Helping People Win at Work #2 – “The Final Exam: A Tool Not a Stick”

Blanchard and Ridge discuss the importance of giving people the “final exam” up front, so they know what it expected. Coming from the education world, many think this is an atrocity. How can you give the student the final exam at the beginning of the course? Doesn’t it negate the need to attend, engage, and learn in your class?  Here’s what I think.


First, I consider the ROLE/PURPOSE of a final exam. It’s a tool to measure the depth of understanding, as a result of learning throughout the course.  It’s a tool to measure one’s ability to apply the deeper understanding to relevant life situations outside of the classroom. It’s a tool to measure the synthesis of the ideas giving the student a new tool for thinking about life.  It’s a tool to test the new conceptual tool.


Second, I consider the DIFFICULTY of the final exam. If it’s simple recall of memorized facts or ideas, then it’s not testing the conceptual understanding of the student, but their ability to memorize. This is one of the reasons giving it out ahead of time could be considered dangerous for class engagement. However, if the difficulty instead asks the student to use their deeper understanding as a tool to solve bigger problems, then it requires students engage on a level that develops deep understanding of the concepts.


Third, I consider the CLARITY the final exam provides students. It defines the target for them, a highly underestimated need for every human being. What am I aiming for? If the target is moving and/or unclear, how can I possibly ever hit it? Trying them becomes a frivolous and I might just render myself to apathy instead of wasting the energy. However, if I clearly understand where I’m going and I have a tool to measure my progress, then I’m motivated to press through the quagmire of confusion to get attain it.


As a leader, I internalize this metaphor and consider the following questions.
Is the “final exam” designed to reveal my learning and help me better understand my new tools?
Is the “final exam” difficult enough to stretch me to learn and grow? Is the understanding necessary to pass the “final exam” within my reach?
Are the expectations of the “final exam” clear enough to work toward and measure progress?


If any of these are “no” answers, then my job as a leader is at stake. I must clarify the purpose, the target, and the path to success with the team member, or I run the risk of pushing them into job apathy.


Blanchard and Ridge discuss three areas for the final exam.
1 – Essential Functions – the job expectations of my position.
2 – SMART goals – Specific, Motivational, Attainable, Relevant, Trackable goals that I set with my tribal leader for the year.
3 – Values – the company values as I embody and demonstrate them on a regular basis.


As a leader, each of my team members should be clear on these year long and day to day expectations, as well as the path to get to these. If not, then I’ve not done my job.


Thus, I begin my journey in not only articulating the essential functions of each position, the kinds of SMART goals that could be set, and the kinds of action that living the values would demonstrate, but also the clear purpose of this “final exam” and the healthy way it will increase their tools for success in the job and in life


Go Tools!!

Book reference


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2 Responses to Helping People Win at Work #2 – “The Final Exam: A Tool Not a Stick”

  1. lonhall says:

    I learned this by doing. The final 8 years of my career at Allergan, I led an international team I created to coordinate and standardize technical support for marketed products worldwide. I had all the responsibility and none of the authority. The team had representatives from Worldwide Quality Assurance, Marketing, Quality Control and Quality Assurance at each of our manufacturing sites and Regulatory Affairs representatives from countries around the world. Every member of the team was a manager or higher in the company except me. The team was a great success and part of the reason I got invited by the FDA to be part of the team that created the regulations known as PACPAC (Post Approval Changes to Packaging). Key to the success was building personal relationships by meeting face-to-face.

  2. Jill Brownlee Wolf says:

    This kind of "final exam" thinking can be a very effective way to evaluate progress with team members, especially if you have NO authority to to remove them. This makes it more about all of us agreeing to a specific target and holding each other responsible to do their part. Thanks for sharing!!

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