Recently I had the pleasure of going on a fishing trip on Lake Michigan with three of my sons. This was our first such fishing charter, and it turned out to be a great experience all around.
Clearly, one of the most common words on a shipping boat is “catch,” as in the fish that is brought in during the trip. When used in the workplace, the term can be used to reference a great new resource, such as a new hire or tool that has the potential of adding value to the workforce and its efforts. Proactive managers and employers can also catch their workers doing something right and praise such conduct as a form of reinforcement.
On the negative side, the term “catch” can refer to the way in which employees are oftentimes evaluated, as in being caught off-guard with critiques (or worse) that stem from unstated or unclear expectations. For many leaders, this can come from multiple sources and stakeholders, each of which has its own conception of what needs to be done and how the job is actually being fulfilled.
How can leaders ensure the formation of a proper set of expectations — and one that focuses them on a clear set of goals and ensures a fair assessment of their work?
First, leaders need to be clear on who is doing the assessing. This may be a direct supervisor, the board of directors, a board subcommittee or another party. Whoever it is, make sure to meet with them early on to discuss the evaluation process.
In that discussion, a number of areas need to be covered. These include: frequency of assessment, the assessment tool and whether there will be a particular set of priorities that will take precedence and carry disproportionate value.
- Frequency: Naturally, frequent feedback is preferable. This gives leaders the opportunity to make adjustments as needed, well before things go sideways in a serious way. It also allows for modifications of goals if that is required. While each situation may dictate its own feedback frequency, there is no question that a once-annual review is not sufficient, especially for millennial workers who expect regular feedback.
- The tool makes all the difference: What evaluative tool will you be using? Does it offer clear, objective descriptors of job performance and ask for supportive evidence or does it leave things open for subjective interpretation? The clearer and more detailed, the better.
- Identify the focus: This point cannot be overstated. It is near-impossible for leaders to excel at everything, especially if there is an expectation for them to work on specific personal or organizational goals. Those who are doing the assessing need to “get” the fact that they have to be willing to let certain things go if there is to be a fair and accurate process. As part of this effort make sure that the evaluation tool reflects this by weighting those criteria that matter most, rather than assigning equal value to all professional competencies.
- And keep it there: It can be challenging for assessors to remain disciplined in their views when constituents are clamoring for various other gains on complaining about “non-core” areas. It can be even harder for the assessee to keep the group focused on the agreed-to goals. Hopefully, enough equity and trust can be built between parties to allow for redirection to occur without it being taken personally or compromising the final outcome.
These ideas express a large degree of proactivity, in terms of setting a clear plan from the outset and keeping the focus where it belongs. A leader would also be well advised to continue to share positive news and achievements with his assessor(s) in a steady but not obnoxious manner. If there is doubt about how best to proactively share progress, be sure to discuss the desired frequency and delivery method of such information.
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