eck! performance reviews

So coming up soon is the part of my job that I find the most challenging, time consuming, and paperwork-laden of tasks. Performance reviews.

I have six people on my team, which means that once a year I get to evaluate their performance over the last year, grade them on it, and award them (or not) a raise. My company does this (officially) once a year. We have these nifty evaluation workbooks that get filled out, then we send them to human resources, and they get filed in the teammate’s (that’s the official term) personnel file.

Now. You have to be careful, because if you’re not, you can end up ruining someone’s career at the company because you’re careless in your remarks, you’re not clear, or you don’t elaborate well enough on your scores. The other problem is that too many supervisors and managers (at most companies, even) don’t grade subjectively on a teammate’s capabilities, but instead on some bullshit standard expectation that usually hasn’t even been communicated adequately to the teammates that are supposed to be living up to it. Which is a whole different blog. It’s politically incorrect to think that there should be different expectations for different employees, which frankly, pisses me off.

This subject is close to my heart. I guess of all the things I do in my job, this is the one I take most seriously. So this is a serious blog, about a serious subject. Seriously. Stop laughing and playing with your belly-button lint and pay attention.

The big corporate motto nowadays when it comes to employee development is to promote the “well-rounded” employee. 58% of employees, when surveyed about the surest way to performance improvement, said that improvement will come based on working on one’s weaknesses, as opposed to capitalizing on one’s strengths. This mindset comes from corporations giving evaluations like “Needs to work on organizational skills,” or “Needs to develop more in the area of time-management,” without mentioning the employee’s strengths, what they’re good at, and what they could do more of in order to capitalize on those strengths.

Not only is this type of feedback totally useless because it’s vague and there are no examples included, but it’s counterproductive. You will never excel when you focus on your weaknesses. Ever. You will only excel when you find what you’re good at, and do it. A lot.

People are born with a million synapses in their brains that eventually develop paths, or circuits of preferences, thought and skill, as they get older. These are talents. Things you’re born being good at. No one is born being good at typing, or organizing, or managing their time. People are born with qualities and talents that help them do well at those things. And some are not.

Take me, for example. The most prevalent comment I get on my own performance reviews is, “Needs to develop more organizational skills and work on time management.” What I have come to realize is, that I am not organized. I am not good at time management. I don’t prioritize well. I’m competent at it, which means that my inbox is not a complete mess and I can usually find what I’m looking for after a certain period of time, but I am not talented at those things. So I don’t want to do a job that depends on them. And I’m okay with that.

What I am good at, is being creative. I can speak in front of groups and get them laughing and keep them engaged in the subject matter. I can write reasonably well, it’s easy for me to understand databases and programming and logical crap like that. Those are my skills, based on the talents that I have. So I like to do them, and I like to do a job that depends on those skills.

Employees are different. You can’t judge Employee A by the same standard that you judge Employee B. Employee A is good at research and documentation, while Employee B is a producer, and gets shit done. Ideally, you’re going to have a mix of people on your team that are all good at different things. And you have to evaluate them accordingly. You can’t expect Employee A to produce as much as Employee B. You can’t expect Employee B to be as detail-oriented and thorough as Employee A. So you put them in positions that will maximize what they’re good at. Usually, they will be happier doing things that they are good at, because it comes naturally to them.

I love talking about the dynamics of teams and what makes them work. It seems so simple to me, and yet I see managers continually fuck up good employees by expecting them to be and do things that they are not and don’t enjoy. They give ridiculous comments like the ones above and expect that the only way to develop an employee is by getting them to be good at stuff that they’re not good at today. When in reality, all that happens is they end up crushing the employee’s spirit and making them feel inadequate because the expectation is so far away from capability.

We do this in relationships too. We have an expectation of who and what our significant other should be. We have pegged them and labeled them and put them in a box marked “dysfunctional” or “scared of commitment” or “psycho”. In reality, people are just people and they have flaws and weaknesses and areas of great strength and areas that could be great strength but sometimes we can’t see it because we already know what they should be and how they should act and we can’t see past that to realize that: they are exactly what they should be, and they are acting exactly as they should act. It’s up to you to see if you can deal or not. If you can’t, move on. If you can, shut the hell up, appreciate their qualities, and give them a fucking raise, for shit’s sake.

And if any of this was interesting to you, read Now, Discover Your Strengths by Donald O. Clifton and Marcus Buckingham.

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