Having spent my fair share of time at parks and on playdates with my little toddler, there’s a common theme that I often hear from other parents as they talk to their kids—and one that I’ve even used from time to time myself. It’s most often heard when a tiny human has done something that, let’s just say, could have been better thought out.
“Was that a good choice?”
“Could you have made a better choice?”
“How could we make a different choice next time?”
Now, I usually avoid making comparisons between raising my three-year-old and business leadership, but this idea of evaluating choices had me thinking. In particular, it reminded me of a technique that a business coach shared with me about evaluating performance in a specific and measured way.
What is PARLA?
This technique, called PARLA, is a quick and simple acronym to help leaders get specific when evaluating business activities, then turn those evaluations into actionable insights for the future. Here’s what you need to remember:
What was the initial problem that needed solving? Who needed what, and for what purpose? This should be pretty straightforward—but to better simplify, let’s borrow from the software world and frame this as a user story.
[Customer or Stakeholder] needed [problem to be solved] so that [desired result].
Again this may seem obvious, but take your time with this step. What did you or your team do to solve the problem or fulfill the request? What steps did you take, and what individuals were involved? The more specific you can be in laying out the exact series of actions that were taken, the more your team will benefit from the exercise.
As you might expect, this is the result or results of the action that was taken. Remember to be specific, and to describe the result from multiple perspectives. Were there any peripheral results (either benefits or side-effects) to the action?
What did you or your team learn from the results of your action? This should include learnings both from what went well and from actions that could have been approached in a better way. For best results, consider learnings from all perspectives; what would have worked better for the team, for the client, and for any other stakeholders?
How can you apply what you learned from this experience in the future? Consider how you might adapt processes based on these learnings in order to avoid making the same mistake twice.
Inevitably, no process is ever going to be perfect. There will always be something new that you can learn and apply, but the idea is to make better, smaller, smarter mistakes each time.
Implementing PARLA for Your Business
Once you get used to the concept, the principles of PARLA are universal to every area of business and even life in general. It’s the same concept we use when asking a toddler, “Was that a good choice?” or, “Could you have made a better choice?”
If you’re stuck on where to start with the PARLA technique, consider these business applications:
Whether for marketing purposes or your own internal review, case studies are a great opportunity to showcase a problem, action, and result. For prospective clients, demonstrating the wins you’ve achieved in the past will help to explain the value you add for your customers. Internally, use wins and learnings to continue reviewing your processes for better results in the future.
At Geben, we’ve most often implemented PARLA as a technique to gain more insight from interviews with potential hires. Instead of working in hypotheticals, using PARLA to have candidates walk us through specific instances in the past where they showed a particular Geben value or trait gives us a more realistic picture of how they would behave on the job.
In the same way that we use PARLA to lead our discussions with potential hires, this technique has similar possibilities for performance reviews with existing employees. In every case, reviewing the problem, action, and result helps us to specifically and objectively evaluate past performance; and discussing learnings and applications helps both manager and employee to discuss areas of improvement in a neutral and non-threatening way.
Team Workshops or Post-Mortems
I haven’t yet experimented with PARLA in a team environment, but the potential is obvious. By having all participants in a project evaluate performance together through a PARLA lens, each member has an opportunity to self-reflect and suggest improvements for their individual performance as well as for the group at large. Learnings that come from within the group—rather than from a manager or outsider—are far more likely to result in lasting application.