Location: Belgium

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Happy New Year Evaluation

I wish all of you reading this blog all the best for the New Year.

New Year comes for much of us with a new round of the famous – or infamous – yearly ritual of performance evaluations. This means for most of us in the electronics business, engineers, consultants and sales people alike, a stressful event. So, even if it is slightly off-topic for this blog, I’d like to share some thoughts and reflections on the yearly evaluation event.

Have you ever listened to human resources management consultants? In my experience something simple as performance evaluations is elaborated to a level where it is inhumanly complicated. For me, this is done to obfuscate the fact that the performance reviews results’ are used for two purposes:
    - To testify that you’re not better than 80% of your colleagues, so there’s no reason to give you a raise.
    - Or to substantiate your notice in case they need to downsize the company.

So, when a performance review procedure is installed, it is made as complicated and as fuzzy as possible to keep you from contesting the outcomes.

If this sounds grim to you, know that this is just what happened to me and to some of my former colleagues in the past. Mind you, a lot of employers do handle the issue well. I’ve been given serious raises and bonuses in the past. Oddly this happened only where performance reviews where informal and the appraiser handled the issue on a personal basis, rather than a mechanical, procedural approach.

As one should present solutions instead of problems, or so I was told, I’d like to present my view on the performance review cycle. The only reason, in my view, of having performance reviews is to help achieve what you want yourself. The performance review should include the views of everyone around you (the so-called 360 degrees feedback) and should be conducted with someone who wants you to succeed as much as you want yourself (or more)… without any hidden agenda’s. For the 360° feedback, you only need three questions answered (by all reviewers):
    - What do you want me to keep doing that I’m already doing?
    - What do you want me to stop doing that I’m currently doing?
    - What do you want me to start doing that I’m not doing already?

Thinking of these three questions, I came up with the following model to support my views. As most consultants, I came up with a kind of 4 quadrant model... I guess you could call this the “Marc’s Evaluation Quadrants”.

Here’s a short, intuitive explanation of each of the quadrants:

    1. The Performance Quadrant

    It should go without saying that this first quadrant is represented by the first of the three questions above: what behavior is present that is desirable? It is important to ask this question for the positive stimulation it brings. This question gives the behaviors where you are at your best: these are the things you get done and people like it! This is your performance quadrant. Getting told what you’re good at will reinforce the desirable behavior equally to appraisal, awards, bonuses, raises and other advantages that help support the status quo.

    2. The Opportunity Quadrant

    The second quadrant represents the second of the three questions above and asks what behavior is not present that is desirable to the appraisers. The missing behavior can still be adopted. This is why this second quadrant represents an opportunity for growth. There are several possible reasons for the absence of desirable behavior:

      - You don’t know the behavior is desirable.
      - You don’t possess the skills to produce the behavior.
      - You are not motivated to adapt the desirable behavior.

    All these things can be fixed, to a certain degree, depending on the type of behavior that needs to be adopted.
    Another way to handle this is by changing the environment so the absent behavior becomes obsolete. A good example of this is to change jobs.

    3. The Risk Quadrant

    This quadrant is the area of exhibited undesirable behavior. It is called the risk quadrant because it is a very dangerous quadrant. This behavior can make you:
    - loose your job
    - break your marriage
    - alienate friends
    Therefore it is best to stop doing this behavior as soon as possible. Usually stopping some behavior is easier than learning to do something new. So asking the third of the questions above is important to put these things on your radar screen.

    4. The Silent Quadrant

    Finally we come to the silent quadrant... a very desirable situation: you are not doing something that is not desirable. However, this situation is very unstable because the environment might change so the behavior becomes desirable or you start exhibiting this undesirable behavior, usually for no particular reason. Human nature has a strange twist, in that it likes to start doing things that are forbidden. People like to drink, smoke, drive their car too fast and so on… just because it is not good for them. This is why it is not only difficult to list all the things your are not doing, but also it is best to keep quit about this undesirable behavior. For talking about bad behavior brings on the urge to actually start doing them. It’s like telling a child not to eat the cake, when you can bet your life it will be missing a piece when you return. While it would even not have noticed the cake in the first place. This means there is no fourth question to ask during the evaluation.

With this I conclude the Marc’s Evaluation model. Now all you need to do is fill in the tree questions for your own situation. Evaluating yourself like this, by asking the tree questions to your environment, is usually called “360° degree feedback” in literature. This means you’re not only asking feedback from your superiors but also from: colleagues, customers, suppliers, spouse, family and so on...

The result of your 360 degree feedback will allow you to set the objectives for the New Year: your New Year resolutions, so to speak. How to put these New Year resolutions into action is a whole different story. And this may be the subject of a next article.

Happy New Year!

Marc Goeman