaching and supporting Six Boxes Performance Coaching for all leaders and managers is building a performance-driven culture that continues to evolve.

These programs create and support active learning communities of practice.

Taking It to the Next Level

As we ramp up efforts to introduce our Coach-Manage-Lead programs in larger organizations, to spread the language and tools of Performance Thinking across larger communities, we will be watching closely.  We’re looking to see how our two visual models, 21 plain English words, and “logic” of Performance Thinking can help to make performance improvement a more frictionless, collaborative and continuous process across the enterprise.

Please join us! Consider engaging us for a pilot program in your organization.

- Carl Binder, CEO

<![CDATA[ Continuous Talent Development Through Leaders and Managers ]]>

“Beware of managers who stay in their offices!”  

This rallying cry from a manufacturing organization highlights the challenge of providing leaders and managers with meaningful ways to develop their people. An initiative labeled “Purposeful Presence” for managers in that organization sought to get them out of their offices and onto the floor with those who report to them.

A phrase from the management literature of several decades ago, Management By Wandering Around, so widely used that it became an acronym (MBWA), described a “best practice” of managers.  It encouraged them to interact with their people on a regular basis, observe them in their places of work, and provide support and opportunities for development.

While it might seem obvious to many that talent development should be part of every leader’s job, it’s surprising how often it is not.

What Can Leaders and Managers Do?

It’s surprising how few practical tools and processes organizations provide to their leaders and managers to support continuous talent development on anything like a day-to-day basis.

This poses the question: What can leaders and managers do to develop their people day-to-day, engage them in the mission of the organization, and continuously improve their results?

Two Essentials for Leaders and Managers

It boils down to two essentials, often lacking in the development of leaders and managers:

  1. How to describe the performance they want from their people in a crisp, actionable way.

  2. How to identify, arrange and revise conditions to ensure successful performance development.

Sounds simple, but why is it so often lacking?  And what can be done?

Practical Programs for Continuous Performance Improvement

That’s where our Coach-Manage-Lead family of programs comes in. Performance Thinking® programs enable leaders and managers to become active vehicles for continuous talent development while strengthening employee engagement at the same time. We teach how to use the Performance Chain model to clearly define desired performance, and to use the Six Boxes model to have conversations about current conditions and practical action steps to accelerate performance. 

Senior leaders and executives can apply the same models to execute strategy through people, create employee engagement plans for their organizations, implement and manage processes more effectively, and continuously improve results through the people whom they lead.

Our work for many years has focused on accelerating business results through the performance of people. We began over a decade ago with what has become our popular Six Boxes® Practitioner Program, a certification program that enables staff professionals in virtually any department to become accomplishment-based performance consultants. 

We’ve helped to develop teams of performance consultants in many organizations, some spanning locations across the globe.  They conduct projects to optimize performance and build employee engagement. The Six Boxes Practitioner Program has been successful, based on its simple models and plain language that make communication and collaboration between performance consultants and their stakeholders easier, quicker, and some describe as “viral.”

Empowering Leaders and Managers with Field Tested Programs

There are many more leaders and managers than there are staff performance-focused professionals. Consequently, we set out to enable leaders and managers at all levels to accelerate the performance of individuals, teams, and whole organizations. We envisioned this approach several years ago in a white paper.  And now we’ve got the goods! 

We’ve designed, pilot tested, refined and implemented our Coach-Manage-Lead programs in organizations with hundreds of leaders and managers. These programs offer a breakthrough in how businesses and non-profits can choose to deploy and develop their supervisors, managers, leaders, and executives as direct agents of continuous talent development.

A Foundation for Performance Focused Culture

Six Boxes Performance Thinking® programs can lay a foundation for a performance-focused organizational culture, enabling both line and staff to continuously improve the conditions for successful performance and employee engagement.

While this approach might seem obvious, it is surprising how rarely organizations encourage and enable their leaders and managers to develop talent as part of their day-to-day jobs.

Find out more by reviewing our white paper, taking a look at the product descriptions, and passing these things on to colleagues and decision-makers in your organization or in client organizations.

Stay in touch for a significant ramp-up this fall of blog posts, video clips, and other resources addressing issues of leadership, management, strategy execution, and continuous talent development.


By Carl Binder

<![CDATA[ Feedback from The 2017 Six Boxes® Summer Institute ]]>  

We had a great group of participants at our 2017 Six Boxes® Summer Institute. People were bubbling over with new ideas, great questions, and a lot of fun.

