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The Root Cause of the Problem

In my view, the root cause of the problem does not appear to lie in a lack of ability within the managerial population to honestly and accurately assess and evaluate an employee's performance and potential.

The root cause of the problem is that, to a greater or lesser extent, the vast majority of managers cannot actually translate what they know about that performance into useful information and then communicate it to the employee in an effective and practical way regardless of the method they are asked to use.

This is a fundamental problem because the success of any formal or informal approach to EPMA is ultimately dependent on the honesty and caliber of the information the employee receives in combination with the quality of the face-to-face discussion that should accompany it.

Why does this problem exist?

The cause of the problem seems to lie in the way in which managers, being human, form their opinions about their employees. This is how I believe that it happens: when managers form opinions about employee performance, they instinctively analyze both objective and subjective data collected from observing and interacting with them over time and in a wide variety of circumstances and situations.

Objective data obviously include any measurable results produced by the employee that can be related to previously defined objectives or performance standards. Subjective data, on the other hand, include a myriad of less tangible, and therefore less measurable factors. Examples of these factors include perceptions around employee:

  • 'Attitudes' (to anything and everything).
  • Intelligence.
  • Initiative.
  • Political astuteness
  • Interpersonal skills (how confident, comfortable, and tactful they are in dealing with peers, customers, senior managers, etc.).
  • Personal grooming and attire.
  • Ability to think and work independently.
  • Communication skills (express ideas, persuade others both verbally and on paper).
  • Way of dealing with issues such as conflicts, disagreements, ambiguity.
  • Ability to make people feel good and look good in front of others.
  • Ability to work well in a team.
  • Leadership ability.

It is the interpretation of this combined objective and subjective data that managers use to form the opinions, judgements and conclusions upon which they base their impressions about an employee's overall performance - i.e. how the employee is 'doing'. Examples include things like, "good worker,' "good interpersonal skills,' "politically naive,' "no leadership ability,' "not a team player,' "too edgy,' "no credibility with subordinates,' etc.

From this mental impression, the manager also draws conclusions about this employee's 'fit' in the organization, as well as what it might mean for his or her future potential.

What does a mental impression look like? If you ask managers to tell you what they really think about how a given employee is doing (and if they feel comfortable and safe enough to tell you the truth) they would probably express it along these lines:

Sam is a pretty good supervisor. He runs a tight ship and I can rely on him to get the job done - he generally meets the production targets etc. Even though he can't really see the big picture, he has a lot of initiative when troubleshooting the inevitable problems that come up every day - probably because he has been in the position a long time and knows the operation inside out and backwards. The problem with Sam is that he has no leadership ability. He's from the old school of management you know and his employees resent it a bit. I think he manages to get okay results because he can be pretty intimidating and hard-nosed sometimes ('my way or the highway' type of guy). He's dropped hints about promotion but this just simply isn't in the cards. We need managers who have good people skills and he just doesn't fit the bill. On top of that he resists change, he's so cynical about new initiatives .'

On the surface, these mental assessments appear to be relatively unambiguous but upon closer inspection, they are actually rather 'fuzzy.'

Positive fuzzies, such as 'You have good communication skills,' are easy for managers to talk about even if they don't do a technically good job of it. However, bringing up the negative ones can be brutal. For example take: 'You have no credibility with your subordinates,' or, 'You have no leadership ability,' or 'You're politically naive'. How do managers go about bringing up these kinds of issues? Assuming they could muster enough courage to do so , the first response from the employee would inevitably be something like: 'What do you mean by that?'

This is the crux of the problem. Managers cannot answer this question effectively because, while they may know what they mean, generally they cannot articulate, explain, justify, or communicate it without the risk of opening a Pandora's box of possible anxiety, resentment, demotivation, and strained relationships!

Previous page > Current Situation

Next page > Implications of the Problem for Existing EPMA Approaches

Julie Freeman is a training and development professional with over 15 years of experience in the corporate training environment and in consulting. Her primary area of expertise is in the design, development, and delivery of soft-skills training for managers and supervisors.

Julie has a BA in Psychology with a minor in Human Resources, a Graduate Diploma in Computer-Assisted Learning, and an MA in Educational Technology (the training and development degree).

She now specializes in showing corporations, managers, and supervisors how they can finally achieve the kind of "open and honest" communication with their employees about their performance that works in the way that we have always envisioned that it should.

Julie was born and raised in the UK, but has lived and worked in North America for most of her adult life.

Her website is at www.performancefeedback.com.



 
 
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