Dear Leader’s Digest~
And here's the tricky part. At the end of the performance review I like to create improvement goals. I did, but she disagreed with all of them because she thinks she walks on water and I think she's under water. Now she's got goals I know she doesn't believe she needs to work on for the next review period.
Dear What Next,
Sounds like an awkward moment. One we've been in ourselves. It should be no surprise to those of us in leadership positions that we often have to confront people's illusions about themselves. The fact that human beings have an incredibly inflated sense of efficacy is also no surprise. I attended a friends' son's soccer game one day and smiled when I heard parents from both sides swearing vehemently that the ref was obviously playing for the other team. We all think we do better, deserve more, and are perfectly informed far more often than is the case. (Note: The ref did, in fact, favor the opposing team).
The tricky thing in performance appraisals is that even leaders might have an inflated sense of rightness (Unless you have accurate and complete documentation). And these leaders are reviewing someone who likely suffers from the same affliction. So how can two imperfect human beings muddle their way toward truth?
The answer is to trust the conversation and the facts. A better approximation of truth is much more likely to emerge through healthy dialogue that has an ample supply of concrete examples. So here are a few tips to help make the conversation productive in the emotionally charged atmosphere of a performance evaluation.
1. Decide how to decide. To avoid violated expectations and resentment, be clear up front that while your strong preference is to arrive at consensus about the rating and goals, at the end of the discussion you as the supervisor are charged with making the final decision. Do not overstate this—let your employee know that you are willing to spend the time and energy required to reach a common view of things and would only make an independent decision if it's clear you cannot do so in a reasonable amount of time.
2. Don't own the burden of proof—share it. Don't get cornered into feeling like you have to convince your employee that you are "right." That's not your job. Your job is simply to share your view. If you find yourself trying to convince the employee that your view is "right," then you've stepped out of dialogue and into monologue. You need to step away from your own conclusions and recognize that they are just one view of the truth. Take a few deep breaths and open yourself to a different perspective. Share the responsibility for arriving at the "right" conclusion. Let her know that you'd like her help in making sense of a substantial amount of data supporting your view and your rating.
3. Separate content and pattern. Often, the disconnect comes because the supervisor has seen a pattern and is attempting to help the employee recognize and take responsibility for this pattern. Yet the employee doesn't own up to these behaviors. Instead, he or she explains away one data point after another.
For example, you say, "On a number of occasions, customers have complained that you were brusque or impatient with them." There's the pattern you're trying to establish.
To which your employee says, "Can you give me an example?"
Now, here's where it gets slippery. At this point, you must give her examples. You can't expect her to just nod robotically to the pattern you're alleging she has demonstrated. So you give an example: "Last Friday a customer told me that after she complained to you about some moldy strawberries that you barely acknowledged him and walked away without saying a word." To which she says, "I remember that—and that's not what happened. Yes, I didn't say anything, but I smiled and waved and turned to get a phone call that had been on hold."
This is a tricky point in the conversation because something subtle just happened. If you don't catch it, you'll end this performance review feeling unsatisfied and at odds. You'll avoid this outcome if you can recognize what your employee just did. What was it?
She changed the subject from a pattern conversation to a content conversation. You're now discussing what happened last Friday rather than what happens as a pattern.
Here's what you have to do to move back to the right conversation: "I see—and I can see how you might have thought you handled things right in that instance. But what I need your help with is the pattern that has emerged. I can share three different examples with you—and there may be an extenuating circumstance in each—and yet the pattern is more consistent with you than with other members of the team. That's what I'd like us to discuss and resolve."
Do you see what just happened? First, we tried to share responsibility for addressing our mutual understanding of the issue. Second, we moved the conversation from content back to pattern. And finally, we set expectations that if she continues to give explanations for every element of the pattern, she'll still need to address why the pattern is different for her than for other employees.
Now, even if you do all of these things, you still may agree to disagree. In which case, you'll have to lean back on suggestion number one. You could end with something like: "Well, it seems like we see things differently. I appreciate your patience and hope you can see that I have sincerely wanted to understand your view, as well. Yet I still have to make my best judgment about what's going on and how to move ahead. I ask that you respect the position I'm in and make efforts to respond. I still believe this pattern of brusqueness with customers is an issue you should address. To do so, I ask you to do the following. . . and what ideas do you have?"
Your question demonstrates how seriously you take your coaching role. We applaud your efforts and wish you luck as you sort through your own self-illusions and work to be a positive influence on some of your similarly afflicted employees.
In the meantime, my buddy and I will keep trying to convince the ref that he's playing favorites!
All the success!