I found this article by Professor Samuel Culbert some time ago and ended up buying his book (on which the article is based).
As a manager, I’ve recently had to use HR’s latest attempt at a performance review approach on some of my staff and am preparing for my overdue review with my own manager. This article is me getting out of my system (hopefully) my negativity about the process.
So we have a set of competencies. We’re supposed to show how we’re living up to these at the required level. Let me just say it: it’s a vague bunch of nonsense which for the most part would be next to impossible to objectively agree that I’ve lived up to. So, as Professor Culbert notes in the article and his book, the review is going to be subjective.
Let’s pick out some of the gems and have some fun!
“Create partnerships and an environment where ideas are encouraged and valued, and support for plans is achieved.”
Did I mention that my employer is “Utopia Inc”? This is like a new years’ resolution – made with the best intentions but frequently not achieved due to the fact that this is not an ideal world. Of course I try to encourage ideas but as a middle manager a) not many people below me have good ideas due to their level or even lack of interest and b) senior management don’t have the time or detailed knowledge to assess/action ideas but won’t empower middle managers to drive change directly.
There’s a bigger issue with encouraging ideas though. Unfortunately, an idea often introduces the notion that existing practice is flawed. Try telling your boss that he could run his business better. For that matter, try telling anyone above you how to do his/her job. Prof. Culbert talks in his book about the lack of honest feedback which the performance review fosters.
“Progress business goals while retaining good relationships.”
I find I can do both, but quite often not at the same time. As managers generally do not reinforce (or are not given detailed awareness of) goals and don’t network among themselves, they end up working in silos and diverging away from common goals and end up at odds with one another. Working in such an atmosphere, staff (including the lower managers) cannot progress business goals. The two sides of this statement are therefore often at odds.
I had a case recently where another manager (“A”) decided to change something that he felt would progress a business goal. However, “A” didn’t consult with other managers whose own business goals with the same root were put at risk. Interestingly, some would share in the benefit from the actions of “A”, although in my case there was going to be a cost both monetary and in terms of ongoing staff time. Long story short: I have not retained a good relationship with “A”. (And “A” has thrown the performance review competencies in my face in response to my honest feedback, despite his own contrary behavior – also see next heading.)
“Don’t push decisions through without buy-in.”
The problem with this one is that people just don’t want to buy in, often without any valid reason. They resist change and don’t want their job to get harder (normally because they weren’t doing it right before). Even when you show them a change will make life easier they don’t always buy in. People are swallowed up by fear of the unknown.
Working in finance, decisions often have to be imposed on, rather than agreed with, the rest of the company. Considerable effort is put into accommodating business needs and providing practical solutions to achieve buy-in, but sometimes we all have to bear the pain.
“Listen to others.”
I try, I really do. The problem is, they often talk such crap! Okay, let’s not call it crap. Let’s call it ‘irrelevance’. I seem to be mainly surrounded by people who like the sound of their own voice but don’t really have much of a contribution.
One of my pet hates linked to this is people who interrupt when you are speaking. What I hate even more is that I let them do this. I’ll confess though that I do sometimes interrupt others, linked to them quoting irrelevant information or background you already know.
“There’s a time for talk and a time for action. So you shut up while I walk out!” :O
“Be a role model for staff by demonstrating expected standards.”
What? Well clearly I make every effort to cover that. That’s my subjective opinion anyway. The ‘expected standards’ are what I decide, as it’s not particularly clear what standard the company expects. So I apply my personal standard to be as good as you can without losing your mind (completely).
“Ensure meetings are focused on outcomes.”
I assume this is only for meetings I organize/request, as I don’t think I can be blamed for the focus of meetings called by others. I tend to decline or ask for clarity when a meeting is requested by someone else (unless I’m already fully aware of the issues and agree a meeting would be productive).
Meetings here are normally because you’ve already told someone ‘no’ (and explained why, after considering their argument) and they are hoping that face-to-face they can cajole/bully you into doing what they want.
“Don’t disrespect colleagues.”
This amuses me. It’s all-encompassing, so I can’t even have a disrespectful thought? Also, what is disrespect? It’s not disrespectful to criticise someone if you have valid (although possibly subjective) reasons for doing so. I’d prefer “Criticism should be constructive and delivered tactfully with empathy.” Prof. Culbert reflects this in his book.
“Ensure adequate planning and timely delivery.”
The only reason I fail to plan adequately or deliver on time is because I’m overloaded. If I stop to plan, even more will get delivered late. It’s a noble aim, but requires realism from those setting targets.
“Lead on resolving conflict when necessary.”
Yes, sometimes people need their heads banging together, but I need to do that while retaining good relationships and without disrespecting those involved. Did I mention that people rarely get fired in this place? (That’s why I’m still here.)
“Never say ‘That’s not my job’.”
If I never said that, half the people here would be out of one. I often do things that aren’t my job. People see me as a knowledgeable guy, and I do like to put that knowledge to good use by helping others. But I don’t have time to do all I can – to do so I would risk ‘timely delivery’ of my actual job. I’d prefer something like “Be prepared to go the extra mile”.