Performance Reviews, A New Game

Come on down! Let’s estimate the retail price of annual performance reviews. Whoever is the closest to the actual retail price, without going over, wins the Spice is Right cake.

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Innovative companies such as McKinsey replaced annual evaluations with quarterly coaching assessments to better serve beginner and intermediate level associates as well as alleviate time-consuming and therefore expensive practices. In my experience, annual assessments are dreaded routine for management with outdated methods robbing employees of authentic feedback and organizations of improvements. While a harsh critique, an overhaul of traditional performance reviews is long overdue as well as an honest look the silent intimidation keeping an ineffectual tradition in place.

In addition to trends promising more prompt feedback, real transformation demands associates move from passive to active participation, putting themselves in the proverbial driver’s seat of her/his performance evaluation (to the degree bureaucracy allows). Employee contribution to an evaluation challenges management’s power-over mentality, protector of bias and trained incapacity, asserting new boundaries and antidote to vague and mercurial expectation. Regardless of your organization’s method for performance assessments, anyone may use these methods to gain better feedback from supervisors, furthermore maxing out annual increase potential is another reason to consider a more active paradigm.

Traditional evaluations bank on the silence of employees receiving biased and incomplete reviews from untrained managers.

In my experience, generic review templates don’t pass the stress test for clear expectation. Instead, organizations using one-size-fits-all forms endorse vague interpretations setting everyone up for challenges should objective comparison occur. Consider what might happen if associates compared reviews. Thanks to strong cultural taboo, a silent intimidation factor, associates don’t compare notes enough because unspoken rules of conduct, similar to not sharing salary details, abides. Thanks to a plethora of research however, it’s no secret that performance reviews are biased and require overhaul.

Whether a first review or twentieth and regardless if your organization is cutting edge or traditional, employees have influence to change the game or how her/his department plays.

The New Game: Active Participation

• Get specific. Employees should ask for explanations of criteria in performance assessments about specific expectations for the role by taking preemptive steps and clarifying vague guidelines. Prepare for discussions with your supervisor by writing how you understand the goals to align definitions. Keep notes from your discussion for reference to be used in future coaching assessments.

• Ask questions regarding what ratings such as Meets vs Exceeds means to the person (s) evaluating you. Do this long before your scheduled review to avoid surprises. Don’t assume you understand expectations. Intermediate level managers are particularly prone to this misstep.

a. Do not accept vague answers of expectations from supervisors. Reconsider working with any manager unable to spell out goals because communication problems are imminent.

b. Understand how success is defined according to your organization and decide if you are in agreement and up for the task. Avoid misunderstandings with honest discussion and mutual understanding that everyone chooses to be in his/her role as long as agreements are held. If your organization is mired with outdated power-over mindsets and silent threats in the drinking water, consider how such an environment impacts your health and work performance over time.

• Ask for assessment of where your supervisor views your contributions in key performance areas. Are you a beginner, intermediate, advanced or master level? While feedback might sting, discovering in advance and agreeing upon how to handle the disparity rectifies the issue. Remember, you are driving now and not waiting for someone to give you feedback. You are seeking ways to improve.

A gap in self-evaluation versus management’s evaluation of your performance can be painful. How you manage through the disconnect depends upon many factors; for example, not everyone has a stellar working relationship with her/his supervisor making feedback more difficult. Still, you can learn from everyone and focus on improving yourself.When you understand expectations and how your boss views your current business acumen level, you may proceed to the next step.

Write an action plan for accomplishing the items discussed with your manager. Most employees skip this pre-work assuming she/he understands expectations through common sense. The simple act of clarifying a definition could add thousands of dollars to your bank account and fast-track promotions. Stress relief and elimination of the need to second-guess what your organization, or supervisor expects of you is the best reason to author your career destiny.

• Your coaching meetings now have built-in topics as your path for success has been determined. Getting into the habit of asking for and receiving feedback is an empowering skill. The more you practice, the easier asking for alternative opinions becomes.

Now you are ready for the formal assessment.

The Showcase Showdown: 

  • Assess the results of your work, not your perceived effort. If you haven’t mastered a task, it will naturally take more determination, but that doesn’t mean its groundbreaking work. You feel awesome that you figured it out but now you need practice to make it good, then great, and then best-in-class.
  • Find a role model as a benchmark and don’t compare yourself to the people sitting around you, unless they are Masters. Refrain from being too easy on yourself by pro-actively seeking areas for improvement. (You are attempting to grade your own paper and using a stretch goal will be a good counterbalance to a natural inclination to award yourself brownie-points for effort.)
  • Do your homework. Come prepared with specific examples of accomplishments and areas you have had had additional training. No surprises should surface due to the level of communication you set.

You may need to wait while your organization catches up to the McKinsey’s of the world with the newest performance evaluation tools. However, in the meantime, shift from feeling judgment as a passive participant in your appraisals to self-directed learning authored and directed by you. By actively take part in your evaluation you set the tone and speed of your advancement with your current organization another.

Senior Management, if you’re not hustling to make changes, you aren’t paying attention to trends and therefore putting your organization at risk for employing and retaining top talent. Try taking a random sample of performance reviews in your organization and give them to risk management for a new perspective. Are you still hoping to receive brownie-points for effort and compliance through silent intimidation?

The Spice Is Right Cake Recipe

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Disclaimer: The story and recipe above should not be considered advice as the readers and users of Chocolate Cake Mondays are not clients and therefore CCM is not liable for reader’s reliance on the information herein.

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