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Your Next Performance Review

Over the next year, many of you will go through a performance review. your direct supervisor will evaluate the contribution that you have made to the success of the organization and help you develop a plan to build on your strengths and focus on opportunities you have to improve.

My first formal performance review was at Bain & Company, a consulting firm. My assignment was to work on a project for a company in North Carolina that textured polyester fibers. I was to project the company’s return if it invested in new high-speed texturing machines. After toiling away in my cubicle for months calculating numbers, I was invited to the final presentation in North Carolina. I flew to Raleigh-Durham with plans to meet my manager the next morning in the lobby at 7:30 a.m.

I arrived at the lobby fifteen minutes early, but my manager didn’t show up. Eventually, the front desk clerk informed me that he had checked out at 6:30 a.m. and was eating breakfast with the CEO of the client organization. Apparently, he had forgotten that I had come on the trip (you can tell how valuable I was to the project team). He told me to call a taxi and meet them at the plant.

I waited twenty minutes for a taxi. As I was about to get in, I ran into a classmate of mine from school. I stopped to say hello, and somebody took my taxi. I called a second taxi and waited another twenty minutes. After riding for about a half hour, I noticed that the toll on the meter was getting expensive. Remember, this was 1978. I had $26 in my pocket. Just as we pulled up in front of the plant, the meter turned over to $25. I apologized to the driver for being unable to give him a tip and went into the plant. I asked where I needed to go for the meeting and was informed that I was in the wrong plant. The meeting was at the Reidsville Plant, not the Madison plant. I was still a half hour away. Distraught, I ran to the door to stop the taxi just in time to see it disappear around the corner. As you can imagine, my career was passing before my eyes. I could envision being fired and my family living in destitution.

Then, I noticed a Chevrolet dealership across the street. They normally didn’t rent cars, but I think they felt sorry for me. I gave them my only credit card and driver’s license in exchange for a car. Finally, I was on my way. After I had been on the road a few miles, I noticed the gas gauge was on empty. I also remembered that I had given up my only credit card and all I had was $1 in my pocket.

I frantically looked for a gas station and finally found a little country store that had one pump. I pulled up and gave my last dollar to the clerk. When I filled the tank the gas backed up from the intake and splashed all over my brand new, bought just for this presentation, suit.

Eventually, I was able to get most of the dollar’s worth of gas in the tank. I drove over to the plant and arrived at the meeting. When I entered the room, I realized that they were just about to my part of the presentation. I also noticed that the others in the meeting, one by one, began to look around and go “sniff, sniff.” I presented my chart and the meeting was finished. Although I was certain at the time that this would bring an end to my professional life, it turned out that by the time I got to my review, this story had become part of the folklore of the company.

I recently read an article in the Harvard Business Review that struck me as both consistent with my own observations of the characteristics of successful people and as potentially useful to those of you considering the characteristics you want to model in preparation for your next performance review. The article, called “Level Five Leadership,” was written by Jim Collins, operator of a management research center in Boulder, Colorado. Along with some colleagues, Collins set out to answer an interesting question: Can a good company become a great company, and, if so, how? To answer the question, this team looked for companies that had shifted from good to great performance and then sustained it, and compared them to companies that didn’t. Out of the fourteen hundred companies that were part of the Fortune 500 from 1965 to 1995, they found only eleven that made their exacting cut. A dollar invested in these eleven companies as a group in 1965 would have grown to $470 by 2000, compared to $56 in the general stock market, and more than double the stock price performance of General Electric during Jack Welch’s extraordinary tenure. What made these results all the more remarkable, as Collins says, “is the fact that they came from previously unremarkable companies.”

Collins and his team then took up the task of analyzing these companies to find out what made them change from good to great. He gave his research team explicit instructions to downplay the role of the top executives so that they would not slip into the simplistic “credit the leader” or “blame the leader” thinking that is so common today.

