Nick Saban on the Scoreboard That Matters

Nick Saban on the Scoreboard That Matters

bama-picIn the post-win news conference after Alabama beat USC in the 2016 season opener, Alabama head football coach Nick Saban shared insights on the team preparation and attitude that are important for personal and professional success.

  1. Focus on your internal scoreboard, not the external scoreboard (wins, praise, hype, rewards…).
  2. Continually improve your skills and performance, especially when you’ve had success.
  3. Challenge your experienced personnel to improve their performance and mentor the younger players.
  4. Train your inexperienced team members early and give them practical experience so they will be ready to step into their expected role at an unexpected time.
  5. Develop a disciplined proven system of excellence that focuses on what you can control, infuse it into the culture, then trust the process to prepare you and your team for any challenge.

“If you want to know the truth about it, I wasn’t pleased with the way we played. And, again, you know, if you look at your internal scoreboard rather than the external scoreboard and you say, “What do we need to do to improve? What do we need to do to get better?” Well, you just get satisfied with the result that we got. So you don’t take coaching, you don’t try to improve, you don’t think that there are things that we can improve on, then we’ve got some really tough games with some really good teams. If we don’t get better, we’re going to struggle. And we play some of those teams in very tough places to play.

So my focus with our team right now is what can we do better? How can we get better? How can every guy improve? How can we get more guys to play better? And, look, I’m happy that we won. And I’m proud of our team for beating a good team. And I don’t want you to think that I’m not. …we have a lot of young guys playing out there now. If you notice, when those second teams went in, there was a whole bunch of freshmen out there. Well, those guys are going to have to grow up, all right. Because they’re going to be the depth of this team. And, if we lose players, they’re going to have to play. So we’re going to need those guys to improve dramatically.

And I think every guy needs to look at what they can do to get better and make their unit better and their team better. Look, you’ve got to trust in the plan, you’ve got to trust in your teammates, and you’ve got to trust in yourself that you can do your job on a consistent basis. And our consistency wasn’t always great, you know, tonight, especially on offense. So it’s definitely something we need to get better at.”

Ineffective Manager Communication and Disengaged Employees

 According to Gallup’s State of the American Workplace report (2013), 70% of American employees are disengaged from their work leading to workplace dysfunction, customer dissatisfaction, and a negative impact on the organization’s finances,  which led its CEO, Jim Clifton, to suggest that hiring managers is the most important leadership decision. The most significant impact on employee engagement is a manger who communicates effectively. Ineffective manager communication skills create distrust, confusion, and apathy among workers. A proficient communicator provides a real financial value to the organization beyond the intrinsic humanistic value of treating employees with respect. This paper describes the value of manager communication skills and the direct effect on employee satisfaction and productivity, team cohesiveness, and ultimately the success or failure of the organization.

Link between manager communication and employee engagement

Employee engagement is the best measure of manager communication effectiveness. Confusion exists in academic and popular business literature about what constitutes employee engagement and no generally accepted definition exists. Welch (2011) examined the evolution of the employee engagement concept from the 1990’s noting the difficulty in developing an accepted definition, the confusing use of the term among academics and business consultants, and the question of whether engagement is an attitude or psychological state which can be affected by influence or a personality trait which is relatively fixed. For this paper I will use the description that is consistent with most academic literature as described by Markos and Sridevi (2010): “engagement is about passion and commitment-the willingness to invest oneself and expand one’s discretionary effort to help the employer succeed, which is beyond simple satisfaction with the employee arrangement or basic loyalty to the employer.” (p. 90) 

Negative impact of disengaged employees

According to Leary, Green, Denson, Schoenfeld, Henley, and Langford (2013), employee disengagement is a significant factor in workplace burnout, dysfunctional teams, poor customer service, and negative financial impact on the organization. According to Gallup (2013), “…actively disengaged employees cost the U.S. between $450 billion to $550 billion each year in lost productivity. They are more likely to steal from their companies, negatively influence their coworkers, miss workdays, and drive customers away.” (pp. 12-13) Leary et al. (2013) observe that “managerial incompetence is devastating to employee engagement and job satisfaction, and contributes significantly to employee burnout.” (p. 113) Understanding the impact of dysfunctional manager behavior and communication ability on employee engagement is important for correcting disruptive behaviors and encouraging good communication skills.

