Have you ever heard about this phrase called ‘inappropriate performance’ ? I did, only recently. I found it in a book. After I read, it made lot of sense. I realized that this is one of the most common scenarios, yet we do not give enough thought.
I have been on both sides of performance appraisal table in past 20 years. I got ratings on all sides of the band. I also gave ratings across the full range of low to high. For the discussion here, let us consider it as only 3 levels of rating – results and behavioral aspects put together. i.e. ‘Below expectations’, ‘Above expectations’ and ‘At organization standards’
We always get the following reactions to the appraisal rating
Rating is ‘Exceeded Expectations’
Great. No price for guessing. This is the reaction if someone is rated very high and is considered a high performer.
Rating is ‘At standards’
“No matter what I did, this company never recognizes !”
“I did so many extra things. These were needed in that situation. But no one cared !”
The employee is upset for few days. Then back to normal, hopefully.
Rating is ‘Below Expectations’
We know how painful it is, for both sides.
The manager gives two possible signals.
- It is a one time issue. Let us move on from that. In future, will take care of you.
- You are not wanted here. We want to get rid of you.
One important factor overlooked in both the average rating and below average rating is ‘inappropriate performance.
What is ‘inappropriate performance?’
It is a term coined by the Management Guru ‘ Ram Charan in his best selling book on Leadership Pipeline. Must have book on the desk for anyone with people leadership and strategy responsibility.
Basically it is the scenario where you are below expectation on some of the goals within the official goal sheet. But you have exceeded expectations on some others. But these goals are not listed in the goal sheet.
In his book he mainly focuses on leadership pipeline, but this situation gets a small but valuable coverage. Hence it requires lot more attention and description. It is the most common situation I have seen. This leads to lot of misalignment and agony. These are broadly called as “expectation mismatches”, though they deserve more discussion.
What causes the ‘inappropriate performance’ ?
At the broad level, the solution is easy. Just talk to the manager and you should be fine.
But the ground situation is not that simple. The business dynamics keep changing. What is agreed today, does not hold good tomorrow.
Here is my story
It was an integration between two different product lines. It was funded by two different business units. One was into field engineering and solutioning. It was the customer distribution channel. Then there was products group.
So, I had 3 bosses:
- Field engineering group who wanted the best engineered solution
- Products group wanted the fasted way to market. I had to lead the product development by reusing the existing base products. Then work with field engineering organization to push it as quickly as possible.
- Indian R&D entity boss. The headcount is the revenue model. Good cost with least escalations. If possible, great positive visibility..
My appraisal form was with Indian boss.
For me to survive and succeed, i had to fulfill expectations from all three. This is not a very unique situation. I keep seeing it all the time with too many people, across the globe.
I exceeded expectations from #1 and #2 occasionally. But not that of Indian boss. In Indian organizations there are many other similar businesses, often with fancy business units like Video and image processing.
For the project, we ended up finishing it well on time. It was 18 months project with regular milestones in between. It was faster than some of the earlier developments in that business. The field solution group was quite happy with timeline and they were ‘just satisfied’ with the product. The products group was ‘just satisfied’ with timeline. But were ‘thrilled’ that such a technically challenging product was developed well.
For me personally, it was an average appraisal for 2 years. For the first year, the result was yet to come. But for the second year, the result came. But it has 2 months slippage. Ignoring previous year, just considering the slippage and escalation in that year, boss was not prepared to give the best rating. The other fancier businesses in boss’ portfolio, do not help either.
I was following all standard project management recommendations like stakeholder management, change control boards and regular communications.
These helped to make the project successful. But they did not help my appraisal.
Looking back, what could not have helped
As we experience regularly, the business situation keeps changing regularly and hence the expectations. You can not go to supervisor everyday and seek confirmation. The formal systems in organizations are cumbersome to change details. These hardly help. It may even irritate the supervisor and the stakeholders.
What could have been better?
- Just knowing the concept of the – inappropriate performance could have helped. When we know this is a known phenomena, it eases some anxiety. Helps the respond to it rationally.
This book helped me a lot in talking things out, without emotional outburst.
- Learn from juniors :
There are people who worked with me and got the best performance rating. I observe their behavior and the steps they take. It serves as good base.
They separate project updates and their career related meetings separate. They initiate the meetings where they set the agenda. They pursue these meetings with same zeal as project, rather considering it as a project by itself.
Also these folks convince me why the overall goals should be changed, but it need not be in the formal HR systems. They conclude it with semi-formal email. It is a subtle message to me that they have kept record, without directly rubbing me the wrong way.
Only word of caution is – if you are not critical and if environment is toxic, none of these might work. There are many bosses who do not know what is important for their own organization. They can not see any other point of view.
But by taking the initiative to re-calibrate the expectations, you would know what to expect upfront. You could take appropriate call instead of waiting to be at the receiving end.