Deciphering Performance Reviews

Learning how to decipher the code managers use to rate employees empowers you to improve your results and elevate your performance in the review system.

What does a hiring manager really want to know when they call your boss to ask about you? How you work? How effective you are? How much coaching you’ll need? Where you rank against your peers? Essentially – are you an asset or a liability, and to what degree? Performance reviews create anxiety for employees and managers alike. Even the best systems are imperfect, but they’re especially troublesome when used as the only feedback employees receive. Given that written feedback is rare, It’s helpful to understand how your supervisor applies precise language to rank you against your peers and other employees across the organization.

As a matter of principle reviews shouldn’t hold surprises. Negative comments should only appear on your performance review if they were shared with you previously. Managers who are afraid to provide coaching,  guidance, and feedback, outside of the formal review process, need training themselves and are less likely to help advance your career.

Performance reviews contain descriptions about three qualities, while the employee’s rank is encoded within the text:

  1. Performance.
  2. Potential.
  3. Fit.

Review systems force managers to rank their direct reports. Across regions, and divisions only a select number of employees can be assigned the highest rating. This causes managers to compete against each other to capture their fair share of the top ratings. Employees who know about this are in a better position to provide a comprehensive list of accomplishments to share with their managers – to use during the “trading” process. The process concludes with scores and descriptions for areas the company requires managers to focus on. Many employees share the same scores, but language sets them apart. High performers should strive for their narrative and scores to match; disconnects between a score and the narrative can create problems. This is often the case when a high performer is new to a group and bonuses are tied to the score. The new employee may be well-regarded and likely to be promoted, but the management team doesn’t want to reduce the bonus payout for an experienced employee. The path of least resistance is to give the new employee a lower score and a glowing review. Conversely, mid-tier scores coupled with a scathing review spell trouble. The score is used to avoid a difficult conversation about poor performance, but the language will reappear when layoffs are announced.

Adjectives provide clues about relative performance: marginal, acceptable, good, great, best (superlative). When superlatives are used, like the “best,” comparison groups are often added to give readers information about the employee’s overall performance score. Notice the size of the group used for the comparison. The best salesperson on the Los Angeles team (top 20%), the best salesperson in the California region (top 10%), the best salesperson in North America (top 5%), the best in the company (top 1%).

Superlatives, combined with the comparison group size, and a time component can give you a very accurate picture about how your score ranks against your peers. Another “time” to focus on is language that puts timing into a discussion about your next promotion. “Ready for promotion” is not as strong as, “Promote now”, but both are stronger than a lot of other comments you might receive.

It’s impossible to guess at the meaning or motivation behind vague language, but phrases to watch for include: “intense curiosity” (gets into other people’s business); “frequently offers unsolicited suggestions” (not a good follower); “frequently debates ideas with peers” (argumentative, or know it all); “serves on numerous boards and committees” (not focused on job). You get the picture, and it’s not good.

Let’s move on to typical language; consider these example reviews:

“Mike is a seasoned account manager, and the best on his team. His performance frequently exceeds expectations and Mike usually reaches his sales targets by the end of each month. Mike routinely volunteers to help new employees, and he fills in for absent co-workers whenever requested. Over the next year Mike will attend new leader training and is expected to perform above his peers.”

Team Diagram

Here’s a stronger version:

“Mike is the best account manager in the Western Region. He always exceeds his sales targets and frequently volunteers to train new employees. Mike  is ready for a promotion.”

Regional Team

And now the strongest possible language:

“Mike is the best account manager at ACME company, and has held the top spot for several years. He’s a team-player, respected by his supervisors and peers, and his knowledge and experience are sought by employees and customers alike. Mike should be promoted at the earliest possible opportunity.”

Team Venn Diagrams

 

When it comes to understanding performance reviews, a little knowledge goes a long way.

 

Coaching

Work-Life Balance

We’ve all tossed around expressions about work life balance, and they have different meanings to different people. But how many of us actually keep track of our balance in a systematic way? What if you could measure your balance on a regular basis to uncover insights about your happiness or career satisfaction? Or learn how problems with your kids, partner, or other factors affect you in other areas of your life?

The “wheel of life” has a long history; it’s originally from the Indo-Tibet region – as the Bhavacakra. It’s a powerful way to identify areas in your life that require attention and help you move up the satisfaction food chain. Kevin Burgess describes four states people are always in: Survival, Sustainment, Success, and Significance. Where are you? As you fill out your wheel of life think about how problems in one area affect the others. You can create a simple radar chart in excel or download this chart here.

