Radio Cade

Performance Evaluations Made Easy

February 19, 2020 Harold Fethe Season 1 Episode 67
Radio Cade
Performance Evaluations Made Easy
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Radio Cade
Performance Evaluations Made Easy
Feb 19, 2020 Season 1 Episode 67
Harold Fethe

Harold Fethe is the inventor of the Visual 360 Interface, a software tool to make rating employees more accurate and faster than traditional methods. Employees get to pick five colleagues who then rank the rated employees according to how they perform compared to other colleagues. Harold, an anthropologist by training, is also an accomplished jazz guitarist.  “I use music analogies all the time,” he says. "Music is a phenomenon that has teamwork, underlying patterns with which you have to be competent, aesthetic decisions, and fairness.”  

Show Notes Transcript

Harold Fethe is the inventor of the Visual 360 Interface, a software tool to make rating employees more accurate and faster than traditional methods. Employees get to pick five colleagues who then rank the rated employees according to how they perform compared to other colleagues. Harold, an anthropologist by training, is also an accomplished jazz guitarist.  “I use music analogies all the time,” he says. "Music is a phenomenon that has teamwork, underlying patterns with which you have to be competent, aesthetic decisions, and fairness.”  

Speaker 1:

Inventors and their inventions. Welcome to radio Cade and podcast from the Cade museum for creativity and invention in Gainesville, Florida. The museum is named after James Robert Cade, who invented Gatorade in 1965. My name is Richard Miles. We'll introduce you to inventors and the things that motivate them, we'll learn about their personal stories, how their inventions work and how their ideas get from the laboratory to the marketplace, measuring employee performance. It's hard to do, or is it I'm your host Richard Miles and to Dan Rader Cade , I'll be talking to Harold Fathi has a great experience. Investing P 500 companies, also a founding principle at mind solve technologies and the inventor of the visual three 60 interface. Welcome to the

Speaker 2:

Thank you. Good to see you.

Speaker 1:

So Harold , for a long time, listeners who have listened to every single one of the episodes, some of them may say, Hey, I've heard this before. And so I should mention to our listeners that this in fact is a companion episode to my interview. Last August with Jeff Lyons , another founding member of mine SOF . And I'm sure your accounts won't vary by one. I own it . You're going to completely corroborate each other's stories. You can argue about whether it's a nice day. He said you could provide an alibi. He didn't, you can say what that was

Speaker 2:

Exactly. We couldn't be better buddies. And thank you for that tee up.

Speaker 1:

And I encourage our listeners to go back and listen to that episode. It was a fun conversation August of 2019, entitled better employee evaluations with Jeff Lyons . And if you don't like this episode, you're just not a lot of fun . I can't really help you as a listener, but anyway, Harold, let's get right into it. And let's start by talking about your invention of the visual three 60 interface. If I were a brand new employee at your company or one of your former companies, and you were trying to explain it to me, what does it do? And how does it make your life and my life easier?

Speaker 2:

Okay. So I'm going to speak to you that way. So I'm going to say, Richard, you just got here and you're going to be working closely with people. And when it comes time to do the performance measurement, you'll pick five or so people who work closely with you to evaluate your performance and you will be chosen by some people and you will evaluate their performance. And this is how we gather a consensus view because we're a very teamwork, dependent teamwork oriented organization. If people aren't collaborating faster than the competition, we're in trouble. And so this is how we make our performance measurement harmonious with the culture and with the mission. And you get a chance to make input to people that you work with and they get a chance to make input about you

Speaker 1:

Here. Let me clarify for a second . I think I got that, but if I'm a brand new employee, do I get to pick any five people or do you give me guidelines on who are those five people? Yeah .

Speaker 2:

Pick your five people and the safety valve. Cause that really was a good question is that your supervisor gets a look at your list and then they get a couple of edits. If they feel that the emphasizing something or emphasizing something too much. We didn't see a lot of editing in the years in which we ran this system. And so it felt really fair and it served its purpose pretty well to have a check view by the supervisor, but a free choice by the employee.

