What do you focus on – activities or results?

 

 

Many of you would have had your performance review 1-1 recently, and most likely you are disappointed about how it went. There are many reasons why you would be disappointed right now, I talked about it in my post last year about this – Performance Review – The Day After.

If you want to understand why this disappointment happens (and maybe every year) and what you can do about it, read on. Continue reading

Workplace Reality #7: Organizations are full of leaders and managers who are incompetent and painful

This post is part of the series on 9 Realities of Modern Workplace.

In this post, we talk about Reality #7: “Organizations are full of leaders and managers who are incompetent and painful“.

When I wrote the original post, one of my friends called up to protest against it, he felt this comment was too harsh. I have no doubt that he is a good manager. However, I can’t say the same for large majority of leaders and managers you see at any workplace. For the purposes of this discussion, a leader or a manager is one who has people, project or technology responsibilities – people manager, tech lead, project managers, etc. Again, for our discussion, we define incompetence as the lack of demonstrated ability to do lead or manage people, project and technology, and we call it painful when the lead or manager gets in the way of doing things rather than helping with it. Hence, what I am saying is this: a large number of leaders/managers in organizations lack ability to lead or manager, and usually get in the way rather than help in doing things.

Different Success Drivers for individual contributors and leaders

When I teach the open course on new leadership, I point out the fact that there is huge difference between success drivers of an individual contributor and a leader.

Individual Contributor Leader
What kind of work environment do you operate in? Certain and Predictable Uncertain and Ambiguous
How do you become more effective? Self-learning Coaching and mentoring others
What kind of problems do you solve more often? Domain-specific/Technical Business, Personnel, Process
How do you perform well? Personal Excellence Excellence of others

You solve different types of problems, you work in a different environment, and perhaps the most significant of all, your effectiveness and performance depend on others doing well. When an individual contributor gets promoted to leadership role, they are expected to understand this different and adapt themselves to it. Unfortunately, it is not an easy change to make for many individuals (especially when mentorship and training for new leaders is patchy in most organizations) and many don’t change, trying to apply their individual contributor world view to leadership, and slowly evolve into a mediocre leader.

Performance Management Systems don’t measure leadership well

Another factor that aggravates the situation and fosters poor leadership is the bias of performance review systems. Most such systems are geared towards measuring visible indicators of what a person did, in an area that consists of hard skills, because these are easier to measure. It is easier to see the results produced by an individual writing good code to solve problems, much harder to see the results of mentoring by a manager, or design inputs by a tech lead that made the individual perform so well. This results in very poor (and sometimes missing) measures of leadership performance. There are significant differences between being a people manager and being a technical lead (or a senior individual contributor) in terms of performance measurement (which I dealt with in this post), but for current discussion, we can ignore that.

My central argument is this: very few organizations do a good job of identifying, developing and measuring the performance of their leadership talent, and hence the paucity of good leaders and managers in most organizations, and the reality statement above.

Dealing with the reality

Given this reality, what do you do with it? Two things:

  • Identify competency level of your leader: Observe the gap between what the leader says and what the leader does. Action speaks louder than words. When you are in doubt, always believe what you interpret from actions.
  • Find mentors in the organization (or outside): Having good mentor(s) is one of the best ways of building your career effectively. This can also offset some of the effects of mediocre leadership if you are exposed to it.

In the next post, we will discuss the Reality #8: “There are lots of star performers who are jerks, or vice-versa“. Stay tuned.

Image: freedigitalphotos.net

Workplace Reality #3: Most performance review systems are broken and useless

This post is part of the series on 9 Realities of Modern Workplace.

In this post, we talk about Reality #3: “Most performance review systems are broken and useless“.

I have written many posts on performance and performance appraisals before (managing performance, annual review, self-appraisal) and so have others (Forbes, Wall Street Journal, payscale). Most have been critical of the performance appraisal systems. It is very hard to find articles that talk about good systems; most such articles talk about what it should be (Forbes, Gallup). So the statement above shouldn’t feel very shocking. However, I have very specific reason to use the words broken and useless that I want to explain. Hopefully this will also explain why organizations behave in a certain way in some cases.

Performance Review System

Performance review is the process by which an employee’s performance is evaluated. Organizations use this process to make sure they are getting good returns on their investment in a particular employee. Idea is actually quite good: rate the employees based on their performance, use the rating to rank the employees, and then compensate them according to the rank. Tell poor performers to improve or get out, to be replaced by better performers. This will maximize the ROI on people investment.

