In my recent work with business leaders, three of them shared feedback with me that they had received from their boss as part of their annual performance appraisal process. Instead of a 30-60 minute assessment of their prior year’s performance, each of them instead heard something like “You’re doing a great job. Keep it up!” or “I loved your self-assessment. I totally agree.” And these weren’t 30-60 minute conversations. It was 5 minutes.
When you perform your job well, you are valuable to your organization. When you are focused primarily on creating individual value, you tend to be in a role that is more tactically-focused. And let’s face it, some roles in organizations need to be tactically focused. This focus is very valuable to the organization. Not every role has a clear line of sight to financial performance, nor should they.
Deep within the heart of your organization’s cubicle farm, you and your heads-down colleagues are working hard to stay employed. Our metric-based culture has created generations of individuals who believe that good performance alone ensures job security. They still haven’t figured out the dirty little secret behind value creation.
While it is inevitable that the dreaded performance appraisal will cease to exist in its current format, some form of performance measurement will continue to exist. One reason is that roles where value creation falls into a category called “individual value” will need a performance management system to measure how foundational activities impact the organization.
So what is it that will make you stand out to your boss or organization as a valuable employee? When I say that you must achieve more than just doing your job well, I am not suggesting that doing your job well is not important. Conversely, in today’s excruciating work environments, good performance is expected. Your organization is finding less time and spending less money to train you to be a good performer. In her recent Wall Street Journal article, Herminia Ibarra of INSEAD continued to reflect that “Businesses are putting managers in a tough spot. They’re forcing bosses to take on many new responsibilities – but they’re not training them to get those jobs done.”
The head-spinning advances in technology, endless bottom-line financial pressures, and growing networks of global economies described earlier demand a need for superior performance and sustainable efficiencies. Organizations aspire to motivate their employees to be better, more productive, and more engaged. Leaders seek ways to create a common language behind which organizational goals and activities can align. What can replace the void that is being created by the slow demise of performance management systems? What is the new corporate currency?
In today’s “get-it-done-yesterday” business environments, tenure is shortening and relationships are becoming shallower. It’s no longer enough when an employee exceeds expectations. Herminia Ibarra, the Cora Chaired Professor of Leadership and Professor of Organizational Behavior at Institut Européen d’Administration des Affaires (INSEAD), reflected on this topic in a recent Wall Street Journal article. “With competition fierce and the business climate changing rapidly, companies are telling their leaders that it’s no longer enough to deliver results in their individual departments, or over the short-term.”
The frequency and pace of change in your organization, the exponential growth of your professional transparency, your lack of energy to connect with others while employed (visibility), and your lack of energy regarding your performance assessment (value), all create professional risks for you. With increased turbulence in your organization resulting in roles, responsibilities, and relationships changing with great frequency, your ability to benefit from the development of organic relationships (ones that grow naturally over time) or purposeful relationships (ones that you proactively create with a goal in mind) is being seriously eroded.
How do you know if your organization has a performance management system? I think you know, as your body is already starting to shudder. Once a year, your boss is thrust into the dreaded “performance management cycle” and required to complete numerous performance appraisals. As he rushes to complete his appraisals en masse the Sunday night before the appraisals are due, his ratings are influenced by the rankings and bell-curve pre-established by your organization. Upon the completion of an exhausting approval process, he finally schedules a meeting with you. Following the meeting, you rush back to your cubicle, call your significant other and exclaim, “I got a 3.5 on collaboration!”
History will not be kind to the performance appraisal. After decades of lackluster experiences, stale formats, and non-existent correlations between assessment and achievement, most savvy business leaders and modern management experts would tell you that the performance appraisal is a well-intended yet failed exercise in behavior modification.