A reader reported that the “Motivation: Intentions, Goals and Plans” chapter of my book, The Peaceful Warrior’s Path, triggered memories and painful feelings about performance reviews.
That set me to thinking that the cause of much of the trouble with performance assessment as a part of performance management was psychology and mindset about criticism, coupled with organizational and personal resistance to addressing those issues.
A recent Harvard Business Review article pointed out that
“Performance reviews are awkward. They’re biased. They stick us in boxes and leave us waiting far too long for feedback. It’s no surprise that by the end of 2015, at least 30 of the Fortune 500 companies had ditched performance evaluations altogether. But let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater.”
My reader, a financial professional with a decades long career, reexperienced anxiety about being found deficient, reinforcing her need for perfection and acceptance by others, highlighting weakness and imperfection. Embarrassment, financial, and career consequences, circled in her mind.
As a result, she was triggered by the thought of setting goals and objectives. In her experience they were often unrealistic and rigid.
Others report a sense that they are being evaluated without adequate objective criteria and by people who are biased and, in some cases, unqualified, unprepared, or uninterested. Often the goals and objectives, even those set by the individual performer, are rigid and not adjusted when conditions change.
The Benefits of Performance Reviews
But let’s not just jettison performance goals, objectives, and assessments. Let’s make the best of them, to use them for personal growth and organizational success.
The HBR authors reported that at Facebook “a survey of more than 300 people found that “87% of people wanted to keep performance ratings.”
They realized the need for candid feedback to give employees a sense of where they stand in the eyes of their organization and what they need to improve, and to give the organization knowledge of employee performance to support training, compensation, and hiring decisions.
Add to that the benefits, clarity of purpose and direction, which come from establishing rational expectations in the form of goals and objectives.
What Gets in The Way?
But something gets in the way. Not every organization is as wise as Facebook about optimizing their performance assessment process, including setting, and adjusting goals.
When I look at the issue from a project management perspective, I see three predominant causes of unskillful performance assessment: lack of clear goals and objectives, psychological/mindset issues, and poor process.
In this article we home in on the psychological issues and how they impact and are impacted by the other causes.
Psychology, Mindset, and Performance
There has been resistance to addressing psychological issues in the workplace. But we do well to be aware of these issues because individual psychology influences behavior and behavior influences performance and relationships.
The interplay among individual psychological tendencies and mindsets, cultural and organizational norms, and self-awareness influences performance and makes for a complex system. In a complex system change anywhere can have an impact everywhere.
For example, a project team member may make decisions influenced by fear of upsetting the functional manager who will give her the next review. Another performer may avoid committing to goals and objectives to avoid imagined failure. A project team may be reluctant to commit to objectives they feel are unrealistic and that they will be evaluated against regardless of changes to any number of conditions
In our projects, we see that factors like
- Individual anxiety and perfectionism,
- cultural norms,
- performance processes
- attitudes regarding success and failure,
- communication and relationship capabilities,
- levels of emotional and social intelligence, and
- organizational support levels evidenced by allocating sufficient time and attention and adjusting objectives as conditions change,
all contribute to the success or failure of performance assessments and performance management.
Skillful Performance management
Awareness of and sensitivity to psychological and cultural tendencies enables skillful performance management.
In projects, performance reviews are not limited to individual performers. We assess performance on individual projects and the performance across multiple projects of individuals, project teams, departments, and organizations.
Performance management should be treated like a program with each assessment of a project. Intentions, goals, and values drive performance. When we evaluate the effectiveness of performance management these elements must be considered. If we never evaluate the effectiveness of the program, it is likely to be ineffective. And that leads to less-than-optimal performance overall.
The intention of performance management is to improve and optimize performance while creating a work environment in which performers at all levels of the organization’s hierarchy feel safe and have a sense that the process is fair and objective. Values: effectiveness, kindness, candor, self-reflection, emotional intelligence.
The goal is to enable clarity regarding performance effectiveness through a process of performance reviews which include the assessment of the factors beyond individual behaviors that contribute to achieving optimal performance.
Objectives are to regularly assess the performance of individuals, projects, teams, and organizations to identify opportunities for improvement based upon pre-established criteria and to make decisions regarding the need for training, deciding who will be compensated at what levels, who will and will not be retained, and what organizational, management, cultural, and environmental changes are needed to achieve optimal performance.
If the intention and goal is to achieve optimal performance, then we must know what optimal performance means. It means performing as best as possible given current conditions where performance is measured by the ability to achieve desired results – satisfied clients, profits, clean air, healthy and happy executives, managers, and staff.
To move from the general to the specific you need an action plan for your situation. Consider each of these:
- Identify a responsible party for performance management – and it can’t be ‘everybody’ even though everyone and every team is responsible for their performance
- Educate the staff at all levels regarding the intent of performance assessment and the reality of psychological, emotional, and cultural influences
- Set a baseline for optimal performance – objective and realistic criteria that are agreed upon by those whose performance will be measured
- Assess your current performance management process – get feedback from the staff, assess against industry benchmarks
- Refine the process as needed
- Be open to continuous improvement based on ongoing assessment of both performance management and individual and project performance.