Over my years working in the public service and schools, I have supervised and given many performance appraisals/employee development discussions/whatever you want to call them. I have worked with some wonderful people who were wonderful to start with or became even more wonderful over a period of time. I have also worked with a very small number of employees who (to use a phrase from someone I greatly admire) were encouraged to seek excellence elsewhere. We also lost some people (that we would dearly have loved to keep) to other employers.
When I initially developed our school's performance development system for support and administration staff (I don't like calling them non-teaching as that term defines people by what they don't do), I developed a rating scale (a little bit about this later whether this is a good idea) which was comprised of the following ratings:
I have to admit that when confronted with survey ratings from 1 to 10 (where 10 is good), I am *that* person that has a great deal of difficulty giving a '10'. So in this context, I don't know why I bothered with category 1 in the list above. If we ever had such a person, would we be able to keep them? Would we have deserved them? Surely they would have been only one step away from performing a role well beyond the bounds of a Christian school! But what I also found over the years was that few people made it to category 2 because most people have an area of improvement (category 4). If they didn't, they found themselves being labelled 'satisfactory' (category 3). Who wants to be labelled 'satisfactory'? That's like being called 'ordinary'. You can see that my rating scale had its inadequacies - like its creator. I found quite soon that I didn't find it was useful or respectful.
I found that there were many people that tried really hard and had a desire to do their best. But most people - and I plonk myself squarely into this summary as well - had some areas of improvement or had some baggage that came with the package deal. The 'baggage' might be issues such as:
It took a while, but I realised after a period of time (actually a few years - I can be slow on the uptake sometimes) that most if not all people experience one or more of the above to different degrees - not the least me. They can be very solid workers; give their all; are committed; but when faced with a scale like the one above that I had developed, would come up short. The scale was wrong. There is no such thing as 'outstanding or exceptional performance on a standard rarely achieved by others'. It doesn't exist! Furthermore, the rating (or my implementation of it) 'Performance which is consistently at a high level of competence' is quite rare as well.
But I am not alone. I did a bit of googling for 'attributes of the ideal employee', and I found this article that listed 20 top qualities: (https://www.cleverism.com/20-top-qualities-determine-great-employee/) (Actually, I found lots more web lists and they all confirmed this list in one way or another, so for the sake of it, I'm running with it.)
I've grown tired just reading the list! How on earth (or where on earth) would you find such a person that meets these requirements all the time?
In recent years, I came to the realisation that I had to adjust my views. The scale I was using was too harsh and set expectations that would be difficult for anyone to meet. I felt that I was doing a disservice to those people that I was working with. The scale implied there was a good supply of people across a range of performances, like in Chart A below:
In fact, the supply of performing employees is really more like the area in Chart B. When I realised this, it changed how I could give more effective performance feedback to my work colleagues, and enabled me to find new ways of motivating and encouraging them, and finding out what I needed to do to help them succeed. Now, for me, normal is the new brilliant. I am not saying that I needed to reward mediocrity - but I am saying that I needed to adjust what was reasonable in my own mind so that I could see where employees were really striving to improve and then having success. I needed the system to better respect what employees were offering and their level of performance. Don't get me wrong - I would hope that most if not all people that I have worked with have found me to be encouraging, respectful, open and approachable, calm, positive and having a keen interest in seeing them succeed - but that wasn't reflected in the scale I was using in the performance systems I was using.
We have to develop people, and this needs to be done incrementally and progressively. One of my regrets (I've had a few) is that I couldn't devote as much time to working with employees to help them succeed because of my own - sometimes self-imposed - workload. The urgent was always getting in the way of the important. When I did have performance feedback discussions, I had to work against the feeling that I was 'pumping them out like sausages out of a sausage maker'.
A few people have heard me tell this story before (apologies for this) but it has really resonated with me about the value of work colleagues. It was a story I heard presented at a CSA Leaders conference years ago, and was given by a partner of a Christian consulting firm (I now have forgotten who it was and which firm), and the presenter's story went like this...
"When we were looking for new consultants, we would meet to pray, and our prayer would go something like this: 'Lord - help us to find the right person for this job.' After some time, our prayer evolved: 'Lord - help us to find the right person for the job that has been developing themselves over many years for such a job as this.' While this was a great step forwards in our thinking, we further evolved the prayer to become very powerful for us as a Christian employer: 'Lord - help us to be the employer that is deserving of someone that has developed themselves over many years for such a job as this.'"
Lord - help us as leaders and managers of people to be encouraging, respectful, open and approachable, calm, positive and having a keen interest in seeing our colleagues succeed. Help us to see that you have placed them with our schools, and each of them are fearfully and wonderfully made. Help me to be the business manager that is deserving of their talents, efforts, passion and support. Where I have to provide feedback, let it be encouraging and insightful. Help me to allocate the time regularly for meaningful conversations which are uplifting and respectful, yet which do not shy from sometimes difficult conversations. And when I speak to others, may I be open and vulnerable enough to accept and learn what I need to change in my own performance. Let me be a business manager who is deserving of the people that you bring across my path. In Jesus name... Amen!