For many organizations, the first quarter of the year offers a new beginning. It’s an opportunity to set targets and pursue them with renewed zeal. But in many cases, the first quarter is also an anxious time in which employee performance is reviewed. It’s no wonder then that phrases like ‘one on one’, ‘fairness’, ‘transparency’ and ‘the curve’ begin to hover in the office environment. They seem to wiggle their way into lunchroom conversations as both managers and their charges engage in this necessary, but sometimes painful process. After all, while a good evaluation is not a guarantee of a promotion, a bonus, or any other type of reward, a poor evaluation could have immediate negative consequences.
During this year’s evaluation season, a book that I recently read came to mind. This book, “Leadership and the One Minute Manager – Increasing Effectiveness Through Situational Leadership” by Ken Blanchard, Patricia Zigarmi and Drea Zigarmi (2013) provides some useful insights for people who struggle with evaluating others’ work. It is a good read that I believe would enrich the annual performance evaluation process, since much of the concepts and applications therein are directly applicable to performance evaluation.
It can be argued that annual individual performance evaluations ought to be enriching experiences that seek to build competency and strengthen commitment of all team members. However, the period of performance evaluation seems attuned to ‘judgment day’ rather than a way to bolster morale. That said, annual performance evaluation must assess the gaps between planned and delivered aspects of the agreed work programs, capability needs, and commitment and enthusiasm. The findings of this assessment and the recommendations must inform future performance planning.
The book refers to the importance of goal setting between the leader and task owner, diagnosis of the development level of the task owner and the requirements to complete the task. It also discusses the challenge of matching development level with appropriate leadership style. These are critical skills required of leadership in general but situational leadership in particular. The leader is not only responsible for his or her tasks but also managing other people’s performance.
Concerning goal-setting at the assignment of tasks, the authors make the case that there is a need for conversations to develop SMART goals. This should culminate in an established agreement between leaders and their reports. As you think about performance evaluation, you must consider the entire performance management process from planning of the work, day-to-day coaching, through to the annual performance evaluation. In essence, performance management is a continuous process. It should be seen as a cycle that stars with mutual goal setting. There seems to be, in some organizations, over-emphasis on planning and evaluation of individual performance and under-emphasis on sustained day to day coaching that assesses efforts on a continuous basis.
Nevertheless, do all employees require coaching, support, directing or delegating? This question according to Blanchard, et al. (2013), can only be answered based on a full diagnosis of an individual’s development level in relation to a specific assigned task. The book discusses the development level in a very sensical manner. Leaders must take advantage of the annual work program planning process to understand an individual’s capabilities. There is a need to understand the complexity of the tasks in the work program. In addition to determining what are the individual’s core and technical competencies and how they relate to the work to be done by that individual. This diagnostic provides an opportunity for the leader to match the appropriate leadership style to the individual by task. There is the opportunity to create more value by identifying and supporting efforts for the professional development of the individual. If managed appropriately it could result in higher levels of energy and motivation in the individual and within the team.
This approach calls for a measure of flexibility since matching leadership styles to an individual for different tasks could be complicated. Likewise, changing leadership style to match different individuals in the same organization could have unintended consequences. It’s therefore necessary to carry out effective communication about the use and application of this approach so that differences in how leaders interact with individuals are transparent and well understood by all.
Performance evaluations affect employees’ lives in a real way. As such, worry, distrust and suspicions about the uses of these evaluations are unlikely to evaporate. My experiences as an evaluator have demonstrated that there is a gap in the perception of the effects of these annual evaluations, on both the evaluator and the individual being evaluated. I believe that evaluators only share their sentiments occasionally.