Professional Validation

I don’t normally read WSJ, but a colleague – who was not on my side on this issue – brought me this article this morning called “Get Rid of the Performance Review!”

Two years ago, I had a pretty big temper tantrum, threw our system out the window and started over. My boss is an indulgent guy. As Culbert points out in the article, our salary increases were/are more a matter of budget and market than performance.

Our employment attorney told me that annual reviews hurt a case at least as often as they helped. After “interviewing” a whole bunch of manager-types, I came up with something rather similar to what this writer, Samuel Culbert discusses:

“The Solution: Performance previews instead of reviews. In contrast to one-side-accountable reviews, performance previews are reciprocally accountable discussions about how boss and employee are going to work together even more effectively than they did in the past. Previews weld fates together. The boss’s skin is now in the game.”

Our top managers bought it. I can’t say “embraced”, because it is still viewed as an annual pain in the neck. But most of them still prefer it to rating people on a scale of 1 to 10.

We had less of the “make the supervisor accountable for the employee’s performance” and more of the “empower the employee to talk about his personal and professional needs”. But we completely shifted our focus from a discussion of the past year to a discussion of the next year.

This time around, we had a relatively new employee say that she loves her job today but is working toward a degree in Accounting and her long term goal is to transfer to our Accounting department. Good thing to know. Even when the news isn’t what you want to hear, we should still be honest and respectful of each other. That way, when we come to the end of the line, we can feel good about the fact that is no-fault. We can still be in a good place. Keeping a good employee happy for two years and then having to replace her is way better than having a cranky underperformer for a decade.

One place where I diverged from Culbert is the question of when there is a performance problem. He says, in part:

“It’s the boss’s responsibility to find a way to work well with an imperfect individual, not to convince the individual there are critical flaws that need immediate correcting, which is all but guaranteed to lead to unproductive game playing and politically inspired back-stabbing.”

True enough. But sometimes there really is no alternative. My answer is that this is a different conversation, different documentation, different process completely. And the managers are charged with staying on top of that. Because while I am not a traditional HR enforcer, and we do not have strict policies for “Disciplinary Action”, I will recommend against an employment termination when I am not satisfied that the employee had knowledge of the expectations, was provided the tools to succeed and was aware of the consequences of failure. Generally, that means documentation in the file.

Corporate cultures are all different. What works for one company doesn’t necessarily work for the next. But I was very pleased to have this validation.

Again, if you would like to read the article in its entirety, you can find it here. I only read a handful of the comments, but they looked pretty charged to me.

Happy Monday!

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