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Author: George Pitagorsky

George Pitagorsky, integrates core disciplines and applies people centric systems and process thinking to achieve sustainable optimal performance. He is a coach, teacher and consultant. George authored The Zen Approach to Project Management, Managing Conflict and Managing Expectations and IIL’s PM Fundamentals™. He taught meditation at NY Insight Meditation Center for twenty-plus years and created the Conscious Living/Conscious Working and Wisdom in Relationships courses. Until recently, he worked as a CIO at the NYC Department of Education.

Collaborative Decision Making

Meditation teacher Tejaniya advised, “Never try to force an issue. Just acknowledge, accept, and keep observing until things unfold naturally.”


This might be fine when there is all the time in the world for the issue to be resolved, but from a project management perspective, it sounds far too passive an approach.

However, when you consider what happens when you force an issue by using your power as a manager or a majority in a decision-making group, there may be some wisdom in acknowledging, accepting, and observing things unfold naturally.



In a program to improve the way a complex organization operated, a narrow majority of the Program Steering Group that was responsible for making decisions regarding which of several projects was to be done and in what order decided by a slim majority to authorize a project to renovate a process in one department.

They hired a design consultant and created a Design Team to provide feedback regarding the design. The Design Team reflected on the decision and was influenced by some of the minority members of the program steering group. They came back to the steering group with their unanimous opinion that the chosen project was not the best one to take on first, provided their reasoning, and called for the steering group to provide an overall plan that identified all the projects that would be part of the program, a capital financial plan, and an overall architecture before deciding on which project would be done first.


The steering group pushed back using their authority. They said that the Design Team was asked to give feedback on the design and not question the steering group’s decision. The steering group forced the issue.

The Design Team grumbled, but since they reported to the members of the Program Steering Group were left with no choice but to quit or comply, so they chose to comply.


The result was, as the Design Team predicted, a well-designed process with supporting systems that within a few years needed to be significantly changed, at great cost to fit with the other processes and systems that emerged as part of the overall renovation program. The resulting architecture resembled a patchwork – “something composed of miscellaneous parts; hodgepodge.”[1]

Over time, system maintenance was a nightmare. Further, some useful renovations were not included in the program because avoidable costs of initial projects used up the program’s budget.


The Consequences of Forcing an Issue

Here we see that forcing a decision led to the postponement of due diligence. Not doing capital planning and architectural design led to avoidable consequences, as pointed out in my article The Karma of Postponing Due Diligence[2]. And there are other consequences of forcing an issue, for example, disgruntled staff, and loss of respect for the decision-makers.


A Path Forward

So what can we do? As leaders in positions of power, we can step back and assess our decisions in the light of feedback and conflicting ideas. We can apply emotional and social intelligence along with wise decision-making, and servant leadership concepts.

Emotional intelligence comes into play when the decision-makers apply self-awareness to see why they find it necessary to force an issue. Is it because they are emotionally attached to their decision or to their power? With social intelligence, they can assess the impact of their use of authority on their staff, superiors, and peers.

As wise decision-makers, they recognize the need to look at the issue from multiple perspectives – long and short-term impacts, financial and quality consequences, and more. Servant leadership involves respect for others and their opinions and the positive impact of helping followers become wise decision-makers.


In a recent article[3] the author points out “the value of working with those with whom we disagree.” The author relates how Dr. Daniel Kahneman, who explored judgment and decision-making and how easily people become less than rational when making decisions, “experienced real joy working with others to discover the truth, even if he learned that he was wrong (something that often delighted him).” Kahneman favored “adversarial collaboration.”

When adversaries work together, they face the issue rather than each other. This requires acknowledging that one can be all wrong or half wrong and that the other party or parties may be right or half right, whether they are peers, superiors, or subordinates.


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Don’t Force an Issue

Let’s return to Tejaniya’s advice, “Never try to force an issue. Just acknowledge, accept, and keep observing until things unfold naturally.”


I try never to say never. There are times as a manager that we will choose to use authority to force a decision. But that is a last resort, for example when faced with a tight deadline leaving no time for further dialogue. Acknowledging, accepting, and observing until things unfold naturally is a superior way of operating. But only when we have a clear sense of what that means.

