For the individual employee, performance review time is a rich opportunity to gain fresh intel on how your career is going. To hear the behind the scenes observations and opinions your leaders and other stakeholders have about you is invaluable.
For the evaluating leader, performance review time is a chance to deepen and anchor the precious relationships you have with the people entrusted to you. Or, it’s a chance to do silent damage to your connection and credibility with your team if you fall into the common mistakes and missteps leaders are prone to make at performance review time.
Follow these tips to be sure your performance discussions are all gain and no loss.
- Show up.
No matter their location, level, or strength of their performance, always have the meeting to show them the respect of your time and attention.
Never shortcut by postponing until it gets forgotten, or by sending them the completed performance paperwork thinking that it replaces a live conversation. This surprisingly common mistake falls under the category of “congrats you’re my star… and now I’ll neglect you”.
It’s baffling how many great leaders work hard to create a thoughtful career conversation for their people during review time and get no feedback of value for their own career from their bosses.
- See the person, not just the work.
Often, after they’ve had their review, I’ll hear about how the person’s work contributions, and met or unmet goals, were discussed in detail, but without any commentary on their personal skills, strengths, attitude, reputation, or relationships. This creates an anonymous feeling, as if the human being doing the work is secondary to the work itself. This disembodies their successes and struggles, leaving them with a lot of information, but little personal insight into the value they bring for who they are and how they did what they did.
Translate your observations about their work into the skills, behaviors, impact, and attitudes that person uniquely brings that made all the work possible. That individual should leave the discussion with you able to say precisely how you see them and what you appreciate about them individually. And how they can challenge themselves to stretch into becoming even more.
- Talk to them about their relationships, the working partnerships they have developed (or not) that act as the tracks and channels in which the work is made possible.
Relationships are often overlooked and unspoken as a performance necessity when leaders talk about priorities to their teams. Rather, the emphasis is put on meeting the objectives and deliverables. Yet without high-functioning relationships there will be much activity with little progress to show for it. Put the focus on the means, not just the end. Leaders who make relationships a clearly expressed priority to their people see cross-functional magic take place and avoid many collaborative barriers.
Highlight what they’ve done to forge those partnerships, because highly productive work relationships take a great deal of effort, patience, and intention. Also point out where relationship opportunities were missed or mishandled. Set growth goals together based on relationship building. Challenge them to proactively develop specific connections that will be the bedrock for all the goals they need to achieve.
- Make your message simple and memorable.
Avoid long-winded narratives and convoluted sandwiching of the good and not so good. Your job as a leader is to make it as simple and straightforward as possible for others to be successful. If you can’t fit the core message you want them to walk away with on a 3×5 card, then the experience will accomplish little more than a generalized sense of “It was good…”, “It was bad…”, or “I have no idea where I really stand”.
To prepare, ask yourself – when this person goes home today and their significant other asks how their performance review went, what do I want them to say? Now, walk that back to your 3×5 card and prepare accordingly.
In fact, you can show your thoughtfulness and write down on a 3×5 card their top “keep shining” strengths you want them to keep doing, and a few challenge areas to “keep growing”. Give them the card as a takeaway to wrap your meeting with clarity, care, and healthy challenge.
- Leave room for dreaming.
Ask about the person’s broader desires, career questions, and their look-ahead 5-year goals. Become an investor in their future, not just an evaluator of their present. Connect them with new projects and people that will angle them towards those dreams. Offer them your enthusiasm and support for their untapped potential. This’ll also help you avoid the “what have you done for me lately” experience that many people associate with the obligatory performance review.
- When discussing negatives or critical areas, ask for their subjective perspective on the issue to be sure you have the inside view.
To help someone see the problem as you see it, you first need to show willingness to see it as they do.
From their standpoint, you’ll glean greater understanding of the layers and dimensions of the issue so you can provide more accurate coaching and co-solving advice. You’ll also have greater influence from the trust given to you by being willing to hear their viewpoint. You can be more effective in convincing them of needed changes. People who feel heard are willing to hear.
- Don’t forget to thank them!
Yes, just for doing their job. Even those who struggle are making efforts. Tell them how their contributions have impacted your own success, and for others around them. Make your appreciation, and your criticism meaningful not general. What would you and the company lose if this person was gone tomorrow?
Shake off the dusty old routines that make the annual review a painfully hollow process. Disrupt your usual format to turn a process into an opportunity – a career conversation, a celebration of the person, and a self-discovery gift that can change them for the better.
Ultimately, leadership is about making a difference from day-to-day by changing people’s lives for the better. Let that be a guiding performance measurement for yourself this year and beyond.
Lead Strong, Serve Well!