What Good Looks Like

Twice a year my company partakes in the always popular event of “calibration”. Calibration or sometimes called “leveling” is when the Division leadership team gets together to evaluate our people. Prior to Calibration each employee will write their accomplishments against a set of objectives, the direct supervisor then has to “sell” the higher achievers to the leadership team to lock in the rating. The same goes for the flip side with the “needs improvement”candidates. As a group we level set each employee to ensure as a Division an exceeds performer in one location is matched equally against an exceeds performer in another location.

It should be a productive day of discussing our people and sharing ideas for their development. Reality is it is guys jockeying for high ratings for their team (after all if you have a team of high achievers it must be because of stellar leadership, right)? The whole process is a political dance with many avoiding stepping on the wrong toes while shooting texts what you really think to your chosen allies.

We have a set of objectives clearly and quantifiably defined that should make evaluations easy. So why are they not?

Because perception is reality.

Despite the best efforts of our HR Department we judge people based on what we think of them.

This problem really came to a head this year with a long tenured employee that I recently started supervising. I gave him an honest evaluation of his performance measured against our goals, which was an overall “On Target” with a “Needs improvement” in one category that he specifically missed an important deadline.

I felt my evaluation was what was expected. When I delivered the feedback during our Performance Evaluation Session I saw that he was becoming agitated and got up to start pacing the room (moving closer to the door). I finally broke away mid-thought and asked “Are you Okay?”

He responded that this was his first “On Target” rating. My jaw dropped. I pulled up his history and couldn’t believe my eyes- every year this guy was employed he was rated as an “Exceeds Performer”.

Although this was my first year as his supervisor, I had worked around this guy for over a decade. He was the type that took control of a situation, called shots (that may or may not have been popular) and kept the rail yard that he manages neat and tidy. His knowledge of his territory and customers was strong. Assumingely, these qualities led his previous supervisors to rate him as performing above average. But, when I peeled back from his perception his performance didn’t match up. His safety numbers were good but I found he did not report safety concerns or turned a blind eye. He was not well received by his peer group because he would win at their cost, snaking resources to benefit his immediate team but hurt other departments.

I stand very firmly in my evaluation and felt that our conversations were candid but a hopeful wake up call.

I wonder how often as leaders we gauge talent on the confidence of an individual?

I am not certain what the road ahead with this employee looks like- particularly because having been the first one to evaluate this employee differently has the potential to strain our relationship.

What I learned from this experience was that I waited too long to provide candid feedback to this employee, had the feedback been more frequent and specific it would have given this guy the opportunity to turn his performance around, but when you have been told for the past 15 years that you are an exceeds- without anyone telling you different you believe you are what good looks like.

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