What If Your Employees Gave You A Performance Review
by Ken Chapman, Ph.D.
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From all appearances, performance reviews are a one-way street. The leader always appraises the employee. Even so, it is a beneficial procedure in which both leader and team member benefit. If you are among the fortunate leaders, you get an occasional appraisal from your leader, the person you report to. But what if the people you lead could reverse procedures and give you a performance review? What if they could measure for themselves how you measure up as a leader? I suppose there would be some surprises for many of us.
But the truth is that employees are already measuring you and I. Not formally with a grade when it is over, but in bits and pieces—assessments all through the workday and often in work-break bull sessions. If you doubt that statement, remember that you measure your boss repeatedly when you respond to his actions, with thoughts such as the following:
- Give the boss credit. He handled that emergency like a pro.
- Man, he really botched that. What could he have been thinking to make a decision like that?
- That was a toughie. Must have been hard on the boss. Do I really want to be in his shoes someday?
It happens on all levels of life. Off the playing field, athletes measure their coaches. They second-guess his strategy. They question his play calling. They call him names for his tough conditioning program. They praise him for being fair-minded and for reminding them occasionally “it’s just a game, but it’s a game we’re expected to win most of the time.”
In battle, combat soldiers follow their sergeants, their lieutenants, their generals with varying degrees of willingness and enthusiasm depending greatly on how they think their leader measures up as a leader.
It is important how you measure up with employees. The truth is that it is not unusual for leaders to say, “I couldn’t care less what my people think of my leadership.” But that is an irresponsible comment at best. Because what they think does matter. Because what they think of us often has a lot to do with how willing they are to be led by us. Just like the athletes and coaches, soldiers and officers, government leaders and aides, employees will work better for leaders they give high marks for leadership qualities. No matter how much they complain and criticize, employees want leaders who know their jobs, who care about them, who challenge them, who can be trusted, who, to put it simply, lead.
If employees find you lacking in technical knowledge, they want you to compensate in other areas—in people handling, communicating, problem solving, and so on. If they measure you, and be assured they do, and find you short in too many categories, they are not going to be as productive as they would be otherwise.
Now consider some leadership measurements. As a leader, you have been trained, or should have been, to appraise the performance of your employees. You know their strengths and weaknesses and either formally or informally, you measure those employees. Presume now, however, that the people you have been measuring will appraise your performance as their leader. They have been doing that all along in their minds anyway, but to help you realize what some of their yardsticks are and how you measure up, presume that they are giving you a performance review. The following questions would appear on your performance review form:
Do you project the image of a leader? Do the people on your shift see you as a leader, the person in charge? If you believe that you are an effective leader, you have a far better chance of being one than if you have a negative self-image. Merely thinking you are a strong leader will not make you one, but it will put you on the road to becoming one. Chances are, if you perceive yourself as a leader who possesses the qualities needed to lead successfully, you will benefit greatly from the resulting self-esteem and will project the image of a leader. The leader image then will be reflected in a strong, confident voice when you speak, whether it is a monthly meeting with other leaders or in one-to-one conversations with employees as you make assignments, conduct training, or announce changes that are upcoming in your department. The opposite is true of course. If you project a weak self-image, you are likely to sound unsure of yourself when making assignments, explaining work rules, or dealing with worker problems. If you think the people on your shift would give you a poor grade on your overall image as a leader, you will do well to take a hard look at how to improve that image and to project the image of a leader.
How do you measure up on staying calm during the storm? When there is a blow up, employees often learn first hand how their leader behaves in an emergency whether it is a fistfight that has broken out, an accident that has caused serious injury, or damage to costly equipment. How you respond to any such crisis will influence how your shift measures you on your ability to stay calm and proceed with maturity. If you can keep your head when those about you are losing theirs, the people on your shift will admire you for your maturity and see you as a leader. Staying calm includes acting decisively for often your swift response is necessary. Acting with a cool, clear head will keep a bad situation from becoming worse.
Are you a chronic critic or do you give due credit? Two youngsters who aspired to become star golfers took their lessons from instructors at the same golf course, and usually within hearing distance of each other. The contrast was a significant one. One instructor carped without end at his pupil for his mistakes, “No, I told you to keep your head down.” “Didn’t I tell you to bend your knees slightly?” “Stop trying to kill the ball.” “You’re still not keeping your arms straight.” On and on it went without let up — gripe, gripe, gripe. The other instructor called attention to his student’s mistakes, but he was patient, he spoke kindly, and when the student executed well, he got a pat on the back. In time, the first student became so discouraged he decided not to play golf after all. The other student quickly improved and looked ahead to playing on his high school’s team. Which instructor would your workers say you resemble — the chronic faultfinder or the instructor who knew the value of praise for a job well done. All complaints and no praise make for a discouraged employee and a poor leader in the eyes of the employees.
