If you work in corporate America then right about now it’s Performance Management time. As a manager I spend quite a bit of time talking with my team members, taking detailed notes throughout the year and then reading their self evaluations. I’m fortunate to have a wonderful staff that works smart and gets lots done, which means I look forward to this time of year. It gives me a chance to communicate up to senior management the talent and accomplishments on an individual basis.
I’ve been a manager of people since 1979, when my mentor put me in charge of a retail bookstore. I had seven employees to begin. Then it grew to three stores with 27 employees, followed by eighteen stores and a General Manager title with nearly 175 employees as my responsibility. Man was I in over my head. My mentor knew I could handle it. I made lots of mistakes, but learned so much.
Less Than Model Employees
One year we had a large shrink (retail term for losses, like shoplifting or fraud) in a big volume store. I had to hire a firm to give polygraph tests to the employees. It’s sobering to read the confessions people make when under that kind of stress. Everybody took something along the way. Certain people left and guess what; problem solved.
There was another store in Chicago, with even bigger losses. I drove by the store completely by chance late one night and saw the lights on. The manager was recreating an entire day’s transactions one at a time on the registers. He would stop several hundred dollars short of the actual day’s receipts, replace the real ones with the fake tapes and pocket the difference. That is of course the extreme case.
Most of the time I have had the great fortune to work with first class individuals. I can’t stress enough how critical it is to spend the time and energy in preparation for an energetic and meaningful performance discussion. This is not a time to short change effort or communication. It’s absolutely critical you don’t end up in a Dilbert cartoon.
My Approach to Performance Management
- Refer to those copious notes you’ve taken throughout the year. If you’ve done a good job you will be doing a lot of cut and paste.
- Focus on the positives and strengths. If you dwell on challenges you will actually suffocate motivation.
- Be thorough when cataloging accomplishments. What someone did in January can be just as important as what was done in October.
- Use clear examples to make it real.
- Always solicit peer feedback but don’t put it in the review. Read the good ones aloud. Yes I love the drama.
- Nothing should be a surprise unless it’s good.
- Don’t over think or over write.
- Now is the time to leverage that team exercise you mandated during the year that further reveals who your team members really are. Use that as another lens to refine leadership evaluation.
- Be sure you close by asking for feedback on yourself. What specifically you can do to help.
I’m not a performance management expert or consultant. You can find wonderful frameworks and much more talented people in lots of places. But if you manage people then you are a professional manager and your staff relies on you to act like one.
High Performance Attributes
Since I gave ink to the less than stellar employees, here is a list I’ve compiled over the years that I believe exemplifies a high performance employee. In no particular order.
- Leadership / Inspirational
- Analytical Ability
- Strategic Thinker
- Partnering Skills
- Management Insight
- Thought Leader, Not Status Quo
- Exceeds in Delivering Business Results
- Effective Communicator
- Curious / Inquisitive
- High Energy / Highly Motivated
- Problem Solver
- Change Agent
- Comfortable with Ambiguity
- Knowledgeable / Recognized Expert
- Understanding – Active Listener – Bridging – Negotiate
Take it serious and spend the time. Your staff will repay you beyond your imagination.