Performance – Your individual performance – for employees

The overall objective of Performance Management is clear. There are a number of other aspects that employees often ask. We’ve tried to answer them here –

  • Making sure you know what’s expected
  • Setting and accepting clear goals
  • Measuring your work
  • Preparing for a great performance discussion
  • How not to be boring
  • Talking about your great work
  • Talking about your average work
  • Talking about your work when its not great
  • Taking great feedback on board
  • Taking bad feedback on board
  • Asking for support
  • Following up on the conversation
  • Dealing with a great appraisal
  • Dealing with an unfair appraisals
  • Signing appraisals
  • Keeping copies of appraisals

We also strongly suggest that individual employees should also read information for leaders to get a better understanding of the business objectives from this process.

© 2017 All rights reserved
mwah. making work absolutely human

Here are some of the most commonly asked questions from employees

Employee: Making sure you know what’s expected

It is really important that you know what’s expected. What work you’re accountable for and how that accountability is measured.

You need to know any specific goals or measurements, plus you need any cultural expectations – ways of doing things, simple rules, or policies that you’re expected to follow.

Most of the time, hopefully you’re dealing with a good leader, who has good intent and wants you to do well. Every so often, you’ll have a bad leader or one that is inexperienced or poor at feedback. If they lack confidence as a leader, when they setting goals, you have to take the lead. Make sure you walk out knowing the expectations if enough detail to do your job well.

These are reasonable questions – (in your words and asked respectfully)

  1. Are there any specific goals?
  2. Are there any specific measurements I need to be aware of?
  3. Is there anyone on the team who’s really expert at this work, that I could look to for coaching?
  4. Are there any policies or rules I need to be aware of?
  5. Are there specific values I need to be aware of?
  6. Is there anything I can read and see on the Culture that helps me understand the cultural expectations?
  7. I’m really keen to do well. I’m really comfortable with any feedback you want to give me.

Just make sure you know the expectations.

Employee: Setting and accepting clear goals

Every business sets goals. It how they link their financial plans to everyone’s individual and team work. Goal setting is another area where really capable leaders do well, and less experienced leaders sometimes don’t’ do as well.

As the employee, you need to be comfortable that goals are fair and achievable. They can be stretch goals, of course – in a high performance culture, that can be quite normal – but you have to be in agreement that they’re fair.

An example of unfair would be where you’re asked to sell something to someone who clearly cannot afford it. Reaching you sales goal might put the customer in financial difficulty. This is a great occasion to talk to your boss about the goal, firstly whether it’s fair and secondly how it might be achieved other than unethically. Of course, you have this conversation well in advance, and not the day after you’ve failed to meet the goal.

Once you believe the goals are fair and reasonable, make a note. If you raised concerns or questions, note that too. Always good to have your own copy of history, as long as your notes are an honest representation of the conversation at the time.  

Employee: Measuring your work

Make sure you know how your work is measured. Particularly if you’re in metricated sales or production work, measurement is important. Get clarity on it. And don’t pretend to understand the spreadsheets unless you actually do. Keep asking questions or getting explanations from others, until you’re clear. This number, this dollar, this quality, this safety statistic or this budget – Whatever it is, know it and understand. You have to get in front of these numbers well before you need to delivering them. Great numbers and achievements work well. Equally, if you’re going to fail to meet numbers, it’s best to be seeking help and support in advance, rather than surprising the team and your boss when it’s too late. 

And if you’re not comfortable with measurement of your performance, then make sure you’re not in work where that’s a requirement. If you’re comfortable with measurement, then the numbers always keep you safe and secure and celebrating. If you’re not, they can be pretty scary, and you might need to consider the type of work you do.

Employee: Preparing for a great performance discussion

If you’re going to make the best of a performance discussion, own it. Turn up prepared, and not like a cork on the ocean.

Turn up with the following –

  1. Your achievements / results / successes
  2. Customer feedback
  3. Details on any standout performance
  4. Some thoughts on your teamwork
  5. Some thoughts on your behavior
  6. Any positive feedback on your leader
  7. Any positive feedback on your team
  8. Some thoughts and preferences for development
  9. Some thoughts on your career ambition and next step
  10. Any feedback on your leader and where you think the relationship could get even better, or improve if it’s not working.
  11. Remember to say Thank you. Always appreciate someone 

Turn up ready for and expecting a good conversation, and you’ll be much more likely to have one.

