Thinking about Santa? Trying to unravel the Christmas tree lights? Discussing what happened at last years Christmas party? It’s that time of year again when you are probably looking forward to the sheer joy of the end of year performance review.
I can hear the audible groans from here. The annual performance review is right up there in popularity with Corporate Governance and the Subjectivity of Selection Interviewing as the most boring after dinner topics. Whether you are giving or receiving, a lot of people don’t want to go there. Performance Management is the organizational equivalent of root canal work on your teeth.
How To… We all know the steps. You set and agree objectives – sometimes in a rapidly changing marketplace. These should be weighted and measurable. You hold mid-year coaching sessions to overcome roadblocks and recognize progress. You then prepare for and conduct an end-of-year review and somehow tie the results of this to pay and rewards. And you do all of the above in a way, which keeps individuals highly motivated and also keeps the group happy that they are being managed equitably. Phew! It’s a recipe for managerial migraine. And that’s when it’s done well…
Bad Appraisals: For anyone who has ever suffered a bad appraisal, just remember it could have been worse. The following genuine quotes were taken from Government service performance evaluations (not an Irish source).
• ‘Since my last report he has reached rock bottom and started to dig’
• ‘This young lady has delusions of adequacy’
• ‘He sets low personal standards and then consistently fails to achieve them’
• ‘He would argue with a signpost’
• ‘She brings a lot of joy whenever she leaves the room’
• ‘This employee is not so much of a ‘has been’, but more of a ‘definite won’t be’
• ‘If you see two people talking and one looks bored, he’s the other one’
• ‘When his IQ reaches 50, he should sell’
• ‘Some drink from the fountain of knowledge, he’s only gargled’
• ‘It’s hard to believe he beat 1,000,000 other sperm’
• ‘This employee is depriving a village somewhere of an idiot’
The Consensus: The consensus is that the Performance Management System is (a) critically important and (b) not done very well in most organizations. Why is this the case? A couple of issues conspire against performance management systems ‘doing what they say on the tin’. These include:
Clarity Issues: Sometimes the strategy for the organization is unclear. Where this is the case, it can be difficult to get clarity for the individual (the theory = individual objectives combine into a jigsaw which delivers the organization strategy). In the absence of a defined strategy it can be difficult to develop individual objectives.
Design Issues: The design of your performance management system needs to be simple and easy to use. The general rule = the more convoluted the design, the less used it will be.
Skills Issues: There are a number of individual skills involved in successful performance management (listening, writing, assertiveness), which are not automatically part of the managerial toolkit. These are specialist skills, which can, of course, be learned. But not all managers have the time or the appetite for these ‘soft’ skills and some run a mile from this type of conversation. One manager I know used to say: ‘The hard stuff is easy and the soft stuff is hard’ which sums it up nicely.
Interpersonal Issues: The essence of the employment relationship – I am the boss and your are the subordinate– is uncomfortable for some managers. The socially awkward nature of the conversation, particularly if there are issues of underperformance, means that some managers look forward to the performance review with the same level of joyful anticipation as making a blood donation.
Outsource It? A number of organizations in the UK have now begun to outsource their Performance Management system to external consultants. The logic is simple: “We outsource cleaning and catering so why not appraisals?” If you have tried it for years and it still isn’t working, perhaps its time to think of doing something different, something radically different. Isn’t the definition of insanity – to keep on doing things as you always have and expect a different result?
You don’t have to do it wholesale. Experiment. Pick a handful of managers to work with on a pilot basis or do it with one department. Do anything except stand idly buy and watch this system limp along in your organization.
If it’s not working, then change the system. As managers, isn’t that what we are paid to do?
Paul Mooney PhD.