Saturday, March 31, 2007

Kudos for the Online Writing Lab

The Online Writing Lab at Purdue ( is a useful resource whether you are a jobseeker crafting application materials, an employee composing a business document, a college student writing a research paper, or even a writing teacher searching for instructional aids.

For the student it offers tips on grammar (including points for nonnative speakers), citation style, and literary analysis. Job applicants will benefit from the section “Job Search Writing,” which includes pointers on résumés and cover letters, models for various purposes, and valuable application suggestions. Business and technical writers will find references on letters, memos, reports, and abstracts, as well as style considerations. Teachers can get guides to teaching special documents and links to a virtual library of electronic resources.

The Online Writing Lab is a must resource for writers who need one. Be sure to bookmark it!

To purchase your copy of The Art of On-the-Job Writing by Philip Vassallo, click here:

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Constructive Criticism, Part 6: Put the Employee’s Growth First

In concluding this series on constructive criticism, I bring attention to the most important reason for writing performance appraisals: the employee’s development. The point of criticism is not to reprimand or to warn employees; disciplinary memos serve those functions. It also is not to endorse employees for promotions; recommendation memos or letters suit that purpose. The point is to help employees grow personally so that they will use their professional skills in helping the organization grow. The appraisal should be the employee’s map for improved on-the-job conduct. It is a vital management tool for employees to chart their performance development as it relates to the organization’s objectives.

Putting the employee’s growth first is inextricably connected to the organization’s success. Therefore, focus purposefully, unselfishly, and reasonably on the employee’s interest; in turn, a concerned employee will put the organization first!

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Saturday, March 17, 2007

Constructive Criticism, Part 5: Link the Challenge to the Suggestion

When recommending improved employee performance, be sure to align the suggestion with the challenge. Here is an example of failing to link the two:

Area for Improvement: During staff meetings, Karl does not effectively summarize problems, causes, impacts, and recommended actions.

Recommendation: Karl should improve his oral communication skills.

The area for improvement is vague in that it fails to give specific examples for the employee’s reference. Also, the recommendation is too general because one can improve communication skills in some areas (e.g., articulation, poise) and still fall short of the desired improvement (i.e., purposefulness). Below is an improved version:

Area for Improvement: During staff meetings, Karl does not effectively summarize problems, impacts, causes, and recommended actions. For example, when discussing the Lafayette Commons production delay, he needed several prompts from managers to explain the nature of the problem. At the follow-up meeting, he was unprepared to detail the corrective actions taken to resolve the problem.

Recommendation: Karl should be prepared to respond on demand to management or contractor concerns about his projects, including their status, problems, root causes, organizational effects, and recommended short-term and long-term actions.

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Saturday, March 10, 2007

Constructive Criticism, Part 4: The PRICE of a Task or Standard

Many businesses and government agencies are enamored of the term “task and standard” for measuring employee performance; however, managers often struggle with writing appraisals that are consistent with those terms. A definition of each would help:
  • task: a piece of work assigned to the employee; an employee’s job requirement
  • standard: a quantitative or qualitative level serving as the basis for measuring a task

Keep in mind that a task should describe a piece of work, and a standard a level of quantity or quality. In other words, the task or standard should have a high PRICE: precise, reachable, important, cohesive, and exclusive:

  • Precise—It should accurately describe the expected behavior or standard.
  • Reachable—It should reflect reasonable and achievable expectations.
  • Important—It should link to the company’s stated goals and the employee’s actual work.
  • Cohesive—It should correspond to the performance domain being reviewed.
  • Exclusive—It should not repeat other tasks or standards.

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Saturday, March 03, 2007

Constructive Criticism, Part 3: Be Specific

In employee performance appraisals, general criticism is useless. Paul J. Jerome's Coaching through Effective Feedback mentions a four-stage process for giving feedback: describe the employee’s current behaviors, the situations in which they occur, the impacts and consequences of those behaviors, and the alternative behaviors.

If we look at that last stage as a reinforcing as well as an alternative behavior, then this approach can work in positive as well as negative contexts. Here are two quick examples:

Negative Performance
Carmelo’s time management is below standard [current behavior]. He missed the proposal deadline on the Ambiance Project in January, and he did not respond to four client inquiries within the expected 24-hour response company standard during the past business quarter [situations]. Missed request-for-proposal (RFP) deadlines and delayed responses to clients’ needs compromise the company’s reputation of efficient customer service and directly leads to lost sales [impacts and consequences]. Carmelo should prioritize his primary responsibility of putting the client first by realistically allotting scheduled time to RFPs and by valuing client correspondence before most internal or personal messages [alternative behavior].

Positive Performance
Carmelo’s communication skills have improved considerably [current behavior]. His PowerPoint presentations during the February 12 staff meeting and the March 1 Quality Committee meeting received excellent responses, and his reports and proposals are more clear and concise than in previous review periods [situations]. As a result, he has become a source of reliable, efficient information in the Sales Unit. In fact, two of our clients, ABC and XYZ, have specifically sought his input on our new product offerings, increasing the possibility of improved market share [impacts and consequences]. Carmelo will maintain, or even heighten, his credibility by continually researching and applying best practices in the effective communication [alternative, or reinforcing, behavior].

All of this is to say—remember to be specific when writing performance appraisals!

To purchase your copy of The Art of On-the-Job Writing by Philip Vassallo, click here: