Many large companies including Microsoft, are killing off their performance review ends of “stack ranking,” which aims to place the performance of workers on a distribution or otherwise known as a “bell curve” in an attempt to highlight the top performers and weed out the non performers.
It’s great to see positive momentum in bringing humanity back into the ongoing measurement of an employee’s contribution to the organization, but just because a few big and sexy (Ok, I digress…Microsoft is totally not sexy!) tech companies are making the changes, many great companies still continue to risk degrading their engagement levels due to outdated models that force employees to get all “Game of Thrones” on one another. At the risk of being a bit windy I’ll share my perspective as a person who has been involved in Tech for over 10 years – An industry that is OBSESSED with hard data (and for good reason I may add). Looking back several years over my own experiences on the job, going to school, being a son/parent/husband, trying to be a good neighbor, etc. most “opportunities lost” come down to failing to hold ourselves accountable to being fully present in the situation that we are responsible for creating positive outcomes in.
So let’s talk about one of the most common excuses that come up around here when things do not get done….”I’m being pulled around in 100 different directions!”…whines the non-producer. Well, I’m not sorry to say that being pulled in 100 different directions is not an excuse for focusing on the things that matter the most – the PRIORITIES. And since we are talking about stack–ranking in this thread, it is implied that we are talking about people managers – who’s #1 priority should be the success of the players on their team, so that they can build something great together.
This thread got me thinking more about the review process itself rather than the final ranking. The review should act as a clear and non surprising reminder of what is working and not working so that as a team player, you can freely construct your personal blueprint for success. Most modern performance review systems offer a place for a “self review,” or “employee comments,” which only makes the tool more powerful for the purpose of collaborating toward the journey of bringing out the best in people – but just like any tool not used properly, it can be excessively expensive to operate and possibly even more dangerous than the original intent of using the tool to build something great.
There should really be a hard and fast rule to the review process at any organization who values people as their most valuable asset: No manager should see a quickly approaching review deadline as increased pressure to finally “have that talk,” game the system with supporting “documentation,” or worse…delay the feedback in favor of using the review period as a power base to achieve a “combo loco” of a difficult conversation, documentation, and sign off all in one pass. If the employee receiving feedback is surprised, the manager has failed to execute properly. So my question is…”what’s the next step?”
Here’s where I see an opportunity for improvement: We should consider putting more pressure on having the manager be held accountable for justifying the content of the review to their Senior Leadership Team over the painstaking series of arguments that happen behind the scenes [in organizations using the stack-rank approach] to justify the final ranking and distribution of rankings over the team. Normalize the data with some context. Ignoring the content in favor of prioritizing a final ranking decision to create a “normal distribution” curve seems to expose the risk of writing careless content about the player that often times have the biggest impact on the employee. There’s a choice to make it for better or worse. This works both ways because the content is what sets expectations for future performance and possibly engagement (or sets the tone for future non-performance and disengagement)
For example – Sometimes a review can have too much “glowing” content and it needs to be toned down to protect the player from the ill effects of overconfidence and of course, there’s the other stinker…the content that speaks negatively of the player much to their surprise or at the expense of all of the great things that they did-for-you-lately that were not mentioned in the review.
I understand there are performance management realities that need to be respected as well, so yes the review should reflect final KPI’s or whatever measurement output needed to back up actual goal attainment. But the integrated story (content) within the performance review is an opportunity lost if we are not serving the players on your team with presence and strong leadership that serves as a “6 month ongoing dress rehearsal” up until the actual review itself, which by the time it arrives can be orchestrated in harmony and with “no surprises” in 20 minutes or less between the Player/Manager.
This way of thinking can successfully span across multiple applications, including but not limited to – teaching, parenting, being a good nanny, or coaching basketball. It’s no question why Gregg Popovich consistently receives accolades for being one of the finest coaches of all time.
PS – GO SPURS!!!!!!