In our last post, we discussed how a role could be defined as a series of outcomes that would provide the basis for an effective performance feedback system. In this post, we’ll consider how to handle aspects of a position that don’t fall neatly into a role definition.
The example we looked at was the role of a project manager. We considered that a project manager might have these desired outcomes:
- A project plan that is appropriate to manage the project
- Project team members who are aligned on scope, plan, and responsibilities
- A customer who is fully aligned and whose expectations are managed throughout the project
- A customer who can be used as a reference
Performance feedback clearly could be given for each of those outcomes. But in many, if not most, cases, people don’t fill just a single role in their organization. In addition to being project managers, they may also be a team leaders or department heads. They will, of course, also be considered representatives of the organization to the community at large. So how can these or other aspects of a position be incorporated into an effective performance feedback system?
Let’s consider the first of those examples: leadership.
For leadership, outcomes might include an identified and prepared successor or perhaps an informed and aligned team. Those are just a few examples. In either of those cases, feedback could be provided that meets our key principles of being
Similarly, other aspects of a position could easily be expressed as a series of outcomes that would enable effective performance feedback.
Question to ponder:
- Are you measuring objective outcomes or vague traits in your quest to provide solid performance feedback?
Last week, we posed the dilemma of how to reconcile two opposing trends in performance management:
- Millennials increasingly want performance feedback more often and in a more meaningful way.
- Organizations are scrapping formal performance appraisal systems altogether.
This is not a new problem. When we were in the US Navy, there was an unwritten rule: the top 50 percent of naval officers were given top grades—often in the top 1 percent. Put another way, if you received anything lower than a top grade, your chances for promotion were significantly diminished. Of course, everyone knew it was a game, and everyone quickly learned how to play.
But that’s the essence of the problem. Performance feedback should not be a game; it should provide meaningful feedback that helps an individual improve his or her performance. Instead, the game is simply who can write the most glowing prose without crossing some imaginary line into pure fantasy.
Performance feedback and the accompanying performance appraisals should follow several key principles. They should be
Let’s take each of these separately:
Timely. Feedback should be provided soon after the performance concerned. Waiting months to tell someone he or she had fallen short of the mark is not very helpful. Most of us have trouble remembering last week, let alone several months ago. So feedback should be given in a timely manner.
Objective. This is perhaps one of the most critical, and most often overlooked, points. To be really meaningful, performance feedback has to point to a previously agreed-upon, measurable standard that both the performer and the supervisor view the same way.
Frequent. The often-used once-a-year model is a complete mess. To be truly helpful, feedback should be provided as often as possible. Anyone familiar with steering anything—from cars to boats to airplanes—knows that a series of small course corrections is more effective than infrequent major course changes.
Helpful. This principle is a bit of a touchy one and depends largely on the culture of the organization. In some organizations, performance appraisals are used mostly in a punitive fashion to justify firing someone. In other organizations, the opposite is true, and appraisals are used to justify a promotion or raise. Either way, the feedback culture is one of manipulation. To function properly, a performance feedback system should be viewed by employees as helping them improve their performance.
If these principles are followed, then a performance feedback system should help people consistently perform their jobs to standard.
Question to ponder:
- How well does your performance management system measure up against these four key principles?