Nearly a century ago, Mary Parker Follett, who may be the greatest management thinker yet, elaborated what she called the “law of the situation.” She did this to help managers develop more effective ways to organize their businesses, to distribute power in them, and even to give orders.
But the principle applies to management at all levels today, and to management of teams in a particularly germane way. Every manager should conduct two reviews: one for the team, and another for each member. The team evaluation should focus on project goals and progress, and speak in general terms about the team’s success or shortcomings in these areas at the time of the evaluation. The discussion should be frank and not gloss over failures and necessary remediation.
However, it should avoid reference to individual performance; with this exception: There is a saying, called the “4 Ps,” that you should praise in public and punish in private. You should apply this to all your team members. So, in addition to praising the team’s overall performance where appropriate, also point out individual accomplishments where they are clearly exceptional. Such citations should both properly bring attention and acknowledgment to those who deserve it, and offer an opportunity for other members to see examples of what sorts of extra effort and initiative are of real value to the project.
As for the punish in private side, save that for the private evaluation (never criticize individual performance in public – never – there is absolutely no upside to this, and no one will learn any lessons from it other than your untrustworthiness and incompetence as a manager.). As in the public eval, relate everything to the situation. In other words, criticize not the individual, but point out where performance has not met the needs of the project, and why. Discuss this latter point with the evaluee, and ask his or her input both on that, and on what steps can be taken to remediate it. Then – always – end the individual eval on a positive point. Emphasize those aspects of the person’s performance that are strong, and link that to your confidence that the shortcomings, now that they are identified and understood, can and will become strong points also. Even if you can’t find such examples, underline your gratification at the evaluee’s frank and constructive participation in the discussion and development of solutions, and your confidence in his or her professionalism and devotion to the project. Point out that you believe that he or she will undoubtedly be acknowledged as an excellent team member who will be in demand for future projects.
Make sure everyone concludes from both of these evals, team and individual, that your focus is on the success first of the project, and second in their success as team members contributing productively to it. Make it clear that everything about your work as the project manager and your evaluation of them as a team and as individuals is driven by the “law of the situation.” They will immediately recognize the validity and power of that law, and will evaluate your observations in that light, rather than defensively as individual or group criticism.
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