Performance Reviews…You’re Doing it Wrong

I grew up as a leader in corporate America in companies married to the Annual Performance Review, which is basically a bullshit exercise the way most companies do it. Chances are you’ve experienced a performance review like this at some point in your career. It goes something like this:

Step 1 – Have employees self-rate, using a totally subjective scale.

Great employees are harder on themselves and terrible ones think they are amazing.   Men tend to boast and women tend to undervalue their contributions.

Step 2 – Now Managers, your turn!  Put your ratings for each employee, again using the totally subjective scale.

Oh, and I love the companies that tell you, “you cannot give everyone a 5 on your team”.  So if your team are rockstars and someone else’s team are rocks, you will likely have people end up with the same rating who are not even close when it comes to their performance and value to the company.

Step 3 – You and the employee fill out an individual development plan

Usually, the employees say what they want to be when they grow up in the company, and the manager agrees or disagrees. None of this is based upon any objective, scientific evidence regarding whether they SHOULD do that or not…

Step 4 – Submit. File. Done.

Check that off the ‘ole to-do list. Then wait until next year when HR tells you it’s time for the dreaded Annual Reviews.

You are doing it wrong!  You are missing the point!

There is nothing about this check the box, once a year approach that provides meaningful, actionable feedback to employees.  I would suggest we stop with the performance evaluation, and switch to performance elevation!

What is performance elevation? 

Performance elevation moves from the past to the future.   It moves from feedback to feedforward.  It gives employees real-time feedback with actionable tips to grow and improve!

So how do we do this well?

  1. First of all, you cannot accomplish feedback without mutual trust.  The employee must trust that you have their best intentions at heart.  Without trust, all of this falls apart!
  2. Get your minds right.   It is helpful to make a verbal cue that we are both going to go into a growth mindset during this performance review conversation!
  3. Address observable behaviors immediately (or as soon as possible) after you witness them.  Make sure you are addressing behaviors you have witnessed, not just hearsay, and talk about behaviors not personality traits.   For example, instead of saying, “You are too bossy” point out an example by which the employee failed to ask someone to do something in the most influential way.
  4. Keep it short and sweet. No one wants to be part of a never-ending performance review discussion. Instead, get right to the point.
  5. Establish why you are addressing this issue, with focus on growth and betterment of the employee.
  6. Clarify what is at stake if the behavior doesn’t change.
  7. Identify your contribution to the behavior.  This is not you taking full accountability or giving the employee a get out of jail free card, it is simply identifying how you may have enabled this behavior or contributed to it manifesting.
  8. Invite the employee to respond.   Here is where you keep your mouth shut.
  9. Create an action plan together.

And last, but not least! Always think about your employee’s personality, which will influence how your feedback lands on them during reviews.   I always say the magic is in the delivery!

Our personalities drive how we give and receive feedback, how sensitive we are to criticism, how we approach an action plan to change and what the “win” is in changing.

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