Mr. or Ms. Right - Developing Future Leaders
Updated: May 7
This article is for leaders, HR professionals, managers, and especially employees in a career job. For those aspiring for their first career job, please see our article: Your first job - Let's Get It Started!
Summary: What do your company leaders and managers do? They make decisions! They make decisions impacting your customers, shareholders, employees, and communities where your company works or serves. Developing decision-making skills is essential. The best place to teach decision-making skills is with relevant close-to-home cases. This article provides employee job decision-making as the primary teaching case.
Developing future leaders includes performance communication. Great communication includes the company’s goals and performance success stories such as the boss's career example. Effective communication also includes the employee's personal goals and preferences. Employees need a confidence-inspiring way to compare the company's goals against their personal goals. Long-term success is when company and employee goals are aligned. Development communication must be a two-way street that seeks a path to mutual goal alignment – or seeks change to achieve alignment.
This article is about expanding the performance review. We show how to make the performance review a meaningful two-way street — instead of a lower-value, check-the-HR-box exercise. We show how to increase employee satisfaction and decrease employee attrition. We provide research-informed processes and tools to make the firm and its leaders considered the go-to place for professional development.
Sometimes work needs change and sometimes life needs change. Developing future leaders includes teaching them, then trusting them to make the best job and career decisions. A strong company will only get stronger with committed and fully aligned employees.
1. Introduction - Decision-making as a core company skill
“I wish you the very best. As a leader in this company, I'm motivated for you to make the best job decision. Let’s work together to make sure you understand your choices.”
This was said by me and many other well-meaning leaders in many companies. Most leaders desire healthy dialogue with their employees when it comes to job change decisions. Leaders desire effective pathways to engage in diversity, equity, and inclusion ("DEI") programs. Many companies take comfort in "climate surveys" or related information helping to understand their employees' sentiments. In practice, many managers don't learn of their soon-to-be-ex-employee's job desires until the exit interview. These learnings, while helpful, are often too late. The core challenge is this:
Employees may not have an objective and effective job-related decision process. Employees may not share their job perspectives with their employer prior to making a job change.
Appropriate job decisions should include staying with the current company.
This article suggests a different approach to job evaluation and potential change decisions. It is informed by progressive hiring managers, the behavioral sciences, and utilizing the best decision process. We build upon the standard company performance review process. We then go further. We build perspective and provide tools to help employees make the most of their performance feedback. We help employees build competence and confidence in their decision processes as a means to the most productive performance reviews. This approach improves employee attrition by building individual decision-making skills. A wonderful by-product includes building high-quality decision-making as a core skill set for the company.
Quiet quitting and performance reviews
Another way employees leave is by staying. Quiet quitting refers to opting out of tasks beyond one’s assigned duties and/or becoming less psychologically invested in work. Quiet quitters continue to fulfill their primary responsibilities, but they’re less willing to engage in activities known as citizenship behaviors: no more staying late, showing up early, or attending non-mandatory meetings. [i] In a world where work is a zero-sum game, where not doing a task because it is "not my job" simply means the task will fall on someone else or potentially not get done. For many leaders, losing employees who want to leave is difficult, but having them not quit is even worse, as their unwillingness to go the extra mile often increases the burden on their colleagues to take on extra work instead. This means, having both the employee and manager have open communication about the needs of both the employee and employer is critical. Quiet quitting is avoidable. A fully engaged employee is the best outcome, a close second is an employee finding a good fit in another department or company, and the worst outcome is a disengaged quiet quitter.
Feedback is an amazing gift. In the work setting, performance reviews and other feedback should be powerful development tools. But work performance reviews get a bad rap. They sometimes get criticized as ineffective or biased. [ii] Most people have a tremendous opportunity to improve how they use and provide performance feedback. This article encourages a healthy two-way dialogue. We provide tools empowering the employees to clearly define their own job benefits and communicate those as an equal party to the performance review process.
The performance review process is a great time to step back, take inventory, and holistically evaluate our jobs. Sometimes, a proactive job change is warranted. When it comes to our jobs, change is challenging. Natural emotions tend to negatively impact our willingness and ability to change. The decision sciences have tools and approaches to help us make the best change decisions. As a descriptive nickname, the science of job change is known as the science of “managing quiet quitting."