Life Wheel

Consider each category and assign a score.

1. Health

Are you generally healthy, other than the normal aches and pains that accumulate over the years? Do you get enough sleep and exercise? Are you comfortable with your weight? or battling habits and addictions like caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, or obsessive eating?

2. Family

Is your family supportive, available, and healthy? Are they a source of strength and encouragement or a drain? Are you caring for someone who is sick or disabled? or coping with a troubled child?

3. Friends

Do your friends push you forward or demand support? Are they coaches and cheerleaders or emotional vampires?

4. Finances

Are you doing well and saving for retirement, or does your income just cover your bills? Conversely, are you battling with medical bills, late fees, and home and auto repairs that threaten to swamp you? Give yourself a high score if you’ve paid off debts with a windfall.

5. Recreation

Do you have time for yourself and spend it on activities that you enjoy and look forward to, that energize you, and increase your satisfaction?

6. Personal Growth

Do you have written goals and a plan to achieve them? Is formal training part of your day-to-day life or something you avoid?

7. Career

Are you satisfied with the three “R’s” Responsibility, Recognition, and Rewards provided by your job? Is there a clear path to achieve your goals? Do you have the support you need to reach them?

8. Workspace

Your office space or work space should be ready for you to do your best work. Does it help you or get in the way? Is your space clean, and workable or cluttered and disorganized. Do you have to hunt for things when you need them, or are they ready for quick use?

9. Romance

Is your romantic life satisfying? Do you feel loved, and receive attention, affection, and support? Does your partner feel that way?

Once you’ve recorded your responses plot them on the wheel and add a score to describe your happiness, satisfaction, optimism, and choose which of Kevin’s four phases you’re in now – put the date on it and keep it at your desk. Revisit the wheel again in six months to learn how happiness, satisfaction, and optimism ebb and flow as multiple dimensions in your life change.

Coaching

Master Your Future

Several years ago I was trying to master cross-wind landings in an especially under-powered airplane on a gusty springtime day in North Texas. It was ugly. I was all over the runway – at one point even touching down with the nose pointed 30 degrees to the left of an enormous strip of concrete at Alliance Airport. I was frustrated and exhausted when my flight instructor broke in with encouragement I’ve found useful many times since. He said, “It’s your pony to ride.” He meant own it, make the plane do what you want it to do, when you want it to do it. Don’t let the wind knock you around – be the boss. Said another way, when in charge, take charge, and when you’re not, act as if you are. That’s great advice for anything you do – and it applies to leadership and self-improvement.

Have you ever tried to measure how much you’ve learned since your last graduation? Did the internet exist? Smart phones? Twitter, Linkedin, Salesforce.com, 3D printers, LEDs, SAP, Prezi, Dropbox, Office, Word, Excel, and all the other technology tools, gadgets and Software as a Service applications you’ve mastered? What have you learned about managing people, HR rules, federal regulations, tax laws, environmental regulations, and everything else you’ve focused on?  I’ll bet your working knowledge has increased at least 3% every year – if not more, and many skills seem to multiply the benefits of newer skills and information. There’s a cumulative effect. But what does that look like, and how would it impact you to find ways to be more efficient and to adopt new technology or processes before your peers? I’ll show you after a brief discussion about success.

High School reunions provide lots of material about how we predict and measure success. Yours and others. When you graduated it’s likely that you had an idea about how successful or unsuccessful your classmates would be. In most cases you had little information about your peers’ personal growth strategies so it was difficult to predict that the “C” student in your social studies class, the one who spent summers roofing new homes, would go on to own a $100 Million construction company, or the quiet kid in your English class would earn a law degree from Yale and end up as a Federal Judge. In High School, and beyond college, it’s too early to observe the cumulative effects of exponential growth. Over time skills and knowledge acquired outside the classroom will dominate. It can take many years to rack up the score that other people use to measure progress. Successful people share a drive to learn new things and take risks. And many learn that failure doesn’t stop you unless you let it. Everyone fails, but some people keep trying.

It doesn’t matter what you measure, income, wealth, efficiency, knowledge, employees – pick your yardstick. Comparisons among three exponential growth rates 1%, 3%, and 6% lead to obvious difference over several years. A 6% improvement starts to bend up and away from the 3% line. Separation is evident over fifteen years, but the “Bend” is clear over twenty-five years.

15 year line

 

25 year line

Again, It doesn’t matter what you measure, what counts is that learning something new provides enormous benefits over many years.  Look at the same graph over thirty years – the 6% line bends upward in an increasingly obvious way. But what if there were opportunities for giant leaps? A promotion, a degree, a company started, a skill mastered? How would leaps impact the line for a life-long learner?

