Performance reviews - face the fear

Performance reviews don't have to be like something out of a Dilbert cartoon.

A Dilbert cartoon shows our hero sitting with his pointy-haired boss for a performance review.

Boss: "You didn't show any initiative this year."

Dilbert: "That's your fault for creating an atmosphere of fear and distrust. You, you, you."

The pointy-haired boss thinks to himself: "Note to self - increase fear."

Performance reviews can be daunting. It pays to learn to deal with them though - many organisations in New Zealand have them. According to a March survey from the then PA Consulting's assessment and development practice - now Cubiks - 75% have a performance review system.

Before the review, you should look over the objectives that were set the last time you met with your manager. Some of those objectives may be measurable by facts and figures, while others might be more subjective.

Either way, Cubiks' country head Kevin McBride says, try to collect evidence for those objectives to use in the review. It could be user comment or evidence that deadlines were met. McBride says you should think about any reasons why you have been unable to meet an objective.

If you want to move into IT management, McBride says you also need to show your ability to manage resources be they people, finance or projects.

New Zealand Customs Services IS manager Peter Rosewarne says if a staff member had indicated an interest in IT management, he would look not only at their technical qualifications but process skills (dealing with information - your work habit disciplines) and personality (attitude and acceptance of others).

"As you move into more senior roles within IT, you need to have an expanded skill set to handle people - not only staff reporting to you, but also peers and senior management, in addition to dealing with people in the marketplace."

He says you should make sure your manager knows that you understand business processes and how IT contributes to business outcomes.

If you've never mentioned your desire to move up to a management position previously, don't worry. Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences IT manager Graham Alderwick says if the manager is conducting a professional review, he or she should be asking staff where they see themselves heading in the future. If the manager doesn't, then ask to discuss it.

Most reviews (about 90% according to the March survey) include a development and/or training plan, and provide a great opportunity for you to suggest training you need to get ahead.

Rosewarne says you should ask for training in areas such as project management and courses where you learn things like how to do a cost-benefit analysis.

Alderwick recommends proposing some courses from Institute of Management. He says leadership, financial management and learning to negotiate courses would also be worth suggesting.

McBride says if you work for a large corporate or government department you should also look at internal training.

Pay is another issue linked in people's minds to performance reviews. McBride says the survey found pay was linked to reviews in between 70% to 80% of organisations.

McBride: "I would argue that any adjustment of pay should be a reflection of performance. [But] the reality is that at the performance review stage, it's unlikely the manager will be in a position to provide any indication of the impact on remuneration . By all means bring up your expectation, but don't expect a definitive answer."

Alderwick also believes it's something you should raise, even though it's often see as a taboo subject for performance reviews.

"It's a bit like sex, religion and politics - you're not meant to talk about pay either."

It's becoming increasingly common to review your boss in a performance review. McBride says that 10% of organisations have such a system. So how do you go about giving critical feedback to your boss when you might be relying on him or her to give you a leg up in future?

McBride says that in such reviews, the feedback from employees should be collated and provided to your boss anonymously. If staff numbers aren't sufficient to do this, then McBride believes there should be no report.

"It's difficult enough for a boss to review someone and be blunt about it, particularly where there's criticism. It's a hell of a lot harder if you're criticising the boss to their face."

But Alderwick says he welcomes feedback from his staff - and peers - so he knows where he can improve his performance.

Rosewarne says it's important for budding IT managers to give feedback to their manager - even if it is critical.

"That's politics. When you get in the role you have to handle it with others. If you can't articulate it with your boss you still have to confront it somehow because that's the world you're going into."

Looking to move up? Have questions that need answering? Email kirstin_mills@idg.co.nz

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