Speaker 1:

It's a little bit like jury selection, a peremptory challenge, right? The prosecutor can threat that jury out, right ? So let's get a handle on the timeframe. This was developed a ,

Speaker 2:

It was developed in the late 1990s and mind solve, ran with that as our primary product offering through about 2006, when some total acquired the company and took Jeff and Dan with them,

Speaker 1:

It's a piece of software, right? So this is not a paper exercise .

Speaker 2:

Every employee had a best top or laptop computer in the company. And you would just go in your email and you would get a link and you click on that link and you would open up to your rating session. And what you would see on the screen would be the characteristic on which you were evaluating your colleague. So I'll take a real one results. What were this person's results in the last year? And the app would deal you four or five names, one at a time. And all you need to do was hang that name up on the left margin at the height of performance that you thought that person did. And then you get the next name and you put that person in comparison to the scale, but also in comparison to the other person's performance. And that brings in a fairness element because most people don't want to hurt another person. When they're asked to evaluate, it's an unnatural chore to ask people to do, but balancing that is they feel a need to be fair. And so when you see five of your colleagues all on screen at the same time, you really want to be fair to the ones who honestly are doing the best job you've got kind of like this wish to be lenient and help everybody. And then you've got this fairness thing saying, yeah, but I just really know that these people's performance levels are not the same on this characteristic of results or on this characteristic of decision quality on this characteristic of problem solving. And that's how it all comes along and gives people a sense of ownership

Speaker 1:

And internal accountability, I imagine. Right? Cause like you said, you can't just say, all my colleagues are great in every way. It forces you to make some trades . Yeah .

Speaker 2:

Particular group try that. That's called a rating circle. By the way, they figure it out. They say , we'll all just give each other 20 fives , which is the highest possible score. You know what you just did. You put everybody at the 50th percentile and it's a dead ringer when we got those things back in HR, I just go, Hey listen, mr. Area director. I don't think you're really in the spirit of this. I see what you did, but we got no information and

Speaker 1:

Hurting the people probably . Yeah , that's right. So by the way you describe it here , I'm guessing this works best for companies if at least a certain size, right? If, cause he only got like four employees and this wouldn't really make sense. Right? Right . Yes ,

Speaker 2:

Of course that's right. It was driven the complexity of the company's mission because we had a thousand employees or so, but we had five different technologies each with three or four candidate drug products in development. That's a lot of complexity and the teamwork and collaboration goes logarithmic to that. And so we just needed help sorting out in this very complex network of endeavor and you had to go close to the person, that's the best way to get the best information.

Speaker 1:

This is something I told Jeff on the podcast with him. I started my career with the army, not a small organization. And they had a officer evaluations. They ran into this difficulty because over time it was traditional written paper evaluation. What are their strengths? And what are their achievements, all that sort of stuff. Of course over time, there really was only one. Well mostly one type of valuation . This person is the next George Patton and immediately promote them and they're ready to storm the beaches. Occasionally it's like this person's next Benedict Arnold. They should be, you know , escorted out . But most of them were like, they're fine. So the army figured out this is not doing anybody any favors. And they came up and I remember it very clearly after you filled out all this stuff at the very end, obviously somebody thought we're going to put a rating pyramid on here. And it forced everyone to say, this is the top 5% of officers I've ever worked with and so on and so on, but even better when a step further. And this is obviously what is motivating your system is that you could keep track of the rating of a rating officer so that if he gave every single officer top 5%,

Speaker 2:

They'd say like, you're not fulfilling the assignment . I gave you to distribute your scores .

Speaker 1:

I always thought that was a brilliant system. I'm glad that somebody turned this into.

Speaker 2:

Yeah. And that's called forced ranking proportional ranking. And this did it, but with a visual interface, because when people are trying to describe comparisons, they talk with their hands all the time and up is always better. And so we said, let's just put the names. This is what I thought would get rid of all the complexity of the predecessor. And when we started getting good statisticians, looking at it, we saw that we had plenty of data to provide reliability. And so it was just easier. And I'll mention when we did the first test of this screen design, we hold people for comments. And most common thing I heard is it took me about a fifth of the amount of time because it's so intuitive. People go slowly when they don't trust the interface. And , and one of my favorite of all time career highlights was when someone said this thing is as easy and intuitive to use as a refrigerator.