Next, we provide an objective and confidence-building approach to evaluate your current job. If necessary, this same approach helps you make a job change.
Table of Contents
Decision-making as a core company skill
Quiet quitting and performance reviews
Change is not a failure
Building your premortem
Your next performance review
Boiling Your Own Frog!
Resources - Definitive Choice
Appendix - Premortem starter criteria
About the author: Jeff Hulett is a behavioral economist and a decision scientist. Jeff is a personal finance professor at James Madison University. Jeff is an executive with the Definitive Companies. Definitive helps people and organizations make the best decisions using time-tested and patented technology. Our solutions are developed from the research-informed behavioral sciences and decision sciences. Jeff holds advanced degrees in finance, mathematics, and economics. Jeff previously held leadership positions with KPMG, IBM, Citibank, and Wells Fargo.
2. Change is not a failure
Annie Duke is a world-champion poker player, author, and cognitive sciences researcher. She is also a self-proclaimed professional quitter. In an interview for her book "Quit," [xxxiii] she said:
“Richard Thaler is a Nobel laureate in economics and what he said to me is, ‘Generally we won’t quit until it’s no longer a decision.’ In other words, there’s no hope. You’ve butted against the certainty; your startup is out of money, and you can’t raise another round. You’re in a job with a boss that is so toxic that you have used up all your vacation and sick days and you’re still having trouble getting yourself into work.”
Thaler and Duke’s comments relate to a forced change. Sometimes change is the result of a forcing function. Running out of money or having an absurdly toxic boss are extreme forcing function examples. Changing prior to the forcing function will often avoid a “crash landing.” A crash is often more negative than if you were more proactive and made a change before the crash. Thus, recognizing the need and preparing for change is important.
Job evaluation and potential job changes relate to the decision-making process. Successful gamblers like Annie Duke are incredibly good decision-makers. Their good decisions are outcomes of good decision processes characterized by:
Objectively evaluating the probability and risks of potential gambles, and
Understanding and integrating their and other players' emotions.
Good gamblers anticipate essential game success drivers and the nuances of the environment in which the game is played. Good gamblers embrace both objective and emotional information in their decision-making. Gambling and job evaluation share a common bond. They are both subject to uncertainty. They both require decision processes integrating factual information, forecasts, and emotion.
The next graphic provides the high-level job evaluation decision framework. In the section that follows, we start by exploring the job evaluation scenario exercise called a "premortem." [iii] The rest of this article walks through integrating the premortem and performance review feedback into this job evaluation decision framework. We suggest tools to help you confidently make the best decisions.
Job evaluation decision framework
The science of “managing quiet quitting."
Please see Premortem example - developing Mr. or Ms. Right for a practical premortem example in the context of the job evaluation decision framework.
3. Building your premortem
We all go into job decisions with the best intentions. New employees are excited and anticipate a positive experience. Hiring managers feel good about their hiring decision and look forward to a positive relationship with the new employee. The honeymoon phase of a new job is great!
But we all know life is dynamic. Both employees' and employers' needs change. The key is updating. To make good job evaluations, the employee needs a process to dynamically update their job perspective. This evaluation needs to be completed in a way that makes decision-making fast, confidence-inspiring, and transparent. The evaluation needs to be both objective and appropriately include emotion.
The proactive job evaluation approach starts with a “premortem." [xxxiv] The premortem approach begins by recalling the criteria for why you accepted the job or other decisions in the first place. If you are new to the job market, your current state is the anticipated criteria for your new job.
In the following resource section, the link to a smartphone app is provided. This app is perfect for this exercise. For employers, this app may be provided to employees and is backed by workflow integrated into your HR processes.
First, complete an exercise of weighting the criteria and applying them to the current job.
The app also allows you to "invite a friend" if you want discreet criteria feedback from a trusted advisor.
This is your "current state" job alternative. For your job, 50% is the minimum benefit threshold where your current job's pros outweigh the job's cons.
A premortem building block: A 50% goal benefit is the minimum benefit threshold indicating a needed change. Once the goal benefit drops below 50%, the cons outweigh the pros. Your change threshold could be higher. It is possible, for example, your current job is at 51% but an alternative position is a credibly higher 75% goal benefit. When there is a large difference between job alternative benefits, an employee should consider changing to the higher benefit job. Please see Premortem example - developing Mr. or Ms. Right for a premortem example.
