The Nine-Hour Performance Review

“The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.” – Michelangelo

I wondered if the visual analogy of a Behavior Framework in my last post was possibly more widely applicable.  One clear opportunity is in one’s career, especially if one is just starting out.

  • If I am a new hire, how do I gauge how I am fitting into the company culture and its expectations?
  • If I have been here a while, is the culture holding me captive or am I helping define it?

Quite often we assume that starting a new job or career is simply tweaking our skill-set to the value-added transformation process of the company.  I made that naïve mistake once early on in transitioning from an academic research environment to an industrial one, and eventually experienced a nine-hour performance review!

The lessons learned were multifold.

  • First, the skill set brought with you may still be incomplete and/or weak, and needs dedicated attention to bring it up to snuff;
  • Second, speed is a relative word, and it’s different for different organizational cultures;
  • Third, performance reviews are supposed to be used to communicate formally how people in the company are viewing your contributions and to guide future ones, supplementing ongoing feedback rather than springing surprises;
  • Fourth, performance is a lot like rock climbing – it takes more than just a lot of effort to keep yourself climbing safely up, it takes results.  If you stumble, “Performance Gravity” takes over and you fall from grace fast.  You don’t get to say “oops” and start back at the same spot; you get to start near the bottom where you landed, and it’s a long way back up;
  • Fifth, and for the time being lastly, most managers who are responsible to give performance reviews aren’t very good at it.  Adam was probably better prepared to help Eve deliver Cain and Abel.

Besides my adjustments, I learned vicariously that what I had gone through was not the most effective way to achieve the objectives that performance reviews were expected to deliver.  If I was going to eventually succeed in managing people, I was going to have to develop an understanding of performance reviews and the ongoing tasks associated with them.

In hiring someone, I want a good feeling of what to expect.  In delegating to them, I want a good feeling of trusting what to delegate and release and what to expect in return.  In trying to develop them, I want a good feeling of what I am working with and how to expect they will respond.  Objectives, observing, and providing continuous performance feedback are my tools.

Over a number of years I refined my approach to performance reviews keeping in mind a simple fundamental principle – it’s a balance between relationship and task.  I am dealing with a growing person who is expecting to add value into an organization (hopefully also healthy and growing), and one of my roles is to help keep the two well connected.

In a nutshell, the following elements, often deviating from “organizational policy,” gave the most consistently positive results:

  • There should be no surprises in a performance review.  It’s a summary of ongoing informal feedback collected from sources impacted by the employee;
  • It’s not directly tied to raises or promotions, although it influences them;
  • Tangible recognition may be hard to come by, but verbal recognition and encouragement are easy: “credit is infinitely divisible,” and recognition and affirmation can flow like water, and all three cost nothing;
  • Schedule a formal discussion at least a month before hand.  Provide a copy of the review ahead of time to allow the employee to thoughtfully prepare.  I never once experienced a discrepancy during a review;
  • Reviews are two-way; constructive input flowed in both directions, feedback and feed-forward, without fear of reprisal;
  • Reviews always included reasonable stretch objectives for the next year, not only for personal growth but for growth connected to organizational growth and health.

What did you learn in your last review?

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About Jim Edmonds

I am a husband, father, mentor, who once was a chemist turned physicist turned marketer turned executive turned missionary turned professor. And survived it all.
This entry was posted in 08: Observing, Listening, Learning, 09: Doing and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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