Speaker 1:

That's great feedback. One of the things we talked a lot about on the show is how do you get great ideas to market? And then as you know, and most inventors entrepreneurs know most good ideas do not sell themselves. Somebody has to be out there making the pitch to investors. And so on. Tell us the circumstances of how did you take the vision three 60 interface idea and translate that into a company where you working at a larger company where you on your own. I mean, you had a lot of different.

Speaker 2:

I was at an S and P 500 with a thousand employees, very highly profitable. And we had a CEO change and the performance appraisal method that was ranking, the old CEO kinda got grumpy about it. And I thought, okay, part of the complaint was it's so tedious and takes a lot of time. So I thought if we're going to keep this method, which is very rigorous about figuring out who's doing a better job, we're going to have to make it a lot easier for people to work with. So I designed the interface and I had a little chili cook off between our own internal it department and Jeff and Dan and Charles who flew out to California to bid on the job. And our internal it department was just finding every reason in the world why this programming task was not traditional. They didn't like it. They were too busy. HR didn't have high priority. And Jeff and Dan and Charles were just all over. It's like, yes, we can do everything you're asking us for. And we'll show you how to get a whole lot more internal controls and things like that into it. And they had just reprogrammed a lot of their stuff for bank quality programming. And Dan had the intellectual courage to say, we need to do everything that we have up to the quality of a bank ATM that we just learned how to do. And so they rewrote all their code. I'm going , that's all the integrity you could ever ask for. And so that's how it got written in the first place, just for AUSA , which was this little thousand person company. We ran it for a couple of years. Jeff and Dan graduated, Jeff Lyons and Jeff Lyons and Dan Bucca bell, I'm sorry. Yeah , they were Charles Stedham was the founder and Jeff and Dan were his interns who were graduating. And he had said, if you guys want to go off into the job market, I'm not going to try to hold you back. But if you want to start a company together, I'll get with you and we'll figure out how to keep working together and do a venture. So all this was in the timing that they had this contract programming job from me. And they started looking at various, according to Dan anyway, who made the pitch to me, they started looking at various options to go into a software business. And they thought that this app that they had designed for AUSA and its crew of persnickety, highly scientifically literate, numerous demanding employees was a good entry into the marketplace of performance measurement. So they asked if we would do a licensing deal and God bless our entrepreneurial CEO. I went to my Friday executive meeting and said, here's what we want to do. I would like one day a month, which is 5% of my time to do this in addition to running the human resources function for the company. And he said, go for it. And I said, okay, I'll come back in three or four months and let you know how it's going. And he said, no, just go do it. You could not ask for more than that out of your CEO. And so we did

Speaker 1:

Harold, did you have a software background at this point? Is that, was that your apology by training? Okay. I was going to say, so what made you think, or what gave you the courage, I guess, to decide that this was the thing to do? You're basically

Speaker 2:

Very intellectually arrogant . I really spent a lot of time hanging out with cognitive stuff. How do you intake information? What do you do with it and how do people confuse themselves? Okay. And studying other cultures and how their worldview affects performance on westernized tests and all of the disconnects in that variety of

Speaker 1:

Really more of an expert in performance evaluation, testing, human psychology. That was yours , right ?

Speaker 2:

Yes. That was it. So you were in a human that wasn't I wrote one simple little program when I was a lab tech. That's it?

Speaker 1:

And so tell me then about the life of mine, Sol was the name of the company that you jointly formed. What happened to mind solve? What was the duration of it ?

