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Humareso Blog

You're So Vain: The Egotism in Performance Appraisals

For fans of 30 Rock, Jenna Maroney was the epitome of self-centeredness. She found herself often at an emotional crossroads when her performance on “TGS” was deemed less than stellar by her colleagues, writers or directors. Brilliantly played by Jane Krokowski, Jenna was the pinnacle of conceit, self-absorption and frailty. In many ways, Jenna is all of us when it comes to critique.

Is my ego so fragile that when I “meet expectations” on a performance appraisal, I sit in full disbelief and disgust in the obvious underappreciation by my employer? For the modern American worker, in particular, you bet your bippy that’s how it is. And it’s been this way for some time.

As a country, the United States has struggled with its own narcissistic tendencies for decades; Americans think better of themselves, today, by default. Daniel Altman (2011) wrote:

Psychologists have been tracking narcissism through surveys of American college students since the late 1970s, and levels of it—often measured as a lack of empathy—have never been higher, according to Sara Konrath, an assistant professor at the University of Michigan’s Research Center for Group Dynamics. “If you look at the levers in society, almost all of them are pushing us towards narcissism,” she says. These levers go beyond Twitter feeds and Facebook pages, which offer endless opportunities for self-admiration. They also include advertising that tells consumers “You’re worth it” and reality-TV shows that turn regular people against each other in a battle for celebrity. (Altman)

It’s no wonder that, in the American workforce, being average is insulting. Even if the manager delivering the news is not presenting it in a negative tone, the rating of “Meets Expectations” is enough to trigger a poor response. At the onset, a wise manager needs to know what he/she/they are dealing with amongst the team. Whether it’s from historical data or behavioral assessment, a manager should have measured responses to know what’s coming.

And secondly, managers need to be ready to define and to justify an effective performance management system. These systems are all about building superior performance. The necessary piece is to understand, first for yourself as manager, what an effective performance management system is. For far too many, performance management is equal to performance appraisal. The annual or semi-annual performance assessment form is the bane of most managers’ existence. The completion of the form becomes the ultimate goal with very little measured thought or metrics-based assessment making its way onto the appraisal. Who has time for such things? Am I right?

Well, that’s why we wind up with narcissistic, overly self-impressed employees. We have not taught them any better. Effective performance management is about the long view with consistent feedback to affirm, rebuke and course correct. Without direction, anyone’s eyes would look to self, first, and then to a comparison to those around. If I

perceive that I am better than most of my colleagues (which most do), then I will only be satisfied with an “Exceeds Expectations” on an appraisal. An employee needs direction in what is being measured, why it’s being measured, how it’s being measured and for what overall purpose does that vein of work provide. Effectiveness cannot be just for the task, but for the overall goals of the team, division and organization. Effective is moving things forward.

I’ve known people who were great at tying a cherry stem into a knot with only their tongues. I have had successful tries, but not all of them were winners. A couple of friends of mine were incredibly talented at performing this feat. I could count on them every time. Think about the tasks that some of your employees can do successfully almost every time. Does that success mean effectiveness? I am not sure what overall goal tying cherry stems with your tongues would push a team towards (keep those thoughts in your head!), but if I just affirm that feat, I am causing performers to think more of that achievement than they ought.

However, if there are tasks that do build towards the whole, then have a right metric in place to affirm those contributions. Herein is where the “we’ve always done it this way” attitude can take hold. If someone is performing the same way but is never held accountable to a new system for success measurement, then you should not be upset with that employee. It’s management’s fault. Explain why the completion of that tasks isn’t enough anymore. Teach, train, coach and mentor. Effectiveness is not ready in 24 hours. It’s more a slow cooker when changing previous constructs. Keep the low heat going and stir regularly.