30 year line

In the next chart two 50% leaps have been added to the 6% line in early years. Maybe the leaps were generated by an advanced degree, but what if they flowed from starting a business that failed, or a second business that failed? You would be far smarter and wealthier from the experience. It doesn’t matter how your axis is labeled, the point is to see how gains can have a huge impact over years.

Performance Leaps

Obviously leaps have an enormous impact – especially when they occur early – but leaps create bends any time they happen – and that’s what you need to know to develop a plan that will separate you from the crowd. A final example – what happens to someone who catches a lucky break or a gets an unexpected promotion, while avoiding new skills or knowledge? Take a look.

Performance Crossover 1% and 3%A 1% annual improvement with a 50% leap in year 12, climbs past the steady 3%-er, but the effect isn’t long-lived, and slow and steady outperforms. This begins to look like a study in luck – or the idea that lucky people make themselves lucky. You’ve already seen how much separation occurs when the 6%-er received the lucky break – was that person lucky? or did they create the situation? Undoubtedly these charts demonstrate that meaningful progress to develop new skills can lead to big performance differences. Get a plan and start something to bend your line.

Coaching

Paul Laherty’s LinkedIn Tip Sheet

Linkedin is the primary tool recruiters, fans, employers, colleagues, customers and friends use to learn about you. It’s a powerful application and an open-book. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel – review what other people in your profession have done and use their profiles as a benchmark to measure your story. You should even ‘borrow’ ideas that represent you from anyone who says it better than you think you could.

This isn’t everything but it will give you a good start. Even a brief profile can be effective and allow you to generate thousands of relevant connections.

Linkedin is one-part of a complete brand-building strategy. You’ll learn a lot by becoming an expert user so it’s worth focusing on it as a starting point.

1. Getting started – You need a starting point to measure your progress so create a network map of your connections before you make other updates and changes. Visit Socilab.com to create a report about your network. It’s even better than inmaps, as long as you have fewer than 500 connections, since it shows your network ‘developing.’ Capture a screenshot to use later (save it as a pdf, jpeg, or other photo file – most computers have “Paint”, just “Paste” the screenshot into it, and “save as”).

2. “Turn off notifications” as a courtesy to your connections (since you’re about to get busy). From your thumbnail photo select “Privacy & Settings”, then, in the lower-center choose “turn on/off your activity broadcasts.”

3. Select groups to join and companies to follow. You should choose associations and groups you have in common with your co-workers, colleagues, friends, family, and classmates. Once you’ve joined a group, you can manage visibility – many groups should be public on your profile, but “connection generators” should be hidden. Consider turning off notification messages from the groups you join, but you should allow members to contact you.

4. Join the following groups (you can join 50):

A. Ten trade associations in your profession.
B. Your school alumni associations.
C. Military and veteran groups.
D. TED: Ideas worth spreading (400K+ members).
E. Another 20 that are specific and important to you. E – J (below) should be hidden from view (you can select this option in ‘Manage Groups’
F. Jobs (+750K members)
G. Linkedin:HR
H. Linkedin Residential Real Estate
I. Linkedin Accounting
J. Linkedin Entertainment
K. eMarketing Association Network.

5. Follow companies and organization (not included in the 50 “groups” you can join):

A. Your employer
B. Previous employers
C. Competitors
D. Your suppliers
E. Local colleges/universities
F. Local companies

6. Follow influential people and trend setters:

A. Elon Musk
B. Mark Cuban
C. Tony Robbins
D. Seth Godin
E. Nassim Taleb
F. James Rickards
G. Influential people in your industry

7. Add 10 skills: Leadership, Management, Strategy, Venture Capital, Startups, Procurement, Product Development, Marketing Communications. Keep this list small so you can hit 99+ endorsements for each one as soon as possible. Once you have many endorsements for those, then add new skills.

You’re on your way with a more complete profile.

8. Add connections.
Do not send blast emails. Personalize connection requests – it doesn’t need to be sophisticated, but you should show recipients that you care enough to personalize the note. Here’s an easy example. John – I hope you’re doing well. I’d like to add you to my network on linkedin. Regards, Dianne. Short, easy, personal.

Tips: This fact is a goldmine: you don’t need to know someone’s email address if you are connected to them through a group.

