What's Your Plus-Delta?

As the calendar year comes to its close, now is a good time to stop and take stock of the last 365 days before they get filed as “history”?

How do you feel about 2013? Was it a good year? An average year? What did you and your team accomplish? What didn’t get done that really should have? What did you learn this year?

In the rush to close the books and head for the eggnog, we often don’t spend the time we should in assessing how our year went . . . and this means taking a close look at the overall goals and the whole organization, beyond just year-end performance reviews.

Educators and facilitators are familiar with a simple but powerful evaluation tool called “Plus-Delta,” and it’s a really easy tool to adapt to assessing business performance:

First, thinking about the last year, ask yourself, “What went really well? What am I most proud of? What did we accomplish?” These are your PLUSes.

Then consider, “What didn’t go so well? What were some of the rough patches? What do I wish we had done differently?” These are your DELTAs.

For ease of viewing, put your PLUS-DELTA analysis into a simple chart, such as:



  • Delivered on major goals A, B, and C.

  • Effectively on-boarded three new direct reports.

  • Successful implementation of ERP.

  • Revenues targets exceeded.

  • Extremely positive feedback from Board on two presentations.

  • Could have done a better job getting buy-in from key stakeholders given organization change.

  • Still have not addressed two under-performers on the team. Additionally, team dynamics are still somewhat dysfunctional.

  • Don’t have a good enough handle on what “innovation” will look like the next 2-3 years.

Now the real trick, once your assessment is complete, is to see what you can do with the insights that come out of your evaluation. Are those PLUSes strengths or new capabilities that you can leverage and build on in the new year? Why are you facing those DELTAs? What can you do about them to improve your organization’s performance next year?

After you have completed a Plus-Delta assessment for yourself, ask your direct reports to do one for your team: have them complete their own evaluations individually, and then share the insights together. Involving your team in this exercise is a good way to empower them to take on more of a leadership perspective, and it also helps them hold each other accountable for improving the team’s performance and results. Conduct this exercise with them to wrap up this year, and then revisit the results and insights to kick off your first team meeting in January.

Of course, any Plus-Delta analysis should be conducted in the context of your “Big Rocks”? You do know what your Big Rocks are, right? If you are familiar with the “Big Rocks” concept, you shouldn’t have to go back and look them up—they should have been front-and-center all year long. If you don’t know the concept, it’s a tradition at Nevins Consulting to conclude each year by revisiting the classic “Big Rocks” story—so see below.

How did you do on your Big Rocks in 2013? What are your Big Rocks for 2014? How can a Plus-Delta analysis help you take your team or organization to the next level?

If you have any thoughts on Plus-Delta or Big Rocks, or any other ideas to improve organization assessment and performance, we’d love to hear them! Send us a note at newsletter@nevinsconsulting.com

Happy holidays, and all best wishes for a fantastic New Year.

* * * * * * * * *

As the “Big Rocks” story goes, an expert on time management was lecturing to a group of business school students, and to drive home a point he used an illustration those students will probably never forget.

Standing in front of a classroom filled with self-motivated over-achievers, he pulled out a one-gallon, wide-mouthed Mason jar and set it on a table. Then he produced about a dozen fist-sized rocks and carefully placed them, one at a time, into the jar.

When the jar was filled to the top and no more rocks would fit, he asked, "Is this jar full?"

Everyone in the class said, "Yes."

Then he said, "Really?"

He reached under the table and pulled out a sack of gravel. He slowly began dumping the gravel in, pausing to shake the jar as he did, so the gravel could work itself down into the spaces between the big rocks. Then he smiled and asked the group once more, "Is the jar full?"

Some of the class was starting to catch on. "Probably not," one of them answered.

"Good!" he replied. Next he reached under the table and brought out a bag of sand. He started shaking the sand in, and it went into all the spaces left between the rocks and the gravel. Once more he asked the question, "Now is the jar full?"

"No!" the class shouted.

“Excellent!" he said, and finally he grabbed the pitcher of water off the desk and began to pour it in, until the jar was filled to the brim.

Then he looked up at the class and asked, "What is the point of this illustration?"

One eager student raised his hand and said, "The point is, no matter how full your schedule is, if you try really hard, you can always fit some more things into it!"

"No," the speaker replied, "that's not really the point at all. The truth this illustration teaches us is: If you don't put the big rocks in first, you'll never get them in at all."

So what is the lesson here? As we turn the page on another calendar year, ask yourself: what are the “big rocks” in your life, business or personal? How well, really, did you attend to them this past year? Or did you spend too much of your time on the sand and gravel?

"When nothing is sure, everything is possible." —Margaret Drabble