In our article, Changing Our Mind, we use a bucket and rock analogy for your work criteria and weighting. As long as you have more green rocks than red rocks, it suggests your current job's pros outweigh the cons. The challenge is anticipating a job change! More on this follows.
After your job criteria have been defined and weighted, the next step is to write your premortem. A premortem is a credible story about the future where your goal benefits drop significantly. This could be where 1) your cons outweigh your pros or 2) your pros drop so much that it causes a desire to change jobs. Focus your story on a criterion or several criteria that may cause a benefit-reducing change. What plausible set of events would cause the change? For extra credit, you could write multiple premortem stories! The premortem story is anticipatory -- it has not happened. You are preparing yourself in the event it does. Your premortem helps you proactively manage your relationship with your employer. It gives you the tools to advocate for yourself. The idea is to head off a benefit-reducing situation with your employer. The idea is to avoid quiet quitting.
Also, your premortem story may come from internalized fears. A premortem serves as an outlet for those fears. A premortem enables the proper evaluation of typical fears. The behavioral sciences teach us that emotions like fear render little explanatory nuance. Fear is more of a binary signal - it generally does not evaluate the severity of the risk. Often, things are not as bad as they seemed through the fear lens. This things-are-worse-than-they-seem perception may create decision bias and inaccurate decisions.
Please note: A good premortem story is short. It could be a paragraph or two. It could be a series of dot points. The smartphone app we mention in the resource section has a notes screen for you to easily drop in your premortem thoughts.
If you are using the app, you have already created your current state job alternative. You should now create a separate premortem alternative and score it using the results of your premortem narrative. This step is essential. This is the step to transform the premortem story into actionable, consistent, and comparable information. The app transforms messy emotions containing intertwined signals and noise into appropriately weighted judgments. In the appendix at the bottom of this article, provided are potential job evaluation criteria and resources. [xxxv] The criteria are only the starting point. The essential step is weighing and scoring the criteria in the context of your current job and premortem alternatives. This is where the decision magic happens!
Perform this current state and premortem exercise periodically. Be aware that your criteria categories are reasonably stable. However, your criteria weights are likely not as stable. Most companies, jobs, or important life situations regularly evolve.
Work evolution example questions:
Is the recent work change positive or negative to your criteria weight?
Does that new boss have a positive or negative impact on your overall criteria weight?
Do your anticipated projects meet your expectations?
Are you growing your skills and abilities as anticipated?
Often, the meaning of a work or other life change takes time to impact your overall criteria weighting. Sometimes, your weighting evolves so slowly as to be almost imperceptible. Like in the case of the apologue "Boiling the frog." A change that may have seemed like a big deal at the time may prove to be insignificant to your overall criteria weighting. That is why periodic premortem updating is critical!
4. Your next performance review
Use your current state and premortem alternatives as a preparation tool for your next performance review. This is a great way to prepare for a productive conversation! Consider sharing your criteria and criteria weights with your company.
The app mentioned in the resource section provides preconfigured reports.
Helping your superiors understand what is important to you will help them plan for future assignments. Your bosses may have choices for whom to assign to particular projects. The better they understand your benefits, the better they will be able to assign appropriate projects.
Also, if there is a particular criterion that has performed worse recently, consider sharing that as well. For example, let us say that "Work life balance" and "Advancement opportunity" are your highest weighted criteria. Also, let us say you have been on a particularly grueling, long-hour project for the last couple of months. While you do not mind "taking one for the team," you are questioning whether the project will help with your advancement. You should share this if this project materially impacts your weighted job benefit. Your boss may be able to move you to a different project or make some other arrangement. If not, you have signaled if your work environment does not change soon, you will consider a job change. You shared this in a professional, thoughtful, evidence-based way that leads to a confident and productive discussion with your boss.
Performance reviews are a two-way street. Your boss or company deserves to know what you think of them as much as you deserve to know what they think of you. A two-way dialogue is a sign of a healthy relationship. You will ultimately earn the respect of your senior colleagues by providing a fair and honest appraisal.
The app mentioned in the resource section provides credibility and confidence to your company evaluation perspective.
In my experience with being on the "boss" side of the performance review, most supervisors will return your specific and thoughtful candor with a frank discussion about what the company may or may not be able to do to address the premortem concerns. This information will be very valuable to help you evaluate your job and/or plan a potential change.
