Eight Questions Chapter Two – Part 2 Performance Management

J. Keith Hughey


Volume XXI, Number 6 (Issue 1010) February 6, 2023

Eight Questions Chapter Two – Part 2 Performance Management

 What is your opinion of the formal performance review? Is it the greatest thing since sliced bread? An essential element of your performance management process? A necessary evil? Too subjective? Too clinical? Too repetitive? Too stuck? Too time consuming? A waste of time? It seems the annual performance review process has few genuine fans. The reasons given for not liking the process are varied and involved (see a partial list below). Nor does it seem to matter which side of the process one finds oneself on. Which is odd when you consider how badly we all crave feedback – the approval of others – be it directed at our performance or any of our other actions or life choices. For that matter, while we much prefer compliments to criticism, for those interested in improving their performance, even constructive criticism that it is well meant and effectively delivered is still appreciated. 

Among the many disagreements surrounding and criticisms leveled at your typical performance review system are: 

➢ The scale that is used as well as the definitions applied to those scales: 1-3, 1-5, 1-7, 1-10, strongly agree to strongly disagree, consistently exceeds expectations to rarely meets expectations, superior to poor, and so on. 

➢ Our years of experience with grading scales that cause us to associate the mid-point in any of the above scales as “C” or “average” since who among us wants to be thought of as average? Thus, when the mid-point is defined as “meets expectations,” we struggle with that designation amid our aversion to being at the mid-point of a normal distribution. 

➢ The lack of consistency among managers in their assignment of “grades.” By way of explanation, anchoring bias is alive and well. We all have had experience with managers who are easy graders as well as those who are tough. 

➢ The drudgery of writing something different in the comments section be it from one year to the next or for half-a-dozen direct reports in a single cycle. 

➢ The pig-in-a-python effect brought on when an entire group of evaluations come due at the same time. 

➢ The challenge of preparing a self-assessment or list of “things I want to focus on in the coming year” that induces added anxiety anytime it is to be compared to and contrasted with your manager’s views. 

➢ Insufficient feedback. This complaint is particularly prevalent among the younger generations who are eager to advance in their careers, willing to learn and change, but find a single annual performance review woefully inadequate – especially when the model of their youth was one of near continuous feedback. Bring on frequent informal reviews. 

➢ Systems where the feedback is top-down only and never reversed (bottom-up). 

➢ Being evaluated whenever expectations are ill-defined, poorly, or never communicated, or in flux. 

➢ Having to meet with the recipient of a highly critical review without the aid or support from human resources or another, more experienced manager. 

➢ Wanting the feedback of a formal review while working for a boss who doesn’t believe in or adhere to the process. This complaint is most prevalent within the C-Suite but if it exists there, it frequently trickles down. 

Granted, the performance review process has improved significantly though the years. Still, challenges persist. 

For instance, the other day I had a conversation with a manager who in reviewing a first-year employee awarded the individual multiple “greatly exceeds expectations” scores. Those results, as the manager explained, were based on his view that the employee was performing at a level that greatly exceeded the organization’s expectations for someone in their first year on the job. Think learning curve. Thus, he felt the high ratings, while being outside the norm, were wholly appropriate given the first-year’s rapid progress. However, when the manager’s boss previewed the evaluation prior to the results be communicated to the employee, the boss reduced the high scores to “meets expectations.” His explanation for the changes was two-fold: “no one is perfect,” (read: anchoring bias) and he argued, in scoring someone at the apex of the scale, especially this early in their career, could inadvertently send a signal there is no means or need for them to strive for better performance. 

My thought was a little different. While the first-year employee might be blowing through the standards of a first-year worker, could the expectations established for the second or third year be different (higher)? If so, might progress in year two or three yield a different set of scores? 

Under such circumstances, is it any wonder we struggle to fully embrace the typical performance management system? Of course, going without a system is not an option either. So, how do we make it better? 

Soli Deo Gloria 

The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice. Proverbs 12:15 

J. Keith Hughey

Mobile: (210)260-0955
E-mail: keith@jkeithhughey.com
Web site: www.jkeithhughey.com

Transforming Potential into Unmatched Performance
Copyright 2023 by J. Keith Hughey. All rights reserved. Permission is hereby granted for reproduction and redistribution of this essay as provided under the copyright laws of the United States of America. The entire early library of Monday Morning Musings issues may be found at www.jkeithhughey.com. Your comments are welcome and encouraged.

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