Another nugget for your consideration: Linkedin prevents spamming through sophisticated algorithms that keep track of how many invitations you send out, how quickly people respond, and the percent that accept your requests. This is why personalization is crucial. You want quick ‘yeses’ to keep going. This means your friends’ parents, or kid’s soccer coach plays a role – they’re likely to say yes, so when your CEO sits on hers for a few days you don’t get locked out.

Find people who are well connected – they will give you exponential reach. It’s better to have ten connections that each have 5,000+ connections, than a thousand people who have 10 connections.

Look for LIONs – Linkedin Open Networkers (they have a circle logo next to their profile). These are people who encourage others to connect with them. Authors, speakers, consultants and senior executives are more open to connecting if you send them a good argument. As your work advances It’s a great idea to search for people who are similar to you or have the same title. In the search box type “Product Development” or “Sales Manager” to find the highest ranked people. Look at their profile. What groups do they belong to that you could add? How did they write their job descriptions? What skills have they listed?

Now – do the same thing for the current and former trade association Presidents and Board Members… how can you incorporate information from their profiles into yours?

Search Engine Optimization – This is a book by itself. To get started, select five words or phrases you think describe you or the roles you’ve had and are looking for. For this example use “Software Developer” – next, use http://www.google.com/trends to search for your term. You’ll find that it’s not a great search term, but a similar term is, “Software Engineer.” So if you decide to stick with “Software Developer” you should also seed your profile with “Software Engineer” to maximize the number of times you will appear in Linkedin Searches for one of those terms. It doesn’t matter what your key words or phrases are, what matters is what other people think and how often recruiters use those terms, so embrace “Google Trends” and use it to guide you towards relevant, high-frequency key-words to give you the best advantage.

Have fun and share what you learn.

Coaching

Optimize your linkedin profile

So it’s time to refresh your profile… where to begin?  Said another way, where do you get the most bang for the buck on your profile? The answer depends on your goals, but generally, it’s useful to acknowledge that your linkedin profile is “content”, while Linkedin is a content “host” and “data-aggregator” that powers search results with a proprietary algorithm hidden from the user’s view. So how do we measure something that’s invisible? Easy, identify the search terms you expect people to use to locate your profile.

Here’s how you do it. Open the “Advanced” search window in Linkedin. Put four or five of your keywords or phrases in the “Keywords” field (separated by commas). Then move down to the “Postal Code” field and type in your code; next, select a distance in the “Within” field. Then hit “Search” to see the results sorted by relevance. Record your position and note the page your profile shows up on. Then expand the distance by changing the “Within” field and repeat until your profile doesn’t appear in the results. Now hit “reset”, a link next to the “Search” button. Re-type your keyword list to perform a worldwide search.

At this point you should examine profiles that appear at the top of the search results on the first page, since these profiles have the highest relevance score in Linkedin’s algorithm. Pay close attention to variations of your keywords that appear in multiple high-scoring profiles. Once you’ve created a list of phrases and keywords the top performers used edit your profile to include two of the new keywords or phrases in several relevant places throughout your profile to test their effect on your ranking. Rerun the search with the distance filter to measure your profile’s performance against peers near you compared to your starting point.

Your keyword strategy starts with description words about your job-level, functional area, and industry: Hotel Sales Manager, Software Developer, Hospital Administrator, Author, Speaker, Product Strategy Manager, Inbound Marketing Director. You know what they are, but what you don’t know is which words and phrases are favored by the recruiters, customers, and partners who might be looking for your profile. Fortunately there’s a multi-million dollar tool freely available to you to uncover insights about how most people search for the terms you think best describe you. Google trends.

Go to google.com/trends and type your first keyword in the search box. When the results appear they will include “Related Searches” below the fold. Scroll down to look for similar keywords that might outscore the one’s you’ve selected. Compare the new keywords and phrases to the list you captured from high scoring profiles? Use google.com/trends to evaluate the new phrases too – and update your list powered by this new information.

On to your profile – great profiles have a lot in common. They include high quality profile photos – and no photo is complete without enhancements in photoshop. It’s a photo…a representation of you…it’s not you… so you should have perfect hair, and gleaming white teeth… and you should not have a beer in your hand, an arm around your shoulder, red-eye, or any variety of crazy accessories. Don’t use any picture that could be included in a “caption contest.”

Do ensure that your profile is 100% complete – Linkedin leads you through steps required to get there.

Do put your contact details at the top of your profile, and in the section marked “contact details.”  Make it incredibly easy for people to reach you.

Do put schools, organizations, affiliations, and hobbies in your profile.

