“No wind is favourable to he who knows not where he is going!”. We owe this maxim to Seneca, Roman politician, statesman and stoic philosopher and this maxim still applies today to all interested in the question of effectiveness, especially if you consider effectiveness through the lens of the annual appraisal process.
All companies have an annual appraisal process of one form or another and all HR managers in charge of managing this process constantly seek to improve the process and make it more effective.
To my mind, the key way of making the annual performance appraisal process effective is by applying Seneca’s maxim so that the appraisal process is considered not as a way of evaluating past performance but as a way of setting the direction towards future performance. Managers and team members should have a few simple rules in mind before they sit down to perform what some consider to be a chore.
However, even more important is the nature of the relationship between manager and team member. To produce effectiveness, managers and team members need to go beyond the process and synchronize their relationship so that both adopt effective winning behaviours and mindsets to form a winning team. Here are some rules and tips to help managers and team members synchronize in a one-team way.
Rule 1: Know where you’re going
Simply put, the first rule in performing the annual review effectively is knowing where you both want to go. This seems common sense but quite often, managers and team members don’t take the time to set a clear course of action together at year start and spend all the time reviewing what went wrong the previous year. This is because some managers see the process as an evaluation of past results and indeed, the name given to the process “annual appraisal process” or “annual performance review” reveals the spirit in which some companies and/or managers promote the process.
One of the consequences of promoting the process as an evaluation of past results and rear view mirror approach is that managers and team members wait and wait and wait until the end of year to review results. Given that they perceive the process as a type of exam, anyone who has ever sat an exam will always remember that you only correct the exam at the end of the examination period and not while the person is actually answering the questions. However, if the goal is to build a winning mindset between manager and team member, the purpose should be to ensure that all the questions are answered correctly and not to see who gets 100% of the questions right. That makes a big difference.
Rule 2: Focus on future results, not on past performance
Managing performance and especially performance effectiveness is not about looking in the rear-view mirror and telling someone where they went wrong in the hope that in the coming year, they will correct their behaviour. Such a view is like shutting the stable door when the horse has already bolted! Because at the end of the day, the team member will have underperformed and everyone loses: team member, manager, company. The goal is to set a course of action for the team member to follow and to ensure he/she has all that is required to chart a course to success. That’s another big difference.
Rule 3: Think Win-Win
If we consider that the goal is effectiveness and higher performance, results should always be positive and therefore, the annual review should be focused on future results and what course of action the team member should take to achieve those results, how the manager can support him to deliver to expectations, what means and resources he needs to deliver. This means that the manager should be constantly working throughout the year to build a win-win partnership to support and coach the team member so that he/she can implement the course of action effectively and reach the desired goal. This means that at the end of the year, the discussion on the previous year’s performance should be very short and there should be no surprises, given that manager and team member have worked throughout the year in a win-win partnership to deliver the results. That again is another big difference.
Rule 4: Think long-term performance!
To help team members deliver effective performance, managers need to focus not only on the short term but also on the long term. This means setting some objectives which will not deliver immediate results but which will take on board the team members own personal career development objectives. Focusing only on the short term may be good for the manager but not good for the business long term if the team member doesn’t have a perspective which extends beyond the immediate horizon. It won’t be good for the employee either who needs a long term view on where his career is going. Thinking long-term reinforces the link between manager and team member.
Rule 5: Seek to empower
Peter Drucker defined efficiency as doing things right and effectiveness as doing the right things. In an ever-evolving business environment, team members must be more and more proactive and adapt objectives according to changes so that they are not only doing things the right way but doing right things. It’s no good doing things right if those things no longer meet business needs. Effectiveness therefore involves making choices and prioritizing actions between different competing and/or conflicting goals. Managers must constantly empower team members to make these choices and be responsible for these choices because if not, the ship will lose its “manoeuvrability” and flexibility if everyone has to wait for the captain to decide. Again, if team members understand that they can decide for themselves nd their managers trust their decisions, this will reinforce synchronicity and shared sense of purpose.
