July 16, 2018

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Marshall Goldsmith's Little Idea

Marshall Goldsmith has a lot of good ideas. One that has really stayed with me is his feedback methodology. He judges the success of coaching by getting feedback on the coached executive. On typical feedback forms, a person is rated on many factors. However, Marshall merely asks, "Is this person getting better? Is this person getting worse? What is this person doing right? What does this person need to change?"

People who give feedback love this because it is quick and, even more importantly, easy to understand. There is nothing worse than having to rate someone on a bunch of competency scales. People intuitively know these scales are unreliable. Goldsmith's question, "Is this person getting better," is something we can immediately grasp, and act on.

There is a broader lesson. Goldsmith is continually striving for simpler and simpler methods. As he develops his methods, he doesn't add more factors, he removes them. This is a very powerful approach.

In all our HR practices, whether it be creating pay systems, preparing appraisal forms or running employee surveys, a measure of progress is whether our systems are getting simpler. Sadly, the tendency is often just the opposite. We add in new factors, new pages, new algorithms to our methods. There is a perverse sense that complexity shows what a good job we are doing.

So let me encourage you to adopt the cult of simplicity. Things may start out complex, but they shouldn't stay that way. If your systems are not getting simpler, then they are probably not getting better.

Marshall Goldsmith will be a Keynote Speaker at's The Power of People.

-David Creelman