What Does Road Rage Have to Do with Performance?

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“Americans will put up with anything provided it doesn’t block traffic.” – Dan Rather

We all like to think road rage is something that happens to other people. 
When faced with traffic congestion, a tailgater, or worse yet someone cuts us off, we become a whole different person; especially when it comes to performance appraisals.

It often incites a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde persuasion.

Traffic Light. digital painting by Alex Andreev

Dr. Jekyll believed that there are two distinct sides to us — a good and evil side. We’re all involved in an eternal struggle over which of the two will prevail.

Horrible consequences occur when we let our dark side run wild.  We turn into the animalistic Mr. Hyde, a version of ourselves of which we are not proud. If the evil side is controlled, the good side can live without worry. And if eliminated, there would be unlimited potential for good in the world.

By the time Dr. Jekyll made a change… it was already too late.

Let’s take a look at why road rage occurs in the performance management process, the roadblocks to preventing it, and things to consider before you turn into Mr. Hyde.

What Road Rage Looks Like

Road rage in the performance management process is an accumulation of aggressive driving maneuvers resulting from emotional distress. Any of these look familiar?

  • You and your coworkers lash out.
  • They switch lanes or make turns without using their turn signals.
  • They fail to check their blind spot before switching lanes, cutting you off.
  • Your boss regularly drives over the speed limit or tries to beat red lights because they’re in a hurry to get performance appraisals done.
  • Your boss tailgates or flashes their headlights when they think you or your coworkers are driving too slow at work or are not behaving as they think you should be.

Traffic Congestion

Photo by Paweł Czerwiński on Unsplash

Change in performance management doesn’t occur just because it’s a good idea; it happens when the pain in organizations and employees reaches a threshold. The traffic light goes quickly from green to red.

It is when leadership and employees no longer have the stomach for denying the status quo, contributing to threats of having to manage for economic decline.

Mokita (talking about truths they all know about but agree not to talk about) can no longer be avoided at road junctions, pedestrian crossings, and roundabouts; it is in the company climate and culture, throughout the environment and ecosystems.

Change interventions and solutions come when leadership and you become so pissed with one another trying to control the radio, slamming car doors, or overriding the navigation system because you know a shortcut.

Bad Drivers

Performance appraisals give you the freedom to move around the business space in your company. There’s a growing boycott on annual review systems emerging at road junctions, pedestrian crossings, and roundabouts on the highway of the internet. Only 6% of organizations, Bhaswati Bhattacharyya claims, think their performance management processes, are worthwhile.

Why is this, you ask?

It’s because of dangerous driving. Bad drivers are on the road behind the wheel of performance management. We can’t continue to blame lousy weather or road conditions; it’s way more than this.

Photo by Alexandre Boucher on Unsplash

As a leader, owning performance management seems like a brilliant idea, until you realize you’re trapped in the vehicle for hours while looking for parking.

There’s never a good time for having performance appraisals, having the vehicle serviced, is there?

We all know, not every driver on the road knows what they’re doing.

Keeping in mind the political climate, culture, business space, environment, and ecosystem of the company can make you feel like you’re cutting across four lanes without signaling only to end up on a major road facing oncoming traffic.

Lack of structure in the performance management process is like coming back from grocery shopping only to find a giant dent in your door from the car parked over the lines next to you.

Driving performance management requires care and focus, but many leaders lack both.
They’re too busy, texting while driving.


Driving with anxiety or suffering from vehophobia (fear of driving) impacts our daily life since most of us depend on performance management programs as rewards for our contributions.

These programs should not be the Archangels of Death waiting for us in road junctions, pedestrian crossings, and roundabouts within our companies.

Neither are they meant to be the perpetrators lowering morale, efficiency or effectiveness of employees or their contributions to organizational capabilities.

It’s the Rank and Yank systems, where they rank employees against each other and yank those at the lowest end of the ranking, driven by vehophobia, that are like a sea of frickin’ air horns bringing on road rage. This atmosphere originates from the mental models, mindscapes, mindshare, and behaviors of those driving recklessly behind the wheel – whether leadership, rank-and-file managers, or HR. The Rank and Yank system trades long-term investment in labor for new car shopping, buying talent instead of developing it, in exchange for higher profits.

