Two Questions to Ask Before Any Performance Assessment

I recently had a conversation with an L&D manager who told me that he was being asked to assess all of the Directors in his organization. It struck me at that moment how broad a request that was, and I began to ask him questions to uncover just what his leadership team needed from the assessment. It turns out they needed to assess the Directors’ performance. Again, I had more questions.

It was unclear whether the intent was to assess the Directors’ performance in their current position or to assess them for their readiness to be promoted to a Vice President position within the organization. If the Directors’ were to be assessed in their current role, the L&D manager would need to develop and administer an assessment that focused on the specific competencies required for Directors within the organization. On the other hand, if the Directors were to be assessed for their readiness for a VP position, the assessment should focus on the competencies required for that VP position. In the case of this organization, those are fairly divergent competency sets.

This conversation got me thinking about what kinds of critical questions need to be asked before engaging in a performance assessment. There are many, but here are two that must be asked every time at the outset:

1) What is the purpose?

Defining the purpose drives the content and intent of a performance assessment. Assessing the performance of a leader or contributor may be part of a normal performance management process, but may also serve other purposes. It may serve as an informal tool for an employee to gauge his or her own strengths and performance gaps, or for continuous organizational improvement. Although not ideal, it may be used for making decisions for RIFs (Reductions in Force). No matter the purpose, it needs to be clearly understood by leadership, the assessor, and those being assessed to ensure the best results.

2) What are you going to do with the results?

Understandably, the answer to this question flows in large part from the purpose, but the answer needs to be articulated clearly to all parties involved. Having a clear answer to this question allows the assessor the best chance at developing and delivering a performance assessment that achieves the purpose while mitigating factors that could bias the results (e.g. social desirability, fear, etc.). In addition, it is important to let your assessee know up front why you’re collecting the data and how you plan to use it.  Assessments can create anxiety for people at all levels within the organization. To help reduce anxiety and increase willing participation in the performance assessment process, leadership should commit to and communicate up front the level of investment they are willing to make in resources for training and development so that the assessee knows that a growth path has been established.

There is much thought and work that go into effective performance assessment development and delivery. Asking good questions is a critical part of the process.

What other questions would you ask when developing a performance assessment?