Most organizations would have completed their annual appraisal cycle at this time and so this is the most talked about topic for now. There are two myths that I want to help break in this post – the force fitted bell curve and therefore fairness of the rating.
At the very start of my career with NIIT Vizag, the franchisor of the Vizag centre told me, that two conversations should never come as a surprise to an employee – the appraisal conversation and the firing conversation. If they do, then as a manager you haven’t done your job. The very fact that it is stuck in my head even after 23 years is testimony to its veracity. I have said this to my managers in most conversations and I say it during every appraisal cycle again. This statement negates the “force fitted” bell curve. The only way the two conversations cannot be a surprise is when you have had regular conversations and kept the employee appraised of his/her performance relative to others. Also understand that appraisals are about a twelve month period, not your entire life.
If you have had regular 1:1’s with your direct reports and kept track of how they were performing, the year end conversation should be a breeze and the bell curve would be easy. Understand that the bell curve is a natural phenomenon – in any group of 100 or more people you will always have 10% that don’t meet the performance standards, 20% that exceed and the rest meet the standards. Watch around you … Is everyone rich, is everyone poor, is everyone good looking, is everyone ugly ? Nature follows the bell curve. The point is, the bottom 10% are not “bad” performers, they are “bad” performers in the current context and in the last twelve months and could be rock stars in a different context and another period !! We just don’t have the patience nor are we willing to put in the effort to help them move to a different context and develop themselves. Imagine if Einstein was thrown out of school since he was in the bottom 10%.
Being a manager and leading people has to be a passion – if you don’t have it, don’t be one and don’t promote one who doesn’t enjoy it.
The second myth that follows the “force fitted” bell curve is the fairness of the rating. A good way to judge if your rating is fair is to see how it would be if the ratings were openly shared – can you justify them ? It’s convenient to keep ratings confidential … It gives power to the manager and the lesser manager can settle scores, play favourites etc. Great organizations have a redressal mechanism through which the employee can contest his/her rating and the rating will be changed if found incorrect. The Unilever group is one such organization and Krishnan has had a first hand experience nearly 25 years back ! No wonder Unilever continues to produce world class leaders. Develop the right professional muscles and help your organization get stronger – as you do the yearly appraisal think of it as open to feedback and justify the rating as though you were defending it in public. Use the 360 feedback in your decision making process for the rating, not use it post facto to justify whatever rating you pre-decided. I have come across examples where the person got a mile long developmental feedback for a given year but got rated as exceeding expectations 🙁 fairness applies both ways – don’t penalise unnecessarily and don’t play favourites either. If you are not fair, you will never gain the trust of your team and the whole thing is a downward spiral.
So use the appraisal conversation to build a career, counsel for improved performance, gain trust and play fair not as a tick box activity and certainly not for settling scores !!