Evaluating performance for results

Most managers I know hate to do performance evaluations. (I’m one of them, by the way.)

In the typical enterprise, evaluations have become a way to find reasons to hold pay down. The amount available for increases is limited, as it’s a budget item. One way or another, people — no matter what the quality or quantity of their work — have to be fitted to a curve that allocates only that amount of money.

Is it any wonder that these have become progressively more rigid over the years? Somewhere, somehow, enough fault must be found to justify the little money answer to the question “how are we doing?”.

It may not be possible to change the performance system quickly. (Given that also in most organizations what gets evaluated is tied back to the position description, so a position description with broad areas of responsibility that allow you to focus on value created rather than time put in would be a good start.) It is possible to separate pay and performance, though.

As a manager, you should be concerned with helping your employee do three things:

Raise their freedom level, and use it wisely. Most of us have been conditioned by enterprise life not to get too far out of the norm. This translates into a “wait until told” or “ask for instructions” mentality in far too many cases. Even where the freedom to act exists, most people don’t use it.

You must help your staff use their freedom to act, by expecting them to think about why they are employed and how to help generate more results for the organization from that corner of it they inhabit. Not only should they take the initiative to act, but they should try to increase their leverage where appropriate by forming ad hoc teams. Some of Jon Husband’s ideas about Wirearchy fit well here.

Focus on value, not on being busy. It’s easy to spend the entire year being very busy — legitimately working extra hours to keep up — and generate no results worth anything to the organization. (Someone who’s always patching and fixing problems instead of getting at the root causes so that the flow of problems slows is a good example of this. So, too, the person meeting endlessly to resolve symptomatic disputes about requirements and data that are actually structural and require a higher level policy decision.)

You must help your staff know the difference, by discussing what they’re doing as teaching experiences. What you want to see happen is that — while doing the work that’s on the table — underlying issues are dealt with, and opportunities are seized. First, people must be guided to see them. Second, the expectation then can shift to accomplishing that.

Your success as a manager is directly tied to the value your area produces — the results you obtain.

Focus on strengths, not on weaknesses. If everyone did value generation based on their strengths, teamwork would emerge naturally. This is something to encourage. Focusing on weaknesses — trying to make everyone in an “everybody” — is unproductive for the enterprise (it eats into results) and frustrating for the people involved.

Responsibility should be broad — but it should always be clear that teamwork can get you there.

If your performance review sessions focus on these factors, instead of “what did you accomplish item by item”, you can actually start to achieve leverage for your own position — a huge advantage in your own career success.

Separately, you can sit down and simply discuss money. Your employees aren’t stupid: they know you don’t have control over it. Separating the two makes for better relations all around.

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About passionateobserver

I am a passionate observer of our society, the economy, and politics. Mostly I don't like much of what I see, so I write as a concerned citizen. To the fray, I bring a background in the philosophy of history, a lifetime's reading, a work history in information technology management, consulting and education.
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