Employee: How not to be boring

There’s an old saying, “if you’re in a boring conversation, maybe you’re boring.”

This is a good mindset to own. Walk in prepared and ready to have a good conversation, and not expecting it to be boring. Own your half of making this conversation a worthwhile one for everyone.

The best way to keep a performance discussion un-boring, is to have really interesting examples of work, customer feedback, achievements, and teamwork and behaviour, so that your part of the conversation is interesting and engaging.

On top of the content, give some thought to your leader. How do they communicate? How do they receive communication? How is their humour? Do you have shared experiences or things in common?

Now frame your conversation, so it’s a great one for them too. So many people forget their boss is just a normal person too. They will be doing lots of these conversations. How can you make yours something special.

Employee: Talking about your great work

There’s a balance to talking about good work.

You have to get your best work known and on record, but you don’t want to be arrogant or odd. After all, we’re all just small pieces of a business – It’s about all of us together, and not just one of us.

So, how do you find that balance?

When you’re preparing, think of your best work. Now think – Did I do it solo? Who helped me or partnered with me? Who supported me? Who coached or guided? Who sponsored? Who ran interference?

Now, frame up the conversation about your own role and achievements but equally about the role of others, and also how important the collective was.

Practice this conversation with a friend or trusted colleague. You want to be confidence and honest about your own hard work and achievements, and not so humble that it’s lost. Equally, you want to respectful of how important everyone is around you. You might even add some stories of work where you’ve been the supporter to other people’s great achievements and successes.

Employee: Talking about your average work

Great employees and great people to have on your team are those who know the difference between great, average and not great.

If you’re in a good business, with a good leader, talk about average work by describing is honestly. Note that its acceptable,’ in other words, it meets expectations. Then also note, what great would have looked like, and how you’d do it if you have another chance. What lessons you’ve learnt and how you’d apply them. If you’re in a high performance environment, then your leader and the business will want to know that you ‘get’ high performance. Its OK to be disappointed with average.

There may also have been extenuating circumstances. Think through these circumstances and decide whether to mention them. If they’re a one-off, like time off for a car accident, or caring responsibilities for an elderly parent’, it might be well worth mentioning. If it’s your fourth cold of the winter, its probably not best to mention that you’re still not taking full accountability for your wellness and health.   

If you’ve got an average boss, then don’t give as much away. Note the average performance as ‘meeting expectations’ and perhaps go a little softer with how you’d improve things. You might say “I was pleased we did enough to be successful, but next time I want to do even better’. That demonstrates an ambition, without having them mark you as ‘less than OK.’ 

Employee: Talking about your work when it’s not great

The earlier you can talk about work that is not great, the better. A failure or a shortfall is a failure or a shortfall. Don’t dress it up. Own it. Then immediately own what you’re going to do about it. You should have already rectified an error, apologised for poor behaviour, or sought ways to make up a shortfall. Everyone wants to work with someone who’s accountable.

That said shortfalls and errors happen. Not all of them are career ending or even career limiting. They can well be just lessons for being better next time.

It only becomes a problem, when you’re consistently falling short. There are, of course, consequences for consistently performing at less than expected.

As you look at a performance conversation, are you under the standard for the first time, or the fifth time. Do you need support and training and better ideas at how to do your job, or are you not giving it your best shot. Is it a unique circumstance that just happened and impacted your work or is it a consistent underperformance.

If it’s consistent, you need to be clearer on support you need or want. If you’ve already had a lot of support and the team has been covering for you, you should you a leader to have a limited appetite for continuing to support you. You can certainly hang in there and keep trying, but you have to be realistic about whether you’re in the right role and the right organisation, and start thinking about your future. 

Employee: Taking great feedback on board

Great feedback really is a gift. Whether you’re performing well and the feedback is about being even better, or you’re performing at a very average standard, and the feedback aims to make you great, you should absolutely welcome feedback. If you’re below standard, and the feedback is about getting above the bar, grab it! If you’re struggling with the culture or pace, then take all and any good feedback on Board and try it.

