Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Servant Leadership Practice--Appraise Another with Humility

Everyone hates performance reviews--giving and receiving them. Maybe you enjoy them or know someone who does, but I am confident in saying that person is in the slimmest minority. I could cite a number of surveys. Your own experience will be proof enough.

So why are they so horrible? The main reason is that most HR procedures for them still consist of an annual event. This doesn't work. Another reason is that we are terrible judges. We see what we want to see, hear what we want to hear and give weight to the vocal few. (See Abolishing Performance Appraisals.)

The closest I've gotten to a good appraisal system was one that had only five questions:
  • How did this person contribute to the success of the organization? (Accomplishment of goals)
  • How will this person contribute to the success of the organization? (Future goals)
  • What are the strengths of this person's approach?
  • What areas of this person's approach could be improved?
  • How can I (as this person's supervisor) help him/her more, or hinder him/her less?
It is the last question that I think is of vital importance. This question requires me to assess my own performance. Have I provided enough support? Have I communicated well enough? Have I challenged her sufficiently? How can I improve my own leadership? How well do I know what he needs? How well do I know what motivates her? How well have I considered positive feedback and constructive feedback? How well do I understand the relationships between him and the people giving feedback? How much do I think her behavior changes when I'm around?

Sober judgment is tough to manage. Humility is crucial. Deep love for objectivity is wanted. An understanding that our presence changes behavior in people is needed. (Aside: the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle applies to people and subatomic particles alike, with regards to how observation disrupts behavior. Also you cannot determine the project status and observe its rate of completion because asking about one aspect disrupts the other.)

One marriage counselor says that the judgement we place on others is more often a reflection of our own inner life. If we believe someone is cheating, it's because we would cheat in a similar situation. If we think another person is too timid to negotiate, we have concerns that we are timid and often overcompensate by being aggressive. We often justify our judgements because we have betrayed our relationship with them by choosing to ignore an obligation towards them. (See Leadership & Self-Deception for powerful, practical advice.) We start out new at a company, or new in a position with a lot of energy to achieve results and help one another. Over time, sometimes very quickly, the feelings change and we start to see ourselves as victims of others' mistakes, failures, and inadequacies while promoting our own successes and competencies in our own mind.  A "legend in his own mind" never adequately leads a team.

In an interest of keeping the performance appraisal an open dialogue, I always ask what one thing I should change as a manager. I will also ask what we need to change as a company.

Today, review how you think you've been victimized by your team. When did it start to feel that way? How can you trust that they did try their hardest? How did you fail them in some way that permitted them to act the way they do?

For C12 and Truth@Work members, we are cautioned calling out the splinter in another's eyes when we have a log in our own. We are told that judging others brings judgments on ourselves. We often repeat "forgive us as we forgive others" seeming to mean that we need as much forgiveness as others, and that it starts when we can overlook others short-comings.

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