Revolutionary Performance Management

Most companies spend this time of year categorizing their employees.

  • Far Exceeds Expectations
  • Exceeds Expectations
  • Meets Expectations
  • Does Not Meet Expectations
  • Fire At Will

Okay. Maybe that last one is phrased differently. But the meaning is pretty close.

And because these categories are really developed for legal purposes – as a paper trail to show that income and promotion advancements are based on track records of success, lots of people get miscategorized. If you have eight people on your team and seven of them are stars, four of those seven will likely still receive a “Meets Requirements”.

Why?

Because that’s the way the system was designed. It’s not really about how you performed relative to expectations. It’s about how you performed relative to your peers. In a year where everyone on the team excelled, you’ll have 10% in the top category, 25% in the next group, 50% in the middle, 10% in category 4 and 5% fearing for their jobs. And in a year where everyone on the team failed miserably you’ll have the same breakdown by category.

And poor managers everywhere then have to explain to exceptional performers why they are only a “Meets”. Or bolster a moderate performance to look like an “Exceeds”.

Why again?

The answer (at least in part) is we are afraid of an honest conversation about comparisons. The system is created for the sole purpose of making comparisons but we are petrified about discussing this openly. (Even though usually everyone knows. I mean, come on, you know who the best performer is in your team or company or department. Don’t you?)

So here’s the revolution. Tell the truth using two scales.

Keep the Far Exceeds, Exceeds, Meets, Does Not Meet, Fire scale. And don’t apply a bell curve. Actually allow people to be rated as what they really were.

Then also apply a ranking.

“Sally, you were a Far Exceeds and the #2 performer on this 10 person team this year.”

“Jared, you were a Meets and the #10 out of 10 on your team.”

Now we can have an honest discussion. You want to be #1? Here’s what you probably have to do. Of course, I can’t make any promises, because it also depends on what others do.

Of course, this is just a crazy idea from a guy who thinks people actually want to hear the truth.

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3 responses to “Revolutionary Performance Management

  1. Wise words, Noah. That approach will produce team members who aren’t fragile, and realize that the well-being of an organization depends on its honesty.

  2. As much as it makes sense, I can’t see it flying.

    I hate the ‘forced distribution’ mentality. That should be stamped out straight away. I’ve worked at a number of places that try and do this and it makes a mockery of the whole performance rating exercise.

    Your suggestion on ranking. I like the idea, but it would be a brave HRD that implements it. The counter argument would be that you would have to reveal how well other people are doing in your team. Something people would be very wary of. Also, if I’m told I’m No.2, I’ll want to know who No.1 is. My argument – so I can model myself on them. My real motivations – so I can bitch and moan and argue that they’re not that great and why should they be ranked higher than me. What specifically are they doing I’m not? I can see it becoming a bloodbath!

    Rob.

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