However, this makes certain assumptions:

  1. It is possible to objectively rate (based on performance measurements) employees across the organization
  2. It is possible to compare rating (or performance) of any 2 people and rank them relatively
  3. Employees will agree to linking compensation to value creation
  4. There is always a steady supply of talent available who will perform better at the same compensation

Unfortunately, none of these assumptions hold true in today’s organizations.

  • #1 requires rating is based on objective metrics and is done by able managers. Both of these are hard to come by.
  • #2 requires quantification of every performance which is hard. How do you compare the performance of a business analyst vs. a sales person?
  • #3 makes the compensation fluctuate widely which employees can’t handle
  • #4 depends on external factors and always comes with a time lag which hampers quick results

Broken and Useless

System is intended to adjust compensation and rewards every year to align with performance of the individual. This is expected to create incentives for high performance. Since above assumptions don’t hold true, rating and ranking results are inaccurate. This means compensation and rewards are not aligned with performance all the time. Instead of incentivizing value creation, it may create unhappy employees and thus hamper performance.

System is also intended to give feedback so that employees can improve their performance. For the reasons cited above, this feedback is not useful at all, and can be harmful in some cases.

Dealing with the reality

Most people use performance review system outcome as a way to measure their own worth, and their career growth. If they get a raise or get promoted, they think they are growing, and they are worth more. If they get no raise or promotion, they think they are not growing or are worthless for the company (my earlier post evaluating your performance).

It is critical to wean yourself away from the myth that performance review outcomes are a good indicator of your career growth and personal worth.

If you can do that, following statements will make sense:

  1. Performance rating your manager gives you may have little correlation with your performance
  2. Bonus, salary increment, rewards that you get may have little correlation with your performance rating
  3. Performance rating may have little correlation with your worth to this or another company

If you can adjust yourself to live with above statements, you will realize that you can deal with your workplace much better.

In the next post, we will discuss the Reality #4: “Promotions and bonuses are determined more by available budget and market conditions, less by your capabilities or your performance“. Stay tuned.

Caveat: Above post exaggerates the situation by assuming that all parts of the system are broken. Most companies will have some parts broken and not all, so your personal experience with your performance review system will be better than the above description. However, being ready for the above scenario serves you well.

Image: freedigitalphotos.net

9 Realities of Modern Workplace

While talking to a project manager in a services company recently, I was reminded of how little people (even those with 8-10 years of experience) understand modern workplace. We were talking about promotions and bonuses and she was lamenting the fact that promotions very rarely happen in the mid-year review. When I asked her why that might be (it is the case in most companies – it is an exception to get promotion in a mid-year review), she offered a few: it gives more time to people to prove themselves in case they missed out in the last review, it is too early, etc. but nothing convincing, even to herself. I left it as homework for her to figure this out but it left me thinking.

If someone is serious about building a career, they need to understand modern workplaces. While there are lots of management books about workplace and organization behavior, very few people bother to read them, preferring instead to somehow manage their way through the workplace. This puts them at a serious disadvantage. Many times, people think their current workplace is bad because these factors exist and think that their next workplace will be much better. The sad reality is that most workplaces are similar in these aspects and their next workplace is unlikely to be any better than current one. From career management perspective, it is much better to stay and try to figure out how to excel in the presence of these realities rather than trying to run away from them.

Here are 9 realities of modern workplace that everyone would do well to keep in mind and plan to tackle.

  • Organization doesn’t care about you, it only cares about the value you create
  • Organization deliberately sets up goals for people and departments that conflict with each other
  • Most performance review systems are broken and useless
  • Promotions and bonuses are determined more by available budget and market conditions, less by your capabilities or your performance
  • There is always a stack ranking and a bell curve of performance rating, even in companies that claim they don’t have these
  • The new hire can replace you any day if your only strength is technology
  • Organizations are full of leaders and managers who are incompetent and painful
  • There are lots of star performers who are jerks, or vice-versa
  • What leaders say can be very different than what they mean

Here are 7 personal rules that career-savvy engineers try to live by and work around these organization realities:

  1. I don’t work for my manager, I work for my organization
  2. I don’t listen to leaders, I only observe them
  3. I make things happen, I don’t wait for them
  4. Every obstacle is an opportunity to learn something new
  5. I always explore opportunities to learn new things that are aligned to my goals
  6. I measure my own career growth, I don’t rely on performance management systems
  7. I always produce the best I can produce, independent of how the organization makes me feel

Later posts will delve deeper into some of these realities and rules. I am very interested in listening to what your experience has been with realities of modern workplaces, and how you have dealt with them. Please post your comments.