Acknowledging, accepting, and observing are active, not passive. Acknowledge and accept that there are differences of opinion and different positions. Observe your own and the other parties’ positions and behavior. Listening to content and tone is part of observing as is seeing others’ body language and facial expressions and observing your own.

Open your mind to the possibility that your position is not the best or only effective alternative. This is part of accepting. You let go of your attachment to having it your way (even if your way is not the best way).


Then clarify, present your view, and consider that to be part of what is unfolding naturally. You are letting go of your position and allowing the right expression of your knowledge and experience for the situation. You seek to understand the needs and wants, facts and opinions.

In the example from the article cited above, Professor Kahneman and his adversary found through a collaborative effort that they were both partially right and partially wrong. They came to a resolution that they could not have reached working on their own.


Never say Never

What if your opponent is closed to a collaborative approach? Then you acknowledge and accept the reality that collaboration is no longer possible and naturally force the issue (if you have the power to do so.) When you do, if you have been open-minded, asked the right questions, and objectively considered the answers, your decision might not be the same one you made before you tried to collaborate.


[1] Merriam Webster
[3] The Nobel Winner Who Liked to Collaborate With His Adversaries

Team Building: A Cross-Cultural Perspective

These days many, if not all, of our projects are performed by cross-cultural teams. Not only do members come from different national and ethnic cultures, but they come from cultures based on mindset (for example progressive and conservative, woke and anti-woke), generational attributes, socio-political influences, corporate environments, and more.

Teams are vehicles for getting things done. When people come together to accomplish objectives – whether to win a game or perform a project – having an understanding among the team members regarding their objectives and the way they will work together is critical to success.


What Culture Is

“Culture is often described through Professor Geert Hofstede’s definition: The programming of the human mind by which one group of people distinguishes itself from another group – the set of shared beliefs, values, and norms that distinguish one group of people from another. As global organisations become increasingly diverse, understanding and managing cultural differences has become a critical competency for business leaders.”[1]

In human societies, culture is a concept that groups people based on shared knowledge, beliefs, values, and practices. A culture includes social norms, habits, customs, institutions, behaviors, beliefs, arts, laws, and more. We have many overlapping cultures – for example, corporate, regional, national, ethnic, generational, and religious. In teams, there are diverse cultural norms including those around cleanliness and neatness, how close people stand when talking, punctuality, and styles of dress.

Cultures are dynamic. They change as people’s needs change and as one culture is influenced by another. New cultures evolve out of this dynamic change process. Each team has a culture. Some are consciously created and understood, others, not so much.


Why Team Cultures are Important

Our culture influences our mindset with its beliefs, biases, and values as well as the way we work, play, dress, relate to one another, and communicate. The more that team members understand one another and agree upon values, goals, objectives, and communication and collaboration norms, the more team effectiveness increases.

What are the differences in behavior that get in the way of your team’s optimal performance? Are they caused by cultural differences?


“Anthropologists consider that world cultures vary along five consistent dimensions, which include collectivism versus individualism, and cultural preference for uncertainty avoidance. The extent to which cultures vary for these different dimensions can lead to very different expectations when it comes to interpersonal relationships and business communication.”[2]


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If some people have a cultural norm of rigidly adhering to punctuality and others are more accepting of a looser adherence, conflict is likely. For example, a U. S. employee visiting his Scandinavian company’s home office was shocked and insulted when he was not permitted to enter a meeting to which he was five minutes late. The cultural norm in that company’s home office was that if you were not on time, then don’t come at all. In the U. S. division coming in a few minutes late was acceptable. The American’s lateness influenced the local colleagues’ opinion of him and made integrating him into the team more difficult.

In another example, there may be a clash between team members from a culture that values assertiveness and tolerates some abrasiveness and those from cultures that view conflict and abrasive language as undesirable. When an assertive team member puts forth an idea, she might expect others to bring up conflicting ideas or criticisms. When they don’t assert their opinions, thinking of doing so as being rude or disrespectful, the assertive person, not understanding the cultural norm in play, may take silence as agreement. The result would be adopting a less-than-effective idea, creating a design or plan deficiency.


A project manager from a culture that avoids uncertainty will tend to strictly adhere to detailed structured plans and take fewer risks out of fear of failure. This can frustrate team members who have a higher tolerance for ambiguity and seek to innovate, take a more agile approach, and change the plan to obtain more creative outcomes.


What We Can Do

Cultural consciousness and emotional/social intelligence can avoid the negative impact of cultural differences. Cultural consciousness means being mindfully aware of culture as a force in team performance, of the cultural attributes of team members, of the ability to transcend cultural conditioning, and of the tendency to think one’s culture is better than others. Emotional/social intelligence means having the capacity to be aware of one’s feelings, able to manage one’s behavior and be sensitive to the feelings and behaviors of others. As individuals, we can choose to be adaptive to our current situation rather than being limited by cultural norms that are no longer relevant or useful.


As project managers, we can build a team culture that respects the cultural backgrounds of team members while cultivating an understanding of how to behave in a way that leads to the team’s success. For example, when it comes to decision-making, adopting an approach like the Six Hats model makes it a norm to look at an idea critically and from multiple perspectives opens the door to a critical analysis of the idea. Combine that with the awareness that avoiding conflict robs the team of useful information, and that exhibiting abrasive speech patterns and behavior may be taken as a sign of weakness, a personal attack causing another to back off or fire back to escalate a conflict and redirect the process away from the idea content.


Creating and sustaining effective teams requires cross-cultural awareness training to promote mutual understanding and respect, effective communication processes, and team-building activities to speed up the movement from forming to norming without much storming, to promote optimal performing.

Make sure that team members can fully express their opinions and needs. Consciously agree upon common values and goals to achieve a team culture that integrates the multiple cultures of its members.


We build a team, and once it’s built, we sustain it throughout its life. Like any structure, if we build it well, sustaining it is easy. However, it takes ongoing mindful awareness and patient effort to overcome the obstacles presented by cultural differences and turn them into strengths.


The Karma of Postponing Due Diligence

There is a trade-off between doing work now and postponing it until you are forced to do it.

The law of karma says that what you do and don’t do causes a ripple effect. So, be careful to avoid the unwanted consequences of putting off review and assessment, risk management, planning, project administration, and resource management work.


Due Diligence

Due diligence is the opposite of negligence. In finance, project, and acquisition management, it is the effort to collect, analyze, and use data to make decisions. Due diligence is the work to collect, assess, prevent, mitigate, and account. In project management, it is the process of deciding whether to pursue or pass on a project based on a risk-reward assessment. It seeks to determine if the project is feasible, legal, ethical, and profitable. From a project and process management view, add planning, regular maintenance, and quality management to the definition of due diligence.

Bypass due diligence and the risk of failure goes way up.


Accounting and Due Diligence

Doing my tax accounting reminded me of the importance of the accounting part of due diligence and the understanding that not doing accounting and regular status reporting makes the rest of due diligence far more difficult than it needs to be.

Every year I resolve to take the time to clean up my data and set things in place for a far easier next year. But it is already March and I’d have to spend even more hours dealing with this ‘stuff’ when I have many other things to do to catch up for all the time I spent on the taxes. Then because I have so much else to do, I do not take the time to regularly do the accounting that would make taxes easy, even if not pleasant.

I postpone the effort and each year I repeat the pain.


Project Management

For one reason or another, we often put off doing unexciting and easily postponed chores.

With the pressure to “act now” and get our projects off the ground, we often find that risk-reward decision-making is given only cursory attention or bypassed altogether. Amid a dynamic complex project with tight deadlines, limited resources, and “problems” the only thing that matters is getting the work done, now. Anything else is a distraction.

This kind of heads-down, undistracted, focused work on a project can be useful. However, if you are working without regularly stepping back, you and your organization will suffer. If you think and act as if doing status reports, risk management, communication, human caretaking, and project accounting are distractions, think again.


Project performance includes Project management. Due diligence during the project means doing:

  • project accounting – cost and effort tracking, issue logs, status reports
  • regular quality assurance/process-focused meetings
  • risk management
  • quality control
  • communication
  • human caretaking (stakeholder management)

Above the project level, in the higher-order process, due diligence means:

  • process management – making sure the process, methodology, standards, templates, roles, and responsibilities are as best as they can be
  • portfolio management – making sure that the right projects are being initiated and realistically scheduled to avoid overwhelming resources and taking on projects that are likely to be disappointing.


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The Higher-order Process

When we refer to the project level and above, we recognize that projects are being performed within a higher-order process, which includes process and portfolio management, environmental conditions, and resource management. Both the project and higher levels are important, and they are interrelated. However, given the nature of organizations with short-sighted priorities, the higher-order process is often overlooked.

The higher-order processes are complex and operate in multiple dimensions such as portfolio management occurring in the context of organizational strategy, market conditions, regulatory issues, and more. The benefits and costs of doing and not doing due diligence at this level are not immediately realized. They make themselves known when something goes wrong, and the problem cannot be explained by and resolved at the project level.

For example, your project resources may be taken away and reassigned to another project causing your project to be delayed. If senior stakeholders are ok with the delay because it was factored into their decision to remove the resources, then there is no problem. But if this happens frequently across multiple projects it is a sign that the project portfolio may not be being effectively managed.


If you do not take the time to evaluate the legal, budgetary, risks, and reward factors of a project, the consequences are not felt until the project fails or a regulatory body steps in to put the brakes on. If project performers are constantly complaining about having to do useless work on administrative tasks, it may be a sign that procedures and templates need to be reviewed and repaired, performers need to be better trained, or that the wrong methodology approach is being used.

Fine-tuning or more radically changing the higher-order process affects the quality of individual project performance.


Project-level Due Diligence

Accounting within each project is part of project management due diligence. Every team member, not just the project manager, must allocate time and focus attention on tasks that may seem to be distractions from the so-called “real work.”

Project accounting is done to satisfy regulatory and administrative needs, for example, knowing how money has been spent and resources used. In addition, stakeholders want to know what is going on and how it is affecting their expectations. Will the project be on time and budget? What events have occurred that can get in the way?

But that’s not the only reason. Project accounting sets the stage for due diligence at a higher level. It leaves an audit trail with the data needed to refine portfolio management decision-making and methodology assessment. With project-level reporting comes the ability to look back at what happened to learn from it. Hindsight is not 20-20 unless there is a record to review. Memories are imperfect. How will the data from this project influence decision-making at a higher level?


Commitment and Follow-Through

The bottom line is to build due diligence activities into work plans and commit to following through with effective portfolio management decision-making, raising the consciousness of stakeholders, and ongoing refinement of the project performance approach.

Working Hard, But Not Too Hard!

Working hard is applying a high level of effort, being consistently focused, productive and effective, applying emotional, physical, and intellectual energy. Working hard is rewarding, it leads to personal and organizational success.

Some people say, “Work smarter, not harder.” But working hard is not the opposite of working smart. The two go together. Working smart makes working hard more effective. Working hard without working smart leads to working too hard.

Working “too hard” causes fatigue and burn out, it reduces performance, challenges relationships, creates a cycle of emotional reactions like anger and depression. Challenging work becomes too hard when it can’t be sustained. Sustained challenging work, physical or mental, requires sufficient reward, rest, relaxation, and recovery.



What does it mean to work “too hard”? With two people doing the same work, one might find it too hard and the other too easy.

Some years ago, I managed a project that had a tight time deadline (don’t they all?). We were a core team of six people including myself, all in our late 20’s to early 30’s. For the last month of the project, we were working late into the night, coming in early in the morning, and occasionally doing all night work sessions. We had pretty much cut off our social and family connections for the duration. The work was engaging, state of the art, and creative. The reward was both financially, emotionally, and intellectually rewarding. Team members had bonded, and it often felt as if we were reading one another’s thoughts. We were in Flow. When the project ended, we were both ready for a rest and sad that it was over.

Some family members and friends thought we were working too hard. For us it was a thrilling ride. It’s very subjective. Observers may or may not have an accurate perception of how hard a worker is working in any role as a performer, manager, or executive.


Objective Criteria

We can bring some useful objectivity to the question of what working too hard means by defining the characteristic conditions of “too hard”, to overwork, really means.

Working too hard means there is imbalance among the factors – hours worked, rest and recovery, task complexity, competency, work environment, relationships, mental attitude, and physical condition.


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Overwork is a principal cause of burnout. In my article Burnout: What It Is and How to Avoid it,[1] I identified the symptoms of – “exhaustion, disengagement, and reduced effectiveness.

