Perspectives from a Mediator/Arbitrator

Monday, September 25, 2006

Perspectives from a Half-Marathoner

Well. Yesterday was race day. The Toronto Waterfront Marathon. The weather forecast was lousy - but the weather was beautiful (albeit a wee bit windy). A lot of things happened.

My friend Ross came from Pittsburgh to run with me. My wife decided last week to run as well although for her it was a training run for a half marathon in Niagara Falls next month. We got there a little later than we should have. That was good because we were able to see the elite racers come out to the start line. I saw Ed Whitlock - an amazing story. He is 75 years old and he was trying to set a record for marathons by men 75 and over. I said to him as we passed, "Go get em, Ed!". That was bad because we had to walk a long way to join the start group and we ended up almost at the back of the pack. It took 7 minutes to walk back to the start line. Starting that far back, I spent the next two hours running around people. It is not that I am fast - I am not - but there were 4400 half-marathoners and I had to pass almost all of the 2000 or so that I was faster than - not fun.

On course, I told Ross that my goal was to run four twenty-eight minute 5K which would get us to the 20K mark in 1:52 which would allow me to reach my goal of running the race in less than 2 hours. He did a fantastic job pacing me through the race. We made it. I finished in just over 1:58. At around the 20K mark, my body began to give up and I slowed noticably. As I struggled to finish along Wellington, I heard police sirens. They got louder. There were police cars and an ambulance coming down the race course! It was not clear where we were supposed to go. As a driver of a car, I am often frustrated and/or mad by the unwillingness of people to cede to emergency vehicles. Somehow, I was the only person who ended up on the left of the first police car and then I looked up and saw a gate blocking my path. Realizing that there was a gap between the police car and the ambulance, I raced in front of the ambulance and then crossed to safety. The two police cars and ambulance had to be navigated again as at Wellington and University they appeared poised to turn but they had to wait for a crowd control gate to be opened. I went around them. I was amazed by all the people lining the street and cheering me and others on as we finished the race.

After I finished, I heard the public address announcer talking about the end of the marathon. I realized that it was just moments until the end of the marathon and as I was still in the finishing area, I moved as close as I could to the line (just behind the media) and saw the winner cross. Although, he had a seven minute lead on me, he had completed the marathon route in about the same time as I completed the half! Wow! (note - probably did not have to pass a couple thousand runners though!)

After getting home, I learned that Ed Whitlock had smashed the record by ten minutes finishing the marathon in 3:08. He ran two half marathons faster than I ran one. I also learned that I was not among the top half of male finishers or of male finishers in my age group - it was my first after all - I should have been happy to have just finished.

Later in the day, I learned that a runner had died. I came to the conclusion based on his split time that was posted on the internet that he was probably in the ambulance that I had worked hard to avoid. All the lustre of the day was lost. His name was Martin Poyser. He was 41 - my age. His race had not ended in him making his goal time. His race ended in his death. I am still trying to deal with the shock of it all. I remembered that last year a man died after crossing the line in the Toronto Half-Marathon (which will be run again next month). I remembered that that man was reported to have had a heart condition. I looked again at Martin Poyser's split time. He had run to the 12.2 mark much faster than I had. Of course, the majority of the men in my age category had as well. What happened to him that he not only had a heart attack but could not be saved even though he was surrounded by emergency personnel? I hope that in time there will be some answers to those questions. To his family, very simply, my sincere condolences.

I am not sure that I will ever push myself to beat a goal time again...

Monday, September 11, 2006

Performance evaluations

I read a very interesting article in the Sunday New York Times about performance evaluation. As an arbitrator and mediator, I am frequently confronted with the results of a performance evaluation. I do have some basic problems with them and, in particular, with numeric scoring systems.

The most common system has points awarded often on a scale from one to five. Two issues arise quickly for me. One, if there is a forced distribution of scores (for instance - there must be 20% 1 and 20% 2 and so on), the system is based on a belief that in any organization there will be twenty per cent of the performers who are exceptional. What if in reality this organization happens to have 30% exceptional performers or 10%? Does that mean because of forced distribution there will not be an accurate scoring for some individual? Even though the person is by any objective standard exceptional, the score can not be given because the grouping is already full? I think that it is inevitable and inevitably leads to an inaccuracy in scoring. Second, if there is not a forced distribution system, then you encounter the "wine buying experience" problem. Let me explain. I was in my local liqour store on the weekend looking for a bottle of wine and I noticed that there is a marked increase in the advertisements of ratings that various wines have achieved. I assume that the scale is from 1-100 yet all of the wines that I saw had a rating between 88 and 93! This is just like the organization where everyone is a 4.

A third problem that I have with numeric job evaluation systems is that I am never sure what they mean - is a 2 twice as good as a 1 while a 3 is only fifty percent better than a 2?

Unrelated to my mediation and arbitration practice, I do not think that putting a number on a person helps them improve. If you tell an employee that she is a star performer - it is likely that the person already knew or at least thought that. If you tell an employee that she is an average performer, it is likely that you are telling her something less than what she perceives - is that likely to make her want to do better? I think that the best performance evaluations do not focus on numbers but instead focus on performance - what are you doing well? what else could you be doing? what do you need to do better/

The next time you present me with a performance evaluation - you should know that I am skeptical about what exactly it is telling me (or the person who was being evaluated in the first place).

September 11

I think that it is important to stop and reflect today as we mark the fifth anniversary of September 11. I just want to acknowledge the devastation of the day and the thousands of lives not only lost but permanently changed as a result of that day. I hope that we will not live through another day like that again but I'm not hopeful that that will be the case.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Where Have I Been - Part 2? was one busy summer but now with Labour Day behind us - I will get back to regular blogging. My friend, Jules Bloch, said to me the other day that the year really ought to start on Labour Day and I think he is right. It would be nice to end the year with summer. It would be nice to start the year with the start of school and fall harvest. I do not think that it is going to happen anytime soon - but sign me up for those who want to change the calendar so the year starts on the first Tuesday of September (admittedly, this idea still needs some work!).

A couple of thoughts and things:

The soccer season is over. Both Raymond United teams had good seasons. The kids were great, the coaches were fantastic and the parents were not annoying. I will miss my summer evenings sitting in a chair watching ten kids chase after a soccer ball. Fortunately, in this league, there is no score-keeping, there are no all-star teams and there are no playoffs - the focus is on the kids and the games - as it should be.

My good friend, Howard Borenstein, became a Provincial Court Judge yesterday. We were invited to a get together later in the evening after the swearing-in to celebrate. The bench is strengthened by Howard's presence - he will be conscientious, fair and hard-working. It will be interesting to hear his stories from his new perspective - I doubt that I will be able to convince him to start a blog though - would be interesting - Perspectives from a Provincial Court Judge!

On the work front, things have been very busy. I have a question though for my fellow mediators. I have recently been beset by the phenomenom of people leaving mediations before I want them to! While I appreciate that I do not have any power whatsoever to keep them there against their will (and I am not looking for that power), I was wondering whether anyone wanted to share their experiences as to how to talk the determined person into staying. My "reasons why you should stay" speech does not seem to be working as frequently as I would like. On a number of occasions, I was quite certain that if the person leaving simply stayed, a satisfactory resolution would have been reached. If you wish to just share your thoughts directly with me - feel free to email me at