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Research Triangle Business Advisors

August 2014 Newsletter


There was a time when Management by Objectives (MBO) was the only way to assign responsibility and asses success.  But, about 10-15 years ago the human resource professionals discovered flaws with this approach and started looking for a better way to motivate employees.  The results of the research included the fact that performance reviews were negative motivators and did not lead to improved performance.  This month I share some thoughts on the current view of the performance review. A view most companies don't have.


  Bob De Contreras




Should you be Doing Performance Reviews?

The way I see it, a one-side-accountable, manager-administered performance review does little if anything to improve an employee’s performance. It's a negative to company performance, an obstacle to straight-talk relationships, and a prime cause of low morale at work. Even the mere knowledge that such an event will take place hinders daily communications and teamwork.

The stated purpose of a performance review is to inform subordinates about what they should be doing better or differently. But I see the purpose differently. I often see it as intimidation aimed at preserving the manager’s authority and power advantage. This intimidation is unnecessary, because the manager has the power with or without the typical performance review.

There is an Alternative

The alternative to the one-side-accountable, manager-administered, subordinate-received performance review is two-side, reciprocally accountable, performance previews.

How does it Work?

The manager's assignment is to guide, coach, tutor, provide oversight and generally do whatever is required to assist a subordinate to perform successfully (hopefully this is not a new concept to you). That's why I claim that the manager/subordinate pair should be held jointly accountable for the quality of work the subordinate performs. Too often I'm hearing about subordinates who fail and get demoted or fired, while managers, whose job it was to ensure subordinate success, get promoted and receive pay increases.

Holding performance previews eliminates the need for the manager to spout self-serving statements about what already has taken place and can't be fixed. Previews are problem-solving, not problem-creating, discussions about how manager and subordinate, as teammates, are going to work together even more effectively and efficiently than they’ve done in the past. The previews feature descriptive conversations about how each person is inclined to operate, using past events for illustrative purposes, and how we worked well or did not work well individually and together.

The preview structure keeps the focus on the future and what "I" need from you as "teammate and partner" in getting accomplished what we both want to see happen. It doesn't happen only annually; it takes place each time either the manager or the subordinate has the feeling that they aren't working well together.

Realistic assessment of someone's positive qualities requires replacing scores on standardized checklists with inquiry. As a result, step No. 1 in giving effective feedback almost always involves inquiry by “active questioning." Inquiry contrasts with most performance reviews, which begin with how the manager sees the individual and what that manager has already decided needs enhancing most. Both participants need an answer to the most significant issue at hand: "Given whom we are and what we’re learning about each other, what's the best way for us to complement one another in getting work accomplished with excellence?" If the manager or subordinate decide to change, then the team and company are better off.  i.e., the review is not needed.

Managers should be asking all the questions that occur to them in inquiring about how subordinates think they can best perform the job. Then, after they have exhausted their questions, they should ask the subordinate for what else they need to know. At a minimum, they should be asking "How will you be going about it?" and "Specifically, what help do you need from me?" Why not get it all when, at the end of the day, the manager still has the authority to play ultimate decision maker?

Some of you may also ask if the performance review goes away, how do we prepare the groundwork if we want to fire somebody? One HR professional I know argues: "Take away the performance review, and people will find more direct ways of accomplishing that task." In other words you may not need to fire them.

Substituting performance previews for performance reviews promotes straight-talk relationships for people who are up to it. It welds fates together because the discussion will be about what the manager/subordinate team accomplishes together, which I believe is the valid unit to hold accountable. It's the manager's responsibility to find a way to work well with an imperfect individual. It’s not the manager’s job to convince the individual there are critical flaws that need immediate correcting, which is all but guaranteed to lead to unproductive game playing and politically inspired back-stabbing.

There are many managers who would like to change that game, but they feel handcuffed by the rules already in play. I'd like to believe that if given the chance, they would embrace a system that allows them just as much authority -- but in a way that promotes trust, not intimidation.

Keep in mind, of course, that improvement is each individual's own responsibility. You can only make yourself better. The best you can do for others is to develop a trusting relationship where they can ask for feedback and help when they see the need and feel sufficiently valued to take it. Getting rid of the performance review is a necessary, and affirming, step in that direction.

What are the Topic Areas for the Performance Preview?

Service & Relationships - the extent to which behaviors are directed toward fostering positive working relationships in a diverse workplace, respect for one's fellow workers, and cooperation with peers, customers, and vendors.

Accountability & Dependability - the extent to which behavior contributes to the effectiveness of the department and the overall mission of the company.

Adaptability & Flexibility - the extent to which behavior exhibits openness to new ideas, programs, systems, and/or structures.

Decision Making & Problem Solving - the extent to which behavior leads to making sound and logical job-related decisions that are in the best interest of the company.

Skill Building - the extent to which behavior is directed at improving and expanding skills and knowledge.

Ownership & Attitude - the extent to which behavior is directed at maintaining a positive attitude toward the success of the company – the attitude of an owner. Including behavior to increase the value of the company.

But, What about Goals and Objectives?

The manager/subordinate team goals are to meet or exceed the company goals and objectives by focusing their efforts in their area of responsibility.  It’s just that simple, but it assumes the company has done a good job of defining those company goals and objectives.


Cary | Raleigh | Research Triangle Park | Greensboro | North Carolina
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