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Alexandra Reese's Growth Guide

Timely leadership insights to accelerate your growth & impact


Thank you for being a valued member of my community! And welcome to the eighth edition of the Growth Guide. Links to the first seven editions are now at the bottom of this edition, along with opportunities to partner. 

I'm excited to announce that I'm transitioning the Growth Guide to a weekly newsletter, which will arrive in your inbox every Thursday. Each edition will contain one timely tip to accelerate your growth!


Create an unfair competitive advantage with performance management

Today, I’m going to show you how to create an unfair competitive advantage with your performance management system.


When you build an effective performance management system, you will dramatically improve the quality of people you attract, the engagement and retention of top talent, and overall organizational performance. Seriously, it is hugely impactful.


If the idea of yet another transformation feels daunting, you can build slow. Implementing just one better practice from this article will boost engagement and performance.


Unfortunately, most organizations will continue to hemorrhage top talent because of poor performance management. That’s because their leaders don’t understand that performance management is the key to addressing the top drivers of engagement and retention.

Bad performance management causes employees to quit

Eight of the top ten reasons employees quit their last job are the result of bad performance management.


With strong performance management, you can address almost every concern that leads an employee to leave. I’ve observed or worked with dozens of organizations to hone their performance management systems. I’ve also spent 100+ hours researching performance management in the post-2020 world. Today, I’m going to distill that experience down to a framework for performance management and three better practices to bring that framework to life.


Effective performance management has four elements


Better Practice #1: Personalize the experience

You segment your customers and personalize their experience. You need to do the same for your people.


McKinsey’s Chief People Officer, Katy Gorge, summarized the importance of personalizing the employee experience in her Harvard Business Review article, Competing in the New Talent Market:

From preset career paths to self-authorship, research shows that people want the ability to personalize their jobs in a way that supports flexibility and well-being. Moreover, rather than following a pre-determined career track up a corporate ladder, they want to create their own career paths.

Put this better practice into action:

1. Succession plan

All too often, organizations lose great people because they lack paths for advancement. Succession planning is an effective way to create those paths. Not only does it generate clear advancement paths for top performers, it also opens important conversations about talent development and retention organization-wide. For example: How healthy is our internal talent pipeline? How effectively and equitably are we advancing people through this pipeline? 

The benefit of having these conversations as part of succession planning is that it places them in the context of business need. You can’t advance people just because they’re talented; you must also have a clear business need.

2. Train managers as coaches

Most leaders get personalization wrong because they think it’s their job to direct and administer a unique experience for every person. It’s not. It’s their job to empower each person to create their experience within a broad set of parameters (e.g., job and behavior expectations). 
This is coaching. And it’s a practical skill that can be taught and learned. 

If you’re interested in coach training for your managers, reply to this newsletter. If I get enough interest, I’ll create a short guide and companion training.

Better Practice #2: Set value-based expectations 

Expectations are the foundation of your performance management system. They begin in the job description, carry through to annual and quarterly performance goals, and get reinforced in check-ins and feedback conversations.


Most leaders phone this work in. They copy and paste job descriptions, giving little thought to how the contributions and nature of the role may have changed. They use the same standard set of goals for every role, failing to account for the unique contribution potential of teams and individuals. And, consequently, they have no basis from which to give meaningful, fair feedback.


The impact of poor expectations on employee engagement, productivity, and retention cannot be overstated. Wall Street Journal reporter, Josh Jamerson, summarized this impact perfectly in his tweet below. Poor expectations lead to burnout, full stop.

To set better expectations, focus on value and values. More on this below.

Put this better practice into action:

1. Design job descriptions around value delivered

Task- and competency-based job descriptions create confusion and kill performance. Do the work up-front to clarify the value each team and individual is responsible to deliver. And make sure the performance goals you set are within their control to deliver. If you’d like to see a value-based job description, reply to this newsletter. I’d be happy to share an example from one of my clients who has used value-based job descriptions to dramatically improve hiring, performance, and retention.

2. Use organizational values as a basis for behavioral expectations

Giving feedback on how someone “shows-up” is fraught. Are you holding that person to the same expectations as others? Are you being biased? Will it feel fair and equitable? You can eliminate these concerns by establishing clear behavioral standards. 