In spite of their effort to the contrary, the team found that they could not ignore the top executives, like they set out to do. “There is something consistently unusual about them,” Collins said. “All the data argued that the executives at companies that went from good to great and sustained that performance for fifteen years or more were all cut from the same cloth that was remarkably different from the comparison companies that did not fare as well.” Collins called these executives Level-Five Leaders. He wrote, Level-Five Leaders are a study in duality; modest and willful, shy and fearless. To grasp this concept, consider Abraham Lincoln, who never let his ego get in the way of his ambition to create an enduring great nation. Author Henry Adams called him a “quiet, peaceful, shy figure.” But those who thought Lincoln’s understated manner signaled weakness in the man found themselves terribly mistaken to the scale of 250,000 confederate and 360,000 Union lives, including Lincoln’s own.

Collins and his team characterize the leadership style of the eleven companies as the “Yin and Yang of Level 5.” On the one hand, these leaders demonstrated unwavering resolve to do whatever must be done to produce long term results, building an enduring great company, and apportioning credit for their success to other people, external factors, and good luck. On the other hand, they exhibited compelling modesty, shunning public adulation, relying principally on inspired standards, not inspiring charisma, to motivate. They took personal responsibility for poor results, never blaming others or uncontrollable events.

I hope there is something in Collins’ description of Level-Five Leadership that sounds familiar. As Marriott School graduates, you have been blessed to attend a university that teaches not only sound business curriculum but also a much more important curriculum for success in life. You have learned much about income statements, balance sheets, and sources and uses of cash flow. You have learned to analyze difficult business problems, do statistical analyses, understand pricing models, and do forecasting.

But concurrently, to use Jim Collins’ term, you have also been exposed to the Yin and Yang of Level Five Leadership. On the one hand you have learned that you “are the light of the world,” and that you are as a “city set on a hill [that] cannot be hid.” You are to “let your light so shine before men that they might see your good works,” and to be “the salt of the earth,” for without your contribution, the “salt will have lost its savor.”

On the other hand, you are to “become as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon [you].” You are to ask yourself if you were called to stand before God, if you “are stripped of pride,” and to “be humble,” and to know, as a result, that “the Lord thy God shall lead thee by the hand and give thee answers to thy prayers.” So how does what you have learned here help you do well in your next performance review? Let me give you four suggestions:

  1. Use the skills you have developed at BYU. This is a great university. If you have applied yourself, the education you have gained here is as good as any in the world. BYU graduates are among the most talented people who work at American Express. Be confident in what you know.
  2. Commit to do the right thing. Don’t work on the Sabbath. Pay your tithing. Don’t do anything that could be interpreted in any way as unethical, dishonest, or have any appearance of impropriety.
  3. Set and work to inspiring standards. President Kimball once said something like, “Make no small plans, for they have no power to stir the soul of man.” Think big. Imagine what could be. Don’t accept as fact when you hear that what you are trying to do has failed before. Be relentless in identifying ways to do something better. Set out to be great at what you do.
  4. Recognize that your success is not yours alone. Recognize the hand of God, the support of leaders and colleagues, the impact of external circumstances, and a lot of luck in your success. Take responsibility when things aren’t going well, and acknowledge the role of others when they are. If all this talk of performance reviews has you a little concerned, let me make one final suggestion for how you might actually apply these suggestions in one quick exercise. Before you start work, make a list of performance criteria in order of importance down the side of a page. Instead of rating yourself on a one-to-five scale, you might want to characterize each of the criteria with something to which you can relate.

I will demonstrate in my performance:
The integrity of Captain Moroni
The desire to serve of King Benjamin The persistence and faith of Nephi
The persuasiveness of Paul
The humility of Howard W. Hunter
The vision of Gordon B. Hinckley
And thankfulness to God for all things in which I have been blessed.

My fondest wish for you is great success and happiness in your family, your service in the Church, and in your profession. And good luck on your next performance review.


Article by Gary L. Crittenden

About the Author
Gary L. Crittenden is executive vice president and chief financial officer of American Express, a position he assumed in June 2000. He serves as a key advisor on strategic and financial matters worldwide and represents American Express to investors, lenders, and rating agencies. Crittenden earned a BS in management from Brigham Young University in 1976 and an MBA from Harvard University in 1979. He gave this speech at the Marriott School Convocation 27 April 2001.

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