Tuesday 16 August 2011

break on through...

We had a team meeting yesterday.  Acting on feedback, my boss had made sure that he had prepared an agenda in advance and methodically went through each point.  A little way down the list was an item called "Performance Contracts".  After addressing the other points further up the agenda, we worked our way down to that item.

Apparently our performance management process is being changed this year.  My boss explained it to us:

"Acting on your feedback from last year, we've changed the review process, and instead of Performance Reviews, we're now going to be holding Talent Reviews."

I smelled a rat and sought clarification.

ME: So, is this a different process or is it the same process with a new name?
MY BOSS: No, no, no... it's absolutely a new process.  We had the feedback last year that the whole consistency forum/performance review process wasn't as fair as it should have been.
ME: So, what's different about it?
TEAM MEMBER#1: [joined the team about 2 weeks ago] Talent reviews are completely different things to performance reviews.
ME: [to my boss] So what's different about them this year?
MY BOSS: [clearly now feeling a little bit got at and starting to sound defensive] Well, we're not going to be reviewing you against everyone at your level, only those people who work in Delivery.
ME: Right, but am I being reviewed against my inherent talent, or against my performance in the role?
MY BOSS: [definitely now feeling that I'm getting at him rather than genuinely seeking clarification, which -- for the record -- I am] WHY ARE YOU LETTING THIS ANNOY YOU?
ME: [quietly]  Well, it's not annoying ME.
MY BOSS: Can we move on?
ME: [shrugging] okay
MY BOSS: [taking a deep breath] OK, so I want to check that everyone has their Performance Contracts signed off and that we're all happy with them....
ME: [interrupting] .... Performance Contracts?
MY BOSS: [suspiciously] Yes.  Performance contracts.
ME: So where do we get assessed against them?
MY BOSS: [failing to see the trap, but still suspicious] What do you mean?
ME: Do we have a separate Talent contract?
MY BOSS: [warily] ...no.
ME: So our Performance contract is reviewed at the Talent review?
ME: But the move from a Performance to a Talent review is not a word substitution?
MY BOSS: *explodes*

You probably won't believe me, but I was genuinely seeking clarification and not just being deliberately awkward.  I understand that managing performance is a difficult thing, but it is also important.  Just changing the name of it isn't enough.  At least, not for me.  We've got previous in this: a few years ago, the company made a huge song and dance about insisting that we were now all "colleagues" and not just plain old "staff".  We had to change the little electronic displays on the tills to say that colleagues nearby would be happy to help and not the now-apparently-demeaning staff.  It's the little things, we were told.  Maybe so, but I couldn't help but notice that our newly empowered and respected colleagues still had their tea breaks in a staff room and used their staff discount cards to buy their lunchtime sandwich and voted for representatives on the staff forum.... If you want to be taken seriously, then you need to make changes like this more than skin deep.  I also hate it when stuff like this is cascaded down, but it's as if I'm the first person who has troubled to ask any questions about it. 


And yes, since you ask, I'm not just being destructive here: I did actually volunteer to work on the team that is looking at performance management and the talent pipeline.... I wanted to get involved to try and make sure that the changes we made were more than just token ones.  They acknowledged my interest (they had asked for volunteers and we were all targeted with getting involved on the initiatives under the "Breakthrough" banner that is seeking to change the way that we work as a department - you may remember that I won the Breakthrough award at a dinner a couple of months ago).

I never really heard back from them.

Perhaps they think I'm awkward?

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