Every manager is required to do Performance Appraisals. Generally, the season for this is once a year. The employees keenly look forward to this, because they are expecting a ‘good grade’ after a year of hard work and more importantly, their compensation increase would be based on this. The managers, usually, do not look forward to this season. During this time, all the ‘work’ stops and only this ‘HR activity’ happens. The 3rd party in this season is the HR team. This is their time, and they push the whole system to get the ‘job’ done. The ‘policy’ already exists, and all clarifications and questions generally are answered with the ‘policy statements’. All departments are required to meet the ‘normal’ distribution of the ratings.
So why do managers generally detest this? There is this huge emotional dialogue and debate with the team members. They get upset. Managers get emotionally overdrawn. Each review lasts for a couple of hours, without seeming to reach a closure (you thought you closed it and pop…there is an email in your inbox from the employee raising some or same points again!). A few even ask for group change and occasionally some even leave citing bad review! Who likes this anyway?
The more important question is – How to do this right? Let’s start with the expected outcome. The employee must feel good after the review and look forward to doing more in future with the manager and the company. The manager is very hopeful for employee’s growth and performance.
A manager has to play the judge and deliver a verdict about the performance of the employee. As a Judge, you carefully look at all the data, and make a judgment taking into account the law (in this case the policy). The big difference here is that the Judge is himself or herself involved – they provide the relevant data and then judge it too, and the employee is judging the Judge too (is my manager being fair to me?). Hence there is an inherent conflict of interest here. If the employee’s expectations are not met, then he/she gets frustrated.
In order to accomplish the goal, the manager, perhaps needs to become the coach of the employee. A coach is also making judgments. But there is a difference. A successful coach earns the trust of his team. The team knows that the coach is working towards their success. This is all the job of the coach is. Hence they listen to the coach. The coach gets to know the ‘game’ and the ‘capability’ of each of the members, and then helps each of them to make a plan to make this better. Trust means that the team does not doubt the agenda of the coach. The agenda is obvious – the team wins and this can happen only when each of the members gets better, and this is what the coach is working on. The coach is helping on a regular basis. He/she is giving pointed feedback, and then asking how the team member plans to improve. The coach gives his/her own suggestions too. A good coach is very demanding, much more than managers. But his/her team listens because they have unwavering trust in the coach – that he/she has their success in mind, and that he/she is competent.
A manager despite competence finds it hard to become as effective as a coach. The team members may not be sure whose success the manager is interested in – theirs or his/her own. Most of the time the manager spends time reviewing the task and not connect to the employee. Employee thinks that manager is focussed on the project success (i.e., his own success) and does not care about employee’s interests. It is hard to have a trusting relationship in this situation. Sometimes, there is also lack of clarity on the overall goal. And hence the feedback looks like a judgment, and team members could feel violated because they consider the manager as an outsider rather than aas one of them. To top it all, most managers do not give feedback for improvement until the ‘season’, that is once a year, through the review. The employee gets a surprise, and we all know that unpleasant surprises of this type do not build trust.
Perhaps we as managers must see ourselves as coaches who are able to demand high performance from their team because the team trusts them completely. The right way to measure the success of a review is that a manager mails the review document to his team members in advance and asks for a meeting. Many employees say they are willing to sign it off without the meeting. The meetings last for 30 to 45 minutes and are focussed on discussing the future, and not arguing about the past. And, the team wants to retain the same coach!
Irrespective of the strengths or limitations of the Performance Appraisal Policy of their company, good managers earn the trust of their team and are able to drive their performance, and make them successful. They are able to Make A Difference to their team. Everyone wants to work with these managers. And the HR team can perhaps focus on how to enable managers to be coaches.
Question 1: In your experience, what determines the success of a Performance Appraisal System?
Question 2: What is the main reason for failure?
Your thoughts and questions will be a learning opportunity for everyone. Won’t you like to (be) M.A.D.?