I Don’t Evaluate the People in My Inner Circle Why I Avoid Evaluations and Embrace Alignment
I don’t evaluate the people in my inner circle; I align with them. What’s the difference? Evaluating others puts me on a pedestal where I am the high authority and the purveyor of truth. It makes me the judge and jury of another person’s character, intention, and performance.
Well, I am not. I am a leader, not an oracle. Leadership for me is coming together with people. It’s aiming to accomplish great things together. For that purpose we make time to align ourselves on the deep foundations that originally drew us together and keep us forging forward. We dig deep. We examine our purpose and refocus our intention. We give each other feedback, and we agree on the boundaries of our relationship. As partners.
Allow me to share with you how this alignment works.
Evaluations Are Often Rote Exercises
Many argue, “But you are the boss; people need to know how they are doing. People need to be held accountable for their performance. You must rate them. How else will they know what you think? And how will you have documentation should you need to let them go?”
I think those who have led us to ask these questions are the same who have led us to treat each other as robots, or even children, in the workplace. It’s no wonder that more than half of US workers are unhappy at work according to Forbes. I avoid traditional evaluations. For one, I don’t want to be rated. I want to be valued. I want to be coached. I want to be empowered. And I want to offer the same courtesy and respect to those I lead.
Sadly though, we have allowed the rules and regulations of our Human Resources Departments to author the principles that govern how we lead. We have let the Labor Laws and a few lawsuits scare us away from healthy leadership—from leading human beings with dignity and respect—into issuing ratings to people once a year. It has become an accepted mundane exercise.
Evaluations Are Often Damaging Experiences
When I was a resident at the hospital, my supervisor would sit me down and go through the evaluation process. It did nothing for me but make me feel lousy. He may have satisfied Human Resource’s requirements, but it left me feeling deflated and bewildered. It was a free platform for him to speak his mind. Evaluations are often a open forum people in authority use to address difficult topics with their employees. That’s not how it should be.
I have worked with highly respected managers who say: “I never give a 5 out of 5 on my evaluations because that means they have no room to grow.” Or, “I never give a 5 on my evaluations because I may have to let that person go at some point.”
It astounds me that this thinking and practice has been tolerated for so long in our professional organizations. People are not to be labeled with numbers. When a person receives a 3 and is made to feel average, or a 2 and is made to feel like a failure—how is this going to bring out the best in them? What does that say of our leadership, if we are bringing people down, rather than inspiring them to grow and become more? There must be a better way to assess each other on our journey together.
How would you feel if your employee gave you a 3 out of 5 as a leader? What if he told you, “You are an average leader.” Issuing people a number is not how you build them up. I understand we must be honest with people about areas where they need improvement. I will show you how to do this (below) without giving them numbers.
Evaluations Are Often Impersonal Encounters
Leading people is a noble and honorable affair. It is more akin to being a wise parent than a critical task-master. We must end this practice of assigning a number to rate people’s character, performance, and growth.
Imagine if your mother came to you when you were eight years old and gave you a 2 out of 5 for your job performance on cleaning your room, doing your homework, or getting along well with your siblings. What if she told you that your overall worth to this family is 3 out of 5. Crazy, right? In the eyes of a loving and wise parent you are indispensable, beautiful, amazing, capable of anything, and this family is blessed to have you.
And these are the ideals great leaders should be communicating to the people alongside them. Any conversations of needed growth must be built upon the unshakable foundation we establish with them and the high value we give them.
I understand the need for giving feedback. But I believe our entire relationship should be safe for offering each other feedback at any time. I recommend using the time for regular aligning to address a few key questions. In the next article, I will share the specific questions I use to align with my inner circle. I think you will find these helpful. And I invite you to use them the next time you align with your direct reports. But first, allow me to offer some key principles about aligning.
Alignment Facilitates Relationships and Growth
Here are six guideposts to help you align well with your inner circle. These principles will prepare the way for successfully aligning together when you meet formally because you are creating an atmosphere and expectation for it all year long.
- Cultivate weekly conversations. The crux of our relationships should be built daily and weekly. As much as I can, I try to maintain weekly one-on-one meetings with those in my inner circle. Make this time alone with that person if possible, where anything can be discussed in a safe place. Don’t wait to talk about important topics every six months or every year when you formally align. It will be too late.
- Consider aligning every six months. I like to intentionally align in a few key areas (listed below) with those in my inner circle biannually. A year is too long to wait, and many things can arise in the that time. I have found that over the course of a year, divergence can take place in the personal lives of people to such an extent that relationships may become quite misaligned, even causing long-term damage.
- Use narrative, not numbers. As I am sure you figured out from my sentiments above, I am not a proponent of a numerical system of evaluation. I prefer a narrative approach of alignment, exchanged between two people who care, respect, and trust each other. To be specific, I mean in lieu of a numerical rating, I write my thoughts in narrative format for each topic we will address in our formal alignment, and the other person does the same.
- Understand the ultimate purpose of aligning. The purpose of our formal meeting of alignment is not to correct; that should happen consistently as situations require. The purpose of aligning is to examine several deep foundations that are important in any relationship. I will explain in the next article why these five areas are crucial to evaluate periodically. And I will provide specific questions that aim to solicit authentic answers in these five areas.
- In which areas do I excel? (The purpose of this is to grow myself.)
- In which areas do I need to grow? (Again, the purpose is to grow myself.)
- Are our ultimate purpose, vision, and values still aligned? (The purpose of this question is to align us.)
- Is our financial agreement still fair? (The purpose of this questions is also to align us.)
- Are you happy here? (The purpose of this question is to show each other we care.)
- Ask each other the same questions. Since aligning means to literally line ourselves up together, I am a proponent of having both of us answer the same questions.
- Prepare your thoughts for proper alignment. The rule of thumb for me is to budget at least three hours to each alignment meeting with my people. More importantly, I like to marinate on it for a few weeks leading up to our meeting. Why? Because this is a critical time. Each thought and each word matters. I am not timid, nor do I want to mince my words. But I want to be wise and fully transparent. In these times, my hope is that both of us will our reveal our hearts and dreams. These meetings also force me to evaluate my own purpose and vision. And that is why we must carefully think and reflect beforehand.
Our clinic’s Practice Administrator (and my partner) told me recently, “We need to stop using the word accountable. Instead we should say, ‘I can count on you.’” And that is exactly the culture we must create during our time of aligning. This is not a time to slap each other’s hands, but to foster an authentic and positive culture of counting on and believing in one another.
Actionable step: Talk to your direct reports about a biannual time of aligning. Put that time on the calendar. Move away from the number system if your company will allow. Budget time to prepare. Be sure this is not the only time of the year that deep connection is taking place.
What I Am Reading Now: How Life Imitates Chess by Gary Kasparov. Russian author, Kasparov held the chess world championship title for over two decades. In his 212 page book, he contrasts competitive chess to lessons in life and leadership. He makes particularly good points as he discusses strategy and the trappings of success. One take away for me was his statement: “Constantly changing your strategy is the same as having no strategy.” I recommend this book, especially if you like chess.
For Further Reading: