Updated: Feb 6
Currently, there are two things in the air on both sides of the Atlantic - Christmas Spirit and Employee Performance Assessment. There might be too much competition in the first category, and I am personally feeling more competent in the latter. Accordingly, this note is a seasonal summary of insights about what matters in employee evaluation and 7 questions to ask during the most important meeting since hiring.
The best analogy of an annual appraisal and a potential desired promotion would be a time to change your current pair of shoes because your feet have overgrown the ones you have.
Note a difference. An argument that you have worn those comfy sneakers for two or five years and you would like to have a new pair is not as convincing as when you articulate with numbers how you have actually grown. (Indeed, in an extreme situation of a low degree of HR responsiveness and a case of negligent manager a bystander could even see your toes sticking from inside.. (Humorous but who of us has never observed such a situation?)
A common sign of a company not vested in its overall growth and development is when an employee has to justify his promotion with a number of years spent in a role.
In a healthy environment, the following happens: a team member builds a case showcasing how he has grown, how his current “shoes” are constraining him from running faster and further. A new possibility is needed. With possibility comes responsibility - always, but it is a subject of another conversation.
Part 1. Things that matter while considering promotions
in my experience (yet vary across organizations):
I. Emerging or Maturing Capability of Strategic Thinking.
Two out of three juniors would bring “I see myself as a strategic thinker, I would like to leave operations to the team because my strengths are in the strategy domain”. In reality, and this is what becomes visible during assessment and appraisals - strategic thinking shines in the execution.
Being strategic in ideas is easy. Being strategic in execution, in real-time managing stakeholders, team, and project - that changes the course of a company.
II. Progress in Stress Management.
As you climb the corporate ladder - the pressure is just increasing. If an employee is not making a conscious effort of becoming better with his stress management practice today while being responsible only for himself or a limited number of team members - you would set him for failure giving more opportunities without the power of handling the pressure.
III. Consistency of Adherence to Result, or Discipline of Achievement.
If a person is not pushing through till result in small things - unlikely in bigger role things will change, on the opposite, more blunders to occur. If the excellence of business delivery or push is demonstrated only during a season before appraisals - this how sustainable it is for running your competitive business long-term.
Part 2. Red flags that can’t be neglected during assessment and feedback conversation
I. When a person engaged himself into workplace politics (if known). Engaging in workplace politics is bias-driven behavior. Biases are shaky. For a solid company’s growth, you need an unshakable foundation.
II. When a person demonstrated unarticulated negativity. There is negativity that can stem from confusing business processes, poor corporate culture (double standards, favoritism, blame default patterns), mismatch of responsibility, and available skill set. As long as an employee can formulate the source of his negativity and articulate potential solutions: “I think I would feel differently when and if…" - this is a work in progress, this is something to put in next year's action plan. If there is a failure of articulating negativity source, it is most likely a bias, mental pattern, work victimhood strategy - that’s an energy drain for the next year.
III. When there is a consistent lack of improvement on the points of development discussed and agreed throughout multiple touchpoints and appraisals in the past. Highlight - consistent. There are situations when employees deliver great results working with specific managers and make mistakes while working with others, or on the specific type of projects. This is something operationally addressable. However, if there is a consistent lack of improvement in an area that has been addressed by introducing a comprehensive roadmap for improvement - you are facing an HR problem.
Part 3. Seven questions to ask
A set of questions I have been using during appraisal meetings with various teams in different organizations:
"Tell me about your Annual Objectives progress?" (numerical, deep drive into projects KPIs). Every organization has such a system under different names. This is usually a default question and many managers stop here. If you have time for discussion only around this question, then at least - finish the conversation by asking how "I could be a better manager in supporting you in achieving those KPIs?"
"Let's speak about challenges you’ve encountered and how you’ve overcome (or haven’t) those this year?"
(for managerial level) "If you have managed a team - share a few examples of what you’ve learned as a manager, the strengths you’ve built, the areas you would like (need) to work on to become a better manager?"
(for non-managerial level) "What you’ve learned of working with your manager, the strengths you’ve seen in your manager, the areas of their development?" (by answering this question an employee train the muscle of providing unbiased analysis and fact-based feedback)
"Have you received enough support from the team? What you would do differently for the team?"
"Current year - three biggest, most important lessons you’ve learned in your job?"
"Next year aspirations professionally for yourself and the team?"