Time to broaden how IT professionals’ performance is evaluated

It’s mid-January, and for many of us it’s annual performance evaluation time.

While this year’s evaluations are probably set in stone — it would be unfair to rip up the current system right as the annual process is underway — next year’s are a different topic. This is the right time to introduce some new thinking.

Set broad categories

Far too many organizations have an evaluation model tied back to a job description. Doing that poses problems that dilute an organization’s performance.

The typical job description has a fair number of line items. Finding 10, 15, even 20 different “areas of responsibility” is normal. Most of these are worth just one or two per cent of the time over the year, either because they’re intermittent in nature (for example, the one per cent for a supervisor for evaluating staff).

When evaluations are tied back to the job description, staff naturally work over the course of the year to demonstrate performance in each and every area. Given that most people want to get a higher than average rating — increases and promotions are desired — the net effect is to see extra effort applied to every task.

The problem — from the organization’s point of view — is that the major items don’t get as much effort as they could, while minor procedural things do. Yet enterprise success turns on the major items far more than on the minor ones.

For next year set up a sign up letter that documents expectations and targets for the year ahead. Choose broad categories: Project Participation, for instance, might be one, with targets of 80 per cent of all tasks complete on time and budget for standard performance, 90 per cent for exceeds expectations, and 97 per cent for outstanding.

Doing it this way allows the work to flex during the year — you haven’t spelled out what projects — and something relevant to enterprise success is being measured.

Minor items can be handled on a yes/no basis, if, indeed, they need to be evaluated at all.

Leave room for change

Opportunity comes when it will. Locking people into a fixed evaluation scheme means that they’ll ignore or push away opportunities for enterprise success because they don’t fit their performance evaluation model.

With frequent annual purges and staff reductions now a normal part of life, everyone plays the game to hold onto their job. That means they’ll ignore opportunities to get on with something that would interfere with getting a good rating on last year’s priorities.

A sign-up letter process can allow for the flexibility needed. So, too, can an evaluation item that points, in some way, to engagement with the new.

Whether we are comfortable with it or not, things don’t fall nicely into place to fit our planning cycles. New ideas and market opportunities don’t only show up when next year’s projects are being prioritized; service issues don’t neatly wait until next year’s budget to be sorted out.

Your management goal should be to have every member of your staff doing the right thing for the time and producing a steady stream of results. Getting evaluation geared to that, rather than to conform to a plan devised over a year ago, is key.

Growth and development

The final part of any evaluation must be to judge whether the staffer is growing and developing in the job.

Part of getting at that is to evaluate not just the work performed, but how it’s performed. A superb technician might be a poor communicator, or might not be good at the juggling act of balancing project deadlines with operational crises.

If you’re not constantly looking for improvement on the soft skills, on the business skills, and on the technical skills, you will produce less competent staff.

Whether you look for formal feedback on a variety of axes through a 360-degree type process or post-task score systems throughout the year, or whether you simply free up more of your own time to be an active observer and coach, your goal should be to see the bar constantly raised on performance within your group.

A few major themes — mechanisms to flex through the year (and to reward opportunity-seeking and seizing) — and balancing the different aspects of performance to grow capabilities: these are what performance evaluation is for.

If you’re in management, make it work for you.

A word on group results

There’s one other thing to be considered in setting up performance targets for next year. How will you distinguish between the evaluation of the individual — and of the teams or groups they’re a part of?

A poorly-managed project, for instance, may reflect badly at individual performance time, even though the person you’re evaluating did do everything they could to keep it moving. Enterprise retrenchment or shifts in policy may yank the money or defer an acquisition, making it impossible for a team to meet their planned targets.

Find a way — at sign-up letter time — to deal with this, recognizing the difference between performance the individual can be responsible for, and that they can’t. (It’s the flip side of opportunity-seeking: shifting what you work on because of a roadblock beyond your control.)

IT work is often team work. Recognize it up front — and recognize that getting the best out of a team involves working to each team member’s strengths. (This is why the sign up letters for team members might be composed of the same elements, but with different expectations assigned to each person, based on what they’re best at.)

Again, figuring this out to maximize results is why you’re a manager.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada
Bruce Stewart
Bruce Stewarthttp://about.me/bastewart
Bruce Stewart is a 40 year veteran of IT management and above. He is an executive advisor serving CIOs and senior executives in areas of governance, strategy, complex architectural transitions, portfolio yield and value generation. - See more at: http://blogidol.ca/author/bastewart#sthash.irsVlPlk.dpuf

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