The end of the year coincides with an often dreaded event:  annual performance appraisals.

Thinking about performance appraisals, my mind goes back to the late ’90’s, when I was a rising procurement star for US Airways (now American Airlines).

On our performance appraisals, our managers had multiple sections to complete.  Two of those sections were “Strengths” and “Developmental Areas.”  Now, we all know that the opposite of strengths is weaknesses.  So, why not call the section “Weaknesses?”

Well, of course, no one likes their weaknesses pointed out.  And, if you rub an employee the wrong way, that can kill morale and obliterate any good that listing strengths would have done.

So, “developmental areas” implies that certain traits of an employee’s work  can and will be improved in the next year.

It’s a decent euphemism.  But I heard an even better one last night.

Anyone who has read my book, The Procurement Game Plan, knows that I love sports.  And that I love to correlate sports performance to procurement performance.

So, that’s where my mind was last night as I watched the press conference of Pittsburgh Penguins’ head coach, Mike Sullivan, after the Pens’ big win over the Columbus Blue Jackets.

A reporter asked the question:  “How do you make sure that this win does sort of translate on and produce some sort of positive change down the road for this season?”

Sullivan answered:  “We’re going to break the film down.  We’re going to learn what we can from it.  We’re going to take some of the good things and some of the teaching points…and we’re going to look at our next game.”

Did you catch that phrase?

“Teaching points.”

Now, that is a euphemism I like even better than “developmental areas.”  I like it because it implies a few things:

  • That “weaknesses” will be overcome by teaching; and
  • That the teaching will be done by the coaches

This emphasizes an oft-overlooked role of procurement leaders:  that of teacher.

So much of middle-of-the-road business performance is built on a very narrow-minded view of management – if someone doesn’t do a good job, hold them accountable.

I’m not saying that there is no place in procurement leadership for that.  But it should not be the only approach to improving performance.

If you’re a procurement leader, you probably got to your position because you performed well in a lower-level role and your management saw your potential.  So, you have some desirable skills.  Skills that you can teach to others.

So, as you complete your subordinates’ performance appraisals this year, think about that aspect of your leadership role.  You are a part teacher.  So teach!  And eradicate those weaknesses, developmental areas, or whatever you want to call them!

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