Impact of dysfunctional managers

Leary et al. (2013) described three dysfunctional leader dispositions and their impact on employee engagement, including manifestations in the communication between manager and employees:
  • Moving Away includes behaviors such as withdrawal and disengagement which leads to infrequent or unclear communication but also includes yelling, threatening, and belittling employees.
  • Moving Against behavior involves disrespectful and derogatory comments and manipulation which creates an environment of anger and distrust. This behavior also includes impulsive communication that creates confusion and wasted resources as employees follow directions that are ill-conceived and likely abandoned for the next impulsive decision.
  • Moving Toward is characterized by leader inaction, decision avoidance, and disloyalty to subordinates and is often accompanied by micromanagement and frequent criticism.

Organizations who want to minimize the potential for employee disengagement should remove or retrain leaders exhibiting dysfunctional characteristics. A successful organization needs leaders throughout the enterprise who are proficient in their work and actively practice employee engaging behaviors. 

High ROI of effective manager communication

According to Welch (2011), effective leader communication is a critical factor for creating high employee engagement and a sense of purpose in the organization. The communicative leader creates a positive work environment in which the employee can develop professionally and serve confidently. Xu and Thomas (2010) noted that managers who showed concern for employees, articulated a vision, and communicated effectively engaged employees, encouraged positive organizational citizenship, and buffered them from negative characteristics of the job. Confused and poorly integrated communications negatively affected trust, relationships, and management credibility. (K. Mishra, Boynton, & A. Mishra, 2014)
 Effective manager communication has a demonstrable positive effect on the profitability of the organization. 
  • According to Gallup (2013), “work units in the top 25% of Gallup’s Q12 Client Database have significantly higher productivity, profitability, and customer ratings, less turnover and absenteeism, and fewer safety incidents than those in the bottom 25%.” (p. 9) 
  • A study of “…360,000 employees from 41 companies in the world’s 10 economically strong countries found that both operating margin and net profit margins reduced over a three year period in companies with low engagement,” and contrasted with opposite effects in companies that encouraged employee engagement. (Markos and Sridevi, 2010, p. 92) 
  • Xu and Thomas (2010) cited several studies concluding that “higher levels of employee engagement are associated with increased return on assets, higher earning per employee, higher performance, greater sales growth, and lower absenteeism.” (p. 400) 
  • Manager and employee interactions that encourage engagement promote human dignity and make a positive impact on organizational profitability and customer interactions. Such behavior can be a competitive advantage.  

What effective manager communication looks like

Communicating vision

In order to drive organizational success and employee engagement, effective communication practices must begin with senior leadership communicating a vision for the company and its employees. To be effective, the top leader vision must be “…a tantalizing, sought after future state; a mental imagery that is well-articulated with widespread communication; and a model which contains processes that enable followers to achieve it.” (J. Mayfield, M. Mayfield, & Sharbrough III, 2015, p. 103) Leadership commitment to the mission and vision must be genuine and evangelized otherwise it will be rejected as a corporate fad. (Markos & Sridevi, 2010) Managers must make the vision of the top leaders actionable and relevant to the roles of the employees under their supervision.

Empowering employees

Development Dimensions International (DDI, 2005), as cited in Markos & Sridevi (2010), states that a manager must, among other things, communicate in a way that empowers, supports, encourages and develops employees and encourages collaboration with the team. 

Connecting the employee to the organizational vision

Managers demonstrate the value of an employee by sharing the organizational vision and the employee’s role in making the vision a reality and engage with the employee personally to support their professional growth, recognize achievement, correct undesirable behaviors in a constructive way, listen to their ideas and concerns, and demonstrate genuine interest in the employee’s well-being. (Markos & Sridevi, 2010; K. Mishra, Boynton, & A. Mishra, 2014) The manager must also communicate effectively with the workgroup to promote productivity and harmony among the employees who work together.