Now that you have had your two-way performance review and are armed with anticipatory information about how the company may or may not adapt, you are ready to update your current job's alternative model. You have two possible outcomes:
I am still happy enough. My pros outweigh my cons. This means my anticipatory score for my current job's benefits is AT LEAST above 50% benefit. As such, I will stay in "committed-to-the-current-job" mode.
I am not happy. My cons outweigh my pros. This means my anticipatory score for my current job's benefits has dropped significantly or is below 50% benefit. As such, I will change to "pursue-a-new-job" mode.
Please notice: Quiet Quitting is NOT one of the outcomes!
If the anticipatory cons out weight the pros, it is time to go into job search mode. The good news is, you can use the same smartphone app for your job search. Your criteria model is already done! All you must do is add and score new job alternatives. You should consider external and internal job opportunities. Most larger companies have open positions in many different areas. It is a best practice to network internally for alternative positions. In fact, most progressive companies encourage internal job changes. Your criteria and app decision process will help you identify the best job option for you.
5. Boil Your Own Frog!
Think of a premortem as "Boiling your own frog." That is, taking ownership of your own honest and accurate evaluation, so you can make changes before the water gets too hot! This premortem scenario planning exercise will prepare you to 1) identify and evaluate an evolving environment and 2) emotionally prepare yourself to change when your job benefits drop below 50% - that is, when your belief bucket is more than half full of red rocks. When it comes to change, inertia is a powerful force. Tools such as the app mentioned in the resource section are very helpful to overcome inertia and make the best decisions.
This may seem a little weird. It may seem like proactive change planning is like planning for failure. It turns out, our cultural teaching that relates "change" to "failure" is a big problem. Our society teaches us change is somehow a failure. It is not! Change is a reasonable outcome when a situation changes and the benefit drops below the desired level. Change is healthy. Change is life! So a premortem is a way to prepare yourself for something normal and healthy. In my experience, people confuse "Grit" or "Never Give Up" determination as suggesting we should be less willing to change. This simply is not true. In the "Changing Our Mind" model, grit is needed for:
the active evaluation of the pursuit,
the dogged spirit and desire to pursue, and
making an appropriate change.
On the other hand, not making appropriate changes defy rationality. If you think of your grit as an investment, not making an appropriate change is like wasting the investment.
Is it time to make a job change? You certainly do not want to make an uninformed decision. However, the behavioral sciences teach us that people are often biased to either:
Hold on to the status quo for longer than they should.
- OR -
Make emotional changes that overweight fear.
See below for more resources to help you to make confident decisions about a potential job change.
There is an old saying:
"Winners never quit and quitters never win."
Many hear this saying in childhood. My optimistic belief is that this saying was intended to help children. By providing simple rules, children are encouraged to develop grit and resilience. As adults, we need to update our initial beliefs. As adults, hopefully, we have developed the necessary grit and resilience. This job evaluation model helps you take ownership of the beliefs formed earlier in your life. This job evaluation approach helps update those earlier beliefs.
Fast-forward to today's world:
"The only constant is change."
It may turn out that your current job, while different, remains a source of benefit in your life. Sometimes, work changes may cause your job to lack the necessary benefit. In a dynamic, changing world, winners are those that know when to change and when not to change. This job evaluation approach will help achieve confidence-inspiring job decisions. This job evaluation enables you to be fully engaged or determine it is time for a change. This job evaluation approach avoids the negative-for-all-gray world of quiet quitting.
7. Resources - Definitive Choice
Definitive Choice is a smartphone app. It provides a straightforward user experience and is backed by time-tested decision science algorithms. It uses a proprietary "Decision 6™" approach that organizes the criteria (what is important to you?) and alternatives (what are the choices?) in a series of bite-size ranking decisions. Since it is on your smartphone, you can use it while you are doing the research. It is like having a decision expert in your pocket. The results dashboard provides a rank-ordered list of "best choices," tailored to your preferences. Apps like this enable decision-makers to configure their own choice architecture.
Also, Definitive Choice comes pre-loaded with many templates. You will want to customize your own criteria, but the preloaded templates provide a nice starting point. For the current state or premortem alternatives, Definitive Choice will help you determine, track, and weigh your job criteria. It will also help you apply the criteria to different job alternatives. This will help you negotiate the best outcome. It will give you confidence when it is time for a change.
