I recently attended a “Town Hall” meeting at work. Not surprisingly, the bulk of the meeting covered the sweeping changes in the bonus and merit system. After this presentation I hung up 2 of the slides on my Bulletin Board as reminders. The first was Performance Management. The second was Bonus Attributes. I find visual cues to be effective mnemonics. But what do these slides really reinforce?

Performance Management

The actual content shown on the Performance Management slide is entirely really about our year-end ratings. The Bonus Criteria slide is actually about bonus criteria.

So why the difference? Freudian slip? Orwellian nomenclature?

Our Interpretation of Performance Management is Wrong

Considering that this particular management team has made year-end ratings a moving target for at least the 9 years I’ve been there, I am guessing that no, raises are not doing the job of managing their report’s performance as they would like.

If we were all motivated by shiny things at the end of the rainbow then we’d all be rich from promotions bonuses, be in great shape, and have large accumulations of fast-going, bang-making, enviable things. But we’re not. And we don’t. So this needs some reconsideration both in our corporate and outside lives.

What Employees Hear

Us happy corporate citizens now hear ‘raise’ when we think of performance management. That’s due to things like that slide. Sadly, that’s not what management is really saying.

What Management Hears

Management interprets this slide as follows; a year-end rating (tied to annual compensation) is the definitive way manage the way people perform in a specific function.

How do we reconcile these differences? Should we even try?

Hell, yes, we should try!

Here’s why and how:

How Manage Your Boss’s Performance

Remember, not only are you Managing your own performance, you have a responsibility to your own career to manage your boss back! Some people call this managing up. Whatever it is, do it. Your career is in your own hands. Don’t be a cynic. Recognize that any issues you have are part of the consent of the victim and go and do something about it.

Be Explicit

No matter what the goal is, the only way to achieve it is to name it. In negotiations, the only way to achieve success is to have all negotiating parties endowed with the power to actually follow through on what they promise. You don’t want to go the way of Woodrow Wilson and the League of Nations, do you?

Those phrases need to be changed by both sides:

Ex 1
Cubes: “What do I need to do to get a raise?”
Mgmt: “I’m not actually empowered to make that decision. Let me get the definitive answer for you.”

Ex 2
Mgmt: “What do I need to do to get you to ( behave this way || accomplish this thing || make my life easy. )”
Cubes: “Just ask. || Remove these roadblocks. || You can’t, I won’t.”

Positive vs Negative Reinforcement

Sorry, couldn’t resist the Ghostbusters reference! Check out from about 2:30 to 4:40 on the scene above.

To most people a raise would be an example of a positive reinforcement. Sadly, when you factor in such things as lack of a cost of living adjustment, declining benefits, and other reductions in things the workforce used to have granted to them year-on-year management changes this to a negative reinforcement scenario. People begin to think ‘How much extra do I now have to do just to stay even?’

Heh, your boss may be thinking ‘How much do I have to pay him just to do his job?’

The Law of Unintended Consequences

Pay attention to what is really being incentivized as well as the vocabulary being used to explain it. There’s usually a huge gap. Then take that gap as an opportunity. If you’re the one to bridge it, you’ll be that much further ahead of your other cubicle counterparts.

How do you manage your boss’s performance? Have direct reports? Outside of salary and bonus, how do you manage theirs?

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