Take out the 'annual' from performance evaluations. Focus on something much more in the moment. Image Credit: Shutterstock

One of the main reasons for workplace stress and dissatisfaction is performance management. While organisations try to deploy bell curves and nine boxes, etc. individuals struggle to understand how their performance has been evaluated.

Even entrepreneurs and self-employed professionals are victims of ‘failure to meet performance expectations’. Surprisingly, managing your own performance is all within your control. Most of us discover this very late in our careers. Once we figure out how to do it, it does away with all the stress.

You don’t know what the expectations are

We all are like Alice in Wonderland, trying to find the direction we need to be head towards.

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?” asks Alice

“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.

“I don’t much care where…” said Alice.

“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.

“So long as I get somewhere,” Alice responds.

“Oh, you’re sure to do that,” said the Cat, “if you only walk long enough...”

If you are like Alice, the performance nor the plan matters. You will be like the numerous people who think success is a magical outcome of just putting in long hours for long enough.

Whether you are a board director, CEO, entrepreneur or self-employed, the clarity you need to establish is – “What expectations do I need to deliver on?”

Keep in mind to prioritise the expectations of the main stakeholders. For entrepreneurs/self-employed, customers will always take priority. For entrepreneurs even the expectations of investors are important.

Employees should focus on establishing ‘formal clarity’ from their manager or HR. It should usually be included in the job description.

Ask questions to understand the expectations in clear unambiguous terms so that they can be measurable.

You don’t know what it will take to deliver the performance

Someone I know was on holiday in Finland and decided to sign up for a day-long bicycling excursion. The excursion level was listed as ‘easy’. She paid for it and on the day of the excursion landed up at the starting point to pick up the bicycle and head out.

Once she got up on the bicycle, to her utter shock, she realised she couldn’t ride it. Turns out she had never attempted riding a bicycle for decades since she was a child with a bicycle with ‘trainer wheels’. Her assumption that it was easy didn’t play out once she was on the bicycle.

Many of us assume the expectations of performance to be ‘easy’, a false sense created by being exposed to popular content about how others have done it with ease and our own lack of understanding of the ‘knowing–doing’ gap.

Articulate the demands of each of the performance expectations. “What activities will I need to do in order to deliver on the results expected of me?” “What skills should I develop in order to do these activities to higher standards?”

Break it down into activities first to know what is needed to deliver. While these activities will lead to the skills and capabilities needed, in most cases they will also need support from others – your manager, peers and others in the team.

It is surprising how we all have many ‘trainer wheels’, from the theories we have learnt over time, that come undone when the rubber hits the road.

Synchronise performance to the orbit of the Earth around the Sun

A year is the time it takes the Earth to orbit the sun once. Yet we have ‘annual performance plans’ as if they had some correlation with this orbit.

To deliver on performance expectations, plan your performance in shorter intervals that provide more opportunities to take corrective action - more data points from review and feedback.

Setup performance goals in ‘100 Day’ plans. This will help sustain focus and make delivering on the expectations more likely.

An ‘ideal day’ in this ‘100 Day Plan’ is the key - “What does a perfectly productive day look like?”.

The best chance of delivering the ‘100 Day Plan’ is to be able to attempt the day’s performance and evaluate it every single day for the next 100 days. The trick is to convert performance expectations into repeatable and ‘perfectly productive’ days.

Once that is established, just practice the daily rhythm of ‘perform, measure, improve, repeat’.