Managers often have a lot to do with their employees’ performance, or so conventional wisdom goes. They’re responsible for motivating their employees to turn out quality and perform at their best, as well as for organizing, training, and so forth. However, motivation is a “soft” skill that many managers just don’t come equipped with. Some have never been instructed at length on the topic of motivation, and it’s not a skill one easily picks up on their own. Therefore, many employees need to motivate better performance from within. If not, they lose interest and momentum.
So how do you, as the employee, take the initiative when your manager is unable to provide it?
If your manager does not provide you the “what, when, and why”…ask! Valuable project time is lost. Ask your manager for an example of what the finished product should look like. What are the project objectives? Are they SMART objectives? What are the milestones? Do you understand what’s expected of you?
Don’t allow your manager to isolate him or herself. The manager may say, “You handle it”, but do they really mean it? Project review should be a required part of every process — in fact, the quality standard, ISO 9001. mandates reviews! Always ask (of yourself and your manager) what can be improved.
Do you have enough for the job in question? If not, can you get more — or more specific — training? Can anyone mentor you in this area? And does the company have a training plan in mind for you?
Specify what you will need to complete the project. Ask your manager how resources will be allocated and be sure you will be adequately supplied.
As soon as you have the facts to rationally discuss the case bring it up to your manager. Present the facts clearly and logically. Present opinions, too, but be sure not to pass them off as facts. Try to offer one or more potential solutions, as well.
Be part of the team. Don’t hold back on any of your ideas. Each team member must contribute something to the success of any project…otherwise, it’s not really a “team project”, is it?
There is always room for improvement, so learn from the praise and the criticism and incorporate it in subsequent projects. You can’t always rely on others to provide you the guidance and incentive you need to be an outstanding performer. Sometimes you have to take the initiative.
You might go into the performance review feeling you did a “more-than-adequate” job, even if you can’t quantify it exactly. Then again, you might approach the review with a sense of foreboding. You’re not well prepared. Maybe you feel like you’re going to get slammed. Maybe you wish the shoe were on the other foot. Maybe you wish everybody would just forget about it.
Most of us know employee performance reviews as a broken process. According a recent Wall Street Journal article, many HR professionals are “frustrated that managers don’t have the courage” to give constructive feedback.
In an interview, UCLA business professor Samuel Culbert said that employee performance reviews should be dispensed with altogether because annual reviews don’t promote candid discussions about problems in the workplace or their potential solutions.
The Harvard Business School’s “Working Knowledge” page ran an article by James Heskett, one of the HBS faculty, in which he called into question the main objective of employee performance reviews. Professor Heskett asked, “Is (the objective) to weed out poor performers? To recognize the so-called A players? To provide the basis for compensation decisions?” He concluded that we don’t do a good job of establishing or communicating objectives.
W. Edwards Deming, one of the gods of quality, called the performance review one of the “deadly diseases of management”. You’re not going to find a much stronger indictment than that.
Too often, employee performance reviews are an exercise with no apparent purpose, except to satisfy a regulatory requirement or follow a decades-old policy. We go through the motions but don’t accomplish anything. By conducting employee performance reviews the way we do, we miss so many opportunities for improvement.
So, what do you think? What makes your employees outstanding performers? Is it that they’re strongly self motivated, or that they’re well managed? Or is it something else we didn’t discuss here?