Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Everyone wants to be a Five

It’s that time of year again - many organizations are in the middle of going through performance evaluations for their staff. As I reflected on the nature of a few recent conversations centered on the performance evaluation process, I was reminded about an assignment that I had many years ago. The assignment was to teach managers how to use the organization’s new performance evaluation system. I did not participate in the creation of the system, but was asked to work with managers, so they could successfully implement it.

Performance evaluation was new to this company and the reasoning for the system implementation was to bring up the level of performance within the organization. This was a bit of a shock for most of the employees (to have their performance quantified and measured), as it was new and counter to the previous organizational culture. As with many change initiatives, there were people who were angry and up in arms, and they were very vocal in their opposition. On one level I had to admit I was at a handicap, because I did not participate in writing it, I just assisted with the implementation. However, I learned a lot during that assignment. I learned that almost everyone wants to be a five.

What do I mean by that? When a performance evaluation is set up on a numerical scale, people want to get the highest number possible – no matter what the words on the paper say. It is human nature. There is a natural bias when people reflect on their performance – most feel they perform at the high end of a scale. For example, in this organization’s performance evaluation system getting a three meant you met expectations – five meant you exceeded them. I learned that setting up a system with a numerical component can automatically build in employee resistance. Who doesn’t want to be the highest number, or in the best category?

Now look at the flip side of this. Although I recognize that performance can fluctuate from year-to-year – even with high performers, the reality is that as a manager and owner of a business I want to surround myself with “fives” (or people who are the highest level). If the people I work with are not at the “five” level well - I want to see signs that they are working toward it. I want the best possible team surrounding me. What does it communicate if you have a staff that consists predominantly of “three’s”? Does that make for a compelling, interesting, and engaging workplace? After all – everyone wants to be a five – metaphorically speaking.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

If I said I wanted a peach, would you give me a pear?

It happens all the time in business. I personally have seen it in my consulting practice a lot. It can show up in the form of a supervisor’s frustration with a direct report when an expectation is not met. Sometimes it is because the message from the boss was not clear, but other times – well things just fell apart for some reason. In my practice I have seen both sides of the issue. The boss has a specific outcome and/or expectation in mind and their direct report is working hard, but not necessarily on the things that are important to the boss and the bigger picture. The employee wonders why their boss is not thrilled with their performance and outcomes. It’s because the boss wants a “peach” and the employee is delivering a “pear”. Of course, I am speaking metaphorically, but I think you get my meaning.

The issue stems, in part, from a lack of clarity on priorities, emphasis, attention, and values. Understanding priorities in a time when things change rapidly can be difficult. However, it is not always a lack of clarity of priorities, but a failure of alignment about how much attention to pay to a particular project. For example, I worked with an organization that had an established partnership with another company. The relationship in the partnership was not equal (much like a supervisor supervisee relationship). There were certain deliverables that were important to the satellite partner, but the funding for most of the project came from their partner. The satellite partner continued to pay attention to the things that were important to them – to their peril. It showed up in the form of paying close attention to the things that held meaning to them – rather than fully understanding and giving attention and showing results around the things that the funding partner valued. The satellite partner kept putting their attention and emphasis on the wrong things and eventually the partnership ended.

The supervisor/supervisee relationship is a partnership of sorts, and alignment is important, but not always easy to achieve. Spending all your time on perfection when just good enough is ok will not necessarily win you additional points in the eyes of your boss – even if you are working hard. It can be just as deadly as not paying attention to perfection when it is important to your boss. You might want to ask yourself are you giving your boss a pear when he/she really wants a peach?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Passion for the Job

Recently I heard a commentator on a news show talk about the importance of passion at work. After hearing him, I became engaged in a conversation with my brother who shared his frustrations at work with me. It was obvious in speaking with him that he cares about the success of the company and finds it frustrating that decisions are made which are contrary to what he feels are in the best interest of the firm. He felt that some of the individuals in positions of leadership lack the day-to-day knowledge regarding the on-the-ground issues.

He confided that he wasn’t sure he could continue working there, because he was concerned the company would fail, he did not want to be on a losing team, and the frustration level was high. It was clear he had ideas; things he wanted to share and things he thought would make a difference.

As I contemplated the thought, I reflected over my practice and recalled the most important theme throughout all my years in consulting. While passion with one’s work may be important, the clients I work with reveal that their greatest desire is to contribute – to make a difference. Every person I have met through my consulting practice who voiced dissatisfaction with their work felt that they were not contributing to their fullest potential. Sometimes this brought people to tears with frustration. Passion for the work may be the ultimate level of self-actualization, but contribution is incredibly rewarding and may even lead to experiencing passion with one’s job.