Performance Management is All About Trust

RatingGraphicBob was nervous about his upcoming annual performance assessment.  His manager traveled about 50 percent of the time, and hadn’t spent much time with Bob or at his desk in the home office in the past year.  The takeover scare a few months ago occupied everyone’s time, and when Bob’s manager was in town, he was behind closed doors in meetings with the executive team, trying to keep the wolves at bay.

Bob attempted to grab a few minutes to go over his past due performance assessment, but his manager responded with unanswered emails and "Not Now!" Blackberry texts.  A few weeks later at his assessment meeting, Bob was shocked his manager wrote that he was, “pushy, missed deadlines and had poor communications skills,” Bob trusted his manager would give him a fair assessment, and felt ambushed by the poor ratings and unfair performance statements. It didn’t have to have been this way.

Employees can receive a more accurate picture of performance with a performance assessment, since the manager no longer has the first, only and last word on the employee’s performance. This type of assessment takes the burden off managers by sharing assessment responsibility amongst those he works or interacts with throughout the year.  The information, gathered from the manager, peers, direct reports, project team members, vendors, clients and suppliers, distills any one opinion with comments from a wider net, resulting in clear, authentic performance goals.

When a manager’s values, work style or priorities clash with those of a direct report, performance assessments are unfairly affected by personalities rather than actual performance.  An employee must trust that his performance assessment is the result of impartial criteria and direct observation, not on whether he always agrees with his manager.

Brian Tracy, motivational speaker and business consultant said, “the glue that holds all relationships together — including the relationship between the leader and the led — is trust, and trust is based on integrity.”  Successful working relationships are based on trust.  To create a trusted environment for a successful performance assessment, those involved must maintain strict data confidentiality.  The security in knowing that this confidentiality exists, in the eyes of the employee being assessed, establishes trust.  After the assessment, managers can continue to build trust by:

1. Providing the resources, training and support to meet each goal.  Providing the resources to reach goals and establishing support systems with other departments or staff strengthens commitment and reinforces trust.

2. Convey trust in the employee’s ability to get the job done.  A recent article on, 7 Things Employees are Thinking—But Won’t Say, points out that employees don’t always say what they are really thinking, for fear a manager will take their comments the wrong way.  They would like to say, “Give me an important task and I know you respect me, but give me an important task that I have to figure out and I know you trust me.”  Setting performance goals and then micro-managing the process sends the opposite message—“I can’t trust you on your own.  You’re not capable.”

The performance assessment draws on performance outcomes, working relationships, communications and interaction with a diverse group.  Careful analysis of assessment data targets key strengths and areas for improvement.  Effective goal setting is a collaborative effort, with mutually agreed upon expectations, outcomes and deadlines.   As Blaine Lee, Covey Leadership Institute, said, “when people honor each other, there is a trust established that leads to synergy, interdependence, and deep respect. Both parties make decisions and choices based on what is right, what is best, what is valued most highly.”  Collaborative goal setting shows respect and trust, and builds strong working relationships.  However, continued interaction throughout the year is critical to maintaining trust until the next assessment.

There are many Bob’s out there—employees who are trying to do a good job but have little meaningful contact with a manager responsible for his annual assessment.  Employees feel cheated and apprehensive, resigned to an assessment that is merely a rundown of last year’s goals with arbitrary ratings based on the past few weeks or a few project reports.  Performance assessments assure a balanced, accurate picture of an employee’s performance, leading to a positive assessment experience, strong working relationships, mutual trust and respect.

Warren Buffett said, “trust is like the air we breathe. When it’s present, nobody really notices. But when it’s absent, everybody notices.”   Keeping the oxygen flowing energizes people as much as trust provides a foundation for healthy business relationships.  Careful attention to maintaining trust and respect during the performance review process will keep everyone on firm footing.


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If you are looking for a street-tested performance management system, look no further than PerformanceSUMTM. This industrial strength system has a library of over 65 competencies arranged in 11 super-factor groups to help managers get the most from their employees. With the flexibility to accommodate up to 50,000 participants on a global platform, PerformanceSUM’s modular system can handle the needs of an organization including goal setting, appraisals, 360s, mid-year reviews and succession management.

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