6 Steps to Move from Perception Management to Performance Management

We hear common dialogues in India between employees when appraisals are round the corner:

"Do you know what the bonus will be this year?"

"I am sure this year will turn out to be the best since I have put my sweat and blood into accomplishing my goals."

"I don't know whether my boss will be able to recognize and reward my efforts since I fell in to friction with him last week."

But why aren’t employees crystal clear about what their review will be before they get it? There are so many systems, from conversations to MBOs and 360s that can be the source of objective data. The fact is that managers are human. This makes them prone to use subjective perceptions of data. No matter how robust a staff performance management system, and no matter how many facts there are, "perception" plays a vital role in appraisals.

For example, I knew an employee who was disliked by most employees, and had terrible interpersonal skills. And she was in Human Resources! But she had her manager wrapped around her finger. She knew how to handle him. And see received raises higher than the highest performing employees in the department. Why? The manager was using "Perception Management," not performance management.

As a manager, how do you make sure you don’t fall into the trap of Perception Management? Here are six tips that are guaranteed to work:

1. Prepare

Many managers don't adequately prepare for performance appraisals. As a result, some average and poor performers who are good at perception management get the benefit. Start preparing your attitude by realizing that staff performance management takes work. Then review the next 5 steps and create a timeline for your first meeting.

2. Set Targets

Start each year with clear goals for each employee. This will not only clarify for employees what you want from them, but will make the discussions more objective. Sales goals are easy: sell x units and you are successful. But IT, Marketing, Operations and Purchasing are more of a challenge. Using the SMART acronym makes goals more objective. Even subjective areas like relationship building, attitude and communication can be broken down into SMART goals.

By yourself or with the help of your manager, define Specific, Measurable, Achievable actions that employees can reach for the following year. Then make sure they know what Resources they have and the Timeline.

3. Include employees in setting targets

Once you have an idea on what the goals could be, meet with employees to get their input. Involving employees in setting the goals does two things. First, it creates more commitment to achievement because it is their goal, not just your goal. Second, the discussion clarifies specifically what they need to do to succeed.

4. Track Progress

The busiest people in organizations are managers. This means they often miss out on some important incidents, good and bad. Setting S.M.A.R.T goals gives a clear way to track progress. Sit down with your employees periodically (quarterly is ideal) to track progress. If there are barriers, remove them. If they need resources (people or tools), get them. If the goal needs adjustment, adjust it.

5. Give Feedback

As manager, your main task is to coach your employees. Tell them what they are doing right. Praise them— especially when they succeed at something new, hard or stressful. When there are ways to improve, tell them.

These feedback discussions don’t have to be long or formal. As Anne Bruce, author of 14 books on leadership, recommends in Leadership: From Start to Finish that youuse "speedback." Speedback is giving quick messages about what is working and what they need to improve. Send an email. Make a quick call. Drop by their cubicle. Focus on 1 thing. Tell them, and then move on. This will allow you to give much feedback over a month, rather than waiting for the right time to setup a big meeting to talk about the problems.

6. Have Employees Rate Themselves

You did all you could all year: set goals with the employee, tracked progress with them and gave them feedback. Now that it is time to meet for annual performance reviews, the employees will have a much better idea what their review will be. So much so, that you should tell the employee to come to the meeting prepared to share their review of themselves. Have them start the discussion with how they think they did. You, as manager, are left in the good spot of just correcting or adding to what they say.

These 6 steps will end Perception Management. You’ll end up preparing all year for the annual review. You are agreeing on their rating of success through the discussions. Employees will have a better idea where they stand before they even get to the annual review because you are using jointly agreed on facts, not perceptions.