Do join at least ten groups in your industry, and another ten groups in your functional area, and five or more groups for your level. Along with alumni associations, athletics, and religious organizations above, groups will increase the number of items you have in common with other people. It will humanize and personalize your profile. These touches will increase your likability, accessibility, and approachability, all characteristics that will enhance the probability that others will reach out to you proactively.

All of this can be achieved without more than a sentence or two about each position or job. Leave the detailed scope and accomplishments light and focus on keywords and your profile completion score, then fill-in the remaining areas when you have more time.

In his book, Bounce, Matthew Syed pointed out that expertise requires “Meaningful Practice” – I agree, and this article should help you get there with Linkedin.

Coaching

Managed Travel: Curriculum For High Risk Travelers

Each day an employee spends on the road increases their exposure to risk. They’re often in unfamiliar places, eating unfamiliar food, and operating on less sleep than they would get at home. Frequent travelers may have thousands of times more risk each year from exotic illnesses and food and water borne disease. Add this to language, clothes and hairstyles that set them apart from the crowd and they become targets for opportunity crimes from simple assault to kidnapping. Travelers must be their own first responders, and companies should send them into the world prepared for the most likely situations they will encounter. Here’s a simple list to form the foundation for traveler training.

  1. Review Duty of care / Duty of loyalty
  2. Risk management: population statistics and measurement tools.
  3. Travel risk drivers – causes, probabilities, and responses.
  4. Travelers need to know what resources are available for them, and how those resources will connect with them.
  5. How does your travel team know where you are?
    • Methods – traveler tracking via GDS Queue, GPS ring-fencing, traveler check-ins, active outbound calling to the traveler, VIP Security Teams.
  6. Medical, Travel, and Legal support available.
  7. Communication devices – Satellite phones, PLB’s.
  8. VIP kit bags – Vest, PBE, PLB, SAT phone, First Aid; including driver and VIP transport
  9. Personal travel kit.
  10. How to respond to a non-criminal crisis – consider type, location, and sensitivity to employee-level.
  11. Weather events.
  12. Accidents
    • Vehicle
    • Other accidents
  13. Illness – acute, persistent, poisoning.
  14. How to respond to a criminal crisis – Describe roles for people, locations, and traveler behavior.
    • Target selection.
    • Assault, Theft, Kidnapping, property crime.
    • Avoid or Respond.
    • Civil unrest.
    • Terrorism.
    • Threats, bombs, and assaults.
Risk Management Travel Management

How to Conduct a Salary Negotiation

Salary negotiations are something most people think about related to executives. Not true. They go hand in hand with “will” and “will not.” The important list everyone has about what they’re willing or unwilling to do in any job.

During my “Career Transition” course, I’ve met people who are surprised when I show them how to negotiate for a new position with their current employer. Negotiation covers more than your salary – time off, flexible work hours, flexible work days, your cube location or anything else that matters to you and the time to bring it up is right after you’ve been offered a job.

Your “Will / Will Not” list is important – it’s critical – but the time to refer to your list is after you’ve been made an offer. Here’s why. By the time an organization has completed the steps to identify their top candidate for a role, they’ve already imagined what life will be like with you on their team. Even if the job required a candidate to move. They think you’re amazing – that’s why they’re willing to hire you. So if you really are amazing, wouldn’t they rather let their new “amazing” employee work from home in Dallas, than an office in Charlotte? Maybe, but you’ll never know if you tell the recruiter on day-one that you’re not willing to move. Once you have the offer in-hand you have something that didn’t exist when you were a candidate – now you’re the selectee and selectees have leverage because hiring managers and recruiters don’t want to be wrong. They picked you because you’re the best.

On to the negotiation. Never accept an offer before you have seen all the details in writing. Thank the recruiter or your new boss for their call and say politely, “Thank you for your offer – I’m delighted, and I’m looking forward to reviewing the details in your written offer.” Review the offer once it’s received – most companies will send it via Fedex, so they know when you’ve received it. They’re ready to move forward so you may get a call asking when they’ll receive a signed acceptance letter. That’s when you kick off the negotiation. Here are the steps:

  • Thank them for the offer and their work and effort to get it to you.
  • Tell them you have a few concerns and would like to address them.
  • Ask the caller if he/she has the power to negotiate with you about the offer?
  • If they can negotiate, point out that you will accept their offer if they can make a good faith effort to resolve your concerns.
  • Share your concerns (you want a window office, salary too low, bonus structure insufficient, you can’t pull the kids out of school until May, etc…).
  • Stay positive and keep it light, and give them a chance to respond.

Live the life you want not the one others try to give you.

Coaching