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Some companies are much better at performance development than others. Similarly, some managers, directors, and executives are better at it than others too.

I've seen some leaders who simply copied the company goals onto their people's performance development forms. I've seen others who add a bunch of personal goals that have little to do with the direction they want to take their organization. That assumes they actually proactively plan where they want their organization to go for the next year, or even the next 90 days.

Then I've seen other leaders that look at where the parent organization is going and then they cascade the goals for their people to support the parent organization and accomplish what they think is needed for that period too. For whatever reason, the number of leaders that do this well seems small to me.

I've seen some newer supervisors that think that flowery language is important to “help out” their best people. It is as if they think this is what Human Resources (or your equivalent organization) wants this type of language. This flowery language is not how the manager normally talks and it seems to me that they have gone out to Google and searched for these phrases. I have found that people appreciate it more when the language used is specific to what they have done and specific to their strengths and development needs.

I've seen less effective managers that try to avoid all performance development discussions because the leaders is uncomfortable in these one-on-one situations having the difficult conversations. I think those managers should go back to individual contributor roles if they can't or won't do the uncomfortable things needed to BOTH say what the person does well AND tell them what is needed for manageable chunks of continuous improvement for this period. It can be hard to say at first for newer supervisors, but people both need to hear it and in most cases want to hear it.

Even at the executive level, it seems some executive leaders are more comfortable with having difficult conversations than others. Some see their role in leadership development and have the conversations and some even go so far as to sent a personal note that recaps the conversation and identifies what needs to be done. Some leave it up to the imagination of their subordinate leaders and don't give any feedback. It is fair that the more senior levels often don't involve as much specific feedback, but if they want to develop their leadership pipeline such guidance can be seen as leadership development opportunities for the other senior leaders. All humans do better with feedback when trying to meet a goal or objective shared in the minds of two or more people.

With all the daily tasks and their urgency demanding to be done, it is well to remember Stephen Covey's urgent-versus-important concept from Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Performance development is important but rarely urgent. So if the leader is not committed to doing it well, the urgent daily tasks can overwhelm and push out the tasks that need doing for performance development to be effective.

Instead of only doing a once-per-year discussion, it pays to take a more frequent approach, like Agile does with customer reviews of the iteration's results. Even when the company only requires twice-per-year discussions, it is better to clarify goals for at least every 90-day chunk of time. People often forget goals after 90-days. Most employees do not go back to their objectives statement until just before the deadlines established by their company. So if the leader has a brief session every 90-days to clarify the objectives it can help people stay on track.

Sometimes balancing getting the work done and also doing performance development is hard for leads, supervisors, managers and executives to do consistently. We're human, so we're all likely to miss these important sessions occasionally. The key is to aim that direction and provide feedback as people go rather than waiting until some arbitrary date set by the company.

Another thing that is odd to me is that multiple companies seem to time the performance development cycles to fit HR and Compensation group's requirements rather than the leader's needs. For example, some companies will ask for the final rating before the leaders have had time to write up the performance development forms. This can lead to some leaders not being able to justify the rating in their write up. Especially if the manager has not had discussions with the employees about any of the development needs before the form is prepared. The leader's judgment may be sound, but they may not have fit in a discussion about it with the employee. Employees typically don't mind being surprised with good news or strengths that had not been discussed before, but most tend to get irked when the leader never bothered to discuss with them an issue or behavior that the leader now sees as important enough to go on the annual form. From a financial perspective, getting the final ratings and determining the financial impact of merit raises, bonuses, or other financial rewards makes sense for the Finance group or department. It just seems to me that a better way would be to get the leaders to do their write ups before gathering the ratings. It is better, in my view, when the leader has to honestly look at their own behavior and determine if they took the time to have the important conversations with their employees before listing such behaviors on the performance development form to justify a particular final rating.

Another interesting thing I heard a Walmart executive say at a conference is that they list the behaviors or values next to a visual range, say 1-10 or poor to excellent (I don't remember their qualifiers, but that is not my point anyway). Then they would have the managers pick a rating for each behavior or value and they have the employee self evaluate the same behaviors or values. They then look at the areas where there the gaps are the largest as an indicator that performance discussions may be needed for these areas so that both the manager and the employee are more clearly aware of the reasons for the gap.

These are just my thoughts for today. Lead your own organization using your own experiences. Build your own people. Good luck. Let me know what works for you.

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KW Lanham


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