Performance Management and 3 Richards!!

I am sitting at the canteen with a friend (who also happens to be a senior leader) sipping some filter coffee when a young colleague comes in looking dazed and badly in need of some super strong coffee.

We procure one for him and let him take a few sips of the strong, hot, relaxing brew and ask him what happened.

“Ran into a ghost or something?” we ask helpfully.

“Man, how do you senior guys pick goals for us?.” The lament has officially begun. “My boss started off talking about the need for upskilling, deep-learning and endless curiosity, almost requiring me to become like Richard Feynman!”

“See – we seniors help turn you into a genius!” the two of us say in unison.

“Guess that’s where I made my blooper” says he in a lower and more aggrieved tone.”At that point, I wise cracked that I understood why Feynman would come in handy to my boss – he had the knack of explaining complex stuff to even a 5 year-old child!”.

“And..”, we ask expecting the discussion to now be peppered with fireworks.

“Well, the guy just started reading out the next section of my goals – now requiring me to be a showman who could wow clients, take risks (but always succeed!), diversify the business..”

“Did he also mention about sporting a cool hairstyle?” asks my friend.

“Nope, but he did say something about standing apart from the crowd”, says our young friend looking perplexed.

“He was just asking you to channel your inner Richard Branson. Check the goal sheet – as a stretch goal he may require you to secure a Knighthood for yourself”.

“Give me a break – I need a tomato juice” says our young friend and moves to the counter.

Now it’s our turn to be surprised. Tomato juice following filter coffee is not something we see often.

Our friend returns from the juice bar, plonks down his beverage and breaks into a beatific smile.

“Just when I thought my boss was all done, he asks me to deal compassionately with my team, be inclusive and diverse, do mind-fullness meditation exercises and never show anger”.

“Eh?” we sputter. This is novel. “Did he have a role model for this – ahem – perfect citizen behaviour”.

“He did. He asked me to follow the writings of Matthieu Richard – who apparently is the happiest man in the world. He even suggested I try attending one of his retreats – he recommended choosing Sunday, since we occasionally worked Saturdays”.

We were impressed. This boss guy and his 3 Richard system was something else altogether. We wondered how the session ended.

Our young friend now smiled his first happy smile. “But I ended on a high and had the last laugh – I told him that I would give these Richard-behaviours a shot and return in a year – but if he then asked me to become yet another Richard – no matter who – I would turn into Richard the Terrible. The expression my boss sported on hearing this made up for all the grades in the world. Thank god, the guy at least reads Shakesphere!”

Performance Management time – ramblings from the other side!

Its that time of the year again – the time when managers get to play judge (or god if you will!) and sift through their teams – leaving the successes on one side and the not-so-successful on the other.

Yes, I am talking about the promotion cycle – when men and women suddenly find themselves deciding another’s destiny. Many – infact most of the folks I know – dread this period. While you can take pride in the fact that a few from your team will now play wider roles, the emotional drain is massive.

“You wouldn’t have this problem if you set the right goals and criteria” – say the management gurus. And they are right – in their own way. But there are other aspects, consider:

1. Many of your Colleagues have morphed into your friends. Joys and worries have been shared, laughter and sorrows have been shared. Families are friends, sometimes thicker than relatives. The thought of your friend having to tell his/ her young one that he isn’t the chosen one this year is heart wrenching. I had a leader on my team almost in tears last year when he got the “promotion list” for his team ready (based on very extensive analysis and as he said “to the best of his ability”) – it meant leaving a very hard worker (and very trustworthy guy) out. He checked back many times and was convinced he did the right thing – that just didn’t make it any easier for him.

2. A large part of today’s life is uncontrollable. An oil crisis, a climatic phenomenon like the El Niño, a landslide election mandate, a president’s veto or the bank’s response to inflation, a friendly client deciding to move on – can (and do) change success outcomes dramatically (unless like steve job’ you decide the “journey is the reward”) – and it is extremely complicated to decide who the winners really are. Are the results we are seeing the effect of “causation” “correlation”? Who decides?

3. There are people who will make some noise, who will cajole, threaten consequences, plead if they don’t make it. There are heroes who sleep for a while and then when their project is in crisis mode – turn things around brilliantly. There are others who will perform quietly – always green – all signal, no noise. These guys wont even pop up on your radar (unless you are listening very intently with your ears to the ground). Differentiating between these categories is really tough – and sometimes – you may be tempted to take the easy route and go with the noise (after all thats how the world runs for the most part right – follow the noise!)

And on and on……

We understand performance management, and its certainly essential to the well being of the corporate world. People want to perform well and be rewarded for their performance. Its but the right thing to do.

While its the right thing to do. its not easy to do. Or easy to accept. And the mental energies required are immense. As a friend quipped

“when I lose out on a promotion, I certainly take it hard. The world seems a less sunnier place. Friends and family see me brooding. However, we humans understand life is unfair – there’s always a readily available sympathetic ear nearby. My family takes extra care of me too.

The challenge is when I am not able to get someone else promoted really. Everyone on my peer team has a favourite they think should have gone through instead of the final list – and they really cannot understand how you couldn’t have not seen such a simple thing as this! Boy, are they disappointed! And everyone agrees unanimously that those who didn’t make it on your list deserve a sympathetic (and many times hard conversation) with you – the emotional drain on you is immense. Don’t we also need some empathy for the guys who play judge as well?!!“.

Amen to that!