I sat nervously at the head of a long conference table as my direct reports filed into the room. We were in the largest room in the building and my group almost filled it. In the past, as an individual contributor, the presence of my manager always made me a little more aware of myself and a little ill at ease. It never occurred to me that the feeling might be shared by my manager. But, now as a manager myself, I became painfully aware of how intimidating it can be to have a room full of people looking to you for guidance and leadership.
I changed leadership roles within my company in September, and three short months later I was starting the performance review process for my new team. To the people I now managed, it did not matter that I had successfully led other teams in the past and that I held a longer tenure at the company than anyone else in the room: to my team I was a newbie and I was about to tell each of them how well they did their job. No pressure.
I fell back on a simple principle I learned in Fuqua Professor Sim Sitkin’s class on Leadership, Ethics and Organizations: people want to be treated fairly. They want to know the rules by which they are being judged, and they want to know that those rules are being applied equally to everyone. So for me, it was time to throw out antiquated and destructive notions of secrecy surrounding compensation.
I put together a few quick slides which covered the expectations of everyone in the organization. I described the process for determining salary increases and bonuses. I made it clear that not everyone is above average. Finally and most importantly, I let them ask anything they wanted about the process. As the meeting ended a number of my direct reports thanked me for the information. One of the most senior members of the team remarked that I had just told him more about the performance review process than he had ever gotten anywhere else.
Delivering the actual reviews over the course of the next few months was not without its share of bumps, but it was smoother than any other performance review cycle I have ever managed.