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CIO Unplugged 1/25/12

January 25, 2012 Ed Marx 3 Comments

The views and opinions expressed in this blog are mine personally and are not necessarily representative of current or former employers.

The Annual Review

They say people fear giving a speech more than death. I say people fear performance reviews more than speech and death combined.

Despite having had some excellent managers over the years, I can’t say that I ever had a review I enjoyed or gained much from. And frankly, I am not sure how many helpful reviews I deal out. Reviews are not a strength for most. They should be.

Admit it. You appreciate the person who lets you know the tag is sticking out on the back of your shirt. Or that you have oatmeal stuck in your braces. If I’m going on a date with my wife, I often ask my teenage daughter, “Do I look hip in this outfit?” Her enthusiastic nod—or more often, her grimace of embarrassment—tells me the truth. She helps me improve.

We want to know these details about ourselves, trivial as they may be. So why does our attitude change in the work setting? Nothing trivial there. In fact, our efforts—and non-effort—can have a serious affect on the department, if not the entire organization. My performance is never self-contained. My conduct, attitude, and effectiveness cascade through the ranks. My subordinates frequently do what I do … and what I do NOT do. Not surprisingly, their people follow their example.

Does your annual review reflect the real you? Do your assessments accurately reveal your staff?

How easy it is to cave in to temptation and give overly optimistic reviews to avoid discomfort. I’ve done it; you’ve done it. We’re all guilty. At the end of the day, I kick myself because I’ve shortchanged everyone. In fact, I’ve undermined my employee and my organization. Worse yet, if I’m not modeling appropriate and accountable reviews, my subordinates will follow my poor example. (Ouch. I feel the pain as I write.)

This post is as much of a kick-in-the-rear encouragement to me as it is to you. Since it’s that time of year again, we the leaders are going to invest the time and energy to make the review honest and meaningful. You with me?

Here are four tips:

  1. Spandex. Brutally, honest friend. If you want to know where you stand with weight management, pull on a pair. Someone can tell me I’m fit, but when I see the rolls of fat hanging over the spandex … as Clapton might sing: ♫ “It don’t lie, it don’t lie, it don’t lie … Spandex!” ♫. This sort of accountability keeps me on the right path. We need Spandex feedback in our careers to ensure that our performance remains in check. Give honest feedback even when it’s uncomfortable. Your employee deserves to know the truth no matter how brutal. Nobody likes flab.
  2. Satiate the hunger. Deep down, most of us long to improve. If I can give my subordinates one tangible thing to work on, most will clutch it like a pit bull clenching a bone. Imagine if your boss gave you one strength to focus on every year to help you move to the next level and you really did something with it. You might become CEO. That annual performance review might become something to look forward to.
  3. Break it down. Several years ago, I switched to doing performance reviews quarterly with several of my directs. This helped make the annual review less dreadful with those who chose this format. When you’re tracking progress, evaluating, and encouraging throughout the year, there are no surprises to contend with. The annual review almost becomes a formality.
  4. Abundance of counselors. If I don’t get a bone to chew or my Spandex feels loose, I move on to other senior leaders that I trust. Some of the best feedback for improvement I ever received did not come out of my manager’s review, but rather from the next office over. I encourage my directs to seek the same. The combination of both leads to spectacular outcomes.

For Christmas, I received the latest in athletic gear, compression shorts. Compression shorts are medical grade – Spandex on steroids. While I track my pulse, pressure, Vo2, weight, blood chemistry, and speed, few things let me know where I stand health-wise better than my new shorts. They offer a whole new level of accountability and transparency.

Honest feedback to stimulate improvement is what our people and organizations need the most. That and Spandex.

Ed Marx is a CIO currently working for a large integrated health system. Ed encourages your interaction through this blog. Add a comment by clicking the link at the bottom of this post. You can also connect with him directly through his profile pages on social networking sites LinkedIn and Facebook and you can follow him via Twitter — user name marxists.

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Currently there are "3 comments" on this Article:

  1. Thanks Ed. I’ve been following you for a while and this is my first time commenting. First, you have had a significant impact on me and my family – we have started annual family retreats where we discuss our family values and build individual plans. It’s amazing to see a 10 and 13 year old respond to planning and how they (we) hold each other accountable. I wish my parents had started this at a young age for me as I can already see the impact in my own family. Second, a agree with the spandex transparency but would add doing it in an edifying way. The spirt of man can be fragile and the brutal honesty should be delivered carefully. Thank you for your influence – it’s far more reaching than you realize and you are a blessing to many!

  2. Ed,
    Always enjoy your posts. One should do a performance review every day not just in the area of work but in all areas that provide the spokes that balance one’s wheel. Auf Wiedersehen und viel Spass!

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