The performance appraisal – the annual exercise managers and employees endure, where employees are rated and given grades in critical areas including performance, productivity and attitude.
Wikipedia defines performance appraisals as a systematic and periodic process that assesses an individual employee’s job performance and productivity in relation to certain pre-established criteria and organizational objectives. Other aspects of individual employees are considered as well, such as organizational citizenship behavior, accomplishments, potential for future improvement, strengths and weaknesses, etc. To collect PA data, there are three main methods: objective production, personnel, and judgmental evaluation. Judgmental evaluations are the most commonly used with a large variety of evaluation methods.
As many companies strive to brand themselves as being “innovate” and concentrate on building a reputation of being “a great place to work” to attract top talent, some fail to think of how traditional performance appraisals may prompt more destructive, than constructive conversation.
This is an all too common dilemma employees find themselves in when the leadership team is a partnership where each is equal in rank and title.
Consider the case of an employee who is given a large-scale research project with a strict deadline by one of her supervisors, the vice president of the company, and then the president subsequently assigns her a high-priority project to complete ASAP. From the employee’s perspective, the direction from the president supersedes direction from the Vice President even though the president is aware of the situation and reaffirms that his project takes priority. As any employee would, she forges ahead, assuming the vice president and the president already talked through the conflict of priorities. In many respects, this is similar to parenting – the child needs to decide which parent to listen to, and is usually the one perceived with more authority and the one who will inflict the greater punishment for non-performance. A very unfair position to be placed in.
A very good friend of mine finds himself in a most ideal situation. He has worked on the floor of a specialty manufacturing company for nearly thirty years, and he wakes up early every morning eager to get to work a little early and often times stays a little late when the shop is running on all cylinders. He loves what he does and feels a deep sense of purpose in his position. The only problem is, he doesn’t want to retire despite his families’ very strong wishes. Since I’ve known him, he’s had nothing but the greatest things to say about his employer.
You just received a promotion into a management position. Everyone is wishing you warm congratulations, but deep inside, you’re both disappointed and worried. And it’s not because you didn’t want the promotion. Oh, no, it’s because you learned that you would be leading a department staffed with a mix of people who perform at various levels, and who have never really had to answer to their leader for non-performance.
The former manager was released because his department, which is now yours, was underperforming, unprofitable and unaccountable He didn’t set expectations and didn’t hold many of them accountable because they were friends first and employees fourth or fifth. Coming in late and leaving early for -non-business related reasons was common. Employee reviews were done over a burger and a Budweiser. In other words, the staff pretty much did what they wanted. You think you’re screwed. The staff barely knows you, you’re charged with turning things around and they lost their best friend who supplied them with a free ride and a fat paycheck.
Some of the hardest jobs I’ve ever done were the ones for which I received no money.
Take, for example, the summer of 1984. With a brand-spanking new driver’s license in hand and a red 1976 Mercury Bobcat to go with it (hey, it had an 8-track; don’t laugh), I was finally free to do something more than walking distance from my home with those three impossibly long, empty months. I had gotten involved in High School theatre the year before, and our teeny tiny town had an improbably robust community theater that seated hundreds and put on major productions throughout the year. So I volunteered to work there, hoping to soak up all the glitz and glamour of show biz; it didn’t much matter that the theater building itself was adjacent to more than thirty miles of uninterrupted corn and soybean fields.
Many companies have been moving toward a new business model for quite some time where regular full-time employees are being replaced with part-time professionals, freelancers and independent contractors.
Although this new model seems appealing to some business owners who are trying to keep costs down, working with non-employees, (independent contractors and freelancers) has its own set of challenges. The biggest challenge, by far, is that independent contractors typically work out of their homes, set their own schedules, and control the terms of engagement with those who wish to hire them. If a freelancer doesn’t like or get along with a client, she has the freedom to sever the relationship with little consequence other than non-payment of services. This can be devastating especially when the freelancer quits a job mid-stream and/or demands a much higher rate to finish and deliver a job, holding the company and its job hostage.
You don’t have to like the people on your team but you do need to love them – in the deeper sense of the word. Love is about valuing those things that are most important: integrity, respect, trust, fairness and so on. Truly great leaders understand the difference.
I had a coaching client who just couldn’t understand why he kept getting such poor marks on his 360 degree evaluations. “After all,” he complained, “I go out of my way to be nice to them.” And it was true, in a way. He always picked up the check. He bought them expensive dinners with lots of good wine for special occasions. He played golf and tennis with some of them. He sent birthday cards to their spouses and kids. He was always in a good mood when team members were around. He didn’t want to upset them with bad news. So, even when things were going badly, he “put on his happy face.” (Yes, that is exactly what he said). He kept his door open for conversation. He was a hugger (Sometimes too much hugging).
Work with some people long enough and it’s only natural for friendships to form and flourish. It happens all the time – managers find themselves befriending employees who are respectful, loyal, friendly, and most importantly, fanatically productive. The manager is happy because he feels he has a reliable and loyal right-hand man, and the employee is happy because he feels a strong sense of security.
But even the best of friendships can spontaneously combust, turning your friend into your biggest adversary who can make your life miserable and cost you your job if you cross one of the following lines:
1. Discussing the confidential matters of other employees, managers, or the company. This can really come back to bite you no matter how much you feel you can trust your office buddy. These secrets have a habit of slipping out of mouth purely by accident, and if the news is good enough (highly gossipable), your confidant will surely tell someone else “in confidence.” (Please read between the lines here) Ten minutes later, when everyone knows about “it,” the source (you) will be tracked down like an injured deer.
If you’ve been reading my leadership training blogs, you’ve probably picked up on the many benefits of using Active Listening when communicating with employees, resolving conflicts and seeking solutions to problems. But what about the benefits of employing those same skills when interviewing to fill critical roles in your organization?
