In the last issue, while discussing the subject of performance management, I talked about the importance of rater training (i.e., training supervisors), so they are prepared to manage their team members, i.e. subordinates. In other words, before someone is given the responsibility of supervising/managing others, he/should be properly trained in managerial skills. These include, but are not limited to, such critical facets as (i) setting goals, (ii) ensuring employee skill - job requirement match, (iii) providing timely feedback, (iv) evaluating performance, (v) allocating rewards/punishment, as appropriate, and (vi) coaching/counselling, as necessary. As I noted in that piece, it is very important that those who are charged with supervising and managing others are trained appropriately, as otherwise it is very likely that the careers of those working with these supervisors are likely to suffer. Indeed, I have seen numerous cases where employees are confused because they have not received sufficient or appropriate guidance and/or instructions. Often, this lack of clear instructions and guidance means that employees are left to their own design to figure out what is expected of them in their jobs, and if and when they do approach their supervisors for guidance, they are turned away, because the supervisor is "too busy!"
In any case, as I noted before, the lack of attention to providing the requisite training of supervisors ends up hurting individual and organizational performance. But, as important as supervisor training is, it is only part of the equation, albeit the most important part. The other critical piece of this equation - also ignored for the most part - is ratee (i.e. subordinate) training. After all, you wouldn't just train the coach/manager of a sport team -- you would also have to train the team members - in this case, not about how to do their job, but to learn to be a good team member. To be blunt, individual employees need to learn how to be 'managed'. Let me explain, and offer suggestions to ratees.
1. Let's get real - be objective: First, while it is healthy for individuals to have a good image of themselves, it is also important that they have a realistic sense of their own competence and performance. The truth is that not everyone is an outstanding performer, and surely not at all times. So, while it is a good 'game' to declare oneself as outstanding, and wait for the rater to bring the ratings down, it is also important to be honest (at least with oneself) and be ready to give in, when the time is right. Not only does this make for a more fruitful discussion, it also helps to build a healthy relationship with one's rater.
2. Know and acknowledge your strengths and weaknesses: Over the last 3 decades, I have heard criticism of the standard interview question about strengths and weaknesses innumerable times. As my HR recruiter friends often tell me -- most candidates are happy to wax eloquent on their strengths, but usually come prepared with a canned answer about their weaknesses. These range from "I work too hard" to "I lose track of time when I am engrossed in a project" or "I am too eager to help". While there is no doubt that these folks should be offered points for their send of humour and creativity, there is a serious problem with this approach. Over a period of time, many of these folks start believing that their only weakness is that they work too hard or are too eager to help! Well, jokes apart, it is very important that every individual be well aware of his/her limitations, as this is the only way for anyone to know what jobs they are suited for, and when they need to ask for help. Not only would this help individuals find "a good fit" for themselves, this would also help their supervisor(s) arrange necessary training for them at the appropriate time.
3. Come prepared for the appraisal discussion: Of course, I am assuming here that the organization and your rater follow professional norms, and arrange a formal appraisal meeting with you to discuss your performance for the period under review, and to offer their evaluation and justification for the ratings. Let us for a moment stick with this version. So, your supervisor has given you sufficient notice and asked you to come prepared for the meeting. Truth be told, this is a great opportunity to take stock of how one's job is working out, and make course correction, if and as necessary. Of course, what this entails is being objective about one's abilities and one's achievements, as well as being willing to take necessary steps to improve performance and/or skills, as necessary. In addition, coming prepared to the meeting means coming prepared with relevant data and figures and statistics, not just excuses and blame. Of course, as I noted earlier, many supervisors don't conduct these meetings, and if and when they do, are not prepared to explain their judgment and evaluations with data and examples. Well, worry not -- it is for these raters that I have written numerous pieces, including the one in the last issue.
4. Don't take everything personally - especially work - related criticism: One of the key pieces of advice I give raters is to offer feedback to ratees at regular intervals, and on a timely basis. Not surprisingly, the one lament I hear constantly from them is that their subordinates don't like receiving feedback, often get defensive, and that their attempts at feedback usually fail because of these issues. Well, I tell those supervisors to ensure that they create the right atmosphere for such meetings, and that the feedback is clearly about the performance and not the individual, and must be backed by solid and specific evidence. Well, the flip side of this is that ratees need to hear their supervisors out before reacting. At least start by assuming that the feedback (which will often sound like criticism) is about the job one did, and not about one's worth as a human being! In cases where the supervisor does cross the line, it is perfectly acceptable to point out to him/her that their criticism is not about the performance anymore, and has crossed over into personal territory. Finally, ask yourself, is he/she talking about things I can change, and is he/she willing to help me make that change? If yes, well and good - if not, once again, feel free to call him/her on that.
I am confident that these few tips are useful to ratees as they approach their next appraisal meeting. Of course, I am hopeful that raters too will read this piece and find enough to ponder over.