Today I received my first performance-based evaluation. The new system has been much cause for complaint but I was willing to give it a chance. Partly because I have never doubted my ability to perform. I set my own personal objectives and they have always exceeded those set by my employers. I was concerned about the possibility of misuse of the performance-based objectives to drive analytic skills toward mundane bean-counting quotas instead of letting employees rise to brilliance. But I hoped that managers would be able to walk that fine line between abuse and leadership. I was foolish in the extreme to think that such visionary leaders existed. So today I learned that senior leadership in the office drove evaluations to meet a bell-shaped quota of performance scores. And any failure to achieve one objective was cause to drive the score lower to the point that I am in the middle at a 3.5 out 5.0 – merely “successful”. Considering that 95% of my evaluations over my career have been above average, “successful” is a slap in the face.

But what saddens me most is that I consider this  a sign that the job that I do as an innovator and change agent is not considered valuable to accomplishing agency missions (I do not consider it a personal assault on my performance). The very nature of my job is about connecting people, collaborating and sharing knowledge, steering new tradecraft and acting as a catalyst for change. And I have just been told that my work is just average despite an amazing year of making changes in attitudes happen in how multiple organizations look at the national security implications of social media.

As if that is not bad enough, there is a move to standardize performance objectives among people who have very disparate missions. It would be like assigning the same objectives to the salesforce that you assign to the knowledge management team. Both are working toward the same goals to make the organization more effective but they do it very differently. So now I’m wondering what other organizations do to manage and evaluate their innovators and change agents. Can innovators/change agents survive in a performance-based evaluation system where objectives don’t permit agility and ability to innovate. I’d love to hear any experiences that you have had.

I have resisted leaving government like so many are doing because I feel that there needs to be internal change agents with thick skins (and maybe skulls) willing to try to break down walls regardless of how it hurts your career or other aspects of your life. Now I’m beginning to wonder at the value of trying to improve the way we do business. Should I pour out the rest of my life into an organization that cares nothing for its most precious resource – its people? Because I was not the only one being shaped by this bell-curve performance based evaluation process.  I know I won’t give up because it’s not in my nature. But I just wonder what I should do from here. Can I in good conscious continue to fight to improve an organization that fiercely resists the changes needed to transform it.

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