Performance assessment and drinking Kool-Aid

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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?

Mitigated Speech and Project Negotiations

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Try thisMitigated speech is a linguistic term describing deferential or indirect speech inherent in communication between individuals of perceived High Power Distance.

The term was recently popularized by Malcolm Gladwell in his book, Outliers, where he defines mitigated speech as “any attempt to downplay or sugarcoat the meaning of what is being said”. He described 6 degrees of mitigation with which we make suggestions to authority:

1. Command – “Implement this

2. Team Obligation Statement – “We need to try this

3. Team Suggestion – “Why don’t we try this?”

4. Query – “Do you think this would help us in this situation?”

5. Preference – “Perhaps we should take a look at this an an alternative”

6. Hint – “I wonder if we will run into any issues by following our current process”

As I observe the command and communication structure between a PMO and its members and contractors, I have the opportunity to witness mitigated speech every day.  Being direct (command) doesn’t always work.  People need to learn to be flexible in their requests and negotiations if they have the hope those in power will implement new strategies.  Additionally, learn to read those around you to know what degree of mitigation you will use IF you intend to use it.

As I read Outliers, I started to think of the relationship between mitigated speech and Appendix G.8 (negotiation) of the PMBoK.

Negotiation is a strategy of conferring with parties of shared or opposed interests with a view of compromise or reach an agreement.  Negotiation is an integral part of project management and when done well, increases the probability of project success.

The following skills and behaviors are useful in negotiating successfully:

  • Analyze the situation.
  • Differentiate between wants and needs – both yours and theirs.
  • Focus on interests and issues rather that on positions.
  • Ask high and offer low, but be realistic.
  • When you make a concession, act as if you are yielding something of value, don’t just give in.
  • Always make sure both parties feel as if they have won.  This is a win-win negotiation.  Never let the other party leave feeling as if he or she has been taken advantage of.
  • Do a good job of listening and articulating.

To summarize, stride to be a win-win negotiator and be aware of the mitigated speech you are using to conduct your negotiations.