We filled up  the rooms this year and expect that will happen even earlier next year. We love it small – under 50 participants – to keep things friendly and human-sized. That’s part of what makes it so good. 

You always leave with  new friends!

2018 Dates and Fees

The 9th Annual Six Boxes® Summer Institute will be June 17-21, 2018.  Please mark your calendar, even if you don't yet know you can attend. It'll prompt you to ask for budget and plan for time away. We’ll maintain the same pricing for 2018, so you can submit your budget request accordingly. This is a great development opportunity for you and your team.

While the theme and specific topics will change in 2018, we’ll keep the same overall design. We'll announce more details in coming months. If you’ve never been, check out the schedule and pricing for 2017 to get a good overall idea of what happens.

Many New Ideas!

Participants recorded new ideas during the program. One of my mentors, Dr. Ogden Lindsley, used to write down new ideas at conferences, and say he was having a "good" conference if he came up with 10 or 12 good new ideas.

This year, our top ideas person recorded 61 new ideas!  The average was in the mid-20s. People came away with a lot to think about and many practical ideas to apply.

Feedback from 2017 Participants

Here are a few comments from participants:

Staff Trainer:  "Top-notch experts. A beautiful and comfortable rural setting. Knowledge-hungry and driven participants. All from different backgrounds, with a common goal of furthering the culture of Performance Thinking."

Organizational Behavior Management Specialist:  "The Six Boxes Summer Institute taught me techniques and terms that I can apply to my job that help turn average performers into great performers. Performance Thinking helps you remember that your organization is set up to produce exactly the results that it produces now, and that we often need to change the system to change performance."

Program Manager:  "I found my time at the Summer Institute valuable for learning, professional development and networking with a variety of bright people –  all passionate about improving performance in their chosen field."  

Learning Business Partner:  "When attending conferences I've always felt they were worth my investment of time and money if I return to work with at least one great idea per day to try that will make me more effective. During three days at the Summer Institute I captured 25 new ideas from which to choose.  Talk about exceeding expectations!  And the whole experience nourished my soul." 

HR Business Consultant:  "You need to attend, even as a seasoned practitioner.  It proved more valuable than any ATD or ISPI conference I have attended, plus the food is really good. I really liked the mix of scholarly research-based, and anecdotal material presented.  The Summer Institute was the best conference or seminar type of learning opportunity that I have ever attended."

For the 8th year in a row, someone told us that the Six Boxes® Summer Institute was the best professional development experience of their careers. We must be doing something right!

We hope you can attend in 2018.  Please be sure we have your email address (form at the bottom of our home page ), and we'll let you know as our plans develop for the 9th Annual Six Boxes Summer Institute, June  17-21, 2018, at beautiful Islandwood on Bainbridge Island, near Seattle. 

I think it's safe to say that we'll have another really good one!

- Carl Binder, CEO

<![CDATA[ Performance Coaching: A Different Approach ]]> As we've worked with clients and adapted our Coach-Manage-Lead family of programs for different organizations and participants, we've identified two big differences between our programs and most others that we've seen.

  1. We emphasize continuous performance development of employees NOT ONLY development of leaders and managers: While most programs for managers and leaders are positioned as management or leadership development, ours emphasize the role of leaders and managers as vehicles for continuous performance development of their people. While this might at first seem academic, it plays itself out in important ways.

    For example, we recommend measuring program impact by counting new and improved accomplishments or work outputs produced by individuals and teams rather than focusing so much on the behavior of the managers or leaders as they help to improve their people. We view the role of leaders and managers as helping to identify important areas for development and then collaborating with their people to configure the best conditions for improving target performance. Yes, managers and leaders in our programs gain improved capabilities. But their changed behavior is worth very little if not for the improved and expanded performance of the people whom they coach, manage, or lead.

  2. We teach what to coach or manage, NOT ONLY how: Most coaching, management and leadership programs enable participants to develop new ways of conducting conversations, relating to their people, knowing how directive or supportive to be, and so forth. In other words, leaders and managers learn "soft" skills for working with people more effectively. This is very important, and a number of popular programs are quite effective in establishing these new skills.

    On the other hand, with a focus on employee performance, our programs enable participants to precisely define performance for development, and then configure behavior influences to help accelerate desired performance. In other words, we emphasize the what, not just the how of performance development. We teach the Performance Chain and the Six Boxes® Model as guides for defining what to improve or develop and what to configure to achieve greater performance. When used on a daily basis and communicated among team members at all levels in the organization, this Performance Thinking approach becomes a vocabulary for continuous performance improvement and a  powerful ongoing talent development process. In addition, over time it produces an organizational culture focused positively on performance development and accelerated results.