Once you’ve had some great feedback, try it, practice it, and then go back to the feedbacker and say Thank You. Giving feedback can be hard, and it takes preparation and energy. When you say Thank You – in person or in a little note or even an email – its shows that you appreciate the effort and welcome more feedback in the future. People will quickly know that giving feedback to you is well worth the time and effort.

Employee: Taking bad feedback on board

Sometimes you get feedback that isn’t helpful or isn’t aligned with you or your values. Sometimes leaders are well intentioned but not overly skilled, and still, want to give feedback.

Feedback and deciding whether to take it on board is deeply personal.

You have to decide whether it’s good feedback or not.

And if it’s not, then you have to categorise it –

    • Well-intended but unhelpful – e.g., “I think you should smile less,” when you’re someone who likes to smile and gets along well with most people based on your friendly manner. The answer might be – “Thank you for that feedback. I’ll certainly think about smiling too much. I certainly don’t mean it to be anything except friendly.”
    • Not well-intended – e.g., “You could try promising this to the customer” when you know it’s not a promise the organisation would keep. “Thanks for the suggestion. I’m not sure its really me or the way we need to do business”. This is a bit tough in a conversation, but you need to draw quite firm lines around ethics, so you don’t start moving the line to a point where you’re very uncomfortable.
    • Not aligned to your plans– e.g., “If you really want to get the promotion you should do a Masters degree. I can get you into the course”. Your response might be “Thanks for that opportunity, but I have my hands full at the moment at home, so study isn’t on the agenda right now. Is there anything else I could do?” 

Small examples of unhelpful feedback are best dealt with something appreciative but not over the top.

Examples of bad feedback that is unethical or inappropriate are best dealt with more clearly.

Employee: Asking for support

During a performance discussion, you can always ask your leader for more support, more guidance or more training. It won’t always result in a fully-funded university degree, (although there are times when this is very appropriate, and it would be great if people knew you wanted this), but it should result in advice, coaching or even a buddy in the business to help you. Asking for help when you need, well in advance of failing, is a perfectly reasonable request. Have a practice of your request with friend or trusted colleague. Be open to being offered different support than your asked for. Frame your ask respectfully – “I’m really keen to learn more about XYZ, and I was wondering whether I could be on that project with Sam.” Seeking developing and growth into new work is a really good thing, especially when you’re already doing well. Seeking support for less than great performance, is also a good thing.   

Employee: Following up on the conversation

Sometimes in a performance discussion, you leave some topics open on purpose – “Let’s give that some thought and come back together” – and other times by accident – “Let’s park that training request for a moment” and then you forget to come back to it.

Either way, if there’s something left open, follow up.

And follow up if there’s any part of the conversation that you’re not happy with. You might find some feedback quite jarring or unexpected, and after you’ve slept on it, you need more detail to appreciate the feedback.

Again, if you feel there’s something left open, follow up.

How to follow up?

Very easy. Quite note or conversation saying – “Thanks for the performance conversation. I really appreciated you taking the time. There was one issue (two issues / a few topic) left outstanding that I’d like to follow up with you as suggested. Can you let me know when you have a half hour free in the next week (or two weeks). I look forward to speaking again. Warm regards, You”.

Then feel free to follow up again in a week if there’s no response. Go in with a healthy mindset. Assuming they’re a good leader, they may just be very busy and need a little prompt. If its about you (or your team) doing good work, then it’s an important conversation for both of you to have. 

Employee: Dealing with a great appraisal

People often walk away from a great appraisal feeling great, but not doing anything else.

There are two things you should always do after a great appraisal –

  1. Say Thank You. A quick note to your leader to say thanks and how much you appreciated the conversation and the feedback
  2. Reflect on your future. Is there an opportunity to extend your good performance into learning new skills or new opportunities. Is this the opportunity to talk about more pay, if you feel you’re not paid fairly to the market. If you’re comfortable with your job and career as is, then that’s great, but if you think all your hard work has given you an opportunity for improvement, then drop your leader a short note and ask for a Career Conversation. Something like “Thank you very much for the Performance Discussion. I was so pleased with the outcome. I wonder if we could follow up with a Career discussion. I love what I’m doing at the moment, and wanted your thoughts on where I concentrate my development to help build my career in the future”.   


