Where do most leaders fail in performance reviews?

Leaders should not avoid having the “last 8 per cent conversation” if they are to successfully improve individual and team performance and boost productivity

Leaders should not avoid having the “last 8 per cent conversation” if they are to successfully improve individual and team performance and boost productivity, according to an expert in performance under pressure.

When leaders face difficult conversations, feedback conversations or performance reviews, most cover 85, 90 or 92 per cent of the content of what they want to say in the conversation, said JP Pawliw-Fry, cofounder of the Institute for Health and Human Potential in the US and New York Times best-selling author.

“But a funny thing happens when they get to the more difficult part of the conversation, what we call the last 8 per cent,” he said.

“When they hit this part of the conversation – where there are consequences to what they are saying – they start to notice that the other person is becoming more anxious and (because emotions are infectious) they themselves become more anxious.

“What often happens next is the other person pushes back a bit and questions the leader, and the leader starts to question themselves about whether they have their facts straight,” said Pawliw-Fry, who recently spoke at the Sunsuper Game Changers event on performance under pressure in Sydney.

It is at this stage when many leaders, out of anxiety, avoid the “last 8 per cent” of the conversation and never tell the other person the entire feedback they have for them.

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it took place”

“The conversation ends and both individuals leave thinking they had the full conversation. Of course, they never did,” he said.

“Yet neither fully comprehends it. First, the person on the receiving end can’t read the leaders mind and so walks away thinking they had the full conversation.

The leader thinks they talked about most of what they wanted to talk about and deludes themselves into thinking they had the full conversation.”

Pawliw-Fry said the problem usually rears its head a month or two later when the direct report is still doing what the leader thought he or she suggested they should stop doing, and the leader becomes frustrated.

“The direct report is confused and doesn’t understand why their leader is acting so passive aggressively: ‘didn’t the performance review go well?’ they wonder. The problem is that they never had the last 8 per cent conversation,” said Pawliw-Fry, who has authored Three Conversations of Leadership.

George Bernard Shaw said the single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it took place, according to Pawliw-Fry, who said have the more difficult parts of conversations is a learnable skill, with a little courage and structure.

“The question is, how will we sustain the learning?”

HR has an important role to play in the process, according to Pawliw-Fry, and he said HR needs to do more than run a workshop, tick a box and move on.

“The question is, how will we sustain the learning? How can we imbed the learning into the organisation?” he said.

“World class organisations are committed to sustainment, for example coaching … more than a ‘spray and pray’ approach.

“By supporting the learning we offer with a strategic sustainment offering, we can embed the learning and positive behavioural change will follow.”

Pawliw-Fry said there is a significant demographic shift coming, which will put more power in the hands of the most talented employees, because they will be so scarce.

“Organisations will need to change the way they retain and engage their employees,” he said. “A good example is Google, which has identified talent as the be all and end all of their business.

“It’s less about technology, and more about finding and retaining the best people. This is where competitive advantage comes from.”

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