Thursday, April 30, 2009

What Your Boss Really Wants to Hear in Your Next Performance Evaluation

Tests are often the bane of every student's existence -- they hate them and often don't consider them a true evaluation of what they know.

Fast forward many years, and you're once again facing a test. Only this time it's called a performance evaluation and once again, you don't believe it's a true reflection of your abilities.

The problem with tests and performance evaluations is that the power is often in the hands of the teacher or the boss. You don't really know exactly what you're going to be asked, and so may then do poorly when put on the spot.

But what if I told you that there may be a way to figure out what you're going to be asked in your next performance evaluation? Or, at least have answers prepared that will keep you from freezing like a third-grader who doesn't know his state capitals?

All bosses want the same thing. They want employees who are going to make them look better and smarter. And always, always, always, employees have to help them make money. It's the same thing, in other words, that their bosses want.

If you understand that your success depends on helping the boss get what he wants, then you can structure your answers to make sure you meet those goals. This is what you should always keep in mind when heading into a performance evaluation:

1. Find ways you make him look better. Do you review materials before they are sent to clients to make sure there are no errors? Do you follow up with unhappy customers to make sure they have a positive image of your company? Do you forward him key industry news so that he is prepared when he meets with his boss? Helping the boss look better to his boss, to customers and to peers helps the boss see the worth of having you around. Sprinkle examples throughout your meeting, so that he is reminded of how good you make him look.

2. Show that he's a genius. If you can find ways to streamline a process to save time and money, then you're going to please the boss. The boss's boss is probably breathing down his neck to find ways to cut costs and work more efficiently, so anything you can do in that area will score points. Can you come in under budget on a project? Is a new technology you discovered going to bring in more customers? Give examples of how your work travels up the ladder -- you take pressure off him because you're such a smart cookie.

3. Look for bottom-line results. Did you find a mistake from a supplier that shows your company was overcharged? Have you thought of a way to attract a new client? Have your networking efforts resulted in a new strategic partner? Companies are under enormous pressure to bring in new business in a difficult economy, so bosses are going to be even more focused on bringing in additional revenue. Always be sure you mention how your actions show you're watching that bottom line at all times. Because he sure is.

What are some other ways to help a performance evaluation go smoothly?

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Thursday, March 19, 2009

Five Steps for Survival When You've Been Verbally Reprimanded

Everyone knows that when a boss starts "paper-trailing" you -- giving you written reprimands that go into your personnel file -- you're in deep doo-doo.

That's because written reprimands are what bosses do when they're seriously considering booting you to the curb -- or have already made up their mind and are just going through the paper thing because human resources makes them.

But what happens when you get a "verbal" reprimand? Is that the same as a "paper" reprimand?

Well, yes and no.

Obviously, it's not paper, so that makes it different. And, if the boss were really fed up with you, he would be writing down what you did (or didn't do) and shooting off a copy to HR. But when he just verbally disses your performance, you've been given a (brief) reprieve to get your act together.

Usually, a supervisor will say something like, "This is your official verbal warning" or something to that effect. When you hear that, it's your cue to either a) start dusting off your resume or b) craft a battle plan to save your butt.

And, in this economy with the crappy job market, I'd suggest you focus on Plan B.

So, let's look at an action plan when you get a verbal warning from the boss:

1. Set the tone. Ask for a time to talk to your boss when you won't be interrupted. Trying to discuss a serious issue such as your performance while on an elevator or in the break room pouring a cup of coffee won't serve your interests well. By asking for a meeting, you show that you're taking what he said to heart.
2. Ask for specifics. The boss saying, "You're not a team player" isn't going to be very illuminating, so ask if he can provide specific instances of this behavior. Don't be confrontational or defensive: Listen and take notes.
3. Set goals. Just as in a formal yearly performance appraisal, you should always have a clear road map of where you need to go. In this case, you're looking for things you can do right away to show the boss you're serious about meeting expectations. Then, ask about long-term expectations: Have those changed since your last evaluation?
4. Follow up. After you've had your meeting, use your notes to write a formal e-mail to your boss, outlining your expectations and goals. Tell the boss how much you appreciate the feedback. Make sure you send your boss e-mails when you've met those expectations: Bosses aren't the only ones who can paper-trail. Keeping track of your accomplishments is a good practice not only for employees who are in trouble, but as a way to have solid proof of your contributions. Set up regular appointments with the boss to make sure you're staying on track.
5. Kick your own butt. Once you've got a good idea of what the boss expects, it's time to take a hard look at your performance. Is the verbal reprimand an indication of a more serious problem? Do you need anger management classes, or perhaps more training in an area that makes you defensive because you lack the necessary skills? Are you deliberately doing a poor job because you resent a co-worker or the boss? This is a good opportunity to find a mentor who is willing to give you honest feedback and help steer you back on course.

What other steps should someone take after a verbal reprimand?

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Thursday, May 15, 2008

Performance Evaluations Can be Like Playing Strip Poker -- Only You're Blindfolded

I'd like to meet just one person who came out of performance evaluation saying, "Gee, that was a swell experience. Can't wait to do it again next year!"

Managers hate performance evaluations. Employees hate performance evaluations. They stare at each other across a table and try and remember all the Oprah shows that talked about how to read body language.

But what it comes down to is this: The employee is supposed to bare his/her soul, so to speak, while the manager tries to look wise and supportive and doesn't let on what he or she is really thinking.

It's sort of like someone asking you to play strip poker, only you have to wear a blindfold. The boss has all the advantages. The employee is forced to bare all, but never even gets a glimpse at what the manager might be thinking.

So, I think it's time we evened the playing field a little bit. Got rid of the blindfolds, and made performance evaluations -- if not enjoyable -- at least a bit more enjoyable. (And no, I'm not talking about taking off any clothes. That was an analogy, OK?)

Some rules for performance appraisals that should be enacted by Congress immediately include:

* No surprises. Every employee should have a pretty good idea of the areas where they're not living up to expectations, because the manager has been saying so for some time. At the same time, the employee should have an even better idea of what improvements need to be made.

* Walk the talk. No manager should be allowed to be late in performing an evaluation. Employees get in trouble for being late with stuff -- the same should be true for a manager. Further, no manager should be allowed to be sarcastic, belittling, grumpy or unprofessional with an employee during an evaluation. Managers should be evaluated on how well they handled the process. Paula, Randy and Simon from American Idol could serve as judges for manager evaluation performance.
Randy: "Dog, that was hot!"
Paula: "Oohh...wonderful, fantastic. I also liked the second evaluation the best. What? There was no second evaluation?"
Simon: "Sounded a bit karaoke to me."

* No sticks allowed. The evaluation process should be a chance for the manager to provide some inspiration to the employee, to emphasize how his or her performance is really important to the bottom line. Employees who come out of the process re-energized and recommitted to their jobs should be the norm, not the exception.

Ever have a bad experience in a performance evaluation? How should the process be changed? Please share your thoughts.


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Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Don't Let the Numbers Get You Down

I’m the first to admit I have never been a math whiz. In fact, when my kids have homework that starts off with something like “If a train leaves the station and is traveling at 80 m.p.h…” I sort of hear this buzzing sound in my ears and my vision starts to blur around the edges.

But I know that math is critical in our world, and I still hold in high esteem anyone who managed to make it through Miss Boren’s algebra class.

At the same time, I have to admit that numbers are starting to cause me the kind of anxiety I haven’t experienced since my statistics final in college. They seem to be everywhere. There are the book rankings (see below for “A Recovering Amazoniac”); the number of visitors to this Web site; the readership of my syndicated workplace column; the number of e-mails in my “in” box; the phone messages awaiting my attention; and the amount of money I’m earning.

Then, of course, there are the other numbers that stalk me in my private life – my car’s gas mileage; my exercise time; my weight; and whether I have enough credit card points to earn a dinner at Applebee’s.

Unfortunately, I don’t think I’m exaggerating the fact that numbers can often cause problems in our lives, especially at work. There is the employee who can’t get a promotion – or gets fired – because the numbers of a performance evaluation don’t add up, or the manager who gets burned out and leaves a company because he’s tired of spending more time filling in numbers on a report rather than focusing on his employees.

And, of course, there’s the unethical corporate leaders who have been seduced by huge amounts of money and abandoned their responsibilities to their employees and their company, causing much damage and heartache.

So, what is the solution? For me, it’s remembering that numbers are just, well, numbers. They are often out of my control, and constantly changing. They can be a tool, but just one tool and certainly not the only one.

When I’ve asked those who seem to be happy with their careers how they keep numbers from ruling their lives, they often ruefully admit that even they sometimes have problems with that issue. But, they say, they try and keep the numbers is perspective by focusing more on quality than quantity. They contend that the “good” numbers will follow the “good” work. Some of their tips include:

  • Giving back. If you’re not in the “gimme, gimme, gimme” mode all the time trying to boost your numbers, you retain better balance in your work and private life. That means that you mentor others unselfishly, and give credit to others when it is due.
  • Being honest. An executive once told me that when he worked at Microsoft Corporation he was trying to choose a new ad agency while preparing to launch a new product that was a direct challenge to a Lotus Corporation flagship product. It seems one agency thought to woo Microsoft business by telling him trade secrets about Lotus. His reaction was immediate: he reported the unethical conduct to company lawyers who then forwarded it to Lotus.
  • Sharing ideas. While it’s easy to hunch over the keyboard and commune only with the Internet, it’s the creative give-and-take with other people that generates the most satisfying work. I once interviewed two “co-leaders” of a company who told me the secret to their success was the fact that one “hacked through the forest undergrowth” while the other one “climbed to the top of the trees to see what was ahead.” They sat within a few feet of each other at work, and said they relished batting ideas back and forth all day, sharing what they learned. By sharing their ideas, they made the best decision for the overall well-being of their company.
  • Rooting for someone else. By cheering someone else’s success, by offering words of encouragement, you spend more time focused on the positive instead of harboring ill feelings or jealousies that can sap your emotional and professional reserves.

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