Tag Archives: performance management

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”.


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.


Separate the Plus and Minus

It’s getting to annual review time. That wonderful time when (some) managers unload all the feedback they’ve been storing up all year.

In my coaching I deliver 360 feedback to my clients. So I know a bit about delivering a deluge of feedback information. And there is one technique that is more powerful than anything else I’ve learned over the years.

Separate out the positive.

Make your performance management meeting into two meetings. Spend one meeting telling your employees nothing but all the things they do that make them valuable. Tell them all the places they are most wonderful. (Even your poor performers have things they do well. Spend this whole conversation talking about those positive places.) Ask them to set a goal for how they will leverage their strengths in the year to come. Do this before they get the rest of their review. We are all too fixated on fixing our problems. Once you discuss the problems the strengths become all but irrelevant. So stay in the positive until you have a strengths based goal.

Then have the regular performance management meeting in which you review all the data – both positive and critical. Refer back to the strengths often.

We may be grown up, but we are not rocks. We are not islands. We still seek approval. And we get far too little of it. Give your employees a whole meeting of nothing but the positive and see how they soar as a result.


The Power of Positive

One of my coaching techniques is that when I conduct a 360 feedback review (always based on interviews I conduct, not surveys) I split the feedback into two parts. In part one the coachee receives only positive feedback. All negative and even neutral comments are removed from the report.
So they receive the positive commentary 100% divorced from any negative feedback. In fact, they don’t get to see the rest of the feedback until they deliver to me an action plan based on their positive feedback. They actually have to figure out how to further their development based on their strengths before we ever even look at what the negative feedback has to say. This is a profound experience for the coachees. They frequently site it as one of, if not the, most valuable experiences in their coaching.
When we receive positive feedback mixed with critical feedback we give the positive lip service only. We quickly gloss over it to focus our attention on the negative. But when we sit with the positive, amazing things happen. It builds our confidence and esteem. It encourages us to focus on and spend more time in the activities at which we excel. In a world in which feedback usually means a review of, or at least focus on, wrongdoing, imagine a process in which you focus solely on your most positive traits.
In fact, that is exactly what I recommend as part of my revolutionary performance management idea. Very simply, I think companies should engage in a quarterly review process in which quarters 2 and 4 are your standard general review. Quarters 1 and 3 however are dedicated to only positive feedback and action planning based on that positive feedback.
Just imagine an organization filled with that positive energy.

Down With Equality

Treating everyone equally is a disservice to all.

It deprives your top performers of the reward and recognition they deserve.

It deprives your bottom performers of the inspiration to improve.

The Question Is

Whether it is a job interview, a performance management conversation, a new project assignment, or any other important meeting, the questions you ask matter. They point you toward valuable information and make a quality impression, or they limit your understanding and show you to be shallow.

(In fact, when I interview people I place equal weight on the quality of the questions they ask me vs. the quality of their answers to my questions.)

So what questions should you ask?

Here are a few of my favorites that can be adapted to most big conversations.

  1. What are the company’s big strategic goals?
  2. What are your (hiring manager, your manager, etc.) big strategic goals and how are you being measured?
  3. How does my role/this project support those goals?
  4. What would you have to see happen in 3, 6, 12 months for you to consider my work to be a success?
  5. How do you see any/all of these goals shifting during this year and in years to come?