One of my subordinates does a very good job ... not breathtakingly outstanding, but solid and strong and better than average. Should I rate her in our middle category of fully successful or push her evaluation over the line and into the superior category? How do I figure out the right category?

Think about the individual's résumé. Ask yourself these questions:

- What results did the individual achieve in the last twelve months that were so significant that she needed to update her résumé to include them?

- What skills did the person acquire in the past year that were so important that he needed to update his résumé to include them?

- What individuals (internal and external) has this person so influenced that they need to be listed as references on the résumé?

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If your answer to the first question is, "Well, gee . . . Sally did a good job on all of the projects she was assigned and did a fine job with all of the things listed in her job description, but there wasn't anything that would cause her to rewrite her résumé," then the most accurate rating for her performance is the middle one.

If your answer to the second question is, "Well, Sally did go to a couple of training programs and learned how to input data into our control system, but that's not anything she would put on her résumé," then again the middle category is where her performance rating belongs.

Finally, if your answer to the last question is, "Well, Sally gets along just fine with everybody, but . . . ," then the right answer is to rate her as fully successful.

Thinking about the individual's résumé will help you make a good judgment about the most appropriate rating category to describe the person's performance. A highly effective operational test of superior performance is that the person would rewrite his or her résumé to reflect such quality of performance. If the quality of performance isn't such that the résumé needs to be rewritten, then it isn't high enough to earn a higher-than-middle rating.

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One additional benefit of using the "résumé test" in determining the final rating to be assigned to the individual's performance is that it makes explaining the rationale for the decision easier.

I have a concern about one of my people's performance, but I haven't previously discussed it with him. Is it okay to bring it up for the first time on the performance appraisal?

The traditional rule is well known and is always explained to managers when they go through performance appraisal training programs: No surprises in the performance appraisal discussion.

That is generally good advice. But what should a manager do whenas so often happensthe requirement that a performance appraisal be prepared causes the manager to critically review that performance and realize, for the first time, that the performance is definitely in need of significant improvement? Frequently, the first time that the manager consciously realizes that there is a significant concern with the employee's performance occurs when the manager must formally assess it.

Now the manager's in a pickle. On one hand, the conventional wisdom says: No surprises. Any concerns about the quality and quantity of a person's work should be discussed with that person during the course of the year and not delayed until appraisal time. It's inappropriatecruelto blindside the individual by describing hitherto undisclosed problems on the appraisal form since the individual has no chance to correct those problems before they become matters of record.

On the other hand, it may be that the first time the manager is aware that there is a serious concern with Tom's behavior and output occurs when she picks up the appraisal form and starts to write her assessment of Tom's contribution. "I would have told him before this if I had been aware of it, but I only became aware of it when I started completing the appraisal form. Now what do I do?"

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It's easy to duck the issue by condemning the manager for not having been more sensitive to the deteriorating quality of Tom's performance before the time for formal appraisal arrived. But that's a cheap shot. One of the benefits of a formal performance appraisal program is that it forces managers, on at least an annual basis, to review how well each subordinate is doing and talk to the person about that assessment. Yes, of course it would be nice if these conversations happened well before appraisal time, and everyone had all the time required to improve their performance so that they could get stellar ratings on the form. But that is unrealistic.

The right answer is to go right ahead and record the unpleasant facts on the form, knowing that Tom will be dismayed and will complain about having these issues brought up to him too late to do anything about it. The manager in this situation should simply admit that Tom's complaint is valid: She wishes she had been more aware of it earlier.

However, the fact that it would have been better to have discussed Tom's problems earlier doesn't take away the fact that those problems exist and are being brought to Tom's attention as soon as they came to the manager's notice. While it's unfortunate that at the time they were noticed, the appraisal was being prepared, the alternativegiving Tom an inaccurate inflated review while telling him on the Q.T. that the review as written is a lieis even worse. In the first case, the manager's worst sin is being inattentive. In the latter, the manager admits to deceit.

It's an easy temptation to rationalize giving the individual an inappropriately high rating with the hope that the discussion of the actual unacceptable performance will cause the individual's efforts to rise to the level that was described in the form. This is unlikely. Instead, acknowledge that, while it would have been preferable to have discovered Tom's deficiencies and brought them to his attention earlier, the manager is still doing exactly what she is being paid to doto bring any performance concern to the individual's attention as soon as it is discovered. That the time of discovery coincided with the time of performance appraisal doesn't detract a whit from the fact that the manager is doing the right thing.

 
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