In early March many clients are in the middle of their annual performance review process. Though much has been written about companies making dramatic changes to their performance reviews, the annual review is still a standard organizational practice for most organizations. Apropos, I am going to do a short series on performance management practices and for this post I will start with a few fundamental questions.
What and who are you really evaluating?
You are evaluating:
Before you say, “duh”, let me explain. Almost universally when clients discuss individual performance, they focus on the person’s strengths, weaknesses and goal achievement. They often fail to articulate the context. The context is the system (small and large) and business situation in which the role currently exists. It’s very important to understand that you are not reviewing a person’s worth as a human being but the contribution they make and value they bring to a specific role. I want leaders to articulate this consistently in their performance conversations (preferably all year long) and to ensure that their team understands it. It matters because context, more than anything else, impacts performance. Strengths and weaknesses are almost always based upon the situation. In other words, the leader is saying, “given the business situation and the priorities, expectations and requirements for this specific role, here is how you are doing…”
This has become an even more important frame because as organizations change faster so do the knowledge, skill requirements and expectations of many of their positions. Leaders need to talk about this, and hopefully more often than the annual performance review.
When a client is describing a leader, who is underperforming and they are preparing to deliver the dreaded “below expectations” rating, I like them to frame the context first. If newer to the role did the individual demonstrate they had the right knowledge when they were hired? Did the position expectations change due to an important business change? If they have been with the organization for a while, what was their past performance? In which roles did they excel? What has changed in the role, the division or the organization that may have impacted the role? You get the idea.
Most importantly, when a manager is preparing for their performance conversations, I want them to consider each situation more holistically. This is just as important when the performance is excellent as when it is below expectations. But it is always more difficult when delivering a lower performance rating. My main point is to take the time to put the performance evaluation in the proper context and make sure you communicate that. People are way bigger and more amazing than their deficits and strengths. But you are evaluating their performance in a role they are being paid to accomplish. So it’s important to say, “here is where you need to learn and grow given your past experience, knowledge and where we need to take this role.” Then you can talk about what’s possible going forward given the role, the individual and the context.
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Welcome to Moira's blog. I write a (mostly) monthly post about the work of building better work places: people strategies, systems, teams and leaders.