  • Exhaustion is loss of energy and fatigue. It occurs when there is too much stress caused by unhealthy performance demands (chronic overwork). It can be a short-term experience following an intensive physical, emotional, or mental activity. Short-term exhaustion can be treated by moderating performance demands and taking rest and recovery time. If it goes untreated and becomes chronic, burnout follows.
  • Disengagement is affected by a sense of not being cared for by leadership and of the futility of the work. People lose a psychological connection to their work. Involvement and enthusiasm suffer. Performers, whether executives, managers, or staff, just put in their time instead of being actively engaged in their work. self-worth suffers. They become cynical and either engage in unnecessary conflict or withdraw to avoid engaging in meaningful debates.
  • Reduced effectiveness is tied to both exhaustion and lack of engagement. With tiredness, less involvement and enthusiasm, performers become less productive and less effective. That results in greater stress as performance goals become more difficult to achieve. Greater stress feeds exhaustion and lack of engagement.”

For observers, becoming disengaged with friends and family is perceived as a symptom of overwork. It may be, depending on how persistent it is, and whether overwork is the cause or work is being used as an escape from challenging relationships.

Symptoms are the most objective criteria available. It is up to each of us to be aware of our feelings and energy levels to decide if we are experiencing the symptoms of overwork.



“Self-awareness is the ability to “step back” and observe yourself objectively to know your behavior, motivations, feelings, values, and desires. It is knowing your personality and the way you display it in your life.”[2]

Your self-awareness enables you to see whether you are working too hard and if you are, why you are doing it.


Doing Something About It

You can do three things about working too hard. 1) You can avoid it, 2) you can correct the imbalance among hours worked, rest and recovery, task complexity, competency, work environment, relationships, mental attitude, and physical condition to stop doing it, or 3) you can continue and suffer the consequences.

You avoid it by establishing a healthy work-life balance. You stop it by identifying the imbalance and correcting it by adjusting your attitude and behavior.


For example, you can balance rest and recovery with working on challenging work for long hours, and intensively. That kind of work is often necessary and can be sustained if there is time for rest and recovery.

A supportive work environment, with space for quiet time, and workspaces designed for the kind of work being performed to provide comfort and ease enables breaks and eliminates unnecessary stress.

Healthy relationships, including the ability to manage conflict and expectations, remove unnecessary stress and enable intensive effort.


Mental attitude is a key factor. If you believe you are working to hard, you will act as if you were. If you believe that you are working hard and are ok with it, you will be most effective.

If your personal situation is creating the imbalance because of workaholism or anxiety about not working hard enough, you are faced with the task of addressing these causes.


If your work situation does not give you the ability to improve imbalance, you are faced with the challenge of making the changes that will protect your health and effectiveness. That may mean taking the risks of standing up to your boss and changing jobs.


[2] Pitagorsky, George, “Self-Awareness a Critical Capability for Project Managers”,

Healthy Goals, Psychology, and Performance Assessment

A reader reported that the “Motivation: Intentions, Goals and Plans” chapter of my book, The Peaceful Warrior’s Path, triggered memories and painful feelings about performance reviews.


That set me to thinking that the cause of much of the trouble with performance assessment as a part of performance management was psychology and mindset about criticism, coupled with organizational and personal resistance to addressing those issues.

A recent Harvard Business Review article pointed out that

“Performance reviews are awkward. They’re biased. They stick us in boxes and leave us waiting far too long for feedback. It’s no surprise that by the end of 2015, at least 30 of the Fortune 500 companies had ditched performance evaluations altogether. But let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater.”[1]


My reader, a financial professional with a decades long career, reexperienced anxiety about being found deficient, reinforcing her need for perfection and acceptance by others, highlighting weakness and imperfection. Embarrassment, financial, and career consequences, circled in her mind.

As a result, she was triggered by the thought of setting goals and objectives. In her experience they were often unrealistic and rigid.

Others report a sense that they are being evaluated without adequate objective criteria and by people who are biased and, in some cases, unqualified, unprepared, or uninterested. Often the goals and objectives, even those set by the individual performer, are rigid and not adjusted when conditions change.


