Performance reviews survival kit for managers

Posted on Posted in leadership, Uncategorized

…or maybe you don’t want to play Santa?

It’s that time of the year again, hurray!! Templates, databases, hours piled up in meetings & calibrations…what can a manager ask for more at the beginning of the year? Especially that we’re normally not just talking performance but getting drawn into the “performance = salary increase” (or bonus) game.

True, since the immortal WS Scott and his rudimentar approach to appraise performance during the 1st World War, lots of things changed…but the truth remains that nearly all organisations talk about performance while somehow linking it with financial rewards. Which puts you, as a manager, in the situation of having to either assess performance objectively, using agreed-upon indicators and grades (and good luck with circumventing inherently human biases – you’d have to literally “forget” any possible impact on people’s/company’s money, training programs or PDPs for the colleagues that might have grown to be your pals) or pretend to play the game and do the best you can to mitigate all these aspects according with your own conscience & values system.

Hopefully the 5 ideas below would prove handy to play the game as closely as possible to the rules of the art rather than the current system or last year’s reality:

  1. People expect an authentic effort from you to help them understand how the organisation perceives their value…which translates to taking a bit of time to figure out what exactly the added value of your colleague’s work si where (if the case) he is failing in his role (at least according to your expectations). Normally this means some 10-30 minutes prep time for each performance appraisal conversation, depending on how updated your performance journal is and how well you understand your colleague’s personal and organisational context. Shall we call this “bad news number 1” (as your maximum 1 hour meeting just got bumped up to 1 hour+prep time)…or a minimum sign of respect for your colleague’s one year’s work?
  2. (valuable) feedback for improvement …basically “bad news number 2”, due to the fact that the majority of employees state that this is what they need, which pushes managers to into the uncomfortable duty of  witnessing inherent negative emotions that occur whenever one receives feedback about things that are not necessarily working fine in your actions. It takes a bit of technique to successfully refrain from using the classical recipe of avoiding the disconfort, taking refuge in praise…and techniques are only learned through trial and error, by managers who hand in there, witnessing those emotions over and over again, until they’ve surpassed their own fear of rejection in order to become genuinely instrumental as people development agent. This is a matter of mindset. And my favorite recipe for an adequate feedback mindset is Radical Candor.
  3. Clear expectations for the next period of time  – for as long as you have not spent time agreeing with your colleague what & how he needs to work (and how his success will be measured), the next time you get into a performance appraisal the message you’re sending is “let’s get together and I”ll share some random stuff with you”. Seems so basic, right? Yet only 13% of world-wide staff feels their managers help them clarify priorities – and truth be told, not even managers have the desired clarity in organisations that fail to set up their system “by the book”. So the easiest trick would out of this vicious circle, regardless of your context, is to simply ask your colleague! Chances are he kind of knows what his priorities should be (except if you are in a routine type of environment such as production line, but again that should not raise any clarity issues to yourself, as a manager).  Whatever you do, just pop the question, validate at least one (optimul 3?) priorities and monitor the outcome 🙂
  4. Help him understand his context and direction – surely you must be familiar with Simon Sinek’s  “Start With the Why” approach and have figured out by now that work motivation stems out of identification with a purpose. So unless you’ve been specifically forbiden to share company strategy and/or strategic plans with your colleague, chances are you’ll achive much better results if you clearly outline what those strategic things mean to his work…and even if you have not yet managed to achieve desired clarity, your best guess will lead to a better result than confusion or wrong direction (which are the only alternatives, as human mind cannot bear confusion, taking refuge in any scenario available, which might not adequately overlap with your desired behaviours & actions!). What you get is a partner, pulling the weight in the same direction with you.
  5. Set course for the future – easily done if  whenever you talk about a past fact you ouline it’s implications for the future. The more coaching “feedforward“, the better: “This worked out wonderfully! Here’s how you could use the momentum..” / “This did not go so well…a potential alternative approach for the next month might be…”.  We’re also talking about the person’s future – what type of role/skill set/relationships does s/he aim for? And how can you (personally and as his direct manager) support his aims?