Importance of active listening

Effective communication skills require an ability to listen as well as talk. Managers must promote two-way communication to allow employees to provide input, show respect for their views, and involve them in decision making. (Markos & Sridevi, 2010) In the modern workplace, managers may be tempted to conduct most communication through email. However, face-to-face communication is considered more reliable and credible than written communication because the employee can evaluate the verbal message with non-verbal cues, such as voice tone, body language, and facial expressions, for validation or discrepancies. (K. Mishra, Boynton, & A. Mishra, 2014) 
Communication conveys a sense of worth to another person. When talking with employees, leaders should use empathetic language for positive and negative events affecting the employee to convey a sense of humanity and concern for the emotional well-being of the employee. (J. Mayfield & M. Mayfield, 2012) Managerial success depends on continual dialog and respectful interaction with employees. “…Leadership that provides a supportive, trusting environment allows employees to fully invest their energies into their work roles.” (Xu and Thomas, 2010, p. 401)

An investment worth making

Many businesses would invest significant time and money into a technical solution that would improve employee productivity, customer satisfaction, and financial profitability. Numerous studies prove that these results can be obtained with managers who communicate effectively. Managers with dysfunctional communication skills have a negative impact in the workplace and the organizational mission regardless of their technical expertise or seniority with the company. Managers with effective communication skills generate higher employee engagement resulting in productivity and profitability gains for the organization while enjoying career advancement. Developing communication skills does not require a significant financial investment or innate ability but is the key to managerial success.


  • Gallup. (2013). State of the American workplace: employee engagement insights for U.S. business leaders. Retrieved from
  • Leary, T., Green, R., Denson, K., Schoenfeld, G., Henley, T., & Langford, H. (2013). The relationship among dysfunctional leadership dispositions, employee engagement, job satisfaction, and burnout. The Psychologist-Manager Journal, 16(2), 112-130. doi: 10.1037/h0094961
  • Markos, S. & Sridevi, M. (2010). Employee engagement: The key to improving performance. International Journal of Business and Management, 5(12), 89-96.
  • Mayfield, J. & Mayfield, M. (2012). The relationship between leader motivating language and self-efficacy: A partial least squares model analysis. Journal of Business Communication, 49(4), 357-376. doi: 10.1177/0021943612456036
  • Mayfield, J., Mayfield, M., & Sharbrough III, W. (2015). Strategic vision and values in top leaders’ communications: Motivating language at a higher level. International Journal of Business Communication, 52(1), 97-121. doi: 10.1177/2329488414560282
  • Mishra, K., Boynton, L., & Mishra, A. (2014). Driving employee engagement: The expanded role of internal communications. International Journal of Business Communication, 51(2), 183-202. doi: 10.1177/2329488414525399
  • Welch, M. (2011). The evolution of the employee engagement concept: Communication implications. Corporate Communications: An International Journal, 16(4), 328-346. doi: 10.1108/13563281111186968
  • Xu, J. & Thomas, H. C. (2011). How can leaders achieve high employee engagement? Leadership and Organization Development Journal, 32(4), 399-416. doi: 10.1108/01437731111134661

Is The Performance Evaluation An Idea Whose Time Has Gone?

One of the critical resources of any business, often the most critical, is human capital. People build the products, provide the services, process financial transactions, help customers, and managers supervise these individuals to make sure the work is done. Just as non-human resources are managed and monitored, performance evaluations arose from the need to quantifiably manage and evaluate the performance of individuals as compared with others. The execution of performance evaluations are often dysfunctional, or some would say diabolical, as currently practiced. This paper examines the value of performance evaluations and suggestions for improving the practice.

