If you want top on job performance from your staff there is one question that you must ask. After all, we already know the power of one question.
“Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.” These words were written by veteran newsman Francis Pharcellus Church at the “New York Sun” on September 21, 1897.
His words were part of an answer to a question asked by 8 year old Virginia O’Hanlon. She wrote to the editor of the “Sun” asking. “Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?”
Francis Church’s answer has become history’s most reprinted newspaper editorial. But he didn’t try to prove or disprove the existence of Santa Claus. Church says that the values that Santa represents are proof of his existence.
Our Debt To Virginia O’Hanlon and Francis Church
Virginia asked a simple, even childlike question. Church’s answer is entrenched in Christmas folklore. Believe it or not, the “one question” approach also works in staff management.
There is one question that you must ask if you want top on job performance from your staff. The answer is just as profound as what Francis Church provided for Virginia O’Hanlon back in 1897.
The “One Question” You Must Ask
This is the “One Question”:
“If this job were being done perfectly, how would I know?”
That’s it. That’s all. Eleven simple words hold the key to outstanding staff performance. But there’s more to this question than eleven simple words.
Features Of The “One Question”
This one question ……
- concerns getting the job done not how it’s done: it’s about results not process and procedures
- applies regardless of who’s doing the job
- is asked before the on job performance actually occurs
- concentrates on performance not relationships
- demands tangible proof of performance
- assumes that the manager knows the precise performance he or she requires and how the performance will be measured
- assumes that the job performance can be accurately measured
- asks “How would I know?” Nothing less than knowing for certain is acceptable. It’s about specific results not loose general Ideas
- assumes that the company has a specific, cogent and lucid marketing position and target market. The desired performance must support the business
- assumes that the best on job performers receive the best tangible incentives and rewards.
The “one question” has other virtues too …
- It eliminates confusion and complication. It does this by focusing on one specific job result. It’s that simple.
- Allows for employee input B205 about process, method and systems
- It passes the Ricardo Semler “proud test”. Semler says: “I want employees to go home each night, proud of their work”. Successful on job achievement engenders such pride in performance
- Deters managers from playing at “pop psychology”
- It can be readily understood by employees
- Emphasizes focus on skill at using performance systems rather than be limited to competency based skills
- Puts theory within a performance perspective
- Deliberately doesn’t define “perfectly”. “Perfectly” well will be determined by results not by bureaucratic definitions
- Isn’t a system. It’s a question. When the question’s answered it still needs a system to make the answer viable.
Complication And Confusion
Believe it or not, I’ve worked in and around so-called “human resources management” for over 50 years. It used to be called “personnel and training”. And what’s now called “onboarding” used to be “induction”.
The human mind prefers clarity and precision over complication and confusion. Many so called “HR specialists” seem to love complicated and jargon ridden descriptions. Managers and employees do not. As Albert Einstein once said: “If you can’t explain it clearly, you probably don’t understand it well enough”.
The “But Leons”
Some of you may already be thinking …. if not saying, “But Leon, we must try to understand our people better.” “But Leon, behaviour has a big influence on job performance.” “”But Leon, you can’t assess performance based on just one question.” “But Leon, it’s too simple. If performance improvement could be summed up in one simple question, everyone would be asking it.”
Of course they would! And that’s what should be happening already. It’s not. The “one question” enables managers to look beyond easy, imperfect and glib responses such as proving that Santa Claus exists or doesn’t.
It’s All About Systems
“If your systems are poor, your people will fail.” I’ve said and written that innumerable times. But how can you design your systems if you lack clear measurable performance goals and standards?
Famous performance technologist Dr Thomas Gilbert puts it this way: “The biggest single reason why employees don’t do better work is that they don’t know what’s expected of them.” I always add: “But their managers think that they do.”
The “One Question” enables managers to decide the precise performance they want and how it’s to be measured. Managers and employees can share outcomes and design systems to achieve them.
Virginia, Francis And Your Business
Virginia asked a simple question. Francis Church provided a wonderful reply. In over a century, no one has matched his response. And millions of people, adults and children, still believe in Santa Claus. We still don’t know for sure whether Santa Claus exists. But we do know the values he represents. That’s the legacy Francis Church left us.
Seek simplicity, seek clarity, specify desired, measurable on job performance goals and standards. Seek the “one question” that’s the key to solving your problem. And avoid complicated and generalized approaches that increase confusion.
Do yourself a favour: Google “Yes Virginia, there Is A Santa Claus”. Read for yourself what Francis Church actually said to Virginia O’Hanlon in 1887. Then tell me it’s old fashioned in this hi-tech age.
What To Do Now
What are your essential performance issues that would benefit from “one question?” Write the question and how you’ll measure the performance they refer to.