Are you growing as a leader? A key point when you are conducting a performance review for a person — is the employee growing on the job, sharpening his skills, increasing his contribution to the company’s overall efforts to increase profit and operating more efficiently. The people under your direction look at you wondering whether you are growing or standing still. Again, they cannot give you a formal appraisal to grade you on how you are doing, but the evidence accumulates in your day-to-day leadership. Let’s say you are the daytime shift supervisor and your colleague, Will Zobrowski, is the night shift supervisor. Zobrowski is younger than you, but already has been tagged a “comer.” He stays right on top of operations at the plant, he communicates well with other departments, he buys the management and industry publications to read, he has attended two workshops and you none, and he frequently takes the lead in discussions at supervisory meetings. He is also lining up a course of study at a nearby community college. Meanwhile, you are just too tied up supervising to find time for such self-development activities as your nighttime colleague takes on. What would your grade be for professional growth? The workers would give Zobrowski an “A,” no question about it. Would you get an incomplete? Given the chance, can you raise that grade?
Are you helping employees grow? If employees distinguish easily between a leader who is intent on self-development and one who is spinning his wheels, it makes sense that they will distinguish between a leader who is interested in their growth and one who does not care. Helping employees grow in their jobs may be the one best investment you and your company can make. And you do not necessarily have to send them to workshops to help them grow. Some companies help young and inexperienced workers develop their skills by teaming them with veteran employees who know the ropes and are glad to share their knowledge and skills.
The opposite of the leader who wants employees to grow is the leader who cannot be bothered. “Let them do their jobs and I’ll do mine and we’ll get along fine.” If that is your philosophy, employees will give you a failing mark on this part of your review.
How do you measure up when it comes to working with your peers? A point you should have been emphasizing since your arrival on the leadership scene is that at their productive best, the people on your shift must work as a team. You have reminded them of the need for teamwork when you intervened in their arguments, when they complained about assignments, when the workload seemed heaviest. But have you been setting the example in teamwork? What about your relationships with other leaders? After all, you are a member of the leadership team. Your shift can sense from your attitude about other leaders how much of a team player you are. If you try earnestly to work with other departments, talking with them in private about solutions to problems rather than making public negative comments, you will sound more convincing when you talk with your employees about teamwork.
Are you respected or merely liked? One of the toughest high marks for a leader to earn is in a “course” called popularity versus respect. Unfortunately, too many leaders do not score well on this point. Benny Tolliver had his sights on a leader’s job the first week he went to work. Because he was outgoing, he quickly made friends with fellow employees and joined them in after-work activities such as bowling and softball. Then Tolliver got the leadership job he wanted and his manager cautioned him, “Benny, you’re a member of management now, so you can’t be one of the boys any longer. Can you handle that?” Tolliver replied with a smile, “I’ve been laying the ground work all along. I told the guys our relationship might change in some ways if I got the team leader’s job. When the appointment came, I didn’t have to remind them. They came to me and said they were pulling for me and looking forward to working with me.” Despite a few bumps along the way, Benny made the change successfully. Not all leaders can handle the change after they have worked in the ranks. They let favoritism in assignments show and they are reluctant to discipline old buddies. Respect is tougher to achieve than popularity, but respect is a cornerstone of leadership. Popularity is like a house built on sand, it just won’t last. The bottom line — it takes more courage to earn people’s respect than to merely persuade them to like us.
Are you a communicator or a mumbler? When you conduct an employee performance review, one of the first characteristics that will surface is the employee’s ability to or inability to communicate — to speak up promptly and clearly or to hem and ha and mumble. Now flip the coin and it is the employee measuring you, his leader, on communication. This appraisal takes place not in your office, but when you make an assignment, change instructions, point out a mistake, announce goals, or any other situation when you are conveying or receiving information. You demonstrate how well or how poorly you communicate. Few traits are more important to a leader’s image as his effort and ability to communicate. What kind of grade would your employees give you on communicating? Not many A’s are likely on this score. But an A can be earned.
Most importantly, are you impartial? Maximum performance will not be possible if word gets around that you play favorites when you make assignments and mete out discipline. If employees rated performance points on your appraisal one through ten, chances are, they would rate fairness and impartiality as number one. Because certain assignments are labeled “most unwanted,” you must make certain they are shared by one and all. Also, you must take care not to ride the “good horses” more than others just because they are “good horses.” Even if your employees give you D’s and F’s on other performance points, being consistent on discipline and demonstrating impartiality on assignments will still get you a passing grade.