Wait and Zap Performance Management

performance management

“I hate performance appraisals. They work against the very thing we desire – improved performance. Peter Block, W. Edwards Deming, Philip Crosby and Steven Covey harangue[lecture] against them, and if they can’t change organisational fascination with this annual bloodletting ritual, I don’t imagine my words will help either. Nonetheless, I’ll try” – Rick Maurer

Listen to this conversation:

Manager: Mary, you had a good year except for the problem on the AnnatermGas account.

Employee: I thought that was no longer a problem. I’m not sure why we have to bring that up. Didn’t I fix that mistake?

Manager: Yes, you did fix it. You are doing A+ work now on all your accounts. However, that problem happened during this reporting period. So, it is included in your total evaluation.

Employee: So, it is like I have a criminal record?

Manager: No!

Employee: Yes, it is. Somehow, it doesn’t seem fair. I listened to you and learned from my mistake. The people in AnnatermGas are happy and they are starting to become some of our top revenue producers. But are you saying that I won’t get a good appraisal because of what happened last February? That was almost a year ago.

Performance appraisal is one workplace practice that is frozen in the Industrial Age. Yes communication has moved from the days of the Morse code to the BlackBerry era. Okay we have successfully gone from carmel-travel to air travel and even moon-travel. Banking has gone from the days of money changers to the possibilities of ‘internet banking’.

The basis of value has shifted from tangibles such as land or steel to intangibles such as intellectual property and brands. In the midst of these massive changes, most organisations aren’t bothered that the way in which employee performance is measured hasn’t really changed or being improved upon.

If ‘one would chase a thousand and two would chase ten thousand’ it inexorably means that corporate performance rises and falls on the ability of people to work together. That ability is undermined when the mechanism for measuring employee contribution is flawed and even destructive.

Wait and Zap Performance Management style terribly undermines the potential of work groups to deliver out-of-class results. The true essence of performance management (it seems a lot of us need a reminder) is to identify and correct poor performance and ultimately to engender and sustain superior performance.

Wait and zap certainly doesn’t make this happen. Your appraisal system is a Wait and Zap type if it possesses any of these characteristics:

  • You operate an annual appraisal system.
  • Regarding your work and your performance, you are On-Your-Own.
  • If feedback comes at all, it comes long after it is impossible for you to do anything about it.
  • Your ratings are largely dependent on your supervisor’s assessment.
  • Appraisal forms are generally the same for everybody.
  • Absence of clearly documented, dynamic and tightly linked goals.
  • Your supervisor’s goals aren’t linked to yours
  • Your supervisor’s performance isn’t linked to yours
  • Your supervisor’s reward isn’t linked to yours

Presence of Performance Appraisal but absence of Performance Management

When you think about performance appraisal I can say categorically that the picture that comes to mind is always far from inspiring. I would tell you the picture that comes to my mind. I don’t know if you still remember that long flexible plastic stick with a wide end used to kill (zap) mosquitoes?

So performance appraisals are usually ‘wait and zap’ because it always seems like your supervisor and his supervisor are lurking around the corner waiting patiently for the appraisal period for them to ‘zap’ you with their stick. I can picture them with a smirk on their face, saying, “Yes, now I have gotten you where I want”.

The whole idea of performance appraisals is evaluation, whereas like we said earlier what most of us are actually trying to achieve is increase in performance. When evaluation is at the core then indictment is usually at the fore. Whereas what we all wish to have is a carefully integrated process for managing performance. This process would probably start with having agreed goals, since ‘what isn’t planned isn’t achieved’.

Better yet, what isn’t planned isn’t pursued and what isn’t pursued isn’t achieved. If your teammates are ever in doubt about the goals and objectives of the team and it isn’t war time or there hasn’t been an earthquake, then the manager is squarely to blame.

In addition to goals, there would need to be an ongoing coaching-partnership between manager and teammates that ensures that team members have the competence and resources required to achieve the set goals. Is there such a coaching-partnership on your team today? Or is there a ‘me’ versus ‘them’ atmosphere?

Unlinked Goals, Appraisals and Rewards

There is only so much that an individual can achieve. But having more people is not also automatically better. Having people whose ideas and efforts build on each other is better. Out-of-class performance only happens when synergy exists within groups. When two or more things or people functiontogether to produce a result not independently obtainable that is synergy. Hear Stephen Covey,

To put it simply, synergy means “two heads are better than one.” Synergize is the habit of creative cooperation. It is teamwork, open-mindedness, and the adventure of finding new solutions to old problems. But it doesn’t just happen on its own. It’s a process, and through that process, people bring all their personal experience and expertise to the table.

