upstart thoughts on talent and leadership

Archive for February, 2010|Monthly archive page

Surviving Performance Reviews

In ! Kristy, Employee Tips on Sunday, February 14, 2010 at 6:04 pm

Ah, the performance review. As well-intentioned as the best organizations are about encouraging frequent informal feedback, stressing the “no-surprise” review, and creating a simple process, performance reviews can be stressful and awkward for even the most awesome employees and great managers. A few tips for the journey:

Remember that your performance review is not what people are going to read at your funeral. A review is one limited, admittedly subjective perspective on how you performed in one area of your life during a limited timeframe. It’s not a judgment of your entire career or your entire person. Put it in perspective and don’t let it rule your self-concept.

Gather a broad perspective on your performance. If your company has a formal system for gathering stakeholder feedback, offer your manager a diverse list of people who’ve had direct contact with your work over the past year. Focus on internal customers but don’t forget other managers, peers who’ve collaborated with you, and direct reports who can comment on your leadership competencies. If you don’t have a formal process, you can still offer stakeholder feedback to your manager in the form of emails and work products that will give evidence of the value you added through the eyes of others.

Get explicit. When writing your self review, include as many specific descriptions of great performance as you can. Quantify the impact of your work on specific business outcomes. If your system includes a review of core competencies, cite examples of your behavior that show how you exemplify each competency.

Listen to feedback. Listening to feedback and accepting feedback as valid are two different activities that we often assume have to happen at the same point in time. When you are receiving a tough bit of feedback, 1) Remain neutral. 2) If the giver of the feedback is making generalizations, ask “Can you give me some specific examples that will help me understand how I might have given that impression?” 3) Thank the person for the feedback. 4) Take some time to process the feedback and decide what you will do about it. Sometimes we ignore feedback because it wasn’t delivered in the exact right way by someone we respect… but I still believe we should mine even the most abrasively delivered feedback for the kernel of truth that might be hiding. 5) It’s always your choice whether to accept feedback as valid and act on it.

If you’re a people manager: PLEASE be courageous. If you’ve never heard the “no surprises” rule of reviewing performance, here it is: There’s a reason it’s called a performance review and not a performance surprise. Your employees should not be hearing any feedback for the first time in a review. It’s unfair for so many obvious reasons, I can’t bring myself to list them here. If you don’t have the courage to bring it up when it happens, shame on you. Turn in your office door and your pay increase because you probably aren’t courageous enough to manage other people.

Move on. Your performance review may very well suck. You may become a victim of the “meets expectations” bell curve because your manager is afraid to rock the boat. You might get hit with a piece of surprise feedback because your manager was too chicken to bring it up to you when it happened. You might get a tiny, tiny piece of the tiny, tiny merit increase pie. Decide how much control you will give your review and don’t let it overtake your self esteem.

So if we all hate the review process so much, how could it look different in the organization of the future… what are your thoughts? Stay tuned for mine…


2010: Expand the pie

In ! Jen, General Work, Leaders, Manager Tips on Sunday, February 7, 2010 at 5:55 am

A friend gave me an unusual compliment in 2009–that I was one of few in her circle who did not see our collective success as being zero-sum. At first this struck me as a strange thing to say, as the archetypes of “success” that immediately come to mind are indeed zero-sum: gold/silver/brass medals, one CEO per company, a finite pool of dollars within a budget, a finite number of people in total headcount.

But within and between relationships, it’s a different story. At least, it should be. Specifically, I’m thinking of three relationship categories: bona fide friendships, life partnerships, and employee/manager.

Bona fide friendships and life partnerships should be a no-brainer but I don’t think they always are in this respect. We all have people with whom we hold back a bit, cautiously second-guessing their motivations, wondering how they will use a statement out of context. Or even, keep meticulous score.

Here’s a challenge for 2010: move these people into the “colleague” or “acquaintance” column. And for those with whom you’ve chosen to be with as a life partner, or with whom you’re friends with for the long haul, expand the pie. View their successes in 2010 as desirable as your own and provide coaching and counsel to help them. If you can’t do this, it may be worthwhile to honestly reexamine your own motivations. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

A dear girlfriend shared with me a story of consultants–differentiating, via story, between eggs & bacon. With eggs, the chicken is an involved party–but with bacon, the pig’s ultimately committed–it has skin in the game, so to speak. Be the pig.

And what of managers? Ah, here’s where I expect I may get some pushback. To the extent to which Employee X is reporting to Manager Z, I posit that Z should be engaging in this same type of relationship behavior. Z should be pushing, coaching, counseling X to achieve his best. Z should be seeing her success as contingent upon X’s. And vice versa. What does this look like? I could go on literally, forever, but here are 16 things managers can do to show that they see their success and their employees’ as shared–not zero sum:

1. Support your employee if/when they want to move on to another position. Managers who lack confidence often see their employees’ desire to wander to other pastures as disloyalty or a diss on themselves. Find out their reasons for wanting the other position and offer your support. And concurrently, seek ways to enrich their job with you.

2. Don’t stay away. This is the best thing I took away from a valuable two-day coaching workshop. One of the rules of attraction they talk about in social psych 101 is propinquity, or nearness and frequency of exposure. Managers can use this to their advantage. Stop by in the morning to say hi, asking about the weekend, or sharing a fun piece of information about a department win. This can create comfort in familiarity and an openness that will be reciprocated.

3. Take time to get to know your employee on a personal level. Get invested. Most importantly, care. This, I believe, is the huge differentiator between managers who “get it” and managers who don’t. This is one, however, that can’t be faked.

4-16. Coming in a future post. This one is getting too long. In the meantime, please comment and let us know how you show you’re wholeheartedly invested in your relationships.

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