What you really wanted
Honest, enrolling conversations with colleagues and staff about progress, about what’s important, about how they’re doing, about what could change, and about what might be needed next.
What you did
Foresaw all of the problems in doing this; felt your anxiety and the anxiety others would experience about being open in this way; and so invented a process instead:
“We’ll set specific, measurable goals at the start of the year” – which avoids the difficulty of talking about all that people do that’s uncertain, shifting, cannot be predicted, that which changes, that which is affected by the efforts of many and by the changing circumstances of the world.
“We’ll have meetings with each member of our team twice a year to review progress” – which frees you, for most of the year, from the difficulty of turning towards one another and talking about things as they happen.
“We’ll assign each person a performance rating from 1 to 5 so they know where they stand” – adding a measure makes it look like you’ve reached the truth of the situation. It gets you out of the difficulty of talking with nuance, of discovering together what’s really happening, of learning from your employees, of discovering how much you don’t know, and of finding out your own part in how things are going.
“We’re finding that people have difficulty giving low ratings to their teams when required, so we’ll have a forced distribution – a fixed quantity of 1s, 2s, 3s and 4s” – which saves you from any genuine conversation at all. By forcing the ratings you can simply say “I’m sorry, we really wanted to give you a 2 but there weren’t any left, so we’re giving you a 3”.
“We’ll pay people, or promote them, based on their rating” – which saves you from the trouble of genuine conversation about people’s future and the future of your organisation – you can blame the rating on people’s ability to move on.
Process can support you, yes. It may often be necessary.
But every step here, if implemented without also cultivating the ability to speak and listen, takes you further from your original intention of enrolling, engaging, and supporting people’s contribution. Every step makes all of you more machine like. Every step treats people more like a commodity and less like participants in a shared endeavour. And all because every step is being used to cover up anxiety – turning people away from the risky endeavour of skilful, genuine, nuanced, open conversation with each other.
In the end, when what’s required is talking with one another there’s no substitute, no substitute at all, for the difficult work of learning to talk well with one another.
And if you’re looking for process to do the heavy lifting, you’re looking in the wrong place.