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September 2021
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Report Card

I’ve always had a little bit of a love/hate relationship with report cards.  On the one hand, I love getting the official grade, the confirmation of how my performance stacked up to expectations, the results of a term, hopefully with some comments and feedback.  On the other hand, I was often frustrated that a single letter or number could not possibly fully reflect learning, understanding, progress made, and challenges tackled.

As an adult, the report cards come less frequently.  Whereas my school sent home report cards every semester, quarter, or 6 weeks, now I’m lucky to get a thorough review once a year, with a mid-year check-in conversation.  The consequences of the decisions and actions I take this week may not play out for months or years, and are often difficult to correlate with a simple cause and effect. Even so, goals are set at the start of the year, and tracking progress lends focus and priority to my work.

In 2011, I inherited financial goals from my predecessor, though I was able to learn about the process and participate in some of the discussions as his deputy.  I also discovered in September that among the 9 financial metrics that we track monthly, the two that I was focused on meeting were not the ones my boss thought were most important. (Surprise!)  At that point I resigned myself to missing the funding and sales numbers and revised my forecast to something I thought was more realistic.  So it was even sweeter when my customers and my team came through with fortuitous funding at the end of the year, enabling us to come in at the original targets.  We met our Orders goals (with organic funding exceeding even my most aggressive expectations!), were solid in our margin/profit, and made a valiant attempt toward our sales goals despite being understaffed for most of the year.

The non-financial goals are trickier.  I need to be an ethical leader, I need to collaborate with other business area leaders, I need to lead my team through the regular challenges we face, such as retaining key staff, changes in management, keeping the business healthy, and maintaining a work environment where people grow, are successful, and want to bring in others.  The results of these are harder to quantify.  For example, one of my staff spent a year developing relationships across the business and with partners, with no new programs to show for it.  Is a year’s time long enough to try something new, and if it doesn’t pan out, should we change approaches?  It turned out that this year, those relationships were instrumental in to bringing in over $10M in new programs.  Sometimes it takes a while for a new initiative to show results – trust and time are required to see it through, not to mention judgement on whether to stay the course or change direction.

So far my manager thinks I’m on track, but next year will be more telling as to whether I can grow our business into adjacent markets, hire and train the right staff to execute programs and bring in new ones, and align my diverse and vocal team to a common set of priorities.  We started on that path this week with an off-site meeting, the main result being the realization that we are starting out with very different perspectives.  We learned a lot about one another, we made a commitment to work together and help one another to set and achieve goals.

I agree with my manager’s sentiment: “I’ve seen the pilot and I can’t wait to watch the next season!”

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