performance appraisal

Performance Appraisal and Salary Increase

April is the beginning of a financial year in India. This is the time most of the employees of corporate India gets a salary increase for the year. Another thing that happens along with the salary increase is “performance appraisal”. Logically speaking, salary increase happens because of performance appraisal but the way the whole process is received by the employees is quite different.

There are many variations of the process but the broad outline is almost the same for most organizations. Manager meets employee in a one-on-one meeting to deliver performance appraisal and pay hike.  During the time the manager delivers performance appraisal and provides feedback, the employee keeps thinking about what the pay hike will look like and when the manager will stop giving feedback and handover the pay letter! So, although a lot of feedback is given by the manager the employee often does not get it.

A slight variation of this meeting could be the pay letter is handed over first and then comes the performance appraisal and feedback. But even in this case when the performance appraisal and feedback is given, the employee is either happy or unhappy about the pay hike and does not pay attention to what the manager is saying.

So the question is - is it a right practice to provide feedback and pay letter in the same meeting? Probably there are no right or wrong answers to this question. A good practice I have seen and emulated is what one of my managers used to do. He used to send both pay hike and performance appraisal at least two days before the scheduled one on one meeting. He expected employees to go through both the documents, absorb and digest the information presented and then come for the meeting. This way, the employees got a chance to get over the initial emotion (positive or negative) of the pay hike and would come to the meeting with a mind-set to ask questions and to listen to what the manager has to say.

Do you have a method of delivering feedback and pay hike in the same meeting, which worked well for you? Please share. 

The Human element in Managing

Human Beings are both rational and emotional beings. We use our head and our heart in arriving at decisions. We use other analogies such as left brain and right brain to bring out this distinction. In Chinese philosophy, it’s the Yin and Yang. They are defined as complementary forces (rather than opposing) that interact to form a dynamic system in which the whole is greater than the parts.

Organizations also need to have a head and heart. And the heart should play a leading role in human interactions. Traditional Management theories have focused a bit too much on the head part. In his classic HBR article, “The Human Side of Management”, author Thomas Teal starts by saying that great management is about character, not technique. I quote “…the only people who become great managers are the ones who understand in their guts that managing is not merely a series of mechanical tasks but a set of human interactions.”

The other day I was chatting with friends and the topic was about the recent TCS layoffs. The discussions became quite animated. Most thought that letting go off the bottom performers is business-as- usual and that the media is responsible for the publicity which is unwarranted. There have been reports of some moving court against TCS. Having been in IT most of my career, I have had the opportunity to work with several geographies and as a people manager, have had  direct reportees in other regions. Because of this, I know how difficult it is to simply fire people in general. In Europe, it’s virtually impossible (though it’s changing now). In the US which is the considered the mecca of capitalism, one would assume it’s simple hire and fire with no questions asked.

Well, it’s not that simple. If the matter goes to court, it would evaluate the reasons for termination. If its underperformance, is there sufficient evidence to support it? Were there performance evaluations done which provide evidence of underperformance. If there is, has the employee been given sufficient time to improve? During that time, has the performance been monitored through a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) to correct the situation? The decision to fire the employee is about the head, but a genuine attempt of improving that person’s performance is about the heart. Finally, if separation is the only option, is that done with compassion which gives the employee a softer landing zone. There are many ways of doing that and I will not get into those reasons in this article.

Globally, the reasons why so many checks and balances are put into place is to ensure that no wrongful terminations are done. After all, we are talking people’s livelihoods and careers here. And in our country where the state generally does not provide support for loss of pay or livelihood, it is all the more necessary for organizations to act responsibly. Coming back to TCS, we don’t have all the details to comment on the grounds of termination and whether they were justified. It is to the courts to decide. What is important to remember is that for any organization, firing people needs to have a grounding which goes beyond “it’s a business requirement” and done humanely if there is no other way out.

Unleashing your potential: Constructive Feedback

In my career I have observed that when I received a feedback and took it in the right spirit and worked on it, I had significant gains in terms of realizing my potential.

To build a cohesive team where the team members understand the strengths and weaknesses of each other and work on complementing each other to achieve a common goal, the stream of feedback needs to be uninterrupted. The role of the team leader needs to be that of a moderator who ensures the feedback flow does not become a stream of negative emotions against each other within the team.

Several factors contribute to dysfunctional intra-team feedback mechanism. Some of the prominent ones are:

1)      The fear that the feedback will adversely impact their performance evaluation; this prevents team members who are otherwise close to each other to give honest feedback about one another. And there is no one better qualified to give feedback than somebody who is close to us.

2)      The fear of retaliation by the feedback receiver.

3)      Nobody wants to provide feedback to a person who is a bosses’ favourite; as a result the this person lives with his/her blind spots

4)      At times the feedback provider feels that his feedback has not been acted upon and forms an opinion that providing feedback is of no use and nobody cares

The leader of the team can work on removing these roadblocks for free constructive flow of feedback using some of the steps below:

1)      Encouraging feedback flow and building an environment that is safe for the employees to provide feedback on anyone including the team leader.

2)      By working with each team members on building a development plan for the team member, based on the feedback received.

3)      Building trust within the team that the status of the development plan will form the basis of the year-end evaluation and not every feedback that comes on an ongoing basis.

4)      Weeding out feedback that are not constructive.

5)      By closing the loop with the feedback provider. For example, if the feedback provided is not being acted upon, then the leader can go back to the feedback provider and explain that there are other priorities that the feedback receiver need to work on right now and he/she will work on the given feedback later.

For a team that has trust issues within the team members or a team that has formed an anti-feedback culture over a period of time, implementing the above practices can be a significant challenge. The team may need an external facilitator to form the correct norms within the team. The external facilitator can start with a well-designed workshop to get the team warmed up to the idea of giving and receiving feedback and subsequently work with the team leader for an extended period to fine-tune the feedback mechanism and maximize effectiveness.