The do’s and do not’s of performance reviews

performance review

Even when it feels easier to step away and avoid a tough conversation, you must tell people what they need to hear and not what you think they want to hear. This only creates more friction when you raise the unraised issues in order to justify a review outcome long after it ever occurred. This will erode any level of trust built immediately, writes Mark LeBusque

‘It only takes two poorly managed days in the year (performance review time) to destroy the motivation we have created over the other three hundred and sixty-three’

‘I can’t wait for my next performance review’, said no-one ever…

In a survey conducted jointly by the SHRM and Personnel Decisions International, 32 per cent of HR professionals surveyed indicated that they were “unsatisfied” or “very unsatisfied” with their organizations’ performance management systems. Even those in charge of the process show a high degree of dissatisfaction for the process!

Have you just had your half-year or full-year review?

What is it about the process that brings so many bad memories for humans?

Is it because they are the work equivalent of the school report system and parent-teacher interview? Only this time we don’t have our parent(s) with us for support or for a good old-fashioned lecture.

Do you remember your very first school or parent-teacher interview?

I can.

It still sits with me some forty-six years later. I was in Grade 2 and seven years old when my teacher told my mum in front of me that “Mark did well but could do better in everything he does…” Can anyone else relate to this experience? What does that even mean?

The ride home that evening was a lecture on trying harder and not being lazy.

How can you as a manager make this process less like a bad memory of a distant report card and more of a moment of development and reflection on a year of effort?

Here’s my 3 tips on the Manager Do’s and Do Not’s that will be helpful in creating a better experience for both the manager and the employee:

The Do’s

It makes sense to make sense
Humans are sense makers, we thrive on understanding and making meaning of things. It’s no different for the performance review. A smart manager will talk about the ‘why’ this is being done, ‘how’ the process works and ‘what’ the expectations are to keep checking progress in along the way. Don’t assume or think of the process as something that happens after the work is done. This is part of the work.  

Could it be that the process is dehumanising and demotivating the very people who we rely on to spend some discretionary effort? Think about this before the next review session.

Have regular formal conversations
Schedule these formally at least monthly during the year. This is so important to ensure that as a manager you have a catalogue of evidence from both a technical delivery and behavioural aspect of your employee’s progress at half and full year. It also means you won’t be running around in a panic at the last minute and miss some important data to represent the actual versus perceived performance.

Always be timely and honest with feedback
Even when it feels easier to step away and avoid a tough conversation, you must tell people what they need to hear and not what you think they want to hear. This only creates more friction when you raise the unraised issues in order to justify a review outcome long after it ever occurred. This will erode any level of trust built immediately.

The Do Nots

Surprise people by digging up issues from the past
All managers should have a “no surprises” policy, usually in the form of weekly or fortnightly conversations which review both performance metrics and behavioural observations. Bringing something up from three months ago to justify a rating will only infuriate a team member and show you’re a conflict avoider and not to be trusted. Surprises end up damaging the trust contract and have long-term implications on personal and work relationships.

Patronise by saying ‘three (3) is still a good score’
If it’s not a five (5), then most humans will be very disappointed, so don’t roll this one out post-review. We all believe we are doing an amazing job and if you haven’t regularly been having conversations outlining some areas for improvement throughout the year, this will fall on deaf ears. It’s a sign of a desperate manager who has nothing more to say, kind of like the last very bad excuse you can come up with.

A smart manager will talk about the ‘why’ this is being done, ‘how’ the process works and ‘what’ the expectations are to keep checking progress in along the way.

Blame it on the process
Never roll out the old chestnut when everything else has turned sour and you feel like you’ve dug yourself into a huge hole. Hiding behind the robotic process will only show how weak you are when things get a little heated. You can make the process better, and before dropping this on the table, think about the long-term stench it will leave on your relationship with those in your care. You are only protecting yourself here.

Perhaps there’s a message in this?

Could it be that the process is dehumanising and demotivating the very people who we rely on to spend some discretionary effort? Think about this before the next review session. Two days in the year handled poorly shouldn’t destroy the good work of the other three hundred and sixty-three.

Perhaps you should throw the old manuscript out and create a more human one. Something that truly recognises humans and how they influence business performance and metrics.

More care and less compliance.

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