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.

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