I recommend using your organizational values as the basis for those standards. For each values statement, define what that value looks, sounds, and feels like in action. If you’re interested in an engaging activity you can use to co-create values statement definitions, reply to this newsletter. I'd be happy to share my favorite!

Better Practice #3: Make feedback a habit

In addition to effective expectations, a feedback culture is the most important element of your performance management system.


A feedback culture refers to a workplace in which every person has the knowledge, skill, and ability to give and receive feedback across the organization.  


Most leaders wait to give feedback until quarterly or annual reviews. This delay comes at a cost:

  • Behavioral issues fester and grow
  • Performance and relationships suffer
  • Feedback loses its context and relevance
  • Feedback induces shame when the receiver realizes how long they’ve been doing harm
  • Top performers lose steam in the absence of timely recognition and reward
  • Positive behavioral change reverts without timely reinforcement
  • Millennials and Gen Z, who crave regular feedback, disengage


If you want to up-level performance, you must create a feedback culture that emphasizes fast feedback.


Every person should know how well they’re doing with respect to their goals and expectations at all times. You know you’re doing it right when quarterly and annual performance reviews are not a surprise.

Put this better practice into action:

1. Train people to give and receive feedback

Most people never receive formal communication training. So, just the idea of giving or receiving feedback is enough to induce stress and anxiety--even when it's positive! We are all hardwired to avoid discomfort, so it's understandable that most people avoid feedback like the plague.

If you want to make feedback a habit, you must make it comfortable. That means training people in how to give and receive feedback. And then practicing it, so it becomes second-nature. I'm working on a newsletter on this topic, so keep an eye out for that later this year!

2. Create feedback triggers

Establishing common feedback triggers is key to making feedback a habit. Asking people to "give more feedback" is not enough. They need triggers that remind them to do it, or they'll likely never get comfortable with the practice. A few of my favorites are weekly team check-ins, bi-weekly one-one-ones between managers and their direct reports, and project retrospectives 

You have the power to make performance management among you most valuable assets 

A strong performance management system is the key to both maintaining current performance and  achieving bold strategic goals. So, if you're looking to do big things in 2023 I recommend you prioritize investing in this critical system. 


Opportunities to Partner

Growth Mastermind: The Growth Mastermind integrates coaching, strategic advisory, and peer-to-peer learning to push the bounds of your leadership potential and impact. This unique developmental experience will bring together small groups of four to six growth-minded leaders who are in similar stages of their leadership journeys. If you’re ready to transform your life, organization, and legacy while building lifelong relationships with other likeminded leaders, this opportunity is for you. Read more and sign-up here.

One-on-one and Team Coaching: You're ready to improve your life, leadership, and impact. As your coach, I'll work with you (and your leadership team, if desired) to clarify your vision and purpose, set bold goals, build an actionable strategy, and cultivate the mindset, beliefs, and behaviors necessary to achieve sustainable results.

Growth Advisory: You've been working diligently to grow your organization, but have yet to achieve sustainable results. Or perhaps you've done exceptionally well and are ready to take things to a new level. I can help you hone a compelling vision and strategy, then execute with confidence, ease, and joy. 


Links to Past Editions

Here are links to the first seven editions:

Oct: 1/ The four elements of a high-performing leadership team, 2/ Cultivate an empowered leadership mindset

Sep: 1/ Replan for Q4, 2/ Jumpstart growth through self-awareness, 3/ Three Qs to save you BIG in your next strategy process 

Aug: 1/ Adapt your strategy process, 2/ Support your mid-level managers, 3/ Halt your mid-career crisis

Jul: 1/ Win with values, 2/ How to get hybrid work right, 3/ Vacation like a European

Jun: 1/ The mid-year review, 2/ Sharpen your creative skills, 3/ Win through failure

May: 1/ Prepare for downturns; 2/ Better, faster decisions; 3/ Embrace difference to improve performance

Apr: 1/ The Q1 review, 2/ Prime yourself for success, 3/ Focus your innovation investments for impact


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Create an unfair competitive advantage with performance management