The Benefits of Performance Reviews

But let’s not just jettison performance goals, objectives, and assessments. Let’s make the best of them, to use them for personal growth and organizational success.

The HBR authors reported that at Facebook “a survey of more than 300 people found that “87% of people wanted to keep performance ratings.”[2]

They realized the need for candid feedback to give employees a sense of where they stand in the eyes of their organization and what they need to improve, and to give the organization knowledge of employee performance to support training, compensation, and hiring decisions.

Add to that the benefits, clarity of purpose and direction, which come from establishing rational expectations in the form of goals and objectives.


What Gets in The Way?

But something gets in the way. Not every organization is as wise as Facebook about optimizing their performance assessment process, including setting, and adjusting goals.

When I look at the issue from a project management perspective, I see three predominant causes of unskillful performance assessment: lack of clear goals and objectives, psychological/mindset issues, and poor process.

In this article we home in on the psychological issues and how they impact and are impacted by the other causes.


Psychology, Mindset, and Performance

There has been resistance to addressing psychological issues in the workplace. But we do well to be aware of these issues because individual psychology influences behavior and behavior influences performance and relationships.

The interplay among individual psychological tendencies and mindsets, cultural and organizational norms, and self-awareness influences performance and makes for a complex system. In a complex system change anywhere can have an impact everywhere.

For example, a project team member may make decisions influenced by fear of upsetting the functional manager who will give her the next review. Another performer may avoid committing to goals and objectives to avoid imagined failure. A project team may be reluctant to commit to objectives they feel are unrealistic and that they will be evaluated against regardless of changes to any number of conditions


In our projects, we see that factors like

  • Individual anxiety and perfectionism,
  • cultural norms,
  • performance processes
  • attitudes regarding success and failure,
  • communication and relationship capabilities,
  • levels of emotional and social intelligence, and
  • organizational support levels evidenced by allocating sufficient time and attention and adjusting objectives as conditions change,

all contribute to the success or failure of performance assessments and performance management.


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Skillful Performance management

Awareness of and sensitivity to psychological and cultural tendencies enables skillful performance management.

In projects, performance reviews are not limited to individual performers. We assess performance on individual projects and the performance across multiple projects of individuals, project teams, departments, and organizations.

Performance management should be treated like a program with each assessment of a project. Intentions, goals, and values drive performance. When we evaluate the effectiveness of performance management these elements must be considered. If we never evaluate the effectiveness of the program, it is likely to be ineffective. And that leads to less-than-optimal performance overall.


The intention of performance management is to improve and optimize performance while creating a work environment in which performers at all levels of the organization’s hierarchy feel safe and have a sense that the process is fair and objective. Values: effectiveness, kindness, candor, self-reflection, emotional intelligence.

The goal is to enable clarity regarding performance effectiveness through a process of performance reviews which include the assessment of the factors beyond individual behaviors that contribute to achieving optimal performance.

Objectives are to regularly assess the performance of individuals, projects, teams, and organizations to identify opportunities for improvement based upon pre-established criteria and to make decisions regarding the need for training, deciding who will be compensated at what levels, who will and will not be retained, and what organizational, management, cultural, and environmental changes are needed to achieve optimal performance.


Optimal Performance

If the intention and goal is to achieve optimal performance, then we must know what optimal performance means. It means performing as best as possible given current conditions where performance is measured by the ability to achieve desired results – satisfied clients, profits, clean air, healthy and happy executives, managers, and staff.


Next Steps

To move from the general to the specific you need an action plan for your situation. Consider each of these:

  • Identify a responsible party for performance management – and it can’t be ‘everybody’ even though everyone and every team is responsible for their performance
  • Educate the staff at all levels regarding the intent of performance assessment and the reality of psychological, emotional, and cultural influences
  • Set a baseline for optimal performance – objective and realistic criteria that are agreed upon by those whose performance will be measured
  • Assess your current performance management process – get feedback from the staff, assess against industry benchmarks
  • Refine the process as needed
  • Be open to continuous improvement based on ongoing assessment of both performance management and individual and project performance.

[1] Lori Goler, Janelle Gale, Adam Grant, Let’s Not Kill Performance Evaluations Yet, Harvard Business Review,recognize%20and%20reward%20top%20performance.
[2] Ibid