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Putting the People Back in Paperwork

“Oh, Paperwork!” was the answer my new colleague Barbara gave at our weekly team meeting to the following question: “When you think of performance assessments what comes to mind?”

However, for the last 2 years our team has decided to make performance assessments all about team learning. And in doing so, we have used them to build up our noticing skills, our understanding of the situations in which our team members work best, and what we all need from each other to operate as much as possible in this productive zone. I wrote a blog post a few months ago on the 360 degrees process we use called: Practice Note: Helping Performance Assessments Be About Both Individual and Team Learning.

Now we’re preparing our individual work plans for 2009 – the agreements upon which our performance assessments are based – and we took some time to reflect on what we’re learning and why we think team assessment and work planning, rather than the traditional 1-to-1 meetings with your managers, presents a richer and more useful experience for everyone involved.

Here’s why we think performance assessment and individual work planning (agreements) should be done as a Team:

  • Focus the team on the team: There are not that many opportunities (unless you create them) for a team to talk about its own performance. Regular team meetings are usually task oriented and focused on getting things done. Discussions around performance assessments however are focused more on how we get things done, individually and as a team.
  • Create a safer space: Team discussions can help tone down the anxiety that some people might face in a one-on-one assessment or evaluation situation (for both the staff member and the manager – we think this is one of the main reasons why performance assessments inspire masterful procrastination.)
  • Strengthen accuracy and utility of reporting at all levels: When using a team approach for everyone, including the manager (who in our case only needs to be assessed by his/her line manager), the team approach helps provide more useful and accurate information on daily work practice for everyone and from everyone’s perspective.
  • Form the bigger picture: Knowing what everyone is doing helps piece together that larger picture of the goals and vision of the unit, and how each team member is contributing to these. It gives the rich context that some people need and helps make meaningful links between individual pieces of work and that of the team. This understanding of individual contributions to a larger goals also helps with engagement and motivation.
  • Help more people identify change opportunities: With a sense of the overall results desired, it is easier to identify places in the team’s work where a change of practice can produce the most benefit. It also helps people understand potential trade-offs that might be needed for such change to happen. That work becomes a task of the team, rather than simply the manager, when the overall picture is shared.
  • Create Ambassadors: When everyone understands the vision of the team, how their work fits, and how these aggregated efforts contribute to the overall institution’s goals, then each member can share that understanding in the many informal learning situations in which they find themselves each day.
  • Provide professional and personal development opportunities: In a time when bonuses are not really an option to reward good work, team acknowledgement can be an internal metric to help people assess their own growth, development and improvement.

We generated these thoughts as a team. And we think these are compelling reasons to put people at the centre of performance assessments, and take the focus off the paper that they’re written on.

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