Employee: Dealing with unfair appraisals

Appraisals that are perceived as ‘unfair’ are quite common. They are often the result of either a breakdown in communication between an individual and a leader, or where communication is so infrequent that perceptions have changed and not been included in feedback as yet.

Dealing with an unfair appraisal has three stages.

Stage 1 – Seek Clarity – In the first instance, you need to keep an open mind and question in order to gain clarity and understanding. You can question the basis on which ratings or decisions were made. You can question examples used, or both performance and behaviour. You can ask your leader how you are going relative to the group, or in other words, are you the lone poor performer or is the whole team under-performing.

Stage 2 – Reassess and (add details if appropriate) – Reassess your perception of fairness. Once you have the detailed information, you may think the Appraisal is fairer than you first thought, or you may continue to find it unfair. If you still feel it is unfair, you can explain the unique context, additional examples, or relative information and ask that this is considered in assessing your work. At this stage, your leader may change their views, modify ratings, or add additional examples to the performance record. You may accept this outcome as reasonable.

Stage 3 – Formalise – if you still think the Appraisal is unfair, you need to formally record your disagreement. You might choose to do this in writing back to your boss, purely to have your views added to the record. You may note your disagreement on your copy of the Appraisal. Or you may elect to escalate your disagreement to your leader’s manager for reassessment. You can elect to use your business’s grievance procedure if you have one, or in the absence of a Grievance procedure, you can still lodge a short formal disagreement. Given that Performance documents are legally part of your contract of employment, it is important you note your disagreement. To put it simply, you need to contest the record formally, so that its not left on your file as a summary of the situation. In your opinion, which the business is entitled to disagree with, you have noted that you don’t see it as fair.   

Employee: Signing appraisals

You’ll often here that performance discussions need to be signed by both parties. That doesn’t hurt, as it leaves a good record of the conversation, providing both business and individual with security. As an employee, if it’s a good appraisal, or an appraisal you agree is fair, then, signing it is not a bad idea. It means your records and the records of the business are aligned. If you disagree, then make sure you note as such above your signature.

Legally, if you’re are relying purely on the signatures, your relationship is probably already in a pretty bad spot. There are many other things to consider. Keep in mind that this is a performance discussion, and not a disciplinary discussion. If it is being used as a disciplinary discussion, you should note your disagreement in writing to your leader, and depend on their advice, perhaps seek some advice from Legal or HR. 

Employee: Keeping copies of appraisals

We strongly suggest that all employees should keep copies of their Performance Appraisals separate to the company’s records. You can scan and upload your appraisals to your mwah profile, so they’re always handy. Alternatively, keep a copy in a file at home or on your home PC. 

We also strongly suggest that individual employees should also read information for leaders to get a better understanding of the business objectives of this process.

© 2017 All rights reserved
mwah. making work absolutely human

How do you become an expert in understanding performance management? Three things –

  1. Know the business and know your team – Make sure your work and your team’s work is linked clearly and neatly to the business priorities. Know how your work links to the main game. Know and understand your leader’s expectations and how they give and receive feedback, so you have the best chance of influencing. 
  2. Practice and be prepared. Seems simple but this can often be the difference between a mediocre “tick the box” discussion, and an open, honest performance discussion that adds value to both you and your leader. Don’t leave it all in their hands to make this conversation work well.
  3. Have such frequent conversations with your leader, so that the actual performance discussions are just another opportunity to catch up, talk work, and jot down a few notes to formalise the feedback.

There’s a lot of articles on having good performance discussions, and why they matter. We’d suggest you start with reading the mwah. leader content on Performance.

There’s also a mindset shift that’s helpful. There’s a great quote from Dick Grote, the author of “How to be good at Performance Appraisals”, saying “what a performance appraisal requires is for one person to stand in judgment of another. Deep down, it’s uncomfortable,”.

It’s understanding that perception, and working hard to get a better expectation, that sets a very different foundation for a performance conversation.

A performance discussion is a meeting between two adults, discussing expectations, feedback, and plans, and ironing out any gaps in understanding. 

© 2017 All rights reserved
mwah. making work absolutely human

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