So in the light of Seneca’s advice, here are some tips for participating in the annual performance review for managers and team members in a synchronized way:
Tips for managers seeking to synchronize with team members:
1) At year start, set a clear direction for your team member through some SMART objectives where:
S = specific
M = Measurable
A = attainable and ambitious
R = realistic
T = Time-focused
2) Think Win-Win. The purpose of the discussion is to plan ahead so that the team member understands:
– Where he/she is going
– Why he/she needs to go there (link to team objectives and business objectives)
– How he/she will go there (what resources he needs, what training & developmen will help)
– Who will help him/her get here (what objectives he shares with other team members, roles & responsibiliies)
– What obstacles he/she needs to avoid (the do’s and don’ts, the dangers and risks, etc.)
– What support you as manager will provide along the way
– Don’t forget that what counts is the quality of the relationship and the partnership with your team member and not blindly following the process.
3) Clarify roles & responsibilities: the whole is greater than the sum of the parts
– To be effective, team members need to see the bigger picture. They need to know their own objectives and also those of team members
4) Give constant feedback throughout the year
– Constantly give clear feedback to the team member as the year progresses to align the behaviour to expectations
– Constantly update the team member on changes to company/team objectives so that the team member can adapt course of action accordingly
– If company strategy changes, don’t hesitate to change the objectives, even if this means starting again.
5) Be decisive
– Don’t wait until it’s too late to realign objectives. A quick “bad” decision is always better than no decision. A quick “bad” decision can be corrected as you go. A good decision taken too late cannot.
6) Explain the rules of the game: you build the road as you go
– Managers often take for granted that team members understand the rules of the game. In a future-focused approach, team members need to understand that they need to work continuously with managers as the year progresses and that the road is built as they go.
7) Empower team members to act within the scope of their responsibilities
– Encourage team members to act within their area of responsibility
– Promote a no blame culture
– Reward risk taking. It’s better to act and correct as you go than not act for fear of failure
– Remove obstacles to action
– Condemn openly all individual strategies which encourage risk avoidance or “sitting on the fence”.
Tips for team members seeking to synchronize with their manager
1) Be proactive:
– Seek to understand the company and team strategy
– Don’t wait for your manager to set your objectives. Propose your objectives and be ready to defend them.
– Be flexible. If your manager sets other objectives, accept them gladly while seeking to see the bigger picture.
2) Be SMART
– Seek to get SMART objectives from your manager with clear deliverables and deadlines. Know where you’re going.
– Don’t forget your day-to-day activities which need to be done and are the bedrock on which smart objectives are set.
3) See the bigger picture
– Clarify your role and responsibilities with your manager
– Seek to understand the team objectives and how you contribute to team objectives
4) Think short-term & long-term
– Balance short-term objectives with objectives which are more long-term. Producing short-term results are no good if it means sawing the branch on which you are sitting.
5) Seek to develop you skills aligned to business needs
– Seek to develop your skills through training, coaching, support from your manager, new projects, by doing
– Set personal training and deveopment goals which support short-term and long term business objectives
6) Think Win-Win
– Everybody wants to win and nobody sets out to fail. It’s in your manager’s interest for you to win. Seek to set up and maintain a win-win partnership throughout the year.
– Constantly update your manager on your progress, formally or informally.
– Be transparent and open. Don’t keep your manager in the dark.
– When in trouble, get support early. Don’t let a small problem become a big one.
– Remember that what counts is the quality of the partnership between you and your manager. Don’t execute the process blindly. Seek to maintain a positive relationship with your manager.
7) Seek to be empowered
– Seek and accept responsibility for results.
– Don’t be afraid to decide. A “poor” decision is always better than no decision.
– Don’t sit on the fence. Participate actively.
– Seek to help your team members achieve their objectives.
– Propose solutions, not problems.
– Update your manager continuously and seek out his support. There should never be any surprises.
So a piece of advice first offered more than 2000 years ago is still relevant today. Empires come and go, civilizations change, cultures change, technology changes but the need for adopting effective behaviours remains the same throughout the ages. Above all, effectiveness through the annual performance review process requires managers and team members to synchronize their behaviours and mindsets so that they adopt together a win-win relationship. The annual appraisal process is important in driving results. What is even more important is the quality of the manager-team member relationship and how both synchronize together to build a One-Team partnership.