Different Angles 5: Resisting Evaluation – part one of a series on personnel evaluation

Issue 5: May, 2012


In This Issue

  • Resisting Evaluation: Part one of a series on Personnel Evaluation
  • Featured Training: Building Mutual Respect and Trust
  • Free Organizational Boulders Assessment

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I’ve had several inquiries in the last few weeks about designing (or rescuing) Executive Director evaluation processes.  This has made me think again about the value and challenges of “evaluating” people.   The more I thought about it, the more interesting it became.  So, here is the first in what I expect will be a short series on evaluation over the next few months.

Resisting Evaluation

In almost every organization I’ve ever worked with, I’ve seen–and felt–resistance to evaluating people.  This is not to say that all those organizations did a bad job of personnel evaluation; many of them did a reasonably good job of it. But most organizations invest less time and energy than would be ideal in this process, and resent the time it takes away from “the real work.”  And I suspect few people love participating in personnel evaluation processes, whether they are evaluating someone or being evaluated.

Why is that?  Most nonprofits (and many for-profits as well) will say that their people are their biggest asset.  And I know a lot of people, myself included, who love supporting people’s development.  It seems like the evaluation process could be a chance for everybody involved to slow down, to reflect on what is working well and what’s not, discover unmet needs, communication gaps, desires, new ideas, and up-tapped potential, and to get creative about supporting both individual employees and the organization better.   And, indeed, it sometimes is just that.  So why this resistance?

As I write the words “evaluating people,” I can feel the contraction in my body that tells me I am experiencing tension and want to avoid interacting with this topic.

Hmmm.  Curious.  I don’t feel that way when I think about evaluating a purchase, or even a program or organization.  That sometimes feels difficult–like I don’t have enough information, or I don’t want to spend all the time it will take to do it–but it doesn’t feel unpleasant in the same way.  And judging from all the resistance I’ve encountered, I suspect I’m not the only one who has this visceral response to evaluating people.

What am I Resisting?

When I feel resistance, I get curious.  Using the “What” Question technique (see Issue 1), the question is: “What am I resisting?”

Following my nose, I looked up “evaluate” in the dictionary on my computer.  It says that to evaluate is:

1.   To examine and judge something

2.   To put a value on something

3.   To find the numerical value of something

Ah.  I am resisting the idea that it is my job to judge people.  I am resisting the requirement to “put” a numerical value — or even a non-numerical value — on something as complex as a person.  At a visceral level, those things feel “wrong” to me.  That is not how I want to be interacting with my co-workers

Language Matters

Whether we think about it consciously or not, the language we use affects how we feel about what we’re doing.  But is evaluation really about judging people? About putting a value on them, as people?

I would suggest that it is not, and that we need to be clear in our evaluation processes that it is not the person we are “evaluating,” it is a particular set of skills, choices and behaviors.

We also need to be clear that we are not evaluating those in absolute terms–that is, it’s not usually about whether that skill set, those choices, that behavior, is “bad” or “good” in some absolute sense; it is about whether they are a good match for the needs and expectations of the organization, team, supervisor, etc.  So it is relational: the person “being evaluated” and the job description, team, supervisor, and organization all contribute to whether things are working well or not.

Standing in Curiosity Opens the Door to Powerful Questions

This may seem like a semantic tweak, or perhaps self-evident, but check in with your body about it.  I can feel mine starting to open up, relax a little.  This feels much more in line with my core values about how to interact with people.  Like transforming “Why” questions into “What” questions, it moves me into curiosity. 

I find myself wondering:

  • What are their big accomplishments this year?
  • What’s changed, for them and because of them, this year?
  • What’s working well and what’s not from my perspective?  From their perspective?
  • What do I want to be different in the coming period?
  • What do they want to be different in the coming period?
  • What’s creating any “performance problems” I (or others) might be perceiving?
  • In what ways does the organization support their work well, and not so well?
  • What else could this person bring to this work?
  • What do they want to be bringing?
  • What’s hard for them about this job?
  • What do they think they need to take their work to the next level?
  • What do I/the organization/the team need from them?
  • Are they the right person to meet those needs?
  • If not, how do we get those needs met, and what needs are they good at filling?

These are interesting and powerful questions, with a lot of potential for freeing up creative energy and making things work better.  Now I am starting to feel like I want to be part of this “evaluation” process.