An important implication of this difference is that our programs fit well with, rather than competing with other programs. In fact, some of our clients claim that Performance Thinking® programs provide the "missing link" between other programs and measurable performance results. One well-known program, for example, Situational Leadership, is quite compatible with our offerings, because when combined, the two programs teach both what to discuss with employees and how to conduct discussions most effectively. In short, our programs play very well with others!

For more insight about the Performance Thinking approach, check out our white paper Accelerating Business Results Through Leadership and Management.  And take a look at our program descriptions for the Coach-Manage-Lead family of programs.

<![CDATA[ Performance Thinking® Programs Stand the Test of Time ]]> It’s gratifying to know that our models, tools and programs for driving performance improvement across organizations have shown long-term viability, not just “flavor of the month” popularity. They are sustaining over time, and growing.

Expanding from one organization to another:  A Chief Learning Officer brought the Six Boxes Practitioner Program and the Six Boxes Champions Program into her organization in 2010, where we learned a lot over several years about how to establish a strong internal community of practice. Last year she brought Six Boxes Performance Coaching  for managers and leaders into her current company, expanding an initial adoption by certifying two additional Program Facilitators and four Program Coaches. Our programs deliver a strategic advantage for performance-oriented leaders and their organizations.

Embedding Performance Thinking Models and Tools in HR processes:  At an organization where several hundred managers have completed The Performance Thinking Manager, we’re now developing a team of Six Boxes Practitioners.  As an outgrowth of that work, Human Resources is re-designing their talent management process – from hiring and on-boarding through quarterly reviews and coaching, continuous performance development, and decisions about salary and promotion –  all using Performance Thinking models and tools.

Evolving generations of Six Boxes Practitioners:  One of our longest-standing clients certified a single team of Six Boxes Practitioners in Operations Learning and Performance over seven years ago. Since then, they have certified over 150 Six Boxes Practitioners in multiple functions worldwide. The global Director of Learning & Performance, responsible for developing and supporting over 16,000 employees, is a second generation Certified Six Boxes Practitioner Program Facilitator/Coach, and is building a global community of practice and continuous improvement.

Expanding in the Middle East:  An organization in Dubai is completing certification of a second team of performance consultants, and requesting that we work with a third group. They’re seeking our help to expand the effort more broadly across roughly 75 different businesses.

Growing a Global Community of Practice: We’re starting to build an active global community of Six Boxes Practitioners for sharing cases, learning from one another, and expanding applications and expertise across the network. This is just getting started.  Bob Reticker, our Director of Certification, and I are planning to host quarterly Community of Practice meetings on the web, starting in the summer.

Our 8th Annual Six Boxes Summer Institute:  Can you believe it?  What started out 8 years ago has become a pretty big deal. Still small, to maintain that intimate experience of learning and sharing together, the impact has been anything but small. We’re more excited than ever to be accepting registrations for our 8th year, with a program of engaging sessions and mini workshops devoted to the theme of sustainment.  (Early registration ends May 12, and seats are filling up!)

Still a Six Boxes Champion after 30 years: A client from the 1990’s, who was a Senior Vice President of Sales at a big corporation when the Six Boxes Approach was first being developed, is coming on board as a major account representative for us. Our goal is to bring Performance Thinking programs to even larger organizations. He's the one who said years ago as a senior leader, "As an executive or manager, if I can't fit what I'm about to do into the Six Boxes Model, then I don't do it."

Our original vision of a simple yet powerful approach to continuous performance improvement, usable by anyone at any level and in any function, based on decades of research and application in behavior science and performance engineering, is proving itself over and over again. This bolsters our eagerness to push forward as we expand the reach and effectiveness of our suite of programs. 

If you want to be part of our expanding network of practitioners, leaders, and managers across the globe, please check out our white papers on a variety of topics and applications, and consider attending the 8th Annual Six Boxes Summer Institute. 

The Summer Institute is a great way to meet experienced users from around the globe in an intimate, comfortable retreat-like setting, and learn more about performance improvement than you ever thought possible in just a few days. We have many repeat participants, some of whom have described our Summer Institute as the most important professional development experience of their careers.  You can still register , before it fills up.

By Carl Binder