Performance assessment and drinking Kool-Aid

Performance assessment and drinking Kool-Aid

This last week, I provided a performance assessment to a subordinate.  Though I understand the necessity, I’m not crazy about doing them.  Regardless of how objective the scoring criteria is, there always seem to be someone who sees the cloud in the silver lining.  The first question I get asked is, “why do we have to do this”?  Let me break out my trusty PMBoK, as if I need the excuse.

Section 9.4.1.3 (page 237) of the PMBoK, it states

the project management team makes ongoing formal or informal assessments of the project team’s performance.  By continually assessing the team’s performance, actions can be taken to resolve issues, modify communication, address conflict, and improve team interaction.

Though I try to be fair and balanced, I understand I sometimes must make uncomfortable and unpopular decisions.  When I completed my scoring, the results were mixed.  In some areas, this person exceeded my expectations.  In others, they fell short.  It was interesting to see the incited response.  “Why didn’t I get a perfect 10!!?”  I calmly responded, because nobody is a perfect 10.  That’s kind of a half-truth.  I do believe in outliers.  But, this person is no outlier.

I went over to the white board and drew a bell curve.  I then tried to explain that my scoring put her roughly in the middle.  There were areas which needed improvement and those were the facts.  Why do some people feel entitled to getting credit when credit is not due?  A percentage of people will exceed and a percentage will fail.  It’s simple probability distribution.

What I didn’t understand was she completely ignored the good rating and focused on the bad.  When push comes to shove, I’m the one doing the assessment.  I do believe I should explain myself.  But after that, people need to focus on themselves.  When I get assessed, I expect honest feedback, so I can do a better job.  There is always room for improvement.  Giving me 10 out of 10 across the board may make me feel good momentarily, but then what?

Don’t think I’m cold and calculated when it comes to dealing with people.  I would love to give everyone good scores, but then what would that say about me?  You’d say I’ve been drinking some strange Kool-Aid.  When people are doing a good job, I tell them.  If people are doing a poor job, I tell them.  If you don’t want an honest answer, don’t ask the question.

Does anyone out there have a recommendation for an objective (versus subjective) performance scoring?  What about ideas to motivate those who do not motivate easily?

5 Replies to “Performance assessment and drinking Kool-Aid”

  1. In a situation where a subordinate responds with questioning of their score, two thoughts come to my mind:

    1) This reinforces research that shows people do not often respond well to being labeled or boiled down to a number. This can often completely derail the discussion and result in negative instead of positive outcomes.

    2) At some point in time, the manager’s performance expectations and the employee’s understanding of them fell out of sync.

    This can happen for any number of reasons, but I often find it is due to infrequent conversations about performance, i.e. the annual performance review.

    For reasons rooted both in personal experience as both subordinate and manager as well as various research I’ve read on the topic, I am rather averse to the whole system of formalized performance reviews.

    Esther Derby has been very helpful for me on this subject…

    http://www.estherderby.com/tag/annual-reviews

    Here are a number of other links I’ve found of interest on the subject of performance reviews and motivation…

    http://tinyurl.com/5j6vrt

    http://tinyurl.com/y9xyg3p

    http://tinyurl.com/nfxme9

    http://tinyurl.com/yfkj37h

    http://tinyurl.com/ybd43my

    http://tinyurl.com/c4uuua

    1. Josh, thank you for this very thought out comment and for the links. I agree with you that the infrequent review was the primary culprit here. But what bothered me was the complete disconnect by the subordinate. Though I do commonly provide constructive verbal praise and criticism, this is the first time I had to formalize it. The fact that I have provided any form of criticism in the past would lead many to believe they are not a 10 out of 10. If you get 10 out of 10, you are clearly exceeding my expectations. With 5 out of 10, you are still meeting them. Fall below that and you are clearly not meeting my expectations.

      I’m certainly going to read your included links at length. I want to be fair to my subordinates but I want to be honest with myself.

  2. In a situation where a subordinate responds with questioning of their score, two thoughts come to my mind:

    1) This reinforces research that shows people do not often respond well to being labeled or boiled down to a number. This can often completely derail the discussion and result in negative instead of positive outcomes.

    2) At some point in time, the manager’s performance expectations and the employee’s understanding of them fell out of sync.

    This can happen for any number of reasons, but I often find it is due to infrequent conversations about performance, i.e. the annual performance review.

    For reasons rooted both in personal experience as both subordinate and manager as well as various research I’ve read on the topic, I am rather averse to the whole system of formalized performance reviews.

    Esther Derby has been very helpful for me on this subject…

    http://www.estherderby.com/tag/annual-reviews

    Here are a number of other links I’ve found of interest on the subject of performance reviews and motivation…

    http://tinyurl.com/5j6vrt

    http://tinyurl.com/y9xyg3p

    http://tinyurl.com/nfxme9

    http://tinyurl.com/yfkj37h

    http://tinyurl.com/ybd43my

    http://tinyurl.com/c4uuua

    1. Josh, thank you for this very thought out comment and for the links. I agree with you that the infrequent review was the primary culprit here. But what bothered me was the complete disconnect by the subordinate. Though I do commonly provide constructive verbal praise and criticism, this is the first time I had to formalize it. The fact that I have provided any form of criticism in the past would lead many to believe they are not a 10 out of 10. If you get 10 out of 10, you are clearly exceeding my expectations. With 5 out of 10, you are still meeting them. Fall below that and you are clearly not meeting my expectations.

      I’m certainly going to read your included links at length. I want to be fair to my subordinates but I want to be honest with myself.

  3. You’re correct. In that case, the bell curve would not be a fair representation. But, many managers or team leaders don’t do the hiring. Three levels up the organization, Human Resources sourced the people. Those people were sent to the project, based on labor category. In all honesty, HR doesn’t always hire the best people. Sometimes, they hire those who look good on paper, are paid a low wage, and are billed at a higher rate. To those not dealing with the day to day complexities, they thought they made a good decision. Instead, I would rather find good culture fits. But, that would be an ideal situation and they blog post I wrote was not ideal. It was the reality of the time. Since that post was written, the individual in question was fired.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *