Have you ever received performance feedback about what you say and do in a 1:1 meeting?
Have you ever received performance feedback about your contributions to a team meeting?
Have you ever received performance feedback about not attending a team event or party?
Were you frustrated about this? I would be. Here’s why:
The performance feedback is about your interactions with your manager and not about what you are doing on the job. This is an all-too-common phenomenon.
If you are getting feedback about items external to your job expectations, but not external to your relationship with your boss, you aren’t receiving performance feedback. You’re receiving feedback on how you interact with your boss. The “performance” that is important is deferred/differed from your job performance, and into a new zone of performance – your “performance in front of your boss.”
OK, so now you have two jobs. 1. Your job and 2. Your “performance in front of your boss.”
Tenets of Management Design: Drive towards understanding reality and away from relying on perceptions
In this post, I continue to explore the tenets of the new field I’m pioneering, “Management Design.” Management Design is a response to the bad existing designs that are currently used in creating managers. These current designs describe how managers tend to be created by accident, rather than by design, and that efforts to develop quality and effective managers fall short.
Today’s tenet of Management Design: Encourage reality over perception
In a previous post, I describe a common situation where employees are evaluated, spliced, diced and put into categories to determine if they need improvement, are high performers, or are in that special purgatory of the middle. The problem with this process is that it requires decisions based on perceptions or, worse, perceptions of perceptions, or perceptions of perceptions of perceptions. This is shown in the “meta slide” of evaluating an employee’s contribution.
This is bad management design. In such a design, managers and managers of managers are charged with the role of doing (what I call) phantom managing — ranking employees — based on argument, rhetoric and perception. Typically, each manager is allowed to bring in their own methods for advocating (or denouncing) their employees, and argues accordingly. This is in the spirit of creating a truth about the employee: Where they fit in the “stack rank,” whether they are “needs improvement” or whether they are “high potential”. The design is, in effect, to create that impression, to create that tag and, for all intents and purposes, institutionalize the worth of the employee as either low, medium or high based on a team of managers’ rhetoric.
Here are some outcomes of this that make this bad, degenerative management design:
- This kind of situation institutionalizes perceptions as the dominant formula for evaluating and tagging employees
- This places an emphasis on evaluation of employees as more important than working with employees to perform at an acceptable level.
- This puts the onus away from the manager and assumes the employee is solely responsible for success in a role
These three outcomes place at a premium the perception of an employee (and what the employee and manager do to manage perceptions), rather than place the focus and emphasis on the reality of the employee’s work output and behaviors.
So instead of focusing on the perceptions, let’s focus on some realities of employee performance:
First, the reality is that no employee can possibly be permanently categorized as low, medium or high. Things are too dynamic – in one situation an employee is great, and in another situation an employee is terrible. Too many times we have observed employees do badly in one context and do great in another (see my article about how to evaluate the system as a part of performance feedback). Does that make the employee good or bad? It’s neither. Putting a tag that risks being a permanent tag creates an unnecessary perceptual problem about the quality of the employee. In addition, that tag, with its trace perception, is likely to carry over year over year.
Next, the reality is that a manager’s role is to do what it takes to make sure the team performs as at high of a level as possible, using the available components of the team, tools, processes and work environment. This evaluative process of tagging employees in one category or another in effect removes that burden from the manager, and creates the perception that the employee capability is the number one factor of team (and manager’s) success, and the rest is out of the manager’s hands. The manager can say, “Well, I have two low performers on my team, thus we couldn’t get it done.” The manager’s real job is not to put those low performers in the low performance bucket, but to figure out how those low performers can contribute to the team to make the team effective. If those low performers are that bad, are a terrible fit, and shouldn’t even be on the team, there is the option of performance managing the low performer. Instead, too many managers wait until the end of the year, exact their revenge on the low performers by saying, “Well, they are low performers!” And sure enough, that low performer appears the following year as a low performer. The manager’s role? Declaring them as low performers.
Third, the reality is that the manager has a huge impact on the individual contributor’s performance, perhaps as much as the individual contributor has on his performance. The manager who sets up expectations well, who assures that there are processes that drive a consistent strategy, who discourages drama and who encourages teamwork will make any set of employees better. These are managers who can turn a team of average performers into a team of star performers (who then get tagged as “high potential” – until those high potentials go into a broken system, then lo and behold they become low performers). Obviously the individual contributors need to bring their “A” game to make a truly high performing team, but with current management design, there is an assumption that every team needs to be filled entirely with Michael Jordans and Zinedine Zidanes to be successful. Simply not the case, as even Messrs. Jordan and Zidane, with all of their success, never had such teams.
Drive the focus toward the reality of an employee’s output
So instead of engaging in meta-perceptual conversations about the relative worth of each employee, good management design should discourage structures that solidify perceptions, and push the manager to the reality of creating as strong a team as possible, focusing on the behaviors of each team member, and getting as close as possible to the reality of the team performance.
