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Evaluating Employees and Assessing Our Leadership

Evaluating Employees and Assessing Our Leadership

A while back I was tasked with developing a company’s standard for performance evaluations. I am not an HR expert, but I am well-versed in giving evaluations and accepting feedback (thanks to Toastmasters), and I did some of my graduate research on team dynamics and core competencies (my MBA capstone project was basically a “how to” guide for implementing core competencies for competitive advantage).

In my research and first hand experiences, I’ve come to realize that evaluating performance is like peeling an onion. We observe successes and failures on the outer layer, but if we take the time to look at what lies underneath we learn much more: how well an employee’s skills are aligned with his position, how he interprets the company’s values, and how much support he is receiving from management. If we ask the right questions we can learn about the underlying factors of an employee’s performance — external influences, internal struggles, and (often) a breakdown in communication.

In order to build a strong team of highly-engaged employees I knew I needed to develop a thoughtful evaluation. In addition to basic job performance, I decided to assess three main aspects: (1) how well the employee’s work is aligned with the values of the company, (2) how well the employee’s work is aligned with his own talents, and (3) how well the employee is being managed.

Alignment with Company Values

In my graduate research I found a wide variety of matrices for assessment, but there was one common theme for successfully reducing turnover and increasing engagement: ensure that the company values are baked in to every step of the process. When the company values are well thought-out and clearly defined, they can serve as a compass for everything that happens at the company. The more the values are referenced and embodied, the stronger the company culture, and the more successful its employees.

With the company values statement in one hand I drafted questions about employee behavior. This strategy proved to be a good method of illustrating what it meant to live the mission — it gave employees an opportunity to describe how they embodied the company values, and it also provided clarity for their continuing goals.

Alignment with Strengths

Whenever we put someone into a position that doesn’t match his skillset we are doing the employee and the company a disservice. The employee is not giving his best and we’re preventing him from doing so. I recently heard Mac Anderson’s quip, “you can’t send a duck to eagle school”. The metaphor is so perfect: why try to turn a flock-oriented, natural swimmer into a lone predator who nests on a cliff?

According to John Maxwell, leadership coach and author of multiple best sellers, “people’s purpose in life is always connected to their giftedness.” If we can help others recognize their strengths and give them opportunities to become even stronger, we help light the way for their success. And as we all know, whenever people feel like they are fulfilling their purpose in life they are dedicated 100%.

In the assessment I asked employees where they felt most confident in their jobs, and when I looked at the results I immediately recognized shifts that needed to happen. It makes so much more sense, and requires much less effort, to help someone take the next step in a direction they are already pointed, than it does to try to point them in another direction.

Well Managed

Over 10 years ago I started working for a company and I didn’t really enjoy it. As the weeks past I found it harder and harder to get out of bed in the morning and drag myself to the office. The worst part was that my boss hated me…. at least I thought she did. When it came time for my review my boss called me in to her office and showed me the low scores she had given me it was clear that I wasn’t meeting her expectations. She cut right to the chase: “What is going on here?” she asked. “I get the feeling you don’t like me.”

I was shocked by her candidness, but I was also taken aback by her perception. I replied honestly, “I thought you didn’t like me!” I started to recall moments when she had sent me snarky emails or called me out in meetings. She was surprised at my response and the more we talked, the more we discovered that what we had on our hands was a simple miscommunication. Instead of walking through each item on my evaluation form, prodding me to defend myself, she had an honest conversation with me, and I will never forget it

According to Brené Brown’s research it is rare for leaders to engage in these types of straight-forward discussions. In fact, she identified “avoiding tough conversations, including giving honest, productive feedback” as the biggest hurdle to leading with courage. (Dare to Lead, 2018)

When we are not honest with each other trust erodes, and problems arise. As Brené Brown puts it, “Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind.” That includes “feeding people half-truths or bullshit to make them feel better (which is almost always about making ourselves feel more comfortable),” and “Not getting clear with a colleague about your expectations because it feels too hard, yet holding them accountable or blaming them for not delivering.” (Brown, 2018)

A manager’s influence can help make or break an individual’s performance. When I created an employee review I simultaneously created a manager review. I knew that my actions would affect many of the layers of employee performance, so I sought to understand my own performance. Was I providing the tools that employees needed to do their jobs, did they understand their roles, did they feel valued?

In my journey as a leader I have taken to heart Brené Brown’s words: “Daring leaders must care for and be connected to the people they lead.” Managing people is one thing, but leading people requires trust, respect, and inspiration–from both parties. What better way to foster a highly engaged and successful team, than to peel back the outer layers and get to the heart of the matter.

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