Thursday, February 15, 2007

Focalization #3

I'm getting a fair number of questions about the focal process this year. People aren't sure if it's very different, slightly different, or completely different from the previous process, or what this means to them. From am employee perspective focal is about the same. You should have recommend some names to your manager for 360 feedback. You should have done a self-assessment, and by now most of you have reviewed a summary worksheet or draft of your final review with your boss. Employees are now in the waiting period where their manager has likely completed ranking and rating, but they won't know anything until after April 1. For me the process as an employee was about the same this year. The only difference was that my boss wanted my to write my complete review rather than a worksheet.

For managers things are significantly different. Previously managers would go into a room and discuss every person in a rank group, usually between 8-20 people, but sometimes smaller, sometimes larger. Different rank managers used different processes for going through a session, but it was invariably a long, painful process. You needed to represent a years worth of accomplishments for am employee in 2-3 minutes. These sessions were a real power play, with managers negotiating, influencing, and doing a lot of acting to try and get their people ranked and rated fairly. Most managers tended to do a good job. There was usually some asshole in the room who thought his people were more deserving than everyone else's. But with a good rank manager and/or HR person in the room, things were usually kept in check. Depending on the size of your team and the number of rank groups they fell into, you could spend 1-5 days in R&R sessions. I usually spent at least 40-50 hours preparing worksheets, and other 30-40 hours writing reviews. Then there was additional time for figuring out pay increases, dealing with last minute budget or stock changes, and other stuff. It was not unusual for me to spend 3-4 weeks of time working on R&R.

Things could tend to break down in R&R sessions where there was an uneven distribution of power, influence, and bias in the room. I had one boss who insisted on being in all our R&R sessions as an "observer" so he could direct the outcome. It was similarly bad when the rank manager had some obvious bias and would help influence the result rather than just facilitate. The worst rank sessions were those in which the rank manager was representing their own employees. I was actually in one session where two of those happened: our boss was in the room to observe, the rank manager was representing his own people, and both of them had an obvious bias toward the rank manager's team. They were aligned on the result they wanted to see, and the rest of us were working hard to bring a sense of fairness to the session. This was an extreme case, but it's a good example of what's been wrong with the focal process: it often had more to do with a manager's political and influencing skills than the performance of their employees.

This year managers are ranking and rating people on their own. I ranked my team as an in-tact rank group. I had someone at the top and someone at the bottom. Some people are outstanding, some are not performing very well. We are being held to a distribution within our teams - I can't have an unlimited number of outstanding employees, or promotions. And I am expected to identify a percentage as poor performers. This is still a difficult task, especially for those with small teams. But it's far easier than spending days lock in conference rooms with other managers, influencing and arguing to try and get the right result.

We had one 3-hour meeting with my boss where we reviewed each other's results and and rolled up summary for the team. My boss needs to hit a distribution as well, and we didn't. So we had some conversation about who else could or should be given a poor performance message, and who really didn't deserve to get a promotion. Some of the old behavior came out, and some managers were overly defensive about their people. That's always going to happen. Doing this in 3 hours vs. 3 or more days was a huge improvement in process and efficiency, and yielded about the same result we would have gotten with the old process. And we still aren't quite done and will need to spend another hour or two working on our distribution. But considering what we used to go through, it's big improvement. Focal isn't perfect, and still takes up more time than I would like. I credit Paul with challenging the old process and for allowing these changes to take place.


Anonymous said...

this is something I hate about... and it is completely bias. if you are not 'friendly' to your manager, you are done. somehow pretty nonsense to me.

Intel IT Guy said...

But that's just common sense and human nature, right? fwiw, I've given good performance messages to people I didn't particularly like or get along with. And I fired one person I liked a lot due to their poor performance. The job you're doing is the biggest factor in your evaluation, but there's no doubt that a personal connection with your manager can help.

Anonymous said...

I consider myself a mid-level IT worker and my background has always been in companies from 20-200 employees.

It's this sort of thing, where you are "expected to identify a percentage as poor performers" that I want to avoid -- but I guess if/when I start working with in a Big Corporate environment, I'll have to play by they rules. So in the case that everyone is doing well yet one employee has to be (possibly undeservingly) singled out as the poor performer -- I pity whoever it is that might be naive enough to totally trust and believe what his manager(s) says.