Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Coping with Performance Review Anxiety

This is again the time of the year for Annual Performance reviews that usually act as the career-building exercise in Organizations. This is one of the times of the year, when there is lot of activity on both sides- for managers and employees.

During this time frame, employees try to be pleasing the managers keeping their ‘I’ factor aside so that what is fresh do not stay in the Manager’s mind during the D-Day that they wait all year long. Managers having the burden and anxiety to complete the process, hear to end less emotional outburst and keeping in pace with the facts/ details struggling to do justice to both their employees and other factors including Organizational Performance, account related budgetary constraints, identifying right talents and skills sets, giving due recognition amidst their own anxiety of this process with their managers. This struggle and anxiety is like in the food chain. Being in the top of food chain like said in the “Lion King’ movie gives managers an advantage of having the end word and keeps employees either motivated or otherwise depending on how they handle this whole process. Ultimately this is the time the either strengthen or damage the ‘Manager-Employee’ relationship in the organization and caution have to be adhered to for the benefit of the Organization.

Good preparation is the key for Performance Review discussions and they help the team performance taking it to the next level of growth for the projects and improve the relationship within the team members and those between the employee and the managers as well.

This whole exercise is highly stressful especially for the managers who have multiple reports and every member of the team have to be reviewed separately. Not carefully planned process can result in burnout for managers and displeasing results for employees. One year when I had close to 10+ direct reports to review, I ended up with weeks of planning, paper work, thinking and rethinking and in an ardent quest to strike a right balance. So can imagine the stress for managers having a bigger number.

Advice for Managers

What manages should remember is that though the process is stressful, with each of the employee, the process is critical and sensitive for them and it is one time exercise in a year that we all have to go through. Having multiple reviews to do, and having back to back sessions do not only result in a burn out for the manager, but also would lose the required energy and attention that is required to be given. Careful planning and giving time to think between meetings on the person on focus is very important not to give biased opinions that may ruin the whole process. The awareness that this is a nervous time for the employee who slog all through the year for some betterment in life and in career have to be heard genuinely.

It is very easy to keep a set of perceptions, organizational objectives, corporate strategy and self- advancement career path and go by those perceptions in your discussion. It is required to keep a caution on these factors and focus on the goals that have been set for the employee and review based on those goals and not just towards the events that happened at the end of the year. Any statistical data like the number of tasks completed, managed and efficiently done, appreciation or escalations received by the employee, financial impact of the performance in the organizational/project/program objectives become very key and important yardstick to measure performance.

There can be non-subjective factors like team work, attitude, client relationship etc. which can be considered. Non-objective yardsticks like how close you are to the employee outside office, how many times we had coffee together, family friendships, will the employee listen to whatever I say, and other actual factors that today hinder genuine discussions in the organizations have to be curtailed and purely controlled for the benefit of all. Evaluation employees based on the needs as a manager in the process of sharing the pie share that you have is a very common process in the corporates today. At the same time evaluation based on full year’s performance and based on their strengths, weaknesses and improvement areas will benefit the organizations in the long run.

Discussions often circle around the most recent past and it makes the key factor in decision making which is actually tough to stop but that should be made only one area of discussion and this should be the time to show appreciation on the good things done in the past and also provide guidance on the areas of improvement.

The important last word would be, Performance review is to be based only on employee performance and as one time measurement of what is achieved and what is not. Also important to plan the next year, discussion compensation and growth of the employee without any false promises or fake discussions that would surely motivate employees and would let them appreciate the management for their sensibility, professionalism and sensitivity in dealing with People…..After all, what you are working with are human beings…and not machines! Proudly called ‘Human Potential’!

Advice for Employees

The very important thing for the employees is to focus on the purpose of the review that includes goals review and performance objectives. Having details is important but getting too much into it would be a draining situation for both you and your manager, especially when you don’t arrive in consensus and end up in arguments. Having facts and entering into a healthy discussion is important for it is only between YOU and YOUR Manager. There should be no third party in this relationship. It is all about how you performed, where you failed and where you need to contribute and what you need to do to grow in the organization. It is like talking to a priest for god’s blessings???? Is it not??? Ending up in courter and useless arguments and debating with manager really will lead nowhere.

It is important to do your homework and be prepared to back up your proposal for your growth and good performance rating. Instead of giving a general note, it is important to have track of the specific details. And above all having clarity in your career goals is important and having achieved them gives you confidence to this whole process. To understand what was expected, what was performed and what is not achieved gives you a clear conscience of what you could be rated as. Anything away from your own assessment, is a probable result of other factors not within your line of control, probably within or without your Manager’s line of control of things as well. This means, fretting about the results that happened for what you are not responsible is being foolish. You would have given 100% but the project could have failed for so many other reasons.

Self-confidence, integrity and honest approach, on either side give a true meaning to this whole process. Any deliberate flaws will only result in employee attrition and dissatisfied managers resulting in draining away Organization’s best talents and causing unwanted financial impact and growth. So coping up with this anxious period with due caution is very important for the benefit of all concerned.

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