The Next Step Vs. The Far Horizon

I recently had a midyear review with each member of my team, where we sat down for about 30 minutes, shut out the daily grind, and talked about how things were going. I know some folks, both managers and staff, don’t really like doing these reviews. I think they’re a terrific opportunity.

As we talk, I emphasize that “doing the work” really has two pieces, which I think of as “head down” and “head up.”

“Head down” is the bulk of the time. It means focusing on the tasks at hand, making progress toward deadlines, hitting targets, etc. It’s what most people think about when they consider performance. No one really needs to be reminded or nudged to do head-down work.

But “head up” is also important: you’ve got to look at the horizon some of the time. We’re responsible for leading EPA’s online efforts, which explicitly includes thinking about how to improve. A blog manager needs to look around for new plugins and features. Someone running the home page needs to be poking around other agencies and even companies looking for new ways to convey information. If you’re making home page banners, you need to be checking out how other people are using banners in new ways. Basically, for every role on my team, there’s some way to be exploring new ways of thinking.

Just doing the same things, even doing them very well, means we stagnate, miss opportunities, etc. It’s not that we’ll always do every new idea, but we need to at least be discovering new ideas to then evaluate. The midyear review is a great time to make that clear, and I also write the exploration concept into the performance agreement for each member of my team.

The key point? The habit of exploring is what matters, and it’s up to managers to support head-up efforts or it’ll never become a habit.

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Jaqi Ross

It’s this kind of mentorship and investment in talent that keeps folks engaged and willing to contribute toward the organization’s cause. Well done, Jeffrey!


Encouraging one’s staff to be innovative and creative is a key to success and to increased levels of employee confidence and engagement. Everyone has talents they bring to the workplace. Furthermore, everyone has a commitment (ranges from high to low) to make a difference and to contribute to the success of others. Managers who lead are those managers who encourage others to challenge themselves….to go beyond the ordinary.

I suggest managers and others take a look at Stephen Shapiro’s lates book, “Best Practices are Stupid – 40 Ways to Out-Innovate the Competition”…..for some valuable tips for encouraging boosting innovation and for making it a repeatable, sustainable, and profitable process at the heart of an organizations culture.

Andrew Krzmarzick

Good call, Jeffrey. We’re doing this every other month. In some ways, it’s both ‘head up’ and ‘head sideways’ – looking forward, but also turning your head slightly to look in the rearview mirror to see what’s been accomplished toward annual goals. Really valuable.

Jeffrey Levy

Andy: I do that, too; I just didn’t mention it here. I try to send quarterly reminders to all of my team to look over their annual performance agreement to be sure they’re making progress.