You might call it something different; but whatever you call it, you know what it is:
- Performance Management
- Performance Reviews
- Performance Assessments
- Performance Evaluations
- Performance Appraisals
These are ubiquitous in organizational life; so much so that they are typically greeted with apathy, cynicism or even disdain. In fact, few things in organizational life are more common or more complained about than the performance review.
There are reasons for the disdain, displeasure and disappointment in these processes. While fundamentally they are implemented for good reasons, there is a serious problem that starts with the language.
In this process, whatever you call it; the performance in question is the performance of the receiver of this process. While you may be a leader or supervisor delivering these messages, you have also been the receiver, right?
Let me ask you this:
- Do you like to be appraised (have the quality and nature of your work estimated)?
- Do you like to be evaluated (to be judged or have someone determine the significance, worth, or quality of you and your work)?
- Do you like to be assessed (to be estimated or judged as to your value, character, etc.)?
- Do you like to be reviewed (to be inspected, especially officially and/or formally)?
- Do you like to be managed (To be taken charge or care of)?
Words do matter.
While performance management may exist in your organization now because of routine or habit (“We’ve always done it.” ) or best practices (That is what real organizations do.”), the underlying reason was sound. It goes something like this: We need to focus on important things, and the performance of our people is important. We should review and help them see where they stand.
It is all well and good, but it misses the biggest point, because the focus here is on what the organization “needs” or “wants.” Fundamentally this logic flows from the focus on managing resources (in this case people): to take charge of, to control, to manage.
I propose there lies the biggest problem.
If we are really trying to manage, evaluate, assess, appraise or review, we aren’t focusing on the performer at all.
Shouldn’t the real goal be about helping the performer know where they are, and how to improve and become a more valuable and productive part of the organization?
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And if you make that your goal, won’t the organization get what it needs too (better results)?
Yes and yes.
If you agree, there are two major shifts required:
- Change the language – How about performance development?
- Change the time horizon – Make it as much about the future as about the past. (If all we do is review the past, where is the connection to improvement for the future?)
Hopefully you see my point and agree. And if you do, you may be thinking that is great, but I live in an organization that . . . (insert your cynicism and negativity here).
While that may be true, you as an individual leader can focus on the person more, and you can help them focus on improvement, growth and development – using past results as context for future improvement. Your decision can be independent of your organization’s process.
Yes, there is more to all of this than changing some words; but the rest of the changes won’t come until the foundational principles shift. And you can start that for yourself and your team today.
So let go of performance management, and embrace performance development. The change all starts there.