The dark green circle is the closest we can get to understanding reality. In good management design, the focus should be that managers think and deal with the employee at work, and try to get the behaviors to the maximum effectives, both as an individual and as a team. The manager still has a few degrees of separation from direct understanding of the reality of the employee’s work, but instead of encouraging moving further away from it, good management design should encourage getting closer to it.
I advocate that managers provide performance feedback using direct observation as much as possible. In my previous articles, I recommend that managers set up practice environments and attempt to observe the performance directly to understand how an employee performs. I feel that if this is not done in your work environment, this is bad management design.
There is a third form of “direct observation” a manager can use to provide performance feedback: tangible artifacts.
When an employee does their job, they create all sorts of “artifacts” – the things they are supposed to produce. These can be things such as a project plan, software code, an analysis, an engineering schematic, a recording of a customer service call, a plate of food, etc. I call these things tangible artifacts. If you can print it out or touch it, then it is a tangible artifact. So email would be considered a potential tangible artifact. It is basically something that the person produces, whether digital or physical.
With tangible artifacts, the manager can provide performance feedback to the employee. In many cases this is a great source of direct observation of the employee’s performance. The manager can sit down with the employee, observe the artifact, and say what it is that is good or should be changed about future artifacts. If it a call center agent, the manager can listen to a recent call by the agent, and discuss what was correctly done and what should be done differently. The manager can also look at the “artifact” of what the agent did in the Customer Relation Management system, and provide feedback on this. In a restaurant, the manager can taste the food and look at the presentation of the foot, and provide feedback on what the employee did that created the results. Too much salt?
There are times when the artifact is so far off the mark, it is hard to determine what the employee did to create it. If this is the case, then the observation of the artifact is not direct enough, and more direct observation is needed. Read more
In today’s article, I continue my series of sources of direct observation managers can use to provide improved performance feedback. Previously, I discussed how a manager can use practice sessions to provide specific and immediate feedback that dramatically increases the chances of high quality (and aligned) performance when it counts.
In today’s article, I discuss direct observation of the actual on the job performance as a source of performance feedback.
I advocate that managers should give performance feedback based on directly observed performance. However, there are some guidelines that need to be observed in attempting this.
1. Give performance feedback during the performance only if it doesn’t ruin the performance
In my previous article, I discuss how managers tend to rely on indirect sources of information to provide feedback, rather than direct sources of information. This creates a common mistake for managers. They have to rely on some form of hearsay about the employee, and then they provide feedback on what the hearsay says. It is only an assumption that the hearsay is correct, and, for this reason, employees generally don’t like getting “performance feedback” on such hearsay. Also, the feedback tends to not make any sense.
In today’s article, I’d like to discuss how to increase the amount of performance feedback based on direct observation.
Here are three “sources” of direct observation that a manager can engage in:
- Practice of the performance
- Direct observation of behaviors while they are being performed
- Artifacts that provide evidence of the performance
Let’s talk about “practice of the performance.” Not many managers consider this an option or utilize this, but this is a rich and useful source of providing performance feedback. Imagine an employee needing to do a critical presentation. The manager can improve the chances of success by scheduling a “practice” session of the presentation, in this case, “the performance”.
There are many advantages to this:
–The performer practices and gets better, both by practicing and by getting feedback
–The performer gets performance feedback that doesn’t get conflated with evaluation, since it isn’t the actual performance. That is, the performance feedback is “safer.”
–The performance feedback is specific to the performance and immediately given. You can stop the “practice” at any time and give feedback. That makes it as specific and immediate as possible, and increases the chances that the feedback will be behavior-based.
–The performer and the manager are aligned in what the expected performance is
–The manager has “skin in the game” for the performance
And it doesn’t have to be only on “big events” like a presentation. You could have a manager sit down with a software developer to see how they perform some of the expected tasks in a non-production environment. If the software is doing it right, the manager can say, “you’re doing it right.” Performance feedback is provided and everyone is happy and aligned. If there are some behaviors that can be corrected, the manager can provide that feedback. Read more
If you are a manager, you get lots of inputs in regards to how your employee is performing. Let’s do a quick review of some of these places:
- Direct Observation of Employee Behaviors
- Employee Output and Artifacts (emails, presentations, documents, code, tangible items)
- Peer Feedback
- Customer Feedback
- Employees’ Manager of Manager Feedback
- Metrics tied to employee output (customer satisfaction scores, number of items produced, number of sales made, number of contracts negotiated etc.)
Now, what does the manager do about it? Does the manager provide performance feedback on all of these inputs?
The manager should give performance feedback on only the top two – Direct Observation and Employee Output and Artifacts.
The remainder are all indirect sources of information about an employee’s performance. Let’s look at them: