Performance Evaluations vs. Performance Comparisons

In my line of work, I sometimes run across—or into—discussions around “performance management,” which is a way of saying “how do you tell whether someone is doing their job?”

And in those conversations, I have seen it asked whether you are really evaluating performance effectively if you are generally not having to ask people to leave/firing them, which is also termed “managing them out,” an absolutely horrible term, for reasons I’ll get into in a moment here.

What’s interesting about this question is that it assumes both a certain mode of evaluating performance, and also a mode of “managing” that performance, neither of which I believe are productive ways to lead a team.

First, there are two relatively basic things I would like people to understand regarding how I believe you should evaluate individual performance for just about any role. They are:

  1. A person’s peak performance is not their sustainable performance.
  2. Performance should not be compared from one team member to another, but each person should be judged independently against set, defined criteria.

I hope to expound on this in future posts, but I believe these are core to evaluating people against their work ethically and fairly. It is enough for now to say that a person’s performance needs to be judged against previously agreed-upon and concretely-set criteria for the role, and not against the “time trial ghost” of their own previous work at a peak output, or against the other racers on the track.

Whether someone is effectively doing their job should only be evaluated against whether they are doing the job they have been asked to do.

To touch on the other point briefly: a lead should never elect to “manage someone out” except as a method of last resort. If I am someone’s lead, and either something is brought to my attention that may result in their eventual termination, or I (or they!) notice that their performance against that criteria has reached a critical point, the very next thing I should be saying to the team member is “yo, this is looking bad; how can I help you get this back into a positive state?”

A good leader doesn’t jump at the chance to remove someone from their position. A good leader communicates well and regularly with that person both to stop poor performance from happening in the first place, and partners with them to recover if they begin to falter.

In short: It is wrong to expect 100% from people all of the time. Don’t compare your team members to each other (you should also try to prevent them from self-evaluating this way). And don’t “manage people out;” lead them to results.