People are the Lever

Overcoming the difficulty of scaling a culture change for DevOps, Agile and Lean

PeopleTech at DevQ

1st December 2016

Our journey in managing people for high performance.

Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty of Performance Appraisals — it is a metrics programme. Thus, the basic principle of metrics programmes applies – you are at high risk of creating a rod for your own back. What gives this statement real oomph is that we are working with people and their pay. The outcome is the Performance Appraisal disintegrates into a pay issue. This, coupled with unintended consequences and malicious compliance (be that intentional or not), results in a ‘strangling circle’ — strangling because the effectiveness of my performance appraisal process is strangled.

Key to having a good metrics programme, and thus the Performance Appraisal programme, is one that identifies what one must do to achieve a desired result.

A result desired by the individual is an increase in pay. Thus inherent to performance appraisals, as generally practised, is the question of an increase, or reward, for doing great work. Changing this focus has taken time and regular reaffirmation. 

Recently I read about Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle. The experience gained is to apply the fundamentals of Why, How and What to your performance appraisal process . You could stop reading right there and go “do it” — apply the Golden Circle to your performance appraisal.

Our evolution with Performance Appraisals proves that Simon Sinek is correct.

“Start with the Why”


Our company started with Performance Appraisals when it transitioned from an IT product company to an IT services company in 1999. Our services are carried out on-site at the customer. Thus an additional party is involved in the Performance Appraisal process.  

Despite this complication we had remarkably few storms in our Performance Appraisal Journey.

Photograph via Unsplash

Defining desired results

From the idea we are ‘Knowledge Workers’, I decide our product is competence and capacity. People who had the competence (knowledge) to do a job and the company having the capacity to get jobs done.

Desired results = increase knowledge, competence and increase value to the customer.

I wanted a way to reward people consistently and fairly.

Desired results = happy employees. (Shortened version of engaged, motivated and the other fuzzy, but still important, aspects of working with people).

Bought a book “Pay People Right” and sort of read it. Opted for a consulting company (who had read the book) and implemented a model. “Pay People Right” is about aligning reward (in terms of money) to strategy and success of the company.

As a result, the Performance Appraisal includes aspects outside of what the employee does in meeting expectations of the job in hand, i.e. the aspects of my strategy. Note the ‘my strategy’, this must become our strategy for success. 

The evaluation is on the role and the work done. The scale we use is: – Below Expectations, Meet Expectations, Exceed Expectations. Focus on that word Expectations. It is the key to unlocking high, and consistent, performance.

The scale works well. BUT… it created a moral dilemma for me. I have high expectations for some people. Consistent high performance becomes expected.

The good outweighs the bad though. There are more ‘Jane and Joe Average’ than Super Stars. Time for the first ‘light bulb moment’ — developing each person to a ‘High Performer’ in their own right. It is the professional growth opportunity an employer can offer an  employee. Our overall gain in value created is high.

Early start to the self-evaluation process. Complete a form and give evidence where you (employee) feel you have exceeded expectations. This lead to a Personal Development Plan. However, this plan was often too far removed from the project work and thus lacked relevance. Evolved to become a Project Development Plan. The idea being –’what can you learn, on this project, to improve your value’ (to yourself, your customer and your employer).

DevOps and the way forward.

Revisit that last sentence. We were perfectly set up to for the arrival of DevOps (with Agile and Lean).

The Project Development Plan has been enhanced to be a Personal Success Plan. The What and How of your (employee’s) success in using DevOps, Agile and Lean to create value. The Why (for the employee) is easy – become recognised as a master at your craft.

Another “ground-breaker” from this year is that we are going to be able to ditch the annual performance appraisal to a continuous cycle of evaluating and adjusting. The breakthrough comes from our Guru in testing, Louise Perold, taking Joanna Rothman’s Behind Closed Doors and implementing it for her project team.

I am really excited about 2017 in what we have to offer our employees and our customers in the journey of DevOps, Lean and Agile.