In a project-oriented structure where the project manager has people management responsibilities for their team members, it is expected that an individual’s performance on project work is the primary basis for their formal (HR) evaluation. But in a matrix structure, formal evaluations get carried out by the functional managers to whom the team members report to.

This can generate a number of risks, especially when the team members are spending the majority of their time doing project work including:

  • Team members perceiving that their evaluations are based on a fraction of their actual work
  • Team members prioritizing their functional work higher than their project work
  • Functional managers “flying blind” when completing the team members’ formal evaluations

When HR policies require functional managers to seek input from the project managers whom their team members worked with, and project managers are required to provide objective feedback into the formal evaluation process, it mostly eliminates these risks.

But this is not something I’ve run across frequently.

Alternately, it is possible to address the risks by having proactive functional and project managers who will respectively request and provide feedback without being mandated to do so.

And even if the functional managers are disinterested in hearing what the project managers have to say about their team members, some project managers will provide the feedback unsolicited to the functional managers, or at worst, only to the team members, leaving it to the team members to bring that feedback to the table during formal evaluations.

The common thread across these choices is the demonstration of a proactive leadership stance by the project managers. However, if a project manager isn’t interested or they’ve had their wrist slapped for doing so in the past, team members receive no feedback which increases the likelihood and impact of the risks being realized.

While I’ve witnessed project and functional managers engaging in all of these approaches, I wanted to bring this to a broader audience and did so by conducting a poll within PMI’s LinkedIn Project, Program and Portfolio Management discussion group as well as the ProjectManagement.com community . The poll question was simple: “Do you provide feedback to managers about their team members’ performance as an input into formal evaluations?”

The poll received 95 responses, with the following breakdown of responses:

  1. Yes, and it is requested by the functional manager: 38%
  2. Yes, but it was not requested by the functional manager: 29%
  3. No, I provide it to neither the team member nor their functional manager: 19%
  4. No, I just provide it to the team member: 14%

While I do find it encouraging that the vast majority of project managers see the value of providing formal feedback on their team member’s performance, it is unfortunate that almost one out of five project managers doesn’t.

While this is bad for the team members, it can also hurt the project managers, especially if other project managers working with the same team members do provide such feedback. In such cases, when a team member has to juggle multiple, competing projects, which project manager is likely to be given a higher priority?

Ken Blanchard said “Feedback is the breakfast of champions” so do you want to deprive your team members of the most important meal of the day?

(If you liked this article, why not read my book Easy in Theory, Difficult in Practice which contains 100 other lessons on project leadership? It’s available on Amazon.com  and on Amazon.ca  as well as a number of other online book stores).

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