Why Your Zone of Excellence Matters More than Grades or PAs Ever Could

zone of excellenceWhether you have kids at home or not, you can imagine how many dinner conversations we’ve recently been having about schoolwork; in Ontario, whatever grade you had before COVID, you’re supposed to not be able to get a lower grade than that. “Why does it matter how hard I work if my mark can’t get any lower?” Oh, man. Since when did grades become the singular marker of “success in school?” Perhaps at the same time when we decided in organizations that feedback happened every other year in a performance appraisal (she writes sarcastically.) Whether it’s kids or colleagues or staff, let’s have a real conversation about what performance means in our challenging uncertain times of today.


Do PAs Really Matter?

When we get so caught up in external measurements that define success, they take over as the measure of success. As soon as that measurement disappears, our shortcuts and misguided notions are exposed; the product (the PA) versus the process (every conversation between and including the PA) reveal themselves as reversed in importance. 

As Goodhart’s Law professes, When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.” Your PA – or your child’s grade – does not indicate success or not; it’s the conversation that is supposed to happen on an ongoing basis that is summarized in documentation in the PA. Just like it’s the entire semester of learning and how it provides a foundation for further study that matters most, not the report card.

But like most things, it’s the quantifiable that’s eventually seen as more desirable; quality takes so much more effort and time. However, like just about everything else in life, the thing that takes effort and energy actually matters most for connection, performance and satisfaction. 

So in answer to the question, do PAs really matter? Yes and no (you can find many bloggers ready to argue both sides.) For our purposes, let me cut to the chase.

If you’re having conversations about performance, give support and provide feedback, you’re fulfilling your role; you’ve done the most important work. If you get the PA done but you’ve barely laid eyes on someone, you’re wasting your time. Best to wait until you can attend to it as you should, and save your time for the conversation. 

What matters more is staying in your zone of excellence. And to do that, I’d like to suggest we need people to see and give us feedback about it. Without that, we’ll keep wondering about our performance.

What to Do When We Count Versus Converse

So, here’s what I’m going to invite you to do. Whether it is a conversation you need to have with your kids at the dinner table, a conversation with your peers at work, or a decision you need to make as a leadership team, I’m going invite you to refocus on the three things that enable you and others to stay in the zone of excellence:

  1. Focus on Growth

    It is always about growth. If it is allowing your organization, you personally, you professionally to grow, it’s still just as important and we need to give it the same focus, as if whether we’re measuring it or not. Focus on growth and support; performance  – no matter how you document it – gets taken care of when you care for the person’s success. As James Clear shares in his book Atomic Habits, are you 1% better than you were yesterday? The focus on continually improving is the surest way we will all be better.

  2. Connection Focus

    It is all about connection. We need to have meaningful connections such as conversations in between performance appraisals, that can be happening now, and in fact, should be happening now more than ever. That’s what really matters. It’s not the PA; it was never about the PA. Believe me, as someone who used to oversee the talent management process in a large not-for-profit, we came down hard on PAs because we were worried the conversations we’re happening (although in all fairness the spans of control were ridiculous for many), so we figured, if we forced a conversation every other year, then at least that’s something. See the flawed logic here?  It’s the conversations that happen in between PAs that truly accelerate performance and engagement. It’s the validation, the recognition, the appreciation that happens outside of those formal conversations.

  3. Support Focus

    Just like with our children, our conversations right now should be about acknowledging how resourceful and resilient we’ve been; if we want to stay focused on what matters right now, in the middle of COVID, what are the most important priorities (whether it’s getting to something on your to-do list because you have time or just getting through the madness of overwork)? Conversations that matter right now help people to keep the faith, roll with the punches, stay agile and feel appreciated. You don’t need to do away with all forms of measurement – after all, we’ve grown up since kindergarten with external evaluations, so for some, it may feel strange to not maintain that system (that’s why my kids, despite not liking being judged by a grade, they don’t know any other way.) It’s about believing in each other even though we can not “see” each other performing, and on the flip side, reaching out to people we think may need more support and guidance.

There’s Help

Let’s acknowledge where we find ourselves at this moment, we’re not entirely sure what the “right” way is. It doesn’t feel like the conditions for excellence, does it?

  • What should we keep and maintain? 
  • What should we put on hold? 
  • What should we discontinue? 

If I can help, I hope you’ll reach out. I may have an expert I can refer you to, a video or another blog to forward, or we can hop on a quick call. Reach out to me anytime at [email protected]

In the meantime, thanks for all you’re doing to get through this challenging time, supporting your kids, your colleagues and your community. 

Want to see more resources about how you can recognize other’s greatness? Check out these articles:

What is the Difference Between Rewards and Recognition?
Why happiness is better than being perfect.
How do I Give Recognition That’s Sincere?

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