Talent agent Featured

8:00pm EDT June 25, 2008

When Adam Miller delegates a task, he’s not handing away allresponsibility. As founder, president and CEO of Cornerstone OnDemand Inc., he believes that the onus is also on him to track performance and provide help when needed.

“The real objective of performance management is not to punish employees,” Miller says. “It’s to make people more productive and to help them do better in their careers.”

The task is something of a specialty at Cornerstone, which produces talent management software for companies across the globe. As a business philosophy, it’s also helped Miller lead the 145-employee company from 2003 revenue of $2.5 million to 2006 revenue of $6.7 million.

Smart Business spoke with Miller about how to get the most out of employees and how to gauge potential by using a tic-tac-toe-style grid.

Q. How do you get the most out of your employees?

Make sure that your employees respect you and you respect them. Give them the responsibility they earn or deserve, and monitor their progress to make sure they’re able to do what you’ve asked them to do.

In other words, give them enough rope but not too much.

Q. How do you find that balance?

One way is to have clear targets and objectives and to have some key metrics to monitor those objectives. In other words, don’t wait until the end of whatever time frame you gave them to determine whether they achieved or failed on that objective.

Have some milestones or metrics that you’re tracking along the way to make sure that they’re on track. If they go off track, step in or help remediate by giving them either more resources, more coaching or more help.

Q. How do you set those milestones?

In sales, it tends to primarily focus on revenue objectives. In other departments, it might be focused on specific objectives given to the employee by their manager that could be very finite. For somebody (in public relations), it might be to set up X number of press interviews or put out X number of press releases.

For other employees, such as in the tech area, we will have specific projects with due dates.

Those objectives should be set at whatever frequency makes sense for that particular position or that particular company. ... They should be reviewed not once a year but on an ongoing basis ... with the idea that if somebody is off track, you have the ability to proactively get them back on track.

Q. How else do milestones benefit employees?

People usually leave for one of two reasons. They feel like they weren’t developing in their career: ... The other reason is they weren’t communicating well with their manager: ‘I don’t see eye to eye with my manager. My manager was critical. My manager wasn’t supportive.’

Often, both of those things can be resolved by having better alignment of what the goals of the employee are and the goals of the manager are. If both the employee and the manager understand what the goals are and have clear expectations on success and failure, No. 1, you’ll automatically have better communication because you’re talking about the same thing. No. 2, to the extent you are performing, you’ll often get more responsibility and more direction and more support, which also leads to better career development.

Q. Are those milestones only meant to track performance?

Often, you can have a high-potential employee that’s simply in the wrong position. If they were either moved or developed — in other words, they got more training for what they’re doing — they would be a top performer.

Tracking potential is at least as important as tracking performance. A good manager ... is best at figuring out who’s performing well but also who has high potential and how to extract that potential from that employee, which also helps the employee because it means the employee is getting more responsibility in a job they tend to like more.

Q. How do you identify potential?

One way is to consider that employee relative to other employees at similar levels in the company and also relative to what you think the career progression might be. For example, could you picture that employee being a manager in a year, two years, five years?

There is some overlap between performance and potential. You can imagine almost a tic-tac-toe board. On one axis, there’s performance. On the other axis there’s potential. You take your team and you plot them in the graph. High-performance, high-potential in the top right; low-performance, low-potential in the bottom left; and everybody else is in between. That often tells you exactly what you need to do.

[If you fail to identify potential,] those are the employees that leave that you didn’t want to leave. It goes back to that lack of communication between the employee and manager.

HOW TO REACH: Cornerstone OnDemand Inc., (888) 365-2763 or www.cornerstoneondemand.com