A few weeks ago this blog discussed the impact a performance evaluation has on a Sailor’s likelihood for promotion.  Now I believe we should look the manner in which a performance evaluation influences a Sailor’s future performance.

              The delivery of the evaluation is the time to provide honest and sincere feedback about not only past performance. But in order to have meaningful impact on the Sailors development this counseling session must also highlight expectations for future behaviors.  So, while the summary group will affect promotion, the counseling session affects development, and we owe it to the Sailor and the Navy to perform each task honestly and completely. 

           As we will discuss, not all Sailors are in the same stage of personal or professional development.  We should tailor our counseling’s accordingly.  Often times our exceptional Sailors have much more to offer, but may be unsure where to apply their efforts, while our below average Sailors may be honestly clueless about how to connect the dots between current levels of performance and expected levels of performance.  The majority of our Sailors will fall in the middle.  If it’s true that we spend 90% of our time on 10% of our Sailors, then we need to ensure the 10% of our time we do get to deal with our steady performers is real and meaningful.

        All counseling’s should always be honest and unvarnished assessments.  Weather it is a mid-term counseling, Career Development Board, or an ad hoc review, it is imperative we take them seriously and try to avoid hollow assessments, such as “you’re doing fine” or “you need to step it up”. Instead, at every opportunity, we should be providing our Sailors with concrete examples of the behaviors we expect of the now and in the future. If we have an open line of communication throughout the year, there should be little surprises at the time of the evaluation delivery. Throughout the year we must remember that a successful communication process is defined by the receiver of the message, not the sender.  One of the absolute best (and funniest) video clips to illustrate this point can be found here in regards to a performance review gone wrong due to previous miscommunication.

        Assuming we do our jobs throughout the year, our Sailors should already have a pretty clear understanding of their position, as well as the behaviors they will need to demonstrate in order for them to succeed at the next level.  The phrase about behaviors that the Sailor should focus on as opposed to the word “weakness” is used here because while not everyone will have a weakness regarding their current performance, but everyone certainly has a “next step” in their development.   That being said, if a Sailor does have a weakness, meaning they are performing below the level expected of their current position, that should most definitely be identified as such during the review.

      If a PO2 is already doing everything expected of her, we do her a disservice by not identifying the next level of growth she should be aspiring to. Starting off with the expectations of a PO1 can be a very helpful for a hot running PO2.  Perhaps there may be stretch assignments, such as working as a departmental trainer ot career counselor that can help push her boundries beyond simply the technical aspects of her rating. Now is the time to discuss with her how to attain those positions and why the Navy values the experiences she would gain from working in those jobs.

        In the same vein, there are many aspects that go into making a PO1 best qualified for Chief.  This is the time to identify to a PO1 the dangers of narrow successes. So we can explain that, while the PO1 may have done terrific work at leading and developing Sailors in his department, there may be a lack of horizontal leadership, and as such, that is the type of opportunity he should seek out, for instance.

        Struggling Sailors present a different challenge.  It is a mistake to think the only things that should be documented on an evaluation are either positive characteristics or illegal behavior.  A Sailor does not have to be found guilty by Non Judicial Punishment to warrant documentation of poor performance on an evaluation.  I found it interesting when someone once asked me about a Sailor who was failing to live up to expectations of his position and wondered how to document it.  When I suggested stating the following:  “Relieved as Senior Line Corpsman for failure to consistently and accurately communicate with Company Commander and First Sergeant”, the response I got is “Can we really put that, he never went to Captains Mast?” to which the answer was “Not only can we but we absolutely should.”   Of course there had been proper documentation of these behaviors throughout the process.

         Unfortunately too many people will instead try the method of “damning with faint praise” by stating only very general positives leaving it up to the reader to determine through lack of any truly meaningful positives that this Sailor was not really living up to expectations.  Often times this can only be deciphered by someone who completely understands the nature of the position. It also leaves open the possibility for miscommunication with the member at time of evaluation delivery.  Faint praise offers no documentation of true performance, and no path for improvement.  It only offers leaders the hope of an easy conversation, which will actually feel awkward and unauthentic to both the leader and the subordinate, ultimately helping no one.

         Finally we have our middle fish, those Sailors who, though not on the “fast track’ are still showing up every day and doing completely adequate and successful work in their present position.  These can be the most critical members of our organization, yet often times they get the least amount of our attention.  While a relative few of our superstars are garnering Sailor of the Year nominations and another relatively small group demands our administrative attention for their negative actions, the vast majority of our Sailors fall into neither of these categories.  Nurturing the careers of these individuals, however, is the key to organizational success. 

        The evaluation reviews for these Sailors must focus on their future performance as well, but to mean anything they must be authentic.  Now is the time to explain to an average PO1 that the phrase “solid First Class Petty Officer” truly means just that, and that should the PO1 demonstrate the following behaviors, his next evaluation would hopefully say “Ready for Chief” and eventually continuous sustained superior performance may say “Already Performing as a Chief”.  As always, the sincerity and authenticity build throughout the year will go a long way in the successful delivery of this performance review.  For a quick discussion on dealing with these “B” team players I recommend you check out this Harvard Business Review IdeaCast.

       Although the performance evaluation itself is based on the previous reporting period it is helpful to remember that the true goal is to make the Sailor and the organization better.  So, in every case, delivery of the performance evaluation must focus on the future, not the past.  Honesty and sincerity with our subordinates developed through daily interactions, is the key to ensuring the right words delivered by the leader, find the right meaning in the mind of the subordinate, and hopefully leading to improved overall performance by the organization.