Mixed Signals

Performance appraisals present interesting challenges for leaders. Many times you procrastinate because you’re either really busy with other priorities or you just want to avoid doing the reviews.

Hint: you’re always busy. You need to make the time.

Employees want to know how they’re doing. They want your feedback (even though they may disagree with it). They want a formal opportunity to express their views.

When employees are doing well, it’s easy to reinforce and encourage them. If they’re doing poorly, presumably you’re already dealing with it (as poor performance needs to be nipped in the bud – never wait for the performance review).

Clarifying Expectations

How many times do you have conversations when you think everyone is in agreement, only to find out later that people interpreted the discussion differently?

Alas, this happens all the time. It can happen in a conversation between two people, let alone in conversations with a larger group. It’s a good idea to identify where possible misperceptions occur so that you can clarify any confusion ahead of time.

Clarification is usually needed when some gray area exists. The challenge is that you might think something is black and white when the other person is thinking gray.

For example, you may tell someone that a project is due on Thursday. You may expect the completed work by Thursday morning, when the employee thinks that the deadline is close of business on Thursday (or even worse, Thursday evening).

“Teacher’s Pet”

You may recognize this species: A person who can do no wrong no matter how much wrong he or she does. A person who has the ear of the boss no matter how busy the boss is. A person who tries to fit in with coworkers in spite of the fact that no one trusts her.

This description is remarkably similar to that of a teacher’s pet, except this is the adult version.

I’ve seen many variations of this prototype among my clients, and will share three. In variation #1, the CEO is well aware of the games this person plays, but doesn’t want to deal with the severe discomfort that is likely to happen by disentangling the relationship.

Variation #2 happens when one boss favors an employee while another boss feels differently. The outcome of this inherent conflict is that the employee is treated as “protected” while the other boss stews about it. (I’ve seen this play out when the immediate manager does not favor the employee, but the manager’s boss does.)

“I Want Your Job (….Can’t You Just Give it to Me?)”

My friend Glen hired a young man (who I’ll call John), as an apprentice at his company. Glen established ground rules which were of the “work hard, learn as much as you can” variety. If John followed these ground rules, in six months he would move into a new and more challenging position, possibly even a position of his preference.

OK. I know you’re clairvoyant, so it won’t surprise to learn that it didn’t work out. John was lazy and did the bare minimum to get by. Glen had the first of several “shape up” conversations with John during his first week on the job, but John’s behavior never changed.

At the end of their exit discussion on John’s last day Glen asked, “By the way, if you had the choice, which position would you have wanted?” to which John replied, “Yours, of course.”