Performance Reviews and Leadership: Questions for Raters

As I spent most of the past week preparing performance reviews, it struck me that this is the very thing I was taking a break from doing 5 years ago when I decided to start up this blog and write my first post, It's So Hard.

Let's talk about hard. It's all relative. It's not the mechanics of reviews that are hard; it's the leadership reflection that can come with it. Writing a review is much more than crafting words for a page. At times <for me> it is nothing less than a review of my leadership.

What does that look?

Not really. Nor is it a crazy-haired psycho reliving each and every exchange or complete calm sitting cross-legged on a pillow with incense in the background.

It's more often me, with a cup of coffee and something Panera, asking a bunch of questions, questions I'd ask myself regardless of whether or not performance reviews live or die:

  • Did I set clear expectations or did I expect others to read my mind?
  • Did I address performance issues at the right time or did I get to them much too late? Was my response appropriate or did it bear the weight of a compilation of small indiscretions that no one was holding on to but me?
  • What issues did I avoid? Why? Did I mistake warning signs for nothing more than the drama of the moment?
  • Was I too focused on issues external to the department, expecting the department to run on   autopilot and surprised when it ran aground? Do I have enough checks, balances and internal controls to protect all of us?
  • Did I recognize achievement during the year? Did I provide the resources, guidance and room for others to excel? Did I hold others accountable for their own performance?

There are always things each year that, if given the chance, I'd do very differently. Sometimes I suck, sometimes not. Honestly, you'd think I'd have it down to a science by now. But I don't.

But that's the thing.

Leadership is not a science. It's not a laundry list of leadership courses, a degree from a prestigious college, the right car or anything wrapped in an ego. No hubris allowed.

Leadership is not knowing all the answers, it's asking the right questions and listening to the answers. Hint: that means not defending or denying what you are hearing and, above all, not attacking the messenger.

What questions would you add to the list?

Photo credit iStockphoto

Eliminating the Static in Performance Management

"Breaker 1-9, breaker 1-9, do you hear me?" "Breaker 1-9, you are breaking up." And so it goes with performance management.

Supervisors are responsible for performance management. The best supervisors address performance willingly, especially when that performance is poor. "Effectively dealing with poor performers is more than a willingness to fire an employee, it’s recognizing employee needs for training early, distinguishing what can and cannot be trained, and provide assistance to employees, as is practical." Merit Systems Protection Board Report, "Poor Performers and the Law"

"Breaker 1-9, breaker 1-9, are you out there? I know you've got something to say but I can't hear you . . .too much static."

Static is the reason performance improvement efforts fail, the reason a manager will not support a supervisor's recommendation for performance based adverse action and the reason HR professionals across the globe lean back in their chairs, put their hands to their forehead and lament, "why?"

Managers and HR professionals are a pretty solid, sturdy, been-there-done-that group of people so what kinds of yet static cause them to shake their heads in disbelief? 

The list can be long and here are a few examples of static to start the bidding: 

  • Dishonesty
  • Disparate treatment
  • Changing performance expectations without explanation, or notice
  • Not notifying the employee (ever) there was a concern with her performance
  • Not reasonably considering the employees requests for additional training
  • Ignoring or discounting issues raised by the employee that are impacting his performance
  • Counseling employees over email, not meeting face to face, not documenting conversations when a meeting occurs, engaging in head to head confrontation, communicating with unprofessional content and tone, and delivering off hand or flippant remarks

Now, the bidding continues in the comments. Let me know what static you've seen in performance management actions gone wrong.

Performance management is one of the most important things a supervisor can do and it is essential that it be done respectfully and professionally from start to finish. Supervisors that are not able to do that may just find themselves on the other side of the desk.