Last week, I wrote a post about “The Dreaded Performance Review”,something that everyone so loves to hate.
For a while, this blog post kind of just sat there. Some people kindly picked it up on their Twitter radar but overall, I felt that its impact was, well, kind of flat. So I, for one, was eager to move away from it and talk about something else.
And then I began to think that my eagerness to put the discussion behind me was not unlike the very real tendency for organizations to plough through the performance review process quickly… primarily to get away from it.
I think it is partly because performance reviews require human beings to make judgements on each other. There are some inherent dangers associated with that. And there are some ugly truths too. For instance:
The Ugly Truth about Some Bosses is that:
- Managing performance well requires coaching skills that many bosses have not acquired. Many new leaders are promoted to the role of ‘boss’ with very little advanced training or support; and some of those not-so-new bosses get easily stuck in an old mindset that views coaching as an alien concept with few redeeming features.
- Some bosses don’t actually understand what their employees do or how their roles fit in the organization. These leaders find it embarrassing to ask because they know they ought to know. And so, when it comes time to complete a performance review on such an employee, they guess and resort to generalities that fail to clearly identify the real contribution the employee has made.
- Some bosses aren’t that interested in what others are doing or how they do it as long as they do what they’re told. Of course, they can’t say that and be politically correct as well, and so often this attitude is disguised by using nondescript statements like, “ this employee performed satisfactorily in this area”…not very helpful.
The Ugly Truth about Some Employees is that:
- In general, criticism is a hard pill to swallow, even the constructive kind. Our response to it is to defend our positions, our actions, our territory rather than search for even the smallest grain of truth in what is being said. I think we do this because often, we aren’t clear about what we are being measured against and; we quite naturally fear negative consequences.
The Ugly Truth about Performance Review Systems is that:
- In an effort to get more specific about what is being measured, Performance Review systems have this tendency to become very cumbersome and complex. When a boss is faced with having to complete a lot of these, it is no wonder that they fail to do justice to them.
- Personal bias is our constant companion. Those who say they have a performance review system that excludes personal bias are, at best, being naïve. Good bosses will recognize the bias factor and make attempts to achieve balanced accounts of employee performance in spite of it. Not-so-good bosses will not and this renders the system itself unstable and pretty much unfair.
In spite of all these, so-called ugly truths, I continue to believe that individual performance assessment is integral to successful businesses and organizations. For one thing, when executed well, they enroll and involve people in their own development and inspire them to give their best effort. And that produces optimal results for the business.
For another thing, Wally Bock, a leadership expert and author of the blog, Three Star Leadership, asked the question, “How do you manage talent and knowledge?” Well, I don’t know for sure but perhaps a performance assessment process, when executed well, might be a good place to start to acknowledge and collect this kind of information.
Finally, how might the ugly truths I talk about be addressed? Here are a few briefs comments on that:
- If you don’t have the coaching skills you need to motivate, challenge, encourage and demand optimal performance from your team, make it a priority to learn and practice them. They will serve you well and your people will respect you for it.
- If you don’t understand what your people do, listen and learn or consult others who do know. Until you do, it is highly likely that you are not qualified to conduct any kind of individual performance assessment on them.
- If the truth is that you are not interested in what they do, you are essentially abdicating your role as a leader. Either get interested or go and find a job that will allow you to work without leadership responsibilities
- If you spend your time rationalizing your actions and making excuses for why you did or did not do something, you are essentially wasting time that could be better spent examining what you need to learn or do differently to get what you want.
For People Who design Performance Review Systems
- Keep the process simple. Here are four questions that come to mind for me to begin with:
- What does your best work look like?
- What do you need from me to do your best work?
- What do you need to learn?
- How will we know when you’ve accomplished it?
Last week, I received some insightful comments from some very smart women, among them, Susan Mazza and Mary Jo Asmus. I urge you to read these comments on my last week’s blog post and then read their own blogs, Random Acts of Leadership and Intentional Leadership. You won’t be sorry.
In the meantime I’d be delighted to receive your ideas and comments about how to build a better, or even a different performance assessment “mousetrap” Perhaps together, we can bring about a positive change to a process that has, in my view anyway, long out-lived its ‘sell by’ date.