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Evaluating Performance When Only Results Matter

It’s mid-year performance review time where I work. I am not really participating.

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It’s partly because I’m a dangerous rebel with a maniacal aversion to authority figures, and partly because my peers and our leadership team have talked it through and we all agree the whole thing would just be a bit of a waste of everybody’s time. Mostly it’s the latter, but anyway.

There are several reasons why this exercise wouldn’t represent time well spent: For one, I have a new role at work – a spot on the org chart that I actually acquired just yesterday. It’s a title bump more so than some kind of seismic shift in my career, but nevertheless discussing how I performed in the position I held last week is a little bit moot, and even more so is discussing how I plan to progress upward. I don’t plan to progress right now, I plan to more firmly establish myself in the metaphorical chair in which I newly sit.

The biggest reason it would be a waste of time, however, is that we work in a results only work environment. I’ve written about ROWE plenty of times before, but in as few words as possible the ethos here is that as long as I’m delivering results then what I do with my time is up to me. If I’m not delivering appropriate results then I get fired – which is entirely fair. Throwing out the more traditional (outdated!) clock-punching approach to work means the more traditional approach to performance reviews goes out of the window as well, however. In order to know I’m delivering the results that are expected of me my performance becomes a constant, ongoing conversation with my leader. Even if we wanted to we couldn’t possibly confine the discussion to twice-yearly meetings and still continue to be effective, so why continue to hold the twice yearly meetings if we’re already addressing this stuff as a matter of course? They’re not necessary.

So if all this is true (and it is, you can trust me), why am I asking for a twice-yearly performance evaluation that focuses on my methodologies and ignores my results?

The reason speaks to what I see as the biggest gotcha in a ROWE – you have to be fastidiously careful about what a “result” is. In my workplace ROWE has been around for a little while now, but it’s a concept still well within its formative years. I’m confident that on balance we’re doing it very well, but I don’t know that we’re yet sophisticated enough within the framework to not be making mistakes, or that our implementation of the framework has yet evolved to become sophisticated enough for our organization.

If I worked on an assembly line producing children’s toys then the results of my work would be obvious, very tangible and very easily definable, but this is the knowledge economy here! Nobody I’ve ever met or heard of produces toys anymore, with the notable exception of Bertha, the toy making machine.

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I digress.

I work in a project environment, which I believe has the potential to compound the problem I’m talking about. I’m taking plenty of liberties with the details here, but basically what happens in my work life is a project comes along and my leaders assign it to me. I then go away and do some things, and eventually a “result” (hopefully but not necessarily a completed project) pops out the end. My leaders of course take some interest in how that all happens, but nevertheless that bit in the middle is the Jason show to all intents and purposes.

I agree entirely that the end result is the most important part of that story, and that’s absolutely the result on which I should primarily be judged. It’s certainly not the only result here, however.

Every meeting I go to has a result for which I hold at least some degree of responsibility. Every conversation I have, every action I take, every action I don’t take… there are results to all of those, and you’re kidding yourself if you think those results are entirely unimportant.

The best way to explain my point is probably with a negative example: it’s possible to achieve results by treating people like idiots, micro-managing them into the ground and generally making their lives miserable. I’ve never worked for a boss that managed that way and I hope you haven’t either, but they’re out there, and they’re where they are because they’re presumably achieving the results upon which they’re evaluated.

I have no desire to be that guy. It goes against my own moral compass most importantly, but it also doesn’t measure up against the way that my employer (or indeed any enlightened organization, I would hope) defines leadership. Eventually behaviour like this would come back and bite me, and this is my career we’re talking about here, my livelihood.

There are many reasons, then, that being that kind of leader isn’t an avenue I would ever wish to explore. But could I get away with it in the short term? Sure! Could I do it long enough to achieve a positive result or two? Probably! Could I be doing some scaled-back, less villainous version of it right now without even realising it? Ah! Now there’s the important question.

There are things I do to actively solicit feedback about myself and my methods from the teams with which I work, but I can understand why somebody may not feel comfortable giving me criticism to my face and could be holding something important back as a result. Nevertheless, criticism is what I want. It’s how I’ll ensure that I continue to be a leader as opposed to a boss, how I’ll grow, how I’ll evolve, and how I’ll firmly establish myself in my new metaphorical chair.

So that’s why once or twice a year I’ll be asking my leaders to reach out to some of the people I’ve worked with and provide them an opportunity to give feedback about me in a safe, anonymous environment.

Because results matter. All of them.

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