iStock_000010847130XSmallCharacter matters.

After numerous scandals involving high-ranking officers, the US Military will now require generals and admirals to be appraised by their peers and direct reports on qualities including their personal character.

Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Martin Dempsey announced the new feedback approach as part of an upgrade of training and development programs for generals, admirals, members of their security detail, executive staff members, and even spouses.

Disturbed about the misconduct issues, General Dempsey said that evaluations of top officers must go beyond traditional assessment of performance alone. Character without competence “doesn’t do me any good,” stated Dempsey. And, competence without character creates the misconduct issues that have garnered such attention.

A few senior officers have “developed some bad habits,” said Dempsey, and “it’s those bad habits we are seeking to overcome.” Dempsey praises the conduct of the vast majority of senior officers, yet notes that “the perception in a profession is just as important as the performance.”

I am hopeful that this new approach will help every US senior military leader be a beacon of both performance and character.

You Get What You Reward

All great bosses demonstrate both competence and character. The best senior leaders create clear performance standards as well as clear values expectations so that all leaders and staff know exactly what a good job – and good citizenship – looks like.

Great senior leaders do not leave high performance or values-alignment to chance.

Yet many organizational leaders do exactly that: they leave performance and values to chance. Most senior leaders do not outline values or behaviors required for good citizenship – it’s just not defined. Those that do define values typically take this flawed posture:

  • Announcing and Assuming
  • Once values have been formalized, announced, and published, senior leaders assume that “now everybody knows,” so organization leaders and staff will demonstrate those values. The reality is that announcing is the first of a dozen ongoing steps required to ensure demonstration of desired values. Only with constant reinforcement do desired values become habit.

There is only one consistent, proven avenue to leaders demonstrating high performance and desired values: organizations must define the playing field:

  1. Describe performance standards. Ensure every player has an annual performance plan that includes specific, measurable, aligned goals which contribute to the organization’s success. Gather data about performance progress & review that data at least monthly.
  2. Describe values standards in behavioral terms. Ensure every player has, in their performance plan, specific valued behaviors that they promise to embrace. When they’re demonstrating those valued behaviors, they’re living desired organizational values. Gather data about values alignment and review that data at least twice per year.
  3. Hold all leaders and staff accountable for both. Share performance & citizenship data. Praise progress & accomplishment and coach to boost performance and citizenship. Reward those who demonstrate high performance and desired values; redirect or release leaders or staff who do not meet performance or values standards.

Contribute your thoughts about this post/podcast in the comments section below. To what extent are your organization’s leaders appraised on personal character as well as their performance?

What is it like to live in your organization’s culture? Share your experiences in my fast & free Performance-Values Assessment. Results and analysis are described on my blog site’s research page.

This research can help you refine your organization’s corporate culture. Contact me to discuss conducting the Performance-Values Assessment in your company.

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S. Chris Edmonds

S. Chris Edmonds

Chris helps leaders create purposeful, positive, productive work cultures. He's a speaker, author, and executive consultant. He blogs, podcasts, and video casts. He is the author of The Culture Engine and six other books.
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