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When I Was Called Average

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In one of my performance appraisals, I was rated as an “Average Employee”. This experience was so bitter that it took me going through the full drama cycle of receiving negative feedback before bouncing back. It made me reflect on a model that I teach in one of my management classes – SARAH (Shock, Anger, Rejection, Acknowledgement, and Help).

At the beginning, I was completely Shocked. This performance appraisal happened in a year where I acquired skills that will change my career for the rest of my life. It was the year where I participated in an unprecedented on-boarding project and successfully facilitated one of the most rewarding leadership programs.

That state of shock quickly transformed into a deep feeling of Anger. It stemmed from the mere fact that I have never been average in my entire life! Whether in sports, in school or in my career I was never a “me-too”, rather I have always been the admired exception.

My reaction to the shock and anger soon resulted in a Rejection of the feedback. I refused to accept that “Perception Is Reality” in my managers world. I moved from claiming that the process was broken, to discrediting the people conducting the appraisal, to even challenging the value of performance management itself.

Eventually, I noticed the viscous cycle and my only alternative was to Acknowledge this new situation – but not necessarily accept it. I came to recognize that while most managers are not mean; many of them are simply not trained to offer feedback – let a lone do performance appraisals.

To move out of the self-destructing victimhood mentality of blaming my manager or criticising our process, I decided to Help myself. This started by recognizing that life goes beyond than a 5-ranks rating scale. The job I have and the rating I received do not define me. What defines me is the value I create to those I serve.

While it sounds intuitive, helping myself was neither easy nor quick especially that I did it alone. I wish I consulted a business coach to help me clarify my thinking and challenge me every time I got stuck in any of the SARAH stages.

Today as I coach managers on conducting effective performance appraisals, I tell them a story my grandmother once told me. The story was about little Brazilian kids who played by the banks of the Amazon. Every time a barefoot kid stepped on sharp edged stones, he’d pick them up, curse at them and throw them in the river without noticing they were actually precious gems. I try to explain to managers how many of their direct reports might be just like those stones in Brazil – sharp edged but very valuable once polished. I challenge them to recognize their leadership in coaching their staff to progress through SARAH to take an “average” to extraordinary.

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