Other job evaluation resources:
Hulett, Negotiating success and building your BATNA, The Curiosity Vine, 2021
Hulett, They kept asking about what I wanted to do with my life, but what if I don't know? - Part 1, The Curiosity Vine, 2021
8. Appendix - Premortem starter criteria
Criteria benefit categories
For the smartphone app, next is the “starter” criteria categories to consider. You may certainly add or subtract criteria. It is important to clearly define these categories in advance of your pairwise weighting evaluation. When going through the pairwise evaluation process, remember to isolate the comparison of only two categories at a time. In each pairwise comparison, all you are trying to do is answer the question by moving the slider: “How much more or less is criterion A important to me than criterion B.” Do not overthink it! Your ability to compare two criteria has been proven to be very accurate.
Company history – this relates more to risk. Does the company have staying power?
Company values – this is for alignment with you. Do you feel the company’s core values align with yours? We explore the importance of values alignment in our article: They kept asking about what I wanted to do with my life!
Job Location – This has changed with “Work From Anywhere” expectations generated during the pandemic. Is the work location flexibility aligned with your needs? We explore "Work From Anywhere" questions in our article: Our pandemic-impacted work environment and the surprising effect of the default work setting
Working hours – This is code for “Work-life balance.” Do you have a need for time outside of work?
Opportunities for growth – Do you expect to learn and expand your skill and abilities toolbox? Is there a promotion upside?
Colleagues – Do you like those with whom you will be working? You will be spending time with them, so this is important.
*Employees will sometimes cite their boss as the primary reason for leaving a company. For the criteria, boss-related challenges are generally found in either:
"Opportunity for growth" if the boss's issues relate to a lack of development.
"Company values" if the boss's issues relate to a lack of concern or sensitivity to other employees' needs.
In the smartphone app, pay is an independent variable. Think of your compensation as an opportunity cost. You will enter the total compensation value, both salary and benefits:
Salary – this is your regular take-home pay plus expected bonuses
Benefits – Health insurance, retirement, PTO, education reimbursement, etc. Benefits can be tricky to value. Just do your best to estimate.
For additional criteria suggestions, please see:
Editors, 13 Things To Consider When Looking for a Job, Indeed, 2023
[i] Klotz, Bolino, When Quiet Quitting Is Worse Than the Real Thing, Harvard Business Review, 2020
[ii] Sutton, Wigert, More Harm Than Good: The Truth About Performance Reviews, Gallup, 2019
In my former large company experience, I had a front-row seat to the administration of the performance review process. The biases I saw resulted from:
Lack of clarity on the rating scale. For example, on a 1-5 scale (with 5 being performing significantly above expectations) the scale definition was not clear. A "5" for one manager may not be the same as another manager.
Use of performance ranking for comp and firing decisions. This added to the bias as the managers doing the rating knew the "game" was to assign the rating in a way that played into a potentially severe outcome.
Over-reliance on "hard" measures. Certain data, like client utilization, were easy to obtain and compare. Whereas "soft" measures like leadership ability were difficult to compare and were situational. The easy-to-compare measures were overweighted biased BECAUSE they were easier to obtain and to provide HR action evidence.
Reward and punishment asymmetry. Most companies reward compensation on a percentage of the base salary. So, let's say someone makes $200k and the best-rated people get a 10% bonus. This is $20k in this example. However, a poorly rated person may get fired. This is a loss of a $200k salary and likely creates emotional turmoil. Thus, with the downside being far greater than the upside for overachieving, it creates an incentive to do "good enough" to avoid being fired, but not much more incentive to overachieve. Some people absolutely are wired to overachieve... I am only suggesting the incentives are not geared toward overachieving.
To be fair, these biases were known and enlightened leaders would attempt to counteract them. But in any organizational game, incentives and biases are relentless. While leaders attempt to overcome this, they still created risk and uncertainty as to the accuracy of the ratings.
[iii] We discuss what gambling and confidence games teach us about cognitive biases, risk management, and forecasting in the following article:
Hulett, How gambling and confidence games teach effective decision-making habits, The Curiosity Vine, 2022
Additional citations may be found in the following article:
Hulett, Changing Our Mind, The Curiosity Vine, 2021