I like Jack Welch’s (the very successful, former CEO of General Electric) approach to performance appraisals.
Manager presents to the employee a handwritten sheet of paper. The left column lists the manager’s view of employee’s achievements. The right column contains items the employee could do better. Both lists focus on performance metrics and team behaviors.
Manager and employee engage in a meaningful conversation. Manager gives examples, “Your error rate is less than .03 percent, almost a ten percent improvement over last period.” “I like that you went out of your way to help our new engineer learn our software tool.”
Sum up by reporting, “Shelly, you are in the top twenty percent of our employees, and I’ll recommend a good pay increase.” Or, “Jackson, your overall performance puts you in the solid seventy percent of our team and your raise will reflect that. I would like to see improvement in meeting deadlines and reducing errors. I’ll help you with those.
Or, “Alford, I’m disappointed that, after considerable training, your response time is still the slowest in our group. Let me help you find another position that is a better fit.”
Conduct these interviews at least twice a year and allow about thirty minutes for each session.
While jointly writing checks to pay bills, one party says to another, “We need more stamps.” While the first party may simply be acknowledging a need, he/she is more likely, by implication, making a request of the second party to buy stamps. Communication by implication is fraught with risks.
Consider these implied messages from mangers to employees.
“We need to be more responsive to clients.”
“We need to improve our on-time deliveries.”
“We need to reduce overtime.”
In each of these examples, the person hearing “we,” may not see the need to do anything differently because the manager has retained co-ownership of the issue. Consider making the requests with the pronoun “I.”
“I would like for you to be more responsive to our clients.”
“I want you to improve your on-time deliveries.”
“I would like for you to reduce overtime in your department.”
By using the pronoun “I,” the manager owns the expectation and more clearly assigns the responsibility for achieving the expectation to the employee.
I understand the importance of teamwork and I get “there is no “I” in team. I also believe that leaders who use the pronoun “I” more clearly identify their expectations. And they do so without diminishing teamwork.
A manager, trying to find out why a good employee began coming in late, said, “You haven’t been yourself lately. Is something wrong?”
“I’m having some personal problems. It’s hard to keep my mind on work.”
“What’s going on?”
“My wife and I have not been getting along.”
“When I went through my divorce it was hell. Maybe you need to slow down on your drinking.”
“My spouse has gone on a spending spree. We are having financial problems.”
The conversation continued for another thirty minutes without a resolution. The manager later explained that he was trying to find the root cause of the employee’s problem.
I think most managers’ fail when striving to find reasons why employees miss work or behave inappropriately. Managers may even worsen the situation by giving bad advice or enabling dysfunctional behaviors.
Consider two ways to help employees get through a personal wreck. One, show your concern by honestly laying out the consequences of their behaviors. Two, encourage employees to visit your Employee Assistance Program where they can receive professional help.
No matter how well meaning, most managers make poor therapists.