Sincerely yours

stamp2.jpg We are always hearing people complain that performance evaluations require a lot of work and always seem to miss the mark. Those of us who are looking to help automate the process absolutely agree that the systems today are too complex and we are, of course, looking to ease that pain point, but even when the paperwork is simple that still wont be enough.

The biggest problem here is not a software problem. Nor is it really the fault of the desire of HR to put down a repeatable system of measurement. Where the process breaks down is, of course, that it often lacks honesty, I mean real honesty.

I like the way Debora Dunn expressed this in the HBR article

“I feel there is no greater disrespect you can do to a person then to let them hang out in a job where they are not respected by their peers, not viewed as successful, and probably losing their self-esteem. To do that under the guise of repsect for people, is, to me, ridiculous.”

Maybe it is just that I have always been well aware of my weaknesses, that I find myself surprised that often people are not aware of where they are strong and where they are weak. I probably have to thank my family who were so quick to provide me with early feedback

You are a crybaby, a snob, a wimp, a bad dresser, a geek, stubbern, opinionated, always think you are right, and so on…

Why is it that our families are able to tell us these things and never have us doubt that they like us anyway. Maybe it is that these kind of phrases were followed up with things like “oh, and can I borrow some money?” I guess when you have mutually assured destruction you build an alliance that transcends brutally honest feedback.

Of course, some of my flaws have softened over time, in fact, I’m pretty sure few really know that I’m a crybaby anymore. I have also managed to build elaborate systems to work around some of my other flaws. For instance, my lack of fashion sense is currently solved by having a style coach and personal shopper on my team. While I didn’t actually post the job description that way, I did change the job requirements based on the skills of the individual.

Still lots of my core flaws remain and have produced quotable feedback items like

Meg does not suffer fools gladly” or “sometimes a more tactful approach is appropriate”

In fact, as far as I can see there is really only one character flaw that was not first identified by my family. The reason is, that they are to blame. In my family the only way to get a word in any conversation is to quickly jump in during a pause. Turns out, that in the “real” world people see this as interrupting, who knew?

So what is a manager to do here?

  1. Realize that honest feedback is not mean, lack of feedback is mean
  2. Recognize that feedback is not just constructive. In fact, the best feedback is pointing out those traits that you want to continue. It works with puppy training and it also works with humans. Yes, you heard it here first. Positive feedback works better. Try it.
  3. Remind people that they will make more progress if they play to their strengths and get support for their weaknesses. When possible, help move people into roles that play to their strengths.
  4. Understand that feedback has the most impact when it is timely. When you observe a behavior that warrants a comment, give it, as soon as you can.
  5. Finally, be sincere. Sincere in your motivation about why you are giving feedback and sincere about the content of the feedback you give. If you really care about the people who work for you, then you want to help them. You are not filling out the form because HR is forcing you to, you are providing feedback because you want the person to benefit.


How to not be a c-player

office-space-4.jpg  Was reading the HBR article called A new game plan for C players and it got me thinking.  Of course the point of the article was how C-players hurt your business.  They are bad for morale of the rest of the team and as a good friend of mine says “they can do negative work” suggesting that having a c-player around can actually cause you to spend more time fixing their work then just doing it yourself right the first time.

What struck me though, was that while we all tend to agree that yes, c-players are bad for our teams and yes, we should be better about taking action, I don’t feel that we actually spend time doing self reflection to see if maybe we ourselves might be performing at less then our own A-game.

I was reminded while reading this, that the most critical thing to “get right” for ourselves and our teams is a well aligned role to the individual.  Keeping all examples to myself to avoid offending anyone, I can say with confidence, that if my job were to help people who are lost get out of the woods it is clear I would be the worst suited for it.  If nagging people about deadlines and commitments is the job, then I’m a much better fit.  Just ask my husband.

I have had the fortune (twice actually) of finding myself interviewing for a position in which the job description was a complete match for my experience.  In both cases, these jobs were not only rewarding for me personally, I managed to deliver products that had significant monetary benefit for the companies that hired me.  By all measures this was A-player work.  I was happy, I was challenged and the work I delivered benefited. 

 On the flip side, I have also managed to get myself stretched outside of my core competencies in such a way, that the results of my efforts were so inferior I could not even fire myself, but had to give myself the task of cleaning up the mess first.  While, this made for a great poster, and I did learn a lot, in retrospect I know I should have done a better job in recognizing the signs and doing something about them, as a lot of people got hurt as a result of my c-player work.

So what is my real message here?  First I’d encourage us each to realize that we are each capable of both A-player and C-player work.  For the majority of us fortunate enough to be considered “professionals”,  life is not a huxley-esque situation where you are pre-defined as an alpha or an epsilon. 

It is up to us to best determine 

  • How do we quantify our talents
  • How do we align our talents with the jobs we are given
  • How do we push ourselves to give our best performance

Not just for the benefit of the company, but for the benefit of ourselves.  Like anything else, the best way to “not” be a c-player is to take an active role in your own performance. 

What do you have to lose?