Tune Your Performance Assessment Meter
As the evolved leader you are, I am sure that when you assess performance you try to use an objective standard and objective observations of how people perform against that standard and their commitments. But signals from your employees can color your assessment. Here are two female tendencies that may erroneously skew your view of their performance and potential.
Tendency A: “I Should Have…”
Say the product does not meet the customer need. Or maybe the reorganization wasn’t implemented well and productivity is taking a nose dive. Perhaps the company you were about to buy is now part of your gloating competitor. Whatever the details, an initiative has gone south and there is definitely “no joy in Mudville.” One or more people will come out of this with something between a smudge and a big black mark on their scorecard.
The stories that people tell around a failed project have a big impact on how they are remembered and evaluated. In this context, women tend to do themselves a disservice.
When something goes wrong, women assume that they could and should have done something to avoid it. They then go on to give that possibility a higher rating relative to other causes of the problem. Sure, there are times when that may be an accurate assessment: Maybe the buck appropriately stops with them. But, often, the situation is not that simple and the true fault is more shared, or distributed differently, than your female employees may see or express.
We have all seen men and women who lead projects that fail and who demonstrate the “water off a duck’s back” approach at the post-mortem: The other group did not cooperate, the original mandate was wrong, etc., etc., This serves no one. Women’s tendency to take blame is much healthier for the organization (see this HBR article on the importance of taking blame). But if it masks the true situation, it can harm their careers and keep the company from learning the right lessons from the failure.
What to do:
- Screen for this tendency as you evaluate people and projects so you do not undervalue your female employees’ performance and potential.
- Check in with key women after a troubled project to see if they are harboring too much self-blame. That can sap their motivation or lead them to make the wrong corrections (e.g., be too cautious) in the future. Get them to articulate the learnings and move on.
Tendency B: “We”
I was going to address the Asia sales managers for the first time at a business I had recently joined. The regional manager prepped me on the event and key issues. When I asked if he had any other advice, he hesitated a bit and then said: “It would be great if, when talking about your past experience, you used the word “I” instead of “we” a bit more.” This input was such a gift. He went on to explain that he thought my upcoming audience would appreciate the strengths that I brought to the business. Using the word “we” when describing past accomplishments would not clearly express what I had driven and could do for them. In that forum, the effort to be inclusive would be counterproductive.
Women tend to value and nurture community. Also, blowing one’s own horn is discouraged in a variety of ways starting young. Whatever the cause, women tend to share credit and assume that:
- People know what they did, and that
- Some magical force will adequately reward them, not only for the managing to drag that project across the finish line when it was all but dead by the side of the road six times, but also for sharing the credit.
Truth be told, this trait is generally a real positive. Not only is humility a good thing, but the hard output of the organization can go up as a result of it. I have often quoted one of Sally Dudley’s key tenets: “It is amazing what you can accomplish when you don’t care who gets the credit.”
So, when you manage women:
- Recognize that sometimes their “we” means “I”.
- Tell them that there is an “i” in “community” and that they should use it every once in a while.
- Thank them for sharing credit.