In The Workplace

We are in a bind in introducing a new performance appraisal system for our employees. Some managers think it’s best to focus on team performance, while others believe we should prioritize measuring individual accomplishments. In your opinion, what should be the best approach and priority in assessing performance – team or individual? – Serviam.

In one of his famous speeches, former US president Ronald Reagan told a story about a shoemaker who made a new pair of shoes for him when he was a teenager. The cobbler asked if Reagan wanted a round or square toe. Reagan was unsure, so the cobbler told him to return in a day or two and let him know.

A few days later, the cobbler saw the young Reagan on the street and asked what he had decided. Reagan was still undecided. The cobbler said the shoes would be ready in two days. When Reagan picked up the shoes, he was surprised to discover that one had a round toe and one had a square toe.

Taking it as a lesson, he told himself: “If you don’t make your own decisions, somebody else makes them for you.” Indeed, you have to make your own decision based on the total circumstances of your situation. Besides, I’m not privy to all possible elements that could make or unmake your decision. Be that as it may, allow me to give you some basic and generic guidelines that could help you arrive at an intelligent decision:

One, reconcile the best of both the individual and team performance assessment. It’s not a zero-sum game or one over the other. Each one has its own pros and cons. For one, if you focus on individual contributions you could destroy team spirit. On the other hand, if you focus on team contributions, you allow deadwood to ride on the achievements of the team.

Two, create an objective performance measurement tool for individual and team. Set guidelines on how teams and its individual members would define their target, standards, resources to be used, and timelines to be observed, among others. It’s also necessary that the pertinent policy and forms to be used are made corporate-wide for consistency and uniformity of application.

Three, divide the responsibility of assessing team and individual performance. Top management should be responsible for evaluating team achievements, while the team should handle measuring the individual performance. In doing the latter, all team members may conduct secret assessments of their colleagues using an objectively-designed form. The result is analyzed by top management.

Four, conduct team and individual performance appraisals once every quarter. Once a year or even once every six months is too long. Many of us are focused on the short-term, rather than the long-term horizons. Therefore, make it a quarterly assessment. Frequent assessments allow those concerned to immediately identify their weaknesses and correct them accordingly. Then level up by doing the appraisal once every two to three months.

Five, commend high-performing teams and individuals in public. And castigate tailenders in private. Take the time to do the job right. In doing this, be sure to evaluate employees based on their contributions against the mutually-accepted objectives. People have different strengths and abilities, and should be rewarded based on their accomplishments.

Six, evaluate the total performance of both individuals and teams. The key word is “total.” This means you don’t have to fall into the trap of rating people based on their single outstanding achievements or failures. By the same approach, avoid rating them based on their most recent performance or initial accomplishments.

Last, ask both individuals and their teams for their performance plan. Establish a culture of co-ownership. This approach helps establish rapport with everyone and create two-way communication process with top management. Otherwise, they may think of the whole situation as nothing but a pure lecture session and think negatively about it all the way.

Whatever happens, you must consider the fact that bringing employees to their maximum potential doesn’t start and end with the performance evaluation process. It’s imperative that to provide continuous feedback on everyone’s performance throughout the year, even outside of the performance evaluation period.

However, the extent to which your top management will do this depends on the specific needs of everyone. In any event, you only have to be constructive in giving the necessary guidance, without necessarily micro-managing everyone.

ELBONOMICS: The purpose of performance appraisal is to prepare future leaders.


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