Can We Just Eliminate Annual Performance Appraisals?


“Over my career,” a manager confided, “I’ve done hundreds of annual performance reviews.  I can’t remember the last time that an employee made significant and lasting behavior changes as a result of one.”

Another manager reported, “We had so many complaints about our appraisals, we appointed a task team to develop a new form.  After many hours of deliberation, followed by training on the new process, we rolled out the program.  Everyone was excited at first; but after a year, complaints whelped up again.”

“I spent hours preparing data to support my ratings,” said another.  “I don’t think it helped at all.  Employees who disagreed still argued and whined about low ratings.”

No one pays attention to annual appraisals until they do.  When managers become unhappy with an employee, the appraisal emerges as documentation to justify termination.  Employees know this.  That is why many get defiantly defensive about low ratings.

For these reasons, Deloitte, Accenture, Gap, Lear, General Electric, and many others have dropped their annual appraisal process.

I think brief, monthly employee reviews are less stressful and much more meaningful than annual appraisal rituals.  Consider questions like, “What were your two most important achievements last month?  What are you planning to focus on next month?”

Confirm what you agree with.  Discuss your disagreements.  This approach is quicker, less stressful and more meaningful.

 

Can We Just Eliminate Performance Improvement Plans (PIP’s)?


“I was put on a performance improvement plan,” an employee reported.  “My manager thought that I should have higher satisfaction ratings from my current accounts.  He gave me a detailed checklist of what I should do, and I had to report my results daily.”

The employee said he became discouraged and the entire team (You cannot keep these things secret.) worried and fretted excessively.  The employee eventually quit and moved to another company where he had a successful career.

From my observations, more than eighty percent of employees on PIP’s earn a termination notice or they quit.  Less than one in ten improve performance.

Here is the dirty little secret about PIP’s.  Managers use PIP’s almost exclusively for sub-par performers.   The intent is to create a lawsuit-proof paper trail to justify termination.  I understand this need; but you can document bad performance without creating paper-stacked, time-eating PIP’s.

If you are disappointed with an employee’s performance, tell the person what disappoints you and what you expect.  Suggest ways to improve. Root for the employee’s success.  Make a note with time, date and items discussed.  Copy your boss and the employee.  In less than five minutes, you have begun your paper trail.

Termination May Sometimes Be a Disguised Blessing


“Do you remember me?” Mary asked her former boss in a phone call?

“Of course,” the boss responded.  “How long has it been?  Three years?  What are you doing now?”

“That’s why I called,” Mary said.  “When you told me that I was not a good fit for the job, I was devastated.  But I wanted to let you know that I eventually got a marketing position with another software company.  Last Quarter, I was recognized as the top performer in my region.”

After graduating from college, Mary eagerly joined a company as a software designer.  Mary’s manager remembered her as a very nice person; but after a year, it was apparent she was not going to be very successful as a designer.

“I was twenty-six years old,” Mary remembered, “and I had just been fired from my first real job.  After several days of mind-numbing depression, I got a temporary position in another software firm as an assistant to an account executive.

“Because of her ability to work with customers,” her new boss said, “We quickly promoted Mary to a marketing position.  She has succeeded beyond our expectations.”

When the job does not fit an employee’s talents, termination may be a disguised blessing.

Leaders May Sometimes Need to Temporarily “Burn” a Relationship


“I have a good relationship with Fred,” the manager commented.  “He is a good performer and team player, but he continues making excuses for not using our new scheduling system.”

“What are Fred’s reasons for not using the system?”

“I’m not sure Fred’s concerns are legitimate, but he says the new system requires too much documentation and takes too much time.”

“Does Fred’s failure to comply cause problems?”

“Oh yes!  We have to do time-consuming work-arounds.”

“Tell Fred that you will treat failure to comply as insubordination.”

“He would not like that.  It would surely dent our relationship.”

The manager is very conflicted.  Maintaining a good relationship means extra work and sets a bad example for others.  Requiring compliance burns a good relationship with a high performer.

