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Monday, June 13, 2016

Under Review

It’s been a while since I wrote on the topic of employee reviews. My interest was sparked last week by reading the Chicago Tribune article, “As companies revamp performance reviews, some changes are falling flat.”

Summary notes from this article tell us firms such as Accenture and Microsoft stopped using “forced rankings” which use a bell curve for employee performance. Good. Bell curve ratings make no sense to me. Also, as noted, “Others, such as Adobe and General Electric, have either dumped the rating scale that labels employees’ performance with, say, a ‘3’ or ‘meets expectations.’” Big banks are making modifications as well.

So a lot of these folks went to using “employee conversations” instead. You’d think this would be ideal. But supposedly the criteria used for those talks resulted in 14% lower overall ratings. Even managers felt that without a clear rating system, it was harder for them to deliver a message.

McKinsey & Co. had their own views on doing employee evals. Their conclusion was that outside of top performers, these evaluations had little impact on motivating workers. And giving marginal raises did little to improve employee performance or their enthusiasm for improvement.

My thinking is that better performance in the workplace requires a good team and a good manager. Right now, the Chicago Cubs have the best record in major league baseball. While it is true they have talented players, they also have a smart and gifted coaching staff. One without the other would leave a different place in the standings.

If I were using an employee evaluation system in management today, I would have a very simple review process that could be done at any given frequency. Once the job description has been developed with key indicators for performance, my manager interaction with team staff would involve four discussion areas:

  1. You are either meeting or exceeding (most) (all) expectations on your job description. 
  2. Ones we should discuss are….
  3. Here’s what I most value about your contribution to our organization…
  4. Here’s where I’d like to see you take steps forward in the weeks/months/year ahead…(itemize as needed)

Next, would be management evaluations. I doubt there is a standardized evaluation method that is effective for both managers and the proverbial “rank and file.” Management level people are expected to bring leadership into focus on a higher level. Job performance for leaders is not measured well by number rankings.

Bea Fields does leadership coaching, team coaching, and assessments. She is one of many who use the 360 Degree Feedback Process for leaders. Bea set up her questions this way: “If I were to come into your life and talk to 8-10 people who know you best, on a scale of 1-5, with 5 being the highest, how would they rank you in the following areas?”

• Takes reasonable risks in order to improve the company;
• Looks at situations from multiple viewpoints in order to gain perspective;
• Offers employees challenging learning situations, specifically to build skills and produce bottom line results;
• Develops trust with employees;
• Communicates openly and honestly;
• Displays confidence when presenting ideas or expressing opinions to others;
• Makes decisions that might be unpopular if it is in the best interest of the customer;
• Thinks about company growth and explores new ideas for organizational development;
• Looks for new ways to achieve a competitive advantage in current business practices;
• Demonstrates competence and credibility in his or her area of expertise;
• Attracts and retains top talent; and
• Leads with an authentic leadership style


These are truly useful and more challenging ways to determine if a management level employee is truly being a leader.

Now here’s a surprise evaluation tool for managers who really want to improve their team relationships and test their own effectiveness. I’ll call it the “Employee Manager Review.” In this scenario, a manager asks his or her reports in small circles to give feedback on manager-team interaction.

The discussion/evaluation points would include…

  • Giving adequate praise on things you are doing well
  • Showing appreciation for extra efforts made in behalf of our organization
  • Making myself available to you when needed
  • Adequately providing the resources you need to do your job well
  • Communicating clearly all policies, procedures, memos, etc.
  • Celebrating successes of your team
  • Demonstrating how your contribution impacts our success
  • Showing an interest in you personally
  • Checking in on where you would like to grow
  • Giving value to your suggestions on ways to improve

Okay. I admit it might be quite difficult for an employee to be open and honest with answers to those questions without fearing reprisal or an argument. But if done in a setting with two or three present, it might well build vulnerability. Especially if the team members know and respect each other. I believe a lot of workplace improvement would result.

Better managers. Better teams. Better results.

What is most critical in generating useful information for growth is to create a safe environment for everyone. When people feel safe, in an evaluative or feedback setting, truth sharing is the most likely byproduct.

King David referred to his God as The Lord. As king, David reported to Him. Notice his security with The Boss:

“The Lord is my shepherd; I have all that I need. He lets me rest in green meadows; he leads me beside peaceful streams. He renews my strength. He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to his name. Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me.” Psalm 23:1-4 (NLT)

Make relationships safe and trust will abound. That’s top down thinking.

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Let’s Talk with Mark Elfstrand can be heard weekdays from 4-6 PM Central. To listen outside the Chicago area, tune to for live streaming or podcasts, or download the AM1160 app. 

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