This is for those still running yearly/mid-year/ assessments

by Didier Marlier on Saturday November 6th, 2021

Soon is coming this dreaded lose/lose moment of the year called assessment, evaluations, etc.

Some Leaders wonder how they will maintain morale and decent relationships, whilst feeding back about their disappointment to their under-performers, others have already given-up all pride and will grade those above average, some, with the laudable intention of being professional and honest will rate some of their under-performers below expectations, creating resentment and bad will. And for many of the recipients, this exercise is just another useless procedure, often unfair, and a waste of time.

In one of my first jobs, in a bank, the highest employee turnover used to take place after those yearly assessments. I have already written about the poor process and results yearly assessments produce. I hope this article will help those amongst you intending to make that procedure meaningful and truly creating value.

  1. Yearly assessment shouldn’t be feedback: A good leader shouldn’t wait to offer feedback once a year. This must be an ongoing process and your subordinate shouldn’t be surprised by the final rating you will give them. The year end assessment is not “pay back time”. It is this moment of an employee’s career when their leader takes the time to sit with them, coach them and agree on a developmental action plan. Feedback, at that moment would be coming way too late!
  2. Create the right climate: Avoid a “tribunal setting”, avoid them to feel back at school when the teacher would deliver her/his final judgment. The year-end assessment should be a friendly and fearless conversation. The purpose of the assessment is to set the person up for success.
  3. Don’t run the show: Once again, the assessment is not the moment when the Damocles sword falls on the head of the employee. The best ones I ran myself or was told about were those conversations where the leader was letting the employee out of the wood and estimate themselves the level of their contribution and what they should do to maintain their actual level of performance in some fields and increase it elsewhere. I always made clear to my team, when working in the public sector for five years, that I expected a reflection from them with an action plan at the end.
  4. This is a unique opportunity for your to practice Value Building Behaviours: Value Building Behaviours come from the work, observations and research of professor Chris Parker, when teaching at IMD Business School. He had identified that 8 behaviours were greatly contributing to create business value in discussions between executive. Those should be used in assessments discussions:
  • Listen actively (listen in order to understand): Psychologically, when the person “in danger of being judged” perceives that you are truly, interested, listening in a non-judgmental way, an environment of Psychological Safety will emerge, creating a rich terrain for a honest, “adult-adult” discussion. Understanding does not mean agreeing!
  • Ask open questions: Demonstrate interest and curiosity in what they say. Show the person you seek to understand their logic and self-analysis. I remember an article on LinkedIn, years ago by what Brazilians call a “socialite” (jet-setter) very appreciated in various social circles. Her secret for being so appropriately popular resided in the art of being fully committed to the other person and ask her questions.
  • Summarize: Good interviewers are capable of demonstrating they intensely listened by summarizing, at two levels, both what the person said from an intellectual standpoint and from an emotional viewpoint as well.
  • Support and challenge: This is finally the moment when, as an interviewer, you may come with your own opinion, pushback, agreement etc. It is critical that you find points in the other person’s arguments and thoughts that you can authentically You may then challenge, not necessarily by flat assertions and negations. You may do it through questions, doubts, sharing facts and information etc. Challenging shouldn’t be an act of aggression.
  • Ask for time-out: When emotions, overcreativity, lack of focus take the discussion over, you should call for a time-out, share you impression that we are losing track and, with the agreement of the other person, get the conversation realigned with its primary focus.
  • Clarify/Decide: That is the moment when, jointly with the assessed person, you should come to a shared action plan for their development.
  • Review and feedback: Assessments are also a unique opportunity for you to develop your own capability in developing your people. By the end of the session, run a quick review with the interviewee on how they found the process of the conversation, what could be improved and maintained next year, semester, term. Ask them some personal feedback then on how useful and developmental they found your behaviour.

This being said, I maintain last year’s blogpost’s three creative challenges for disruptive organisations:

  • Stop objectives Setting: Healthcare workers, supermarkets employees, blue collar in so many industries which maintained our quality of life during the lockouts went back to work because they had and lived a strong sense of Mission! The sole valid objective in times of uncertainty and disruption, should be “Do what you think needs to be done (in order to fulfil our Mission).” Setting objectives in a VUCA environment is illusory. Military commandos have a Mission to fulfil and that matters more than objectives (remember the fantastic interview of ex Marines leader Lt General van Riper) which will change as the context will evolve.
  • Cancel yearly assessments: It comes as no surprise that an increasing number of large and established organisations are dropping the end of year, time-consuming and not necessarily useful yearly assessment. They come too late (why wait until the end of the year to provide feedback?), rarely address the issue (we all know stories of employees getting a high performer grade from not courageous bosses who suddenly get in trouble when a honest leader takes over) and may create frustration and negative feelings (a large Swiss bank in which I worked upon completing my MBA had noticed that the bulk of resignations was coming in the 3 months following assessments and promotions).
  • Start offering permanent feedback instead: Feedback is a waste of time when it is a yearly process. On the contrary, when fully integrated into the culture and routinely given/welcomed, regardless of hierarchy, it becomes crucial into developing a relational and progressive culture. Apps such as Impraise already exist which enable everyone in an organisation, to provide timely and continuous feedback to each other.

Enjoy your leadership Journey!

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