Are You a Dishonest Leader? The February Test

Integrity. It seems that nearly every organizational competency model or values statement includes the word “integrity”.

Commonly defined as a “firm adherence to a code of moral or ethical values or honesty”, it goes without saying that integrity or honesty is an important value for leaders at all levels of an organization to demonstrate. Unfortunately, business news all too often includes notable failures of integrity-embezzlement, insider trading, bribery and more. So we have a good picture of the extreme lack of integrity and….good news… it is the exception. But there are many executives and managers across the business world who come up short in modeling integrity in their leadership. By definition, these leaders might be considered dishonest.

The month of February is when the integrity of many leaders is tested. Why? In many organizations it is the time for annual performance appraisals. Write and deliver a less than honest appraisal? Me? Certainly, most people managers would say they were honest in conducting an evaluation of their team members. But demonstrating integrity when it comes to performance evaluation is a process that began long before now. While it is a challenge to “make it right” in one performance review; it’s a start. Here are three things you can do this month to bring honesty to your process , your relationships with your employees and accountability to your organization:

Honest Goals –maybe the goals last year were not as SMART as they might have been. Resolve to work with each member of your team to develop clear, specific, and meaningful goals. Not a list of 20 some ongoing job responsibilities, but 3-5 objectives to move the business forward in the next 6 to 12 months. Seek to align these objectives with your own and with those of the organization. Hold an open dialogue with each employee as to why these specific goals matter and help him or her understand the context relative to ongoing job responsibilities. These ongoing responsibilities are important, but achievement does not necessarily justify superior ratings. Sound familiar?

Honest Metrics—by definition SMART goals include metrics, but the quality of the metrics go a long way in determining the integrity of the evaluation process. How real is the causal chain between actions and results? How reliable, valid, specific and feasible are the metrics? Perhaps you and your employee should consider new ways of measuring performance when the nature of assignments and projects has changed relative to past years. Maybe the old measures have less meaning in terms of what needs to be accomplished in 2013. Give metrics considerable thought – how they are set now determines the integrity the process going forward.

Honest Expectations – begin with a clear understanding of performance in terms of what “does not meet”, “meets” and “exceeds”. If your organization uses a 5 point or more scale for evaluation, it will be more challenging to calibrate expectations, but it is important to do so. If attempting to define this many categories doesn’t make sense, then you should reconsider having that many performance categories now rather than deal with it in February 2014. Making the assumption that having a goal and metrics is sufficient for honest evaluation leaves too much to interpretation and can compromise the integrity of the process.

Now, what about an employee rated an “A” player, perhaps someone designated as high potential? Perhaps, the expectations are higher than for a “B” player. If that is the case, the goals, metrics and expectations to excel should be clearly understood by all. In this case, a higher bar may be established to continue to challenge the top performer. Similarly, integrity demands the leader clearly reach understanding with the underperformer on the realities of continued subpar performance.

As you sit down with each of your team members this month to set the stage for performance in the coming year, what will your approach be? How will you model integrity in the process?