Performance Evaluation: Awkward Moment of the Year

Originally published on July 18, 2017 by The Montrose Daily Press

My palms were sweaty. I had been nervous since he scheduled the meeting. My mind raced over the past 12 months. Surely I would remember if I had done something terribly wrong. Maybe he didn’t like the way I wrote emails or the fashion in which I presented my reports in team meetings. Maybe I annoyed him …

Is there anyone else who had similar thoughts prior to a performance evaluation meeting with the boss? Although they typically turn out much better than we anticipate, the entire process can be emotionally taxing. We walk out of the boss’ office with a score of 3.78 in a currency that somehow doesn’t translate to the actual experience. I think there’s more we can explore.

“Too often appraisal destroys human spirits and, in the span of a 30-minute meeting, can transform a vibrant, highly committed employee into a demoralized, indifferent wallflower who reads the want ads on the weekend…They don’t work because most performance appraisal systems are a form of judgment and control,” wrote Rob Lebow and Randy Spitzer in the book, “Accountability.” Well isn’t that a thoughtful statement?

Workplace culture and performance appraisals all too often (though unintentional) are attempts at molding people into how we believe they should behave. What is more soul crushing than feeling like your unique attributes, personality, and individual contributions to the organization somehow need taming and shaving down until they match the rest of the organization?

In his book, “Reinventing Organizations,” Frederic Laloux argues against traditional review systems and instead suggests peer review. Many organizations have adopted 360-degree evaluations; in other words, group discussions about everyone’s performances, including the boss. Have you ever thought what it might look like for your staff to give you feedback? If so, have you ever wondered what it would take to get them to be honest?

The Center for Courage & Renewal has a 10-person staff and they are allergic to the usual practice of assessing people with a rating scale based on set performance criteria. Instead, the Center turned their appraisals into a moment of joint discovery:

Kudos

· What has gone really well this year that we might celebrate?

Learning

· What has been learned in the process?

· What didn’t go as well or might have been done differently?

· How do we “take stock” of where things are now compared to where we thought they might be?

Looking forward

· What are you most excited about in this next year?

· What concerns you most?

· What changes, if any, would you suggest in your functions?

· What ongoing, professional development will help you grow in your current job and for your future?

· How can I be of most help to you and your work?

Setting goals

· When you think about your work in the year ahead, what specific goals will guide you?

These questions do not provide a solid number or a benchmark which may make bonuses and raise calculations more challenging. They certainly aren’t one size fits all.  However, this approach is more human. It is more about the soul. It takes the time for understanding one another and allows for a two-way conversation.

If changing your current evaluation system is either impossible or out of your control, why not at least include a variation of the above questions in addition? Why not ask for feedback about your own performance from your team?

Give your staff and teammates the opportunity to paint you a picture of who they are and what they have contributed to the organization. Then, compare the self-assessment to your own impressions. Assess the gap. Approach these conversations with love, acceptance and connection. Shy away from traditional thinking.

As Laloux notes, “We turn our subjective impressions into “truths” about a person; no wonder they resist our feedback. Rather than cloaking ourselves in objective detachment, we must get involved.” Finally, instead of using a numbered scale to judge a person’s abilities, try taking a wide-angle perspective: Make sure you can see the whole person before you hit them with the 3.78.

Chelsea Rosty is the executive director of the Montrose Chamber of Commerce and director of Business Innovation for the City of Montrose. Reach her at chelsea@montrosechamber.com