Effective leaders are both demanding and friendly.  But sometimes they must require others (even friends) to do things they resist.  Such actions may cause the relationship needle to point south.

If fractured relationships reach critical mass, staff may in effect “fire” the leader.  Resisting staffers apply so much pressure that higher authorities decide they are better off with the leader being gone.

When leaders consciously sacrifice relationships in service to the mission, it is imperative that these leaders, in the following weeks, make every effort to restore their relationships.

 

You Are Only as Good as Your Team


At the time Helena was promoted to supervisor, the crew was successfully assembling about thirty vacuum cleaner components per shift—the lowest among twelve teams at three different sites.

“I knew I had to do something,” said Helena.  “I began coaching our slower, mistake-prone employees.  Most appreciated my help.  We did reduce our rework a bit and assemblies increased to about thirty-three per shift–still way to low.”

Eventually, Helena extended her training efforts to all employees.  Most seemed thankful but production remained flat.

Next, Helena began strictly enforcing attendance policies.  “Some employees grumbled,” she said.  “A couple quit. Four weeks later we were producing only about thirty-five assemblies per shift.”

“Having run out of options,” Helena lamented, “I bit the bullet and released two of my lowest performers.  I felt bad.  I knew they had bills to pay but they just couldn’t do the work.”

Over the next few months, Helena replaced more low producers with better workers.  Production quickly improved to forty per shift.  And after two more months, Helena’s team set a company record of fifty-two units.

As Dominique Wilkins, the former NBA basketball great said, “You are only as good as your team.”

When an Employee Gives You a Relationship Assignment, Don’t Take It


Askov, an employee, says to his manager, “I don’t work very well with Renfro.”

“What’s the problem?” the manager replied.

“He’s hard to communicate with.  He doesn’t listen.  Never makes eye contact.  When I ask him about something, he doesn’t give me a good answer.  It makes it hard for me to do my job.”

It appears that Askov is surfacing a problem between him and Renfro and asking the manager for help.  However, Askov is most likely setting a trap for the manager.

Should the manager investigate, he will likely discover that Renfro has a very different take if he has an opinion at all.  The manager may have the detective skills of a Scotland Yard lifer, but he will not likely be able to resolve the issue to Askov’s satisfaction.

However, Askov now has cover and does not have to be accountable for his behavior.  After all, if the manager could not fix Renfro, why should Askov be expected to do so?

When employees try to give you assignments, don’t take them.  The manager could have mirrored Askov’s communication, as in, “So you and Renfro are not working together so well?”   Likely the manager will get from Askov, “That’s right, Renfro can’t communicate.”

Then the manager can refuse Askov’s assignment with a, “How can you deal with that and still get your work done?”

 

 

 

To Get “Buy-In,” Ask People To Do What They Are Capable of Doing


Shortly after Julie Walsh assumed the role of plant manager, she discussed with her front-line supervisors the need to reduce rework.

“During the last three quarters,” Julie announced, “only about fifty percent of our product passes all inspections on the first effort.  I think we need to get this down to ten percent by the end of six months.”

“That’s too much,” responded a supervisor.  “We won’t get buy-in from our employees.”

“How do you suggest we get buy-in?”

“Well, I think we need to discuss these metrics with the employees and get their suggestions on what is realistic.”

“Based on my experiences, with the changes we are implementing, I believe this is realistic.”

“You may think the goal is realistic, but I’m not sure our employees think it is.”

Push back is common when leaders ask employees to step up their performances.  Many leaders respond by asking employees for their opinions.  This usually results in some haggling followed by an eventual compromise and grumbling on all sides.

Leaders, in my view, have a good idea of what their people are capable of achieving.  When leaders’ and employees’ perceptions differ, as they often do; I say leaders should stick with their opinions.

At the end of the period, we may hear from employees, “I didn’t think we could do it.”  From leaders, the winning comment is, “I knew you could.”