Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Managing Performance Is A Two Way Street

Engaged in a terrific conversation the other day with researchers around the topic of performance reviews. Recent surveys show something like slightly less than half of the senior IT managers polled conduct formal reviews once per year. The balance were largely spread among two or four times per year or less formal schedules.

The discussion also focused on the approach managers take to reviewing their direct reports and seemed to surface a lack of consistency across companies, except at the most senior levels where formal reviews seemed even more sparse.

As professional managers we are expected to understand the needs and desires of our employees, to know, develop and leverage their talents and to help manage their personal careers and growth. Some companies demand that you track your employees performance, rate them and construct plans to move them along a specific towards mutual goals. Once participant mentioned that high scoring individuals are expected to be recommended for new positions or promotions.

Yet in other companies, performance evaluations are often something of an administrative task to be completed each year. Forms and memos are issued with guidelines four to six weeks ahead of a deadline. In some of the corporate ;environments these reviews seem only marginally connected to salary increases and bonus payments.

I know of one company where automated systems were used to attempt to quantify performance with suggested language for different levels across a set of competencies. This helped to structure the reviews but failed to enforce the discipline of collecting and discussing performance data throughout the year as one should. In other words, it made the task easier to complete but not more effective.

C level executives don't get the traditional performance review as their performance is tightly coupled to the company performance criteria. Whatever the corporate goals might be such as top line growth, increased profit, earnings per share or customer satisfaction, these are going to determine changes in compensation for the most senior managers. Often these are formulas in the executive's employment contract or in formulas embodied in Board resolutions.

Here is where it gets difficult for the CIO. Unless the CIO is perceived as a strategic partner and can connect the dots between the IT department and the corporate metrics, they are not a valid basis for a performance evaluation. The CIO must clearly link IT initiatives to the company performance or risk being judged on an operational level by the stability of the network or budget overruns.

The CIO should set the example by constantly coaching and advising, and making clear what is expected of the staff, where they are on target and where they need to improve. Tom Coughlin doesn't wait until the end of the game to suggest to Eli Manning how he might change the outcome. Don't wait until the end of the year to reconstruct events. Engaging in a continuous dialog will make employee performance improve and the more formal review a much easier conversation.

At the same time, the CIO must continuously communicate and seek feedback from C-level peers to ensure everyone is on the same page and delighted with the return on the investment in IT being delivered.

Captain Joe

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