Brief history

Most employees are familiar with the annual performance review and numerical rating systems. According to Rock, Davis, & Jones (2014), a weakness in the systems common in the 1970s was managers rating everyone in the middle to avoid problems, which led to the forced ranking system, popularized in the 1980’s, requiring managers to rank some employees high and others low. Kwoh (2012) reports that the forced ranking system, though often called by different names, is still used by about 60% of Fortune 500 companies and some companies, like AIG, use forced ranking to grant proportional bonuses based on scores and identify the lowest performers who must improve performance or be dismissed. Other programs, such as 360 degree feedback programs, solicit information from supervisors and peers to provide analysis of employee performance (Jackson, 2012).

Emotionally charged meeting

Performance evaluations are generally unpopular with managers and employees. Some view it as an “empty process, an HR requirement” and companies consistently give low marks to the value it provides to the organization (Becom & Insler, 2013, p. 43). “Studies show between 6o percent and 90 percent of employees, including managers, dislike the performance evaluation” (Noguchi, 2014, para. 1).

The evaluation setting creates a high-stakes interaction as the employee knows that he or she is being judged by the manager and, in 360 degree evaluations, fellow workers. Without adequate managerial training or safeguards, performance evaluation systems can result in poor employee analysis or mean-spirited bias to the detriment of the employee’s morale and advancement since the ranking will be part of the human resources record. Rock, Davis, & Jones (2014) cite research by the firm i4cp that 75% surveyed thought their performance system was unfair. Buckingham & Goodall (2015) observe “ratings reveal more about the rater than they do about the ratee” (p.44). Culbert (2008) notes that a weakness of 360 degree evaluation system is that peers can use evaluation to settle scores with employees and managers who have wronged them. Workers can also use the 360 degree feedback to discredit fellow employees to increase their chance for a higher bonus. A Microsoft programmer confessed that in a rating system, which Microsoft has since abandoned, the “employees [were] focusing on competing with each other rather than competing with other companies” (Rock, Davis, & Jones, 2014, para. 19).

Creating distrust instead of cooperation

The performance evaluation should provide an opportunity for the manager and employee to cooperate for mutual and organizational success. In reality, the manager often enters the discussion to address uncomfortable issues and justify compensation decisions while dreading the emotionally charged response of the employee who may cry foul and debate the manager’s observations (Culbert 2008). Since most performance evaluations are tied to compensation adjustments and bonuses, the employee may tune out feedback or spend time trying to decide whether the feedback is leading to a positive or negative pay result (Noguchi, 2014). Instead of a constructive relation-building exercise, the performance evaluation can drive a wedge into the manager-employee relationship and create tension and distrust.

Reforming the review

Some companies are trying to reform their performance evaluation process by decoupling the performance management and compensation discussions and using the performance review to provide mentoring and feedback. Effective systems hold both the manager and employee accountable for engagement (Markos & Sridevi, 2010) and allow leaders to encourage performance, act as role models, and celebrate the average performer who still provides a valuable service to the organization (Becom & Insler, 2013). By taking pay confrontations out of the discussion, the manager and employee can focus on professional development and achieving corporate and departmental objectives. Many companies are reforming the process by moving from an uncomfortable annual review to a periodic, or continual, feedback approach. Deloitte has retired the annual review, which consumed almost 2 million hours per year, with employee observations by managers and peers shared when a project ends or, for long projects, quarterly (Buckingham &Goodall, 2015). Some companies, like Juniper Networks, hold special conversation days that are not documented and credit the practice with success in retaining top performing employees (Noguchi, 2014). Deloitte describes their changes as “a continual focus on the future, through regular evaluations and frequent check-ins” (Buckingham & Goodall, 2015, p. 50). Continual conversations about the employee’s performance allow for course corrections in the present rather than identifying weaknesses in the past.

All companies evaluate employee performance, whether formally or informally, and so the process should be fair to the employee, empowering, and build up the relationship between the manager and employee. A dysfunctional process is disruptive and ineffective and should be reformed or replaced. Performance evaluation systems that help managers develop and retain talented workers will provide a strategic advantage over companies who will not change.

NOTE: This was taken from a research paper I wrote for a business class.