Blind Spots 

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Data is becoming the map for performance management road trips.  Data in this scenario is captured as insights. Bhattacharyya and others contend that merging onto the highway of technological solutions that track performance and contributions of employees on a regular basis reduces your blind spots. 

“Objects in the mirror are closer than they appear.” 

Employees don’t align, neatly and comfortably with hegemony – continuous performance measuring tools being used to measure zero-sum, win-or-loose performance. Neither should employees fit comfortably within political correctness, be tick-the-right-boxers, or plug-and-players.

Employees don’t perform on command, nor respond well, to punishment when they don’t. When they do, they don’t keep doing so for very long, without developing an exit strategy. Neither are they driven by quantitative or qualitative information about their performance that is delivered every once in a while.

Bhattacharyya claims there’s less risk of bias and predisposition of compromising on critical engagement levels with these tracking solutions. Employees can rely on this data being more credible and free from manager bias because data collection occurs in real time from current events. Managers no longer need to strain to recall the details about employees; they’re evaluating constantly.

Such tools being used to measure employee performance and contributions, automate the overall approach and processes of performance management. Managers using this data become empowered to conduct more meaningful coaching dialogues as a part of appraisals with their team members.

But we must remember that “obsession with the wizardry of data and technique often blinds not illuminates and becomes a form of addiction that turns professionals into data-junkies and their information into data junkyards.”
— Edwin H. Friedman

The decreed invincible role of data going into performance management serves, more often than not, as an enabler and force multiplier, preserving the authority and power advantage that leadership and HR can have over employees. 

Blind spots caused by the minutia of data can create views presumed to be real, and not necessarily of what is real.

Addressing Road Rage: Maps, Directions, and Guides

The purpose of performance management is to inspire and improve behind the wheel while knowing you have AAA as backup and support.

So how do you get through the bullshit and address the road rage?

Photo by Mark Cruz on Unsplash

Consider these thoughts around your current program:

  • Does the leadership, including HR and your supervisor, expect of themselves the improvement in efficiency and effectiveness they expect of you? Are their appraisals transparent and congruent? Are they tracking performance and contributions utilizing the technology solutions being used throughout the company?
  • Is leadership willing to go deeper in discovering the bandwidth of insights that exist on performance management?
  • Is leadership aligned in wanting the performance process to become an authentic, continuous, and transparent process?
  • Has the elephant in the room been addressed or is there a sense of polite fiction when handling performance appraisals?
  • What are the ways forward, the calls to action, the next steps?
  • Does your boss, HR, senior leadership all talk the walk and walk the talk?

If so, then you can evaluate:

  • Are your approaches, processes, programs including systems authentically value-added? For whom? How?
  • Value-added, to what?
  • Do these approaches, processes, programs not only inspire but also safeguard employees so they have the courage to ask questions, to perform in ways that authentically matter? This can be quantified in traditional methods.
  • How do you know the business math (technological solutions, real-time tools, and mobile apps) you’re using to make a conclusion about someone’s performance… is correct?
  • How do you know your calculus (the study of continuous change), geometry (the study of shape), and algebra (the study of generalizations) for performance management are correct?
  • How do you know when they’re not?

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Maybe shift gears:

  • Do you and your co-workers have the ability to track the progress of your boss, HR, and senior leadership, on achieving their performance objectives and contributions to your company? 
  • What solutions are you using real time?
  • How often are you evaluating your boss, HR, and senior leadership?
  • How often are you using this data, to collect more meaningful coaching dialogues with your boss, HR, and senior leadership at your company?

Everyone has a choice
as to how they will approach performance management – whether the employee or leader. It’s a choice to tailgate, speed, cross lanes, ignore blind spots, and to be bad drivers. What decision will you make before turning into Mr. Hyde…

“My knuckles are white and my face is bright red; Road Rage;
Doing 65 on a suped-up moped; Road Rage;
Is that you that gave me the finger? Road Rage;
How come you won’t turn off your blinker?” 

Road Rage lyrics. GET IN THE CAR! —By Jimmy Fallon