Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Performance management process

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Every now and then, depending on the company, a manager has to evaluate the people in the team. If you are a project manager, you might have it when the project is over, or when you release some of the people from the project.
If you are a people manager, and have directs in your responsibility for the whole year, formal performance management will probably happen once or twice in the year.
Either way, the performance evaluation process is the most official and an important step in providing formal feedback to your employees. It is a good opportunity to formalize the feedback that you provided along the year, to recognize progress or to take corrective actions.

But how do you deliver an effective performance review?

First of all, and the most important step, well known by all of us, is that the performance review should not be a surprise to the employee. As a manager, you have to provide feedback about the way the employee executes on the job during the whole year. Use every opportunity to discuss with he/she about how the specific task was done, either as a way to thank for the great job, or to give constructive ideas.

For this, I highly recommend "The One Minute Manager", an excellent book about how to manage your people, how often to provide this kind of feedback, and which is the most effective method. All done in just a minute. :)

So, step 1: continuous feedback through the year.

Step 2: Have concrete examples prepared and available. If you did the job right during the year, the examples will be already well-known, obvious for both of you, and you will both agree on the meaning of each. Of course, you might also have employees that would not be honest during this discussion, and might even pretend that they don't remember having had that discussion, but... you have all the notes shared with the employee. Again, good preparation.

Step 2 bis: Ask the employee to document his performance in the template you are going to use. It is essential that the employee does his part of the job, and builds the necessary self-awareness about how he meets the expectations based on established criteria.

Step 3: Draft the plan of the conversation you plan to have. As an agenda, it can look like this :
- start with stating the objectives of the meeting, and explain the standards you used in the evaluation
- create a safe environment where opinions can be shared (agree that you may disagree)
- allow the employee to present his/her point of view of the performance
- discuss the points where you disagree (I also confirm what I hear, if I agree)
- prepare to provide recommendations
- plan for the next meetings
- send a summary.

If you now have a plan for your discussion, you should also do a "what-if" analysis, and have some answers ready regarding the performance criteria, how you measured, and where you expect to have objections raised.

Step 4: Plan the time of the discussion
The meeting should take place in a period of the day where both of you are at a maximum of performance. You want to have an effective conversation, where the employee is not tired, distracted, or too agitated because of the day-to-day activities. And you should also foresee some free time after the meeting, to allow for some expansion if needed. Not too much though - if the discussion becomes too long, it might lose its effectiveness, so you might want to prepare a fallback plan in case you are not done - and propose a second meeting to finalize.

Step 5: Perform the discussion
As you have prepared very well, you should not have any surprises, and it should work out smoothly. Still, plan some unknown unknowns, because you are working with people and they tend to be unpredictible in some situations.

Step 6: Follow-up
The last step is extremly important: you should follow-up the meeting with written notes, send them for confirmation to the employee, and discuss about them in the next one-on-one's. The performance review results should not die in a drawer on a sharepoint, or in any system, but should actually be a living document that enables the employee to develop him/herself.

Step 7: (yes, there is another one) Ask for feedback
Do not forget to ask for feedback about the effectiveness of the meeting, and check if the employee felt it was useful and relevant. While the process might be imposed by your company, since you have to do it, it should be something that both of you enjoy. If make it constructive, and not accusative, not too negative, but not excessively positive, I am convinced that the feedback for you will be a stellar one.

Alternatively, you can continue the performance discussion with development ideas, so that the employee can also start working on their development plan. But this is another topic... and it depends on how you want to structure your conversation: focused on the past, or as a jump start for the future. Let's discuss this in a future post - that was my view on performance management, a formal process which starts on day 1 of the year, and never ends.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Apple and Microsoft - the continuous debate

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I will probably be in agreement with most of you, when I say that Apple has definitely re-invented the computer through their innovative design, characteristic colors, transparent plastic and cool shapes.

After seeing such a great design, with an easy-to-use (although sometimes still cumbersome) interface on their OS, people might think: what could be best? Is there anything better than iPhone, could anyone innovate more than them?

Beating a successful design, coming up with even greater ideas is not an easy task - lots of brainstorming happens, long nights spent in imagining other ways of creating a lot of practicality combined with a cool touch...

And when I was thinking that all was said and done, I have seen this cool ad for Microsoft, and I felt that there is still a lot of great stuff to be brought to life:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zAhJTxC1C8w&feature=player_embedded

Watch this video - I find it inspiring, and although it might match to other companies, it comes from Microsoft - so you either love it, or hate it!


Monday, November 08, 2010

Could robots replace managers?

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Yes, exactly: do you think this can help? If yes, by when should we expect to become obsolete?

All of us, or... just the Project Managers, or just the People Managers, or only the CxOs?

Let's take a step-by-step approach to analyse this idea.

- what does a CxO do all day long? Looks at numbers, weighs ideas, run a lot of meetings, join in quite a few, and then decide. This is one job that even a robot could do, right?
- what does a Project Manager do? Looks at graphics, numbers, tasks, activities, costs, weighs in the variables and probabilities of various risks, and then decide. A robot could do that as well, right?
- what does a People Manager do? Looks at graphics, numbers, operational aspects, hire/fire people, give some random advices, and then decide. It seems simple, and straightforward, right?

So... why are we still here? why isn't our place already taken by robots? Maybe in my logic I made some mistake... yeah, there might be a chance that - beyond numbers, and graphs, and decisions - some flair, intuition, and experience play the most important part when taking decisions.

What's your point of view on this? Is it all logical thinking, in a series of "if... then... else" and some alternative paths (some more complex than others)? Where does the human factor come into play?