Speaker 2:

Well, we wrote up a licensing agreement and I spent one day a month with the Microsoft guys and they went out and started marketing this to other companies. And the first companies tended to be in Silicon Valley. We had Netflix as a client. We had protein design labs, which is the source of a lot of Genentech's products. They were a client. We had the Foxwood casinos and things like that. We had some marquee clients in the early going and Dan figured out that we were in like 180 of the countries of the world with Raiders giving feedback to people elsewhere in the world about their performance, even though they weren't co located, they worked together. So that company just grew organically. When we got a few seed crystals from referrals, just as the thing that was originally designed to be for an executive bonus program. And the executive said, this is a good system. I want it for my department. And we didn't even really have to sell it in the beginning in the company because they'd seen it. And they were much happier with their bonus allocation methods and they wanted it for their own departments. And all we had to do is a little cleanup at the end because it actually kind of sold itself from seeing a cycle of it versus that executive bonus meeting people would spend all day and they'd come back and they'd be ready to quit. The company. These vice presidents had been so acrimonious. We just fixed it the first time they did it with the comparison based rating. They were backed by 10 30 in the morning. And nobody was mad,

Speaker 1:

All started with, it sounds like about four or five employees, how large city to get

Speaker 2:

It, got to maybe 50 employees when some total acquired .

Speaker 1:

And did you find being the top dog or one of the top dogs, right? Yeah . Was that a different experience than being the HR guy? Did you see things differently in terms of managing evaluating employees ?

Speaker 2:

I didn't come up an HR track. They asked me to start and found an HR department, but I never thought of myself that way. In the first place I kept telling my CEO, I'm a general manager and I'm happy to hold this HR position and help be the guardian of the culture. That's what they told me my job was. But if you got more stuff, I'm up for it. So I never really experienced it as a change because I was used to making management and I was used to coaching all the managers on their management decisions. And so, no, it really wasn't a qualitative shift or quantitative either actually

Speaker 1:

So hard , like a lot of creative people, you actually have at least one second life. And that is as a jazz guitarist. That's the one I know about, you know , very accomplished jazz and cars with at least one album to your name that I know of it, you probably have more. You've also played with a lot of great musicians over the last few years here in Florida and elsewhere. And I'm guessing that running a tech company is exactly like playing guitar in a dimly lit bar, right? I mean, there's basically not a real difference or are there similarities? What are the differences ?

Speaker 2:

That's a good question. I love that question. I used music analogies in my management development with people reporting to me and elsewhere in the company all the time, because music is a phenomenon that has teamwork. It has underlying patterns with which you have to be competent. It has individual skills with which you have to be competent to stay in that particular level with your band. It has vague problems. Like what is a good solo that's musical that moves along that keeps you in sync with the band. It has a static decisions and it's got fairness involved in the teamwork. So really truly it's another one of those things where it sounds different, but the process I would go through to get to a good answer felt pretty comparable to me,

Speaker 1:

To a podcast a while back the subject of the pockets, essentially how computers are not necessarily computers, but the fact that you can have perfect time on recordings. Some musicians really didn't like, because they said, and I don't know if I fully understood the concept. They said, actually, there's something one of them called lived time. And what the musician meant by that is there's no such thing as perfect time what the band is playing that the time. But what I took from that, I thought it was a great paradigm because in real life, right, you are constantly adjusting to somebody else's speed. And in a very literal sense, as a musician, you're listening, they're listening to you. And the speed of the piece ends up being what everyone else adjusted you. It's not a perfect time, right?

Speaker 2:

That is a great observation. I'll recommend to you. A man named Rick Beato has stuff on YouTube for free. He's a fine musician. He took a track from a Justin Bieber album. That was an automated computerized drum track that he sinked up with one of the most soulful drummers Bernard Purdie party. And he allows you to hear just the drum track from the Bieber album, with the same rhythmic pattern. And then you hear Bernard and you listen to Bieber and yes, there is no mistake cause then computer. And then it clicks over to Purdy and he starts squirming around in your seat and Pat and your foot. And all of a sudden the music got you and carried you somewhere. And that's the thing ,

Speaker 1:

Right ? Just cause it's more an expression of the soul, you know , it's not , not a computer . Yeah . Tell me a little bit about the music world. You're probably a little bit like me and a lot of people don't know what the hell you do, right? Because you do a lot of different things. And so you can have it lots of different worlds. So people aren't quite sure is this guy, an inventor, is he a musician? Is he an entrepreneur as well ? So you go to a different place as a musician.

Speaker 2:

Well, I did write a third person autobiography where you interview yourself. When I started with fretboard journal, a guitar magazine, and I thought, okay, this is my chance to say something ornery about this whole subject. And so I put in my own behalf, he believes that lack of focus is the key to a happy life. So with that thought, I write songs now I never did until 2011. And then I got one plate on car talk because I grew up in a used car lot with my dad. And I wrote music for a Lord, Byron poem, a 12 line poem from 1819. And it put me in a mood that went with the sort of harmony that Duke Ellington and Harry Warren and those great melancholy Balladeers of the mid 20th century were able to do. And I thought I can build a landing strip in 2019 for this 1819 poem. I bet you, it was sounded like it all should go together. That was an interesting project. It took me three months and about four passes to get it all to work well, once I realized that Lord Byron was the boss and the melody had to serve Lord Byron's lyric and the harmony had to serve the melody. I was trying all things in parallel in the beginning. And once I got it straight, I'm happy with it. And I'm often not happy with stuff I do, but that was fun. I play gigs in the downtown San Jose jazz scene. I do experimental stuff with a music major, a woman singer and guitarist. And we do all kinds of repertoire that we almost hardly ever disagree. So the great thing about music is there are so many things you can hang out with and they all kind of cross fertilize one another. And as long as you're practicing and able to execute on your instrument, it all informs the process of being a musician.

Speaker 1:

So Harold inventors and entrepreneurs and creative people often tend to have very interesting backgrounds, very interesting childhoods. And I can't let escape the fact that you said you grew up on a car lot with your dad. So I sense there's a story behind her. So why don't you elaborate on that? What was life like for you as a kid? Where were you raised? Where were your parents?

Speaker 2:

I was raised in Jacksonville, Florida. My father went through a process of being a rebellious kid who got drafted into world war two , who went through a screening test and went straight to officer's school cause he had high native intellect and he came home and was a very devoted creative inventive father. And he had a handful with me because if they had add tests, I would have cleared the bar by three feet. I just was highly distractible , but he kept me focused to deal with the school system. And I did score high on standardized tests and I was the youngest kid ever to win the spelling bee in the fourth grade,

Speaker 1:

Fourth graders, fifth graders, sixth graders, seventh

Speaker 2:

Graders . And I never lost again. And I aged out of the system. So Harold is a nerdy name, but I thought, well, maybe I can tote the load as this. And so I just kind of identified with being a nerd and my dad got a kick out of it. And I loved hanging around, down on the used lot because it was real life. It was people making decisions and the salesman or trying to get the person to make an impulsive decision and a person doesn't know what to do. And there's all kinds of humor about the contest. And I also wanted to write a song from the car salesman's point of view cause everybody has all kind of jabs and elbows for the used car sales when they've dealt with who were nasty people and some of them are, but some of them are just good natured guys who can get you off the fence on the day. They'd rather you get off the fence instead of giving you another three weeks to buy it from somebody else. I mean, really, I can't even begin to say where it begins and ends my father's interest and patience in getting this kid, keep me off the guardrail , show me the fun of work and keep me working on something. Great story, Harold. And you are really a creative person. I've seen a lot of creative folks on this show, but you're sort of on the 10 of 10 scale, we didn't even get a chance to talk about the movies that are the documentaries have been involved with. And I think that can easily be a whole nother show about some very good musicians in Florida and elsewhere, but thanks very much for coming on radio Cade . Thanks for the invitation. I love the Cade operation and I'm happy to help anytime I can. Thank you

Speaker 3:

For radio Cade , Richard Miles signing radio Cade is produced by the Kate museum for creativity and invention located in Gainesville, Florida. Richard Miles is the podcast host and Ellie , Tom coordinates inventor interviews, podcasts are recorded at Heartwood, soundstage and edited and mixed by Bob McPeak . The radio Cade theme song was produced and performed by Tracy columns and features violinist Jacob Lawson.