Together, they can produce far better results that they could individually. Synergy lets us discover jointly things we are much less likely to discover by ourselves. It is the idea that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. One plus one equals three, or six, or sixty – you name it”.

We would never have synergy if goals, appraisals and rewards aren’t tightly linked between managers and their team members. The orchestra plays very well not because the conductor (or director) is the best thing after slice bread but because the director and the individual sections (string, brass, woodwind, and percussion instruments) have learned how to play in tandem (one behind another or together).

The team leader’s role is exactly like that of the orchestra conductor.

 “Conducting is the art of directing a musical performance by way of visible gestures. The primary duties of the conductor [and of a manager] are to unify performers, set the tempo, execute clear preparations and beats, and to listen critically and shape the sound of the ensemble” (ref. Wikipedia).

Within organisations, you set the tempo and execute clear preparations and beats by building a culture where the manager and her team mates have their goals, appraisals and rewards intimately linked together. If most team members have poor scores in their appraisals then automatically that team leader also gets a poor rating. Anything short of this is voodoo management or a wait and zap situation.

It also means that rewards are shared. The manager shouldn’t earn a reward that her team mates don’t partake of – she might as well be doing the work alone. The objective here isn’t to chastise anyone but to encourage us to be bold and true to ourselves enough to review our performance appraisal culture. A team, which comprise of leader and members, should share both in glory and worry.

Weak or Absent Constructive and Timely Feedback culture

Feedback on work outputs is a necessary input that helps us raise the quality of our game. If you have to keep second guessing your boss’s assessment of your work or if you have to wait till the end of the appraisal year before you know, then you are O.Y.O. You have inadvertently been told to wait for the zap. We must instill a culture where supervisors give regular and constructive feedback.

Each of your team mates must know how you view his or her work per time – it is the least you owe someone who reports to you. When the feedback comes close to the action then it becomes possible to act on it. If the feedback is a positive one then the staff knows what he should do next time to get another one. It would help if we take a look at the distinction between praise and positive feedback.

Praise is a sort of pat on the back, “You did a very good job with that demonstration”. Whereas positive feedback goes further by identifying particular actions for merit. It could go like this; “I liked the way you handled the demonstration. The way you began with the underlying technical challenges, how those challenges were addressed, and finished with the actual demonstration helped us all understand the technology”.

Also if the feedback is a negative one, as far as it comes close to the event, the staff can take corrective measures. It is crass ineptitude for a manager to delay feedback until the end of the appraisal year. With business happening at the speed of thought, the organisation ultimately loses when employees cannot take immediate corrective action but have to wait till about six months to one year before they are told about a performance lag.

Listen folks, any time an employee is surprised at an appraisal the team leader’s supervisory skills needs urgent augmentation. This is one of the many things wrong with having an almighty annual appraisal system. Being that it happens after 365 days some managers unconsciously convert it to an almighty feedback time – a time to download everything you should have done that you didn’t do or did badly.

Some team or group leaders do not have any serious discussion with their colleagues until this time. A quarterly appraisal system with mandated monthly feedback sessions would save all of us a ton of trouble.

Performance Appraisal as a Discipline and Punishment Tool

Related to the aforementioned is the ‘wait and zap’ mindset in which some of our wonderful supervisors now convert the appraisal to a discipline and punishment tool. Excuse me! Performance management is for improving performance and certainly not meant to address mis-performance, misdemeanor, non-conformance or even infractions.

“When an individual is being disciplined, the supervisor wants the employee to acknowledge the issues, to understand fully the deeds that caused the disciplinary action, and to understand exactly what must be done to prevent a reoccurrence. Progressive discipline is quite dissimilar from performance appraisals that were designed to measure and rate performance.

The progressive discipline process should be used when performance management efforts have failed or when the employee engages in willful non-conformance behavior. The goals of performance management and progressive discipline are incompatible and should not occur in a single interaction with an employee. The purpose, goals and methodology of the two systems are different, and although complementary, both should have separate and distinct management systems”

– Christopher D. Lee.

Overall the point of emphasis and focus of many of our performance appraisals and even the language and rhetoric used to describe it suggests that the whole idea is to ‘catch them doing something wrong and to arrest them during the almighty appraisal’.

Imagine that you wait till after one year before you resolve a customer’s challenge that could have been addressed in a few hours or you wait till after a year to deploy a solution that would increase your bottomline when you could do it earlier. Ridiculous isn’t it?

Business fortunes grow because market segments are been provided solutions that add value to the customer’s life and business. In the 21st century, if you choose to provide this service at your own pace then you would lose market share like the older old generation banks. If so, then the workplace interactions within our teams that combine to produce this value for the customer cannot run on a ‘wait and zap’ mentality.