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Employment, Hiring, Management Theory, Test Management

Your Review Process is Hurting Performance

“Q: What are the three signs[ of a Miserable Job]?

  • The first is anonymity, which is the feeling that employees get when they realize that their manager has little interest in them a human being and that they know little about their lives, their aspirations and their interests.
  • The second sign is irrelevance, which takes root when employees cannot see how their job makes a difference in the lives of others. Every employee needs to know that the work they do impacts someone’s life–a customer, a co-worker, even a supervisor–in one way or another.
  • The third sign is something I call “immeasurement,” which is the inability of employees to assess for themselves their contribution or success. Employees who have no means of measuring how well they are doing on a given day or in a given week, must rely on the subjective opinions of others, usually their managers’, to gauge their progress or contribution.”

from an interview with Patrick Lencioni

So what does the above quote have to do with our performance review, you might be asking.  Well hopefully that’s what you’re asking.  You might be asking yourself what an essentially useless activity you and your team are forced to conduct semi or annually solely for the purpose of arguing about who should get more, less, or the same amount of money has to do with performance.  If you are, please stop reading.  You’ve just answered the question for yourself.  In your case performance is harmed because you and your team are being asked to stop all productive work just so you can devote a week to two weeks (or possibly more) filling out forms and completing online surveys about why you aren’t more productive and why the guy sitting next to you is driving you insane because he keeps popping his knuckles.

In your case just stop doing the performance reviews all together and move on with your life.  Base any bonuses or promotions on what you’ve actually done for the company and call it a day.  If the team has a kick ass year, hand out a few checks.  Or better yet, have a kick ass party somewhere to thank everyone.  At one company we did an amazing job with our launched product.  It was more successful than anyone had ever imagined.  That year upper management used some of the extra money to rent an entire private beach front hotel in Mexico and stock it with all the food and drink we could consume for a week.  Was that a good bonus in comparison to a check?  Let me put it this way, that happened about a decade ago and I still talk about it.  The bonus checks and stock awards are soon out of mind and out of sight nearly as soon as they’re awarded.

Yeah … lying on a beach in Mexico with a whole passel of computer geeks just as hung over, flabby, and sun-burned as me.  Good times.

So for everyone else, what’s wrong?  You are supposed to be doing this activity which helps people become better and move forward in their careers.  You honestly want to do this because you care.  It also helps retain employees who know they’ve got somewhere to go.  You’ve purchased the software.  You’ve read the books.  You’ve attended the training about “SMART goals” and “360 reviews” and “stack ranking” but it still feels like a chore to you.  It seems like every year you pull up the documents you painstakingly wrote the year before only to feel that sinking realization we all feel.  Most of what’s listed there is either out of date, unrelated to the work now, or makes absolutely no sense to you now.  So now you have to map out the things your team did this year that “rocked” and the things that were “lame” (you can take the boy out of the Seattle grunge scene, but you can’t take the grunge scene out of the boy it would appear) and somehow map them to what you promised.  That sinking feeling you experience is partly the knowledge of this task ahead, but also the absolute certainty you are going to run smack into the Dunning-Kruger effect or the self-serving attributional bias even if you are not a manager or lead.  If you’re even mildly empathetic you’ll probably also be aware of how seemingly purposeless this whole exercise seems.  The only thing people argue with passion seems to be whether or not they deserve a 5% or an 8% bonus or raise.  It will often feel like this is an excuse for the employee to demand more money and the employer to demand less money.  In short it feels like the initial salary negotiation has been converted into an annual event, sort of a masochistic bank holiday.

Why is this?  Does it have to be this way?

No.  No it doesn’t.  However the alternative is very very hard.  I’m not kidding.  It’s hard because it involves a radical shift in how you view your work and your employees.  Most people and companies don’t want to make this shift because … well … not to put too much emphasis on this, but it’s hard.  The answer directly addresses the three states of being listed by Lencioni in the quote I listed above and in his excellent book, The Three Signs of a Miserable Job: A Fable for Managers (And Their Employees) which I also linked above.

I’m bringing this up because of this blog post by Mario Moreira.  I really hate to pick on him but I can’t help it.  He just makes it too easy.  He seems to recognize there is a problem with trying to define someone as a role and base their performance goals on that alone.  He wants to somehow personalize the process.  Unfortunately he appears both in his article and in our subsequent chats on LinkedIn to fall short because … it’s hard to do it the right way.

So in honor of Mario and his compatriots who want to do more of the same because what they’re doing now isn’t working, get ready for another multi-part entry from yours’ truly.

Bacon.

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About cowboytesting

Hi. My name is Curtis S, and I'm a tester.

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