While rifling through my personal files this week, I came across my last performance appraisal. It was a flattering one so I guess that’s why I kept it. It was also twelve pages long. Twelve pages!!!
Really, it’s easy to see why there is such a hate on toward performance appraisals. In fact, many people want to get rid of them altogether.
What a great idea. But wait…
If you take away the mechanism that helps you evaluate individual contribution to the achievement of organizational goals, how will you know what those individuals have done? How will you know what people need? How will you know how to engage them? Or reward them? Or help them?
Well, not to over simplify, but I think it’s a Leadership thing. It’s also a Coaching thing and a Management thing. What it’s not is an annual fill-out-a-form-without-much-thought-and-get-it-over-with thing.
So, with this in mind here’s what I think needs to happen before we can abandon the old view of performance appraisals and create something that most people can live with, use and participate in.
Leadership Thing ~ Doing the groundwork
Provide clarity about the big picture: No one likes to work in a vacuum so it’s important to make sure each person under your charge is clear about the vision, goals and purpose of your team, department or organization. In other words, clarity around the big picture provides people with a common view of what success will look like from one end of the year to the other.
Provide resources for learning and growth where needed: It’s one thing to have a clear vision and set of goals. It’s another to ensure that you have the capability to achieve them. It is a leadership responsibility to find out what is needed and to provide the tools that will allow the vision of success to become a reality.
Remove obstacles: The road to success is often littered with obstacles. Communication systems break down. Supplies dry up. Other unanticipated events get in the way. As leader, if you want people to fulfill your performance expectations, you must be prepared to pay attention to their journey by reducing the size of these obstacles to something they can reasonably negotiate.
Coaching Thing ~ Being the Sponsor and Champion
Be clear about individual contribution to the vision of success: This is about working with people individually to ensure they know what piece of the overall goal belongs to them and more specifically, the expectations you have in terms of what you want them to produce.
Gain agreement: This involves conversation. People will have questions, opinions and even doubts about their assignment and your expectations. It’s important to make time to listen and come to agreement about what will be needed, from both of you, to deliver a successful result.
Encourage: Sometimes the work gets hard, or frustrating or discouraging. People need to know that you are in their corner as they go about meeting the expectations you and your organization have of them. A word of encouragement is often all it takes. That means having people on your radar all the time.
Challenge: When you have people regularly in the frame, you come to know what they are capable of. Sometimes, you will be able to see it more clearly than they can. Challenging them to go beyond what they believe they are capable of builds skill for the organization and confidence for the individual. What’s not to like about that?
Celebrate: This is an often over-looked activity. However, acknowledging people for work well done; for accomplishments above and beyond expectations; or for life’s other little victories, has a way of spurring us on and helping us believe that we are engaged in something worthwhile. Do it often, with sincerity, and keep it simple. It doesn’t have to be a big boo-rah to be appreciated.
Management Thing~ Controlling the Process
Make Time: As a leader, your job is not about producing widgets. Mostly it’s about people. It’s about giving them the tools they need to produce the widgets. This means you have to make time in each day to talk them; to listen to what they have to say; and to be aware of who they are and what they do.
Keep it simple: Having agreements and knowing how people are progressing on an ongoing basis allows for a simpler and more accurate performance appraisal in the end. On the other hand, spending time creating and completing convoluted assessment processes that result in twelve page documents, to me, places the em-pha-sis entirely on the wrong syl-la-ble.
Here’s the bottom line. If we all were to lead and coach people every day and manage our time accordingly I believe that performance appraisals in their current distasteful form would be unnecessary. Until then I think we’re going to be stuck with something that bears a painful resemblance to this.
What do you think?