PS: So what is the answer to the question I posed to the PM at the beginning of this post? Well, it is simple: company’s annual budget incorporates the money needed for salary hikes and bonuses. If companies start giving regular hikes and bonuses during mid-year, financial planning will become quite complicated because salary usually constitutes a significant portion of the cost of a technology company. So to keep things simple, all such changes to money outlay is planned to be done once a year and money is allocated during budget exercise.

PPS: Here are the links to the posts for each of the realities:

  1. Organization doesn’t care about you, it only cares about the value you create
  2. Organization deliberately sets up goals for people and departments that conflict with each other
  3. Most performance review systems are broken and useless
  4. Promotions and bonuses are determined more by available budget and market conditions, less by your capabilities or your performance
  5. There is always a stack ranking and a bell curve of performance rating, even in companies that claim they don’t have these
  6. The new hire can replace you any day if your only strength is technology
  7. Organizations are full of leaders and managers who are incompetent and painful
  8. There are lots of star performers who are jerks, or vice-versa
  9. What leaders say can be very different than what they mean

Image: freedigitalphotos.net

3 bad reasons to change job

Most of us are guilty of leaving a job when it wasn’t needed, as well as not leaving a job when it was needed. This hurts our career prospects significantly. Here are 3 bad reasons for changing job, and how to avoid them.

‘I can’t get along with my boss’

This is probably the most common reason to change the job. There are very few good bosses around, so there is indeed a good chance you will find a bad boss and may want to leave. However, for this very reason, you are equally likely to walk into another such boss again in your career. Whenever you encounter a boss you can’t work with, take the opportunity to learn how to work with him rather than running away from the problem by leaving the job. This usually requires understanding your own style of working, your boss’s style, and how to change yourself (or your boss) to adapt. This experience could be frustrating or painful but the reward is not only a workable (and sometimes good, in my experience) relationship with your boss, but also a joy in knowing you now have an important skill in your career arsenal. While you may eventually leave when pain outweighs learning, the reason for change should always be something other than leaving your boss if you care about your career.

‘It is hard getting anything done here’

This is usually the case when organizations are/become ineffective, inefficient, or both. You get frustrated by the lack of progress and would like to move on. However, in my experience, best career experiences happen when you are willing to stay engaged as the organization tries to fix its issues, and keenly observe and learn from what is happening around you. It comes with pain and hardship because you are getting frustrated at the lack of progress. However, you learn valuable lessons about organization, management, inter-personal relationships, and change management, and any prospective company will value them a lot. You can’t get such experiential lessons by reading a book, talking to others or taking a course. It is important to be selective in such a learning, pick people/situations that offer learning most aligned to your career milestones. Of course, there will be a time when situation hasn’t improved, you think you have learned enough, and it is time for you to move, then you should find a good reason to move.

‘I am being offered a higher salary’

When salary is the primary reason for change, it is a bad reason and you should be careful, it usually hides some valuable information. A company will always look for the return on investment on your salary, and so a higher salary should mean one of the two things: the new company thinks you are being undervalued currently, or it is paying for your potential. If it is the former, you should be investigating how you reached this stage of being undervalued (assuming it is a right assessment), and if it is the latter, you should be very careful in clarifying the expectation this company has from you, otherwise this may set you up for career failure. However, most common reason for being offered a higher salary is to entice you to move. Such changes are dangerous for the career, because you will reach a position where you don’t offer enough to the organization to justify the price tag and your performance evaluation will suffer.

 

Change is very hard. Moving to a new company requires you to spend time re-establishing your credibility, and learn about it enough to be productive at a level higher than in previous company. Such changes may risks to your career. Reasons for changes should be evaluated carefully, and above reasons should be avoided. In our next post, we will talk about some good reasons to change job.

What is your favorite ‘bad reason’ to change job?

Is Annual Performance Review a waste of time?

Recently someone forwarded me this post about the fact that Performance reviews are a big fat waste of time. This is a long post talking about why it is so and proposes that we should just lose them. Here are the reasons the post mentions as to why this is the case:

  • Everybody hates them
  • They try to do too much
  • They become an excuse for not talking for the rest of the year
  • They are too structured and formal
  • They focus too much on the quantifiable
  • They may not be formally connected with promotions and salary negotiations – in reality everyone knows they are
  • No one says what they really think
  • They take a LOT of time
  • They become a crutch for bad managers

The post really set me thinking about my previous experiences in administering and receiving performance reviews. Annual reviews (and semi-annual in some cases) in my experience have some positive aspects too: Continue reading