More conversations and less evaluations

Some things are hard to get rid of :  fruit flies, autumn rain, the Kardashians, litter, your yearly evaluation.

Why would you give a score to your team members ?

It’s not crazy to wonder why organisations still hold on to this concept.

Research has long proven that both managers and their teams consider it a waste of time and money. Scores only work as a demotivating factor and have zero positive effect on performance.

Yet managers are obliged to keep handing them out as it is supposed to be a transparent and objective to decide who deserves a bonus or salary increase. However, by linking a score to a financial reward, you are making things for you and your team even more complicated.  

It is safe to say that most employees simply do what’s expected of them and in general deserve an average score. But who gets a kick out of a ‘mere’ average score ? 

Let’s face it : “Average” is considered “mediocre”.

Do not try this at home 

Have you ever had to assess a team yourself ? Give it a try…

If you don’t lead a team today, image that you need to rate all the people you share a living space with on what they have done over the past year.

And beware : you can’t just take their results into account.

It isn't enough to stipulate how often did they take out the garbage on time or dropped their dirty clothes in the right laundry basket. You also need to consider their attitude and behaviour : how often did they complain, did they come up with ideas to improve things around the house ?

When you are through with that, you need to invite the neighbours for a calibration meeting : you want to avoid that Jo from across the street scored his family too severely and that Jill next door wasn’t overly generous.

In order to prepare for this discussion, you double check what a perfect Gauss-curve is supposed to look like. When you put the results of all the teams’ scores together you should get a beautiful bell shape. If that is not the case, you will need to coax your neighbours into reviewing their scores.  

When this step is behind you, you are ready to start the conversation with your team members.  Now you have two options : you can first announce the score and then try to explain how you came to that decision or you can first put your arguments on the table and leave the score for last. 

Either way, the result is the same :  the only thing of interest to your team member is the score and the rest will barely sink in anyway. 

How transparent and objective was all of that ? Not very, because you have decided single handedly what score you’d allot. Perhaps your neighbours were able to exert some influence on you but in the end the score is what it is and all you can do is try and hide behind so called objectieve criteria.

However, those were determined beforehand. Not an easy task : you need to take the complexity of someone’s job into account, consider an environment that changes quickly (one small virus in March can annihilate January’s success of last year’s objectives), customers who suddenly come up with new requirements and aggressive competitors.

A performance cycle of one year, won’t cut it any longer

The better plan

It’s no secret …  do at work like you you do at home :  respond in real time. Good managers have an ongoing dialogue with their team members throughout the year about how they perform, what is working well and what could be better.

Continuous feedback increases performance and job satisfaction and decreases the chance to get a burn-out. 

Feedback doen’t need to take hours but it does require that you know what keeps your team busy. You might need to be more present and spend less time in meetings.

Perhaps the ‘presence’ part is extra challenging in these days of generalised and increased teleworking but that does’t mean you can ‘check out’,  you still need to stay close to your people, truly listen to them and give them support where needed.  

That is easier said than done for some managers. Score-cards, analyses and administratieve procedures give them a  false feeling of security

They will need to replace all that with inspiration, motivation, confrontation and freedom. These elements don’t have a place in a scoring procedure.

A useful conversation

That doesn’t mean you can fall back on informal feedback alone.  A couple of times a year it is useful to have a more formal conversation. 

If the collaboration with a team member isn’t working out as you had hoped for, you will need to address it.  Sure, it’s possible to quickly explain someone why you are not satisfied with their performance but at a certain moment, you will have to sit around the table and set up an improvement plan.

Team members benefit from a formal conversation as well. It offers an opportunity to take some distance from their daily grind and look in the past and towards the future together with their manager.

If you disconnect this conversation from an evaluation it is so much easier for a team member to admit what (s)he finds difficult, or highlight what (s)he is doing for the organisation. That opens the door to communicating what you’d like to receive in return. 

We are aware it isn’t what you’d call ‘breaking news’ but it doesn’t hurt to offer a reminder : if you want to motivate your team to perform well, get rid of scores, promote a continuous dialogue between managers and team members and have at least one formal discussion about how people see themselves evolve in their job. 

If you do have to go through a traditional performance review, don’t hesitate to consult this e-book filled with practical tips.


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