Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

From peer to supervisor – Part 14: your own first performance review as a new manager

Posted in HR and personnel, job search and career development by Timothy Platt on November 20, 2010

This is my 14th posting in a series on making the transition to management and it is going to focus on a subject that many would view as a final step in learning to be a manager – going through your own first performance review as a new manager. This is, after all, where your supervisor reviews how you have performed with your new responsibilities and this performance review can be seen as a right of passage. And I post this immediately after discussing the flip side to this particular right of passage where you have just performance reviewed the people who report to you for a first time.

There are a few significant take home lessons I would share here. A first is that you should start preparing for this step from day one as that new manager. I would state that with several issues in mind. First, know what you will be reviewed on, where that is in large part going to be about meeting your team goals and priorities.

• Know and understand how your supervisor sees these requirements and even how their supervisor does, as many if not most of what you have to do connects into and supports the goals and priorities that your supervisor is in turn responsible for.
• Know and understand your goals and priorities from the perspective of the stakeholders who rely on your getting them accomplished.

Know and understand how your supervisor views management and how they manage others. I am not saying that you should emulate them and certainly where you see some of their decisions and actions as problematical if applied to your situation and if you tried them on your own team. But understand who you report to and what they look for and yes what they may overlook as well.

Document what you do and provide updates, and both where you meet goals and where you may need advice or help. You do not want to surprise your supervisor with anything of any real significance going into your performance review. They do not want any surprises there either.

Know the communications style that your supervisor prefers, and be prepared to outline what you have done and to discuss it with the types and amounts of detail they find easiest and most effective for them to work with.

Be receptive to what your supervisor says and especially where you do not fully understand where it may be coming from or if you do not agree with it. Listen and strive to understand both the what and the why of this. And set aside any emotional response so you can more effectively address the details and the logic of it.

What do you do if your supervisor gives you a lower performance evaluation on something where you do not think that is justified? The advice I would give there is not necessarily easy to follow but it is important.

• Do not immediately get defensive and never take a hostile approach in a performance review.
• Ask for examples and for clarification as to how this was arrived at. Did a stakeholder you have been working with express dissatisfaction over something, but not directly to you – to your supervisor instead? That can happen and particularly if this stakeholder has known your supervisor long-term and is very comfortable discussing matters with them, but they do not know you with this same level of comfort and familiarity.
• Identify any parts to this point of disagreement that might arguably be valid and even if they stem from your not having been given necessary feedback to course-correct before your review. And address these points as ones you now know you need to work on. Seek out your supervisor’s advice on how to more effective get the feedback you need in working with this stakeholder and move on from there.

What if you find yourself facing an issue and evaluation point in your performance review that does not seem valid or fair and that cannot simply be corrected through this type of approach? Ask your supervisor how you can address this, stating without being argumentative that you need advise on how to approach it. Couch this in positive and proactive terms for resolving this source of concern and do not present your case in a way that would make your supervisor feel defensive. That would just make them dig in and it would cut off any possibility to negotiate down this point of criticism.

Pick your battles in this with real care. If it is minor and unimportant, talk about addressing it and how you want to resolve it and move on. If this is an issue that is very important to you, or if it significantly skews your overall performance review then take up your option to address it as a written response to accompany the review into your employee file.

• If you do this be professional and calm and only write about the issue itself and about the case you would present concerning it.
• Stick to the data and verifiable evidence and never, ever criticize your supervisor as a colleague, a professional or a supervisor. Simply state your side of the story, citing your reasoning and your evidence in support of that.
• Keep this entirely in focus and only discuss this key issue. Do not pick up on the minor points too, as that would just diffuse out and weaken the value your response might carry.
• Look at a written response of this sort as having to meet two very specific and important goals – addressing your single, focused point of concern while at the very least maintaining as effective a communications channel with your supervisor as possible. Look at this type of impasse as evidence that some bridge building and repair work may be needed as this type of surprise shows your communication with your supervisor has not been as effective as you may have thought.

And as a final thought, do not write a response of this type unless this really is going to be in response to a very significant point of disagreement. Now rethink this entire set of issues from your supervisor’s side of the table as yes, I have just sneaked back to posting 13 in this series and Performing your First Performance Reviews. Before you write that formal response ask yourself how you would feel if one of they people reporting to you has disagreed and formally and in writing with you as you performance review them – with that going to your supervisor and to HR as part of the permanent record and both for them and for you.

I wanted to hold off on this as far as your reviewing your team members is concerned until after you have thought it through from their side of the table. Temper your judgment and your actions when faced with the temptation to submit a written challenge to a performance review, with the views from both sides of that table in mind. And strive to be fair as you review others and remember that not everyone performance reviews effectively or even knows how to do this. Most managers do not get training on how to supervise or to lead. Very few are actually taught in any real sense how to performance review others. And learn from that and from the good and bad examples others set as managers.

The next posting I am going to add to this series will step back from specific issues such as performance reviewing to look at this management position as a career step, and for you and for those you supervise. You can find all thirteen preceding installments to this series in the Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development.

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