What emerges for you when you open the door to being curious about:

(a) being evaluated at work,

(b) evaluating someone else at work, and/or

(c) designing or reviewing your organization’s evaluation process?

Give yourself 10 minutes to write down what you are curious about in one or more of these arenas.  Notice: What’s that like in your body?  Are those questions useful?

In the next issue of Different Angles, I’ll talk about how we can design “evaluation processes” that keep us clear that we are not judging/being judged as people, but instead we are in a dialogue/learning process about the specific ways they/we are interacting with this organization; processes that help everyone involved stay in curiosity instead of landing in judgment of ourselves and others.  In the meanwhile, I invite you to be part of a conversation about what’s challenging about evaluating people, and how this process could be engaging and inspiring.

What else might I, or you, be resisting? 

Sticking with the “What Questions” methodology from Issue 1, I’m also wondering about other ways in which doing personnel evaluations might bring up resistance.  Maybe there is resistance around:

–    Doing something I feel like I don’t know how to do?

–    Shining a light on possible areas of conflict (because if I don’t, maybe I won’t have to deal with them…)?

–    The discomfort of having what might be hard conversations about what’s not working?

–    Entering a process that might result in challenges or expectations that are scary?

–    Getting in touch with my own, or anybody else’s, fear of failure?

–    What else?

Join the Conversation

–    What is hard for you about doing evaluations?

–    Or, if it is easy for you or you love doing it, what makes it easy/fun?

–    How well do the evaluation processes in your organization work?

–    What stumbling blocks do you see?

–    What questions, observations, feeling, or ideas come up for you in reading this article, or thinking about evaluation?

I’ve got ideas about where this series is going, but I’d love to also be responding to your questions and observations.  Please share your thoughts by adding your comments at the bottom of the page to join the public conversation, or send me an email, and if I have what feel like useful reflections, I’ll include them in this series.  I’ll respond regardless of whether I think it will fit in the series.

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Pass it on!

If you know people you think might find this article useful, please feel free to forward this newsletter to them using the link at the bottom. Thanks!

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Featured Training: Building Mutual Respect and Trust

Mutual respect and trust are essential parts of healthy and productive work environments. But how do we create that?

A week ago, I presented this training at the Willamette Valley Development Officers annual conference. I was delighted by the participant’s great questions, and by being a witness to the experiences they were having as they explored what creates mutual respect and trust, thought about how it is nurtured, or not, in their own organizations, and learned some concrete tools for cultivating trust and respect, even with people who are not very respectful or trusting. Could your organization or conference use a workshop that provides concrete tools for increasing mutual respect and trust in the workplace?

I’m offering the two-hour version of this workshop for $250 inside the Portland Metro Region (outside the region I add travel expenses). It is an inspiring and practical introduction to the framework and three key tools, and will give participants what they need to start making changes. A 90-minute conference version, and longer versions that provide more tools and more opportunity for practice and application to existing organizational challenges, are also available.

You can lock in the price by getting the training scheduled by July 15th – it can happen anytime in 2012.

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Looking for in-house training designed to meet the specific needs of your staff or board?

I specialize in providing unorthodox, effective training that gives you powerful new tools to address the goals and challenges you are actually facing.

What People Say (from workshop evaluations):

“A very different way of viewing and dealing with difficulties. It was rewarding and had very good results.”

“(provided)…new paths toward solutions – clearing away the clutter”

“Gives you tangible tools to use on your own.”

“Exceeded my expectations”

You’ll find more about my approach to training on the website. Please contact me to talk about your needs and what I can offer.

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Do you feel like you are pushing boulders uphill?

Get a New Perspectives Organizational Boulders Assessment

I offer a free, 90 minute organizational assessment in which you’ll get:

  • New perspectives and insights into what’s causing many of the challenges to effective teamwork and leadership development in your organization (where you are pushing boulders uphill when you don’t have to be);
  • New tools you can use immediately to address some of the core causes of your organization’s internal challenges;
  • A renewed sense of what is possible, and renewed energy for making needed shifts happen; and
  • A list of next steps for making your organization’s internal work easier and more effective.

If you are interested in setting up a Boulders Assessment, please contact me.

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© Tasha Harmon, May 2012. All rights reserved.

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