My perspective on performance appraisals of a team – the opportunities & judgements

How do you assess the performance of an employee reporting to you at work? What is your basis of assessing him and how do you decide on the grade that you would give him for his performance? This is a typical question and situation faced by IT managers whilst carrying out the performance appraisal for their subordinates. Earlier I wrote here about the way typically the performance appraisals are carried out in most of the organizations.

In this post, I am trying to put the equation through my perspective and how I would judge a resource based on the work he / she does in the organization on a project.

One of the most important aspect of Project Management, in my eyes is,  to create and give equal opportunities for your subordinates to perform and on the basis of the performance, judge them on their results & outcome.

The obvious question you would ask is how on earth you could give equal opportunities to the resources within your team to shine? Well, the answer to this is simple.  Create opportunities and innovative ideas and encourage taking initiatives that would make the workplace a better place and obviously help the projects.

Assuming that you have a fixed set of tasks you do as a part of your project and you have a varied experience pattern in the team where some resources are senior (more experienced & some being juniors (relatively less experienced). In this case, most of the times, its observed that more critical work where results are evident and clear, is done by the senior people within the team whilst the junior people are given more of a regular & business as usual tasks such as reporting, housekeeping & less critical work. Probably, in a way, right for the project and right for grooming them to take up more challenging work once they are good hands-on the project.

However, the catch in this is, how long you would keep this situation? In practice, it works, but how long really would you like to keep it as it is? 3 months, 6 months? Well, depending on the manager / team leader they would like to start giving the responsibilities to the junior members sooner rather than later, and give them challenging work so that they could try and prove themselves as being up for the task! In my eyes, the sooner you start is better, probably immediately after you finish the training & into a month on actual project work you give them good responsibilities so that they could grab the opportunities and give you results you need from them.  But again, this is one side of the story !

Second part is, if there is not much routing work that is challenging enough for the teams then what you, as a leader or a manager do? Create chances for the team to show their potential !  .. the obvious question you would ask is HOW?

One of the simplest way to look for chances is to look for opportunities of improvements in your project and try few of the following suggestions to see if you could use them to allocate non-project work to your team members and get results that would benefit the project to either save efforts, save money or save time ! Give them challenges to provide practical and technical solutions to common project problems and situations and judge them on the results they show on this work. The technique of innovation & taking initiative was what I actually tried on my team members and found really useful to understand the potential within the resources and judge them accordingly.   Some of the examples we recently implemented were the knowledge management wiki, our team blog, health check automation, server uptime checker, mailman list for managing incidents and so on. These things really helped the team, the project and in general increased the level of spirit within the team as most of the resources got equal chance to show their potential by doing a definite work package delivery within the appraisal year.

Now moving on to how you judge the resources on their year end performance.

One of the most important thing you should as a project manager is to keep discussing with your resources about the expectations and guide them in their career. I especially dislike the method of “once-a-year” discussion about your work, probably a month before the corporate appraisal cycle ends !  This is absolutely bad practice.  As a project manager, you not only have a responsibility to deliver the quality project, but you also have a responsibility (may be as a parent or caretaker) to nurture the talent within the team and guide your subordinates towards their goals.  Honestly, and unfortunately, not many Project Managers do this in practice.

If you have been discussing the expectations, creating opportunities for the resources to work on, monitor results and measure the outcome of the work regularly enough then it actually builds a level of trust between the manager & subordinate, which really is important in the corporate world.

One example I give to all my colleagues about appraisal is of how a good, excellent & outstanding performer will react when given a simple task “bring me a glass of water”.

Good performer – Joe
If you ask Joe to bring yourself a glass of water. He would go and literally bring you a glass of water as you said.

The people who would do the given job have done a Good job in my eyes. If they do the given task without any issues, without any pitfalls then they have done a Good job, nothing more.

Excellent performer – John
If you ask John to bring yourself a glass of water. He would go and bring you a glass of water, however with it, he would also bring another jar full of water in case you require more after you drink one glass.

You might have noticed how the response of John differs from Joe. Quite simply, he anticipated the customer requirement and took an initiative to address it without the customer asking for it. Bit of happier customer !

The people who do given job excellently would normally have shown good proactive measurements to ensure the given job and related tasks are completed on time and with quality.

Outstanding performer – Josh 
If you ask Josh to bring yourself a glass of water. He would first give you a choice of hot / cold / tap / mineral water and bring you the same. He would also bring an additional stock in case of you needing more once you drink your glass. Whilst you are drinking the water, he would also make arrangements about next time when you might require it and in case he is not around to server you !

Again, you would have noticed how Josh has differed from John in managing customer requirements. When customer puts a requirement for you, you should always go back to customers with options that are possible within the circumstances so you exactly understand what the customer wants and deliver according, exceeding the original expectations.  An even more happier customer here !

The people who, in my eyes, do an outstanding job would not only do the given job to an excellent level, but would go a step further and take proactive measures to make it better next time. They would bring out initiatives, changes to the processes, tasks and drive them to closure.

These people will make significant difference to the project and would be real assets.

 

In the above, I particularly did not comment on the resources who perfo
rm below the Good level and if despite giving opportunities, the resources do not take them and show results, then probably the project is better without them !

2 comments

  1. Immensely enjoy reading your articles, they are thought provoking. I would like to add a few of my own from personal experience.

    While I agree with the approach that managers should take, what we must realize is that appraisals & their outcome is still a very closed door and opaque process. Individuals do not realize that that appraisals are not absolute ratings but relative.

    There is an increased need to make the system and the process transperent to the everyone. Here again the onus lies in the hands of the Project manager. An individual should know who are his/her peers, what the criteria are for measurement are and how they are being measured against those criteria and importantly where they fare as compared to others.

    Transperency in performance appraisal can help bring out healthy competetion between team members and also reduce the possibility of dissatisfaction at the end of the year. During my stint I introduced self-evaluation sheets by which individuals could track their own performance as well. The primary goal was to make the performance criteria as objective as possible. I believe the ratio of objective evaluation to subjective should be about 80-20. But today it is more towards 20-80. We need to try and improve the process within our own spheres of influence.

  2. Shiv, thanks for your comment.

    The whole point of nutruting the resources is a three way cycle, first is to understand the potential, second is to set the targets & review them frequently and third is mentoring to guide them as well as the project to the success.

    At the end of this three way cycle, the year end performance appraisal is just the common summary of the results and the outcome of your year end efforts.

    Essentially, the point I am trying to make here is that you set up a criteria for your resources to meet and help / guide them to achieve it. So you have given your resources good opportunities to do well and you can judge them on their performance.

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