The Inbetweeners

Life as an HR Director is always interesting, varied and full of surprises and for the most part enjoyable…except for that one month every year that made me question my profession and career choices…January. Not only had you your own January blues to contend with but pretty much everyone else’s too. Facing into the odd sexual harassment case post the Christmas party, the onslaught of resignations from people who wanted more, nothing screamed January blues like the most dreaded activity of all; the rollout of the performance management review process.

Troubled managers stressed over calibration curves and nervous, confused employees stepped in and out of meeting rooms to perform the annual ritual. It’s not the idea of managing performance that bothered anyone, everyone was in violent agreement, this had to be managed, performance should be discussed; the great people should know you value them, the weaker performers need to know to smarten up. But the cloud lay over the ‘everyone in between’.

The ‘everyone in between’ awaited the inevitable; to be told they ‘met expectations’. After a year of hard work and dedication, you met expectations….well done. About 70% would wander around our organization in a sea of disappointment, accepting that they were an unfortunate sacrifice to the unspoken but well understood calibration curve. Managers faltered, promising all sorts of treats to gain back employee favor; training courses, mentoring and interesting projects lay ahead if they could just all forget that we denounced you as having ‘met expectations’. But the disappointment lay thick in the air, it remained through the new year strategy all hands meetings, it lay heavy through the ‘new initiatives’ meetings and it sat heaviest of all through the Department goal setting meetings, that articulated the new goals that demanded more focus and energy than ever before to hit an ever more ambitious set of targets. The new year got off to a bleak start and renewing energy and enthusiasm was an uphill battle from there.

As HR reaches into a new era for performance management and prepares the ground for more frequent check-ins, ongoing dialogue on performance and a greater focus on new ways of working, we are getting closer to the time when we reach a point where the backbone and engine of our businesses; the 70% who ‘met expectations’ will feel reinvigorated, reenergized and ready to take on the world in a new year ahead.

Given the strides made in this area over the past year there is room for real optimism for a new way of managing performance through continuous and crowdsourced feedback. This year has the potential to change the game on performance management for good. Here’s to better Januarys!