Happy New Year! I hope you had a relaxing holiday and are back to an exciting start for 2016. For some of you this might also be the start of a fiscal year and you might be considering employee performance appraisals.
This topic is a logical, structured way to approach performance appraisals.
In appraising an employee’s performance over a period of time, say over the past year, we tend to focus on what the individual accomplished – the results. Yes, results are important, but equally important is how much the employee has grown during the year, and how positioned the individual is to produce even better results the next year.
To drive home this point, let me recall the definition of stewardship, as framed by my friend, Glenn Mangurian.
Stewardship is the responsibility to protect, preserve and enhance assets that do not belong to you, but have been temporarily entrusted to you.
One of the biggest assets a company has is its human capital. You, as a manager, have been asked to be a steward of your employees. You have a stewardship responsibility to leave behind a richer set of assets at the end of the year than what you inherited at the beginning of the year. Your assessment of the employee’s performance over the past year should clearly reflect your collective success – the success of you and your employee – in accomplishing that.
With that as the backdrop, I offer the following model for writing performance appraisals:
1. Results: The employee’s accomplishments over the past year.
This is like the employee’s individual income statement. That is, the employee cost the company a certain amount and, in return, they produced certain results. It is the manager’s assessment of the balance between the benefit received and the cost incurred, in this period of time.
This assessment makes no claim about their past or future contributions or their ability to make such contributions. It only speaks to this period’s contributions. That is why I view this as an income statement.
Results should be assessed in both the “what” and “how” dimensions.
Not only should you comment on what the employee did, but also how the individual achieved those results. This is an opportunity to communicate to the employee the consequence of their conduct on others around them. So, compliment the employee who rallied the group to achieve that goal that the team had resigned to being impossible. Likewise, comment on the value destroyed by the employee that trampled on everybody in their path to achieve their individual goal.
Both the “what” and the “how” speak to what happened, not what the individual is capable of.
2. Skills: An assessment of the employee’s natural skills and abilities, as related to the employee’s assigned job or potential future assignments.
This is like the tangible items on the employee’s balance sheet, both the assets and liabilities – just the tangible items that can be seen and evidenced.
These would include assessments like being a good salesperson or having good analytical skills. It would also include liabilities like not being able to write well or have difficulty in public speaking. These skills are intrinsic to the individual and are unlikely to change overnight. They can be improved, but it takes time, work and a commitment to doing so.
These skills move with the individual and are likely to be present if the employee undertakes a different assignment – although how useful the skill is in the other assignment is a different matter.
This is where you should reflect on your stewardship of this individual. How much has this balance sheet grown in the last year?
Has the employee increased their assets or reduced their liabilities? Both the manager and the employee must take ownership for this assessment.
3. Style: An assessment of the employee’s interactions with the environment.
This is like the intangible items on the employee’s balance sheet. Unlike skills, which can be demonstrated, evidenced and clearly shown, style is a bit more amorphous and difficult to establish unequivocally.
Style can be broken up into Attributes, which are intrinsic, and Conduct, which is circumstantial.
Attributes would include such things as an employee’s integrity or compassion. A compassionate employee is likely to be so in the workplace, on the sports field and drinking beer with their friends. Attributes of an individual, like skills, move with the employee. They are a statement of the employee, not of the environment. Attributes, like skills, cannot be changed overnight. One might even argue that they are very difficult to change in mature individuals.
In contrast, conduct is the result of the interaction between the employee and the environment. Examples would include an employee’s attitude, their ability to get along with their co-workers, their commitment to the company’s goals, etc. An employee might be dismissive of another individual because of a relationship they have built with that individual. An employee might be a naysayer to all ideas because of their lack of confidence in management.
Whereas the skills and attributes are likely to transport with the employee to any other job, the conduct is a reflection of the employee’s connection to the environment. Neither the good nor the bad will move to another job they take. So a disengaged employee at your workplace could well become very engaged at the next job.
The conduct is a product of the individual employee and the surrounding environment. To change the conduct, one or both of those have to change.
The individual can choose to change. Or you can change the environment surrounding the individual. Unlike skills and qualities, conduct can change practically overnight. It is often a matter of an individual’s attitude and desire, or a matter of something in their environment that is eliciting that behavior. This part of the assessment should include the changes you plan to make for any conduct deficiencies identified.
So results, skills and style. An income statement view and a balance sheet view, with the balance sheet broken up into the tangible and intangible items.