The Not-So-Big-Dance: Performance Appraisal

Posted by jlubans on February 19, 2012

It's that time of year. In many workplaces across our fair corporate landscape, that old chestnut, Performance Appraisal, unlike that "gentle rain from heaven," bonks us on our heads. It certainly is raining not mercy but chestnuts at my friend's job; in his case, like at many others, the process involves a multi-page form, chock-full of corporate-speak with expectations of much introspection and deliberation by the incumbent and the supervisor.

While the two of us commiserated, the term “dance-like ritual” popped into my head. Whether I was the reviewer, the reviewee, or the 5th signature on the sign-off sheet, I had little faith PA was worth the negligible result. (In fact, Chapter 34 in Leading from the Middle, “I've Closed My Eyes to the Cold Hard Truth I'm Seeing: Making Performance Appraisal Work” describes what happened when a large organization, letting go, gave up performance appraisal: NOTHING, except we had higher productivity, a lot more time for real work and real conversation between leaders and followers!)

I googled “Dance and performance appraisal” and several hits came up with "the dance" used to describe the ritual engineered by Human Resources departments around the globe. While the source pages did not elaborate much on the meaning of that use of the term, I sensed a Dilbertean sarcasm and that PA is no happier an event than what it was in my time: a contrived corporate event.

My humorous brain wave of “dance” was triggered in large part by images of the “waggle” dances put on by scout bees when describing and recommending a hive’s next home. (See my honey bee write up here.) It’s a serious, democratic process, a joyful one. (We’ll, with all that buzzing, curveting, and tail shaking the bees do look joyful!)
The scout bees let everyone know what they have been up to and what has gone well and, by omission, what has not gone so well. And, each of the scouts recommends a new home site, the future for their organization.

If bees use dance to describe their aspirations, why not us cleverer humans? Let’s use dance to replace the frowsy form.

How would it work? Each person in the organization invents a dance to show how things are going and where they want to be in the next year. Interpretive dance, straight from the 60s.

Kindly judges are poised to dish out high praise:
What dance will claim the gold cup, the 10? What would reap the highest score for ingenuity and expressiveness?

A stately minuet? Tepid tango? Or, fevered fandango? Or, from the executive suite: a boss-led conga line? Maybe a square dance is more apt?

Or, for those rare self-managing teams, an updated Hokey Pokey (It really is what it’s all about! Or, is it?)

I’m for adapting what the bees do. I envision a swarm of wagglers, earnestly shaking their backsides, giving us coordinates for the future and telling us what’s good and what needs change.

A requisite: Since it takes two to tango - you can quote me - the PA dance has to be a partnership between those who supervise and those who are supervised. I almost said “those who need supervision”, but thought better of it.

Like Leah Long, my dance instructor, says:
“On the dance floor, good leaders initiate the movement they want from their partner and then follow the movement they've created.” Apply that concept of leading and following in lieu of the traditional PA process and see the difference.

But, remember:

Now, where did I leave those castanets?

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