• Important Info:

  • Pages

  • Archives

  • Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

  • Follow The Armchair HR Manager – Advice from an "HR Fan" on WordPress.com
  • Recent Posts

  • Advertisements

Don’t lower the bar – this isn’t a limbo contest!

Regular readers of The Armchair HR Manager know that one of my favourite topics to write about is performance management. Having had responsibility for performance management, both as an operations manager and as an HR Manager, has given me a pretty good perspective on just how difficult an ongoing process it is. I get it, the challenges in dealing with lousy performance review forms, the time commitment, the struggle to set goals, etc. Most of those items, when operations and HR partner together, can be addressed and hopefully resolved.

80656219_2e6075a799_mA big part of the performance management philosophy that I preach to my clients is that the most important piece of ongoing performance management is being able to accurately measure the success of all of your employees – everything else about performance management is moot if you don’t/can’t do that.   This all starts by identifying what the performance outcomes (i.e. what “success looks like”) are for the individual in their role. You need to set goals/objectives and identify, up front, how the the employee will be measured – whether quantitatively or qualitatively. By the way, there is nothing wrong with qualitative measurement (i.e. the old manager observation or management by wandering around); however, as a manager, you need to execute and actually OBSERVE your employees and coach them.

Here is the thing, by having objective goals for your staff, based on the position and their knowledge and experience within the position; you can measure everyone on a level playing field. That way, when it comes time to dole out any type of pay increase, the top performers are getting the most money and the bottom performers aren’t getting as much if any – which is the way it should be in a performance based system.

Here’s the rub though, as I mentioned before, you HAVE to accurately set goals and measure success. If you make arbitrary allowances for how you measure and reward, your credibility evaporates. Remember, you aren’t doing an underperforming employee any favours by artificially inflating their performance rating. In the same vein, you are also hurting the employees who are meeting and/or exceeding your performance expectations by lumping in lower performers with them. Let’s be real, employees talk and they know how they are being rated. Now, can you spell “engagement issue?”

In case I wasn’t clear, here is the specific problem I am talking about: As a manager, you have an employee, let’s call him Joe. For the past several years, Joe has been an ok employee. He started out fine, but after five years on the job, Joe is still performing at the same level as he did when he first started. The problem is that his manager has always identified Joe as meeting performance expectations, when he should have been tagged as needing improvement. Now, this past year, Joe has actually raised his game a bit and worked at the level of an employee who has been in their role for 5 years. The manager now rates Joe as exceeding performance expectations. You see the problem there? The performance bar was lowered by not accurately assessing performance from the get go. Because Joe was told all along he was meeting expectations (the bar was lowered), when he actually performed better, there was nowhere to go but up or give him an exceeds rating.

I have seen this scenario occur far too often. When managers are confronted about why they are now giving the higher rating I have heard things like, “well, Joe probably coasted for the last 5 years, but this year he really stepped up so that’s why I am giving him an exceeds rating.” Huh? Really? So what you are really saying is, “because I lowered the bar so much when it comes to Joe, he actually was able to easily step over it this year so it exceeded my already low expectations of him.” Do you see how wrong that statement is? Do you see how important it is to NOT lower the bar? The job expectations are the job expectations. Do not accept mediocrity as meeting your performance expectations. If you do, the message to your staff is that you do expect their best and that coasting along is acceptable performance.

Things like lowering the bar on performance expectations rot at the core of any performance management system. Once one manager does it, others follow suit because it is easy. You never have to deliver a tough message. The problem being, any system that allow this to continue will lose its best and brightest people and all you will be left with at the end, at best, are mediocre employees…but you might not know that because in your system, they already exceed your expectations. As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Image courtesy of Max Sparber/Flickr.com


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: