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Suppose I ask you to list the top 3 time wasters in your organization. Chances are pretty high that right after “Meetings,” many of you would list that least favored of management activities, “performance appraisals.”

If I next ask: “List America’s favorite spectator sport?” Chances are equally great that “football” would be among the top 3 (if the viewership ratings for the recent Super Bowl are any indication). Now you are probably wondering what’s the connection between football (or sports in general) and time-wasting performance appraisals.

People tend to enjoy watching well-coached teams play sports. However, when those faithful spectators arrive at their offices on Monday morning, they dread performance appraisals. Does anyone see a disconnect here?

My all-time favorite management guru, Peter Drucker, once said the reason managers hate to give performance reviews is they “hate to play God” by having to tell an employee whether they have done well or done poorly. To a great extent, that’s probably true. Managers don’t relish the thought of sitting across from an employee who is neither the “Star” nor the “Laggard” and attempting to give a motivating talk on job performance. The Manager knows the employee is already posed to receive the perfunctory 2% increase and simply tolerates the performance discussion, all the while strongly resisting the urge to look at his or her watch. The hapless manager can almost hear the employee thinking: “Get on with it! You and I both know this is a big waste of time.”

Performance appraisal time wasting is not limited to the actual review. It starts the day, usually at the beginning of the annual review process, when the manager asks the employee, “What are your goals for the year?”

Excuse me! What Coach worth his (or her) salt would ask a Rookie, “Rookie, what are your goals?”

No way! More than likely the discussion would begin with a review of the Rookie’s “stats” at playing the position for which he (or she) was drafted or hired by the team. If the player is an offensive player, Coach is interested in his speed and agility; how well does the quarterback scramble and how far can he throw? How quickly can the defensive lineman get after the guy with the ball?

Good coaches are coaching all the time. They draw up the plays and give immediate feedback. Players know in pre-season what is expected of them; they know during the season what is expected and what changes are needed for improvement. They even know what to expect once the season is over and how to prepare for the next season (next review period). Coaches set clear goals and give immediate and individual feedback throughout the season. They aren’t “playing God” with their players (employees), they are COACHING. They aren’t wasting their players’ time; they are managing their players’ performance.

So rather than the perfunctory “what are your goals for this year?” Why not begin at the beginning, the hiring interview to set the stage for coaching your employees throughout their careers:

--See yourself as COACH not just “Manager”;

Sure your role is to get things done through people, but it is also your role to put the best skilled, trained, and developed employees on the floor who are fully prepared to do the job, just as the Coach puts a well-prepared team on the field. Your role is to make sure you have the best qualified team.

--Select the right people for the job

Hire those that have the right skill set and experience. Use the hiring interview as an opportunity for prospects to prove to you that on the basis of their education, training, skill-set, and demonstrated experience (e.g., allow them to explain how they gained the experience and exactly what they accomplished; what they learned, and how they responded if the project experience was not successful), they have what is necessary to do the job.

--Explain your expectations

Once you have hired the right person for the job, your job as “Coach” really begins. Have you heard the old saying: “People are over managed and under led.” Coaches lead, so it’s up to you to lead your team. Explain what is expected and why. Give the big picture and how the employee’s job fits in: “Our Company is now number 5 in our competitive market. We know that giving consistent high levels of customer service and attention to detail can propel us to Number 1. You have an opportunity to do that on each customer call so think of some ways you can exceed our current metrics and let me know 1 or 2 performance goals you can commit to that moves our department toward our objective. We will discuss those on next Wednesday at 2 o’clock.”

--Make sure the employee knows performance is important throughout the year

Take note of things the employee does well. Offer praise for outstanding work. Likewise, give feedback that is timely and specific on those areas in which the employee is not doing as well. Like a good Coach, take the time necessary to help the employee improve; and give her lots of opportunity to practice and demonstrate improvement. This is what performance management is all about. If done properly, there’s no “MBS” (management by surprise) because both you and your employee know exactly how well the employee is performing throughout the year. Moreover, you both know what is needed and expected in order to get to the next level of performance.

I get it that most professional coaches and their players earn a lot more money than most managers and employees, but the principles of coaching can still apply. Your employee might not get excited about an annual 2% increase, but what if you focus on what really motivates your employees other than a nearly negligible a salary increase? Some people are motivated by recognition; some by getting opportunities to do special projects or other development opportunities; others might be motivated by flexible scheduling. You won’t know until you ask. “What motivates you to do your best work?” In all my years of working, I can think of only one manager who ever bothered to ask me that question.

--Make rewards matter

If you have only a small increase budget, make sure your management team understands that you want to give the rewards to those who really deserve it based on their contribution. Even sports teams have a budget! Teams designate their skill players as such and pay them well in order to keep them. In the same way, as Manager/Coach, give the higher rewards to the person(s) who make the greatest contribution to your group’s success. When the other employees see the relationship between better than average performance equating to better than average rewards, they get it. Explain to them exactly what needs to change in their performance so that they can improve their pay.

Now this supposes two important principles:

1-Your company is paying “at market” (i.e., competitively within its relevant market(s) for employees), meaning, pay is at least favorably comparable to the going rate in the markets in which you compete for workers. You, as supervisor, must do your homework on this one and work with your HR professionals so you know in advance just how competitively your company pays. Keep in mind, even if you, Manager, don’t know whether pay is competitive, it is very likely that your employee knows just as good players know their value in the market place.

2-Don’t attempt to substitute lack of competitive pay for performance reward. If your good performers know your company pays less than what they can earn elsewhere for the same job, then giving them a “performance increase” to bring them closer to market is probably not going to work for very long. Be aware that there is too much pay information readily available for you to expect that your employees are totally in the dark about what they are worth in the marketplace.

So, Manager/Coach, do your homework and have those frank discussions about your company’s pay position and pay philosophy. Your long term strategy should be to take whatever steps you can to make sure that your best performers are rewarded as such, and the less than stellar performers know the areas in which they must improve in order to earn more.

Notice how after a really good game, the Coach recognizes good performance by awarding the game ball to the best player or players? That’s an example of clear, immediate recognition and reward. Manager/Coach, challenge yourself to come up with a similar concept to offer immediate, clear, timely recognition that motivates the employee to excel often.

Performance management (not just performance appraisal) does all of the above and then some. It actually saves time and since time is money, it saves money. The employee you coach and develop is less likely to be the employee you have to replace. It is usually cheaper to keep her (or him). In the long run, the payoff is everybody wins, the company, the work group, the employee, and you, the Manager/Coach. So, come on, get in the game! Time’s a ‘wasting!”

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