Before citing these benefits, let’s once again define what Active Listening is: It is the process by which the receiver (listener) acknowledges through verbal and non verbal communication what s/he is hearing from the sender. These signals include eye contact, nodding of the head as a sign of understanding, and feeding back what the sender is saying in the listeners own words.
Though the leadership training workshop, L.E.T., is designed to improve communication and conflict resolution skills in the workplace; the skills learned can also be applied at home (or anywhere). All healthy relationships require you to know what your needs are, to clearly communicate them and to listen to others’ needs as well. Watch the video to see how the Gordon Model skills helped these L.E.T. Trainers:
MeChelle C., an in-house L.E.T. Trainer at FORUM Credit Union explains the advantages of teaching Leader Effectiveness Training at a business where she is familiar with the work culture. During the course of these leadership training workshops, she can incorporate specific examples from the FORUM workplace that can help the participants relate and understand how the Gordon Model skills work. Listen to what she has to say:
At the most fundamental level, all organizations are systems of relationships. The organization will perform its function to the degree that those relationships work or don’t work. The necessary platform for all leadership training must be a system of healthy, adult working relationships. Such relationships are built through clear communication. Healthy adult working relationships are built by having the right conversations at the right times and following through on clear agreements. Leader Effectiveness Training (L.E.T.) facilitates this by providing simple, practical tools that help participants see clearly what conversations are needed, helping them learn the communication skills needed to conduct those conversations and finally, to solve problems when necessary. Listen to what L.E.T. Trainers have to say about how Leader Effectiveness Training has improved their workplace:
Whenever I hear the word “boss,” I think of a high-rank individual who gets paid to tell others what to do. It’s almost a dated word used by an employee to introduce his manager or the president of the company. However, when someone introduces a person as their leader, I think of a respected, high-rank visionary who makes good decisions and knows how to inspire teams.
So what are the key differences between a boss and a leader?
Having employees “on your side” is a wonderful thing. They look out for you, they have your back, and they will consistently go the extra mile to deliver results. But very few managers have the knack for winning, and keeping all employees in their good graces, all the time.
If you want a bit of insight on how it’s done, consider the following skills…
1. Be genuine. In other words, be human. Employees dislike working for managers who are in it for the ego. Genuine means showing your employees that you don’t ask them to do something you wouldn’t personally do yourself. Genuine also means that you lead with empathy and understanding.
2. Make your employees feel important. Some employees come into work day after day and get lost in going through motions with diminishing enthusiasm if they have minimal contact with their immediate boss. Employees throughout all levels need to be reminded that their contribution, insight, opinions and creativity are important to the success of the organization.
“Portland, Maine — A computer specialist had a stroke in his office but wasn’t discovered until five days later, then died at a hospital, relatives and authorities said Wednesday.” The story can be read here.
When I worked at a computer firm many years ago, a man who worked in a cubicle two doors down from me died. I didn’t even know his name. When I was teaching, a colleague in my department did not show up after the holidays to begin Spring Term. Our department chair found him dead at his apartment. He had committed suicide. Several weeks earlier, I had seen him going through his course evaluations throwing away the bad ones. I said nothing. Was I being kind because I didn’t want to get him into trouble or was I just a coward or being indifferent? What, exactly, is our responsibility to those around us, especially those who work for us, to notice and act on signals that something may be wrong?
Most leaders would quickly answer that question affirmatively because, at least in the abstract, open and honest relationships with others sounds like a goal most people would consider ideal. Yet open and honest relationships between leaders and group members in most organizations seldom exist. Leaders play the “boss role” and group members play the “subordinate role.”
The captain of the ship is supposed to appear as if everything is under control even though there are storms; the boss is supposed to keep up a front of being cool, calm, and collected. Leaders are to give orders and tell people what they should do, leaders should not share their fears or admit their mistakes. Leaders hide their human-ness.
Employees are supposed to accept orders and take their boss’s advice. They are not to be critical of bosses nor question their judgments. They hide their feelings and cover up their mistakes. Being honest is too dangerous, being assertive too presumptuous.
Do you remember the last time you were in the presence of someone who made you feel important? There’s a good chance that you remember it vividly as they took a genuine interest in you and what you had to say. And it made quite an impression because you felt great about yourself after the conversation.
That someone had something called charisma. Some people have a knack for it, and you can immediately tell who they are because of the presence they exude when entering a room. Charisma can’t be faked, and you probably know a few people who really have it.
People want to be around charismatic people. They are attracted to them and are eager to be in their good graces. And it’s why charismatic people naturally make great leaders. Here’s why:
To prevent or minimize misunderstandings in person-to-person communication would be sufficient reason for leaders to make the effort to become competent Active Listeners. But other reasons are equally compelling.
For the last several decades some psychologists have been attempting to identify the critical ingredients in human relationships that foster personal growth and psychological health. This intensive search, which initially focused only on identifying the characteristics and behavior of effective professional helping agents (counselors and psychotherapists), eventually led some to study the personal qualities of effective teachers, effective marriage partners, and effective parents. Rather conclusive evidence emerged that at least two ingredients are necessary in any relationship of one person fostering growth and psychological health in another—empathy and acceptance.
Going through a merger can be a frustrating and chaotic situation for everyone in an organization, and the news of a merger can ignite fear into employees as they try to get answers to questions such as:
Will I lose my job?
How will my role change?
Will I need to move?
Will my pay be affected?
Will I have to move to a different office?
How will my benefits change?
Will I be phased out of the company?
Will I get a new boss?
Will get along with him or her?
Am I going to need to re-interview for my job?
What’s going to happen to all my friends here?
And this feeling of fear should not be surprising, especially if employees stumble upon the news through the corporate grapevine or through a co-workers’ Facebook post before they hear about it from management.