So this was a month spent focused on feedback.  I’ve saved the last post for the topic that I cringe with even more than anonymous feedback…performance reviews.  I said anonymous feedback was EVIL.  I will follow it with saying performance reviews are BEYOND EVIL.

This is what I often hear as some of the primary reasons for performance reviews:

    • Want to ensure people are being measured against the right goal
    • Want to ensure employees know where their performance is at
    • Want to align rewards based on performance
    • Want to ensure managers are doing their jobs

So let’s break down how performance reviews can actually do the opposite:

Want to ensure people are being measured against the right goals

    • Have you ever seen goals like “read a book”?  I have.  They get to the end of the year, get to check mark that they read a book…so they performed, right?  Why a person wanted to read the book is way more important.  What do they hope to gain from reading that book?  What did they do after reading the book?  Anyone can game a system of setting goals.
    • Have you ever seen where all the goals are given to a person?  Not much ownership can happen there when someone else sets your goals.  Now I’m all for team goals but we are talking about taking team goals and then individually assessing people…either the team accomplished the goal or not.

Want to ensure employees know where their performance is at

    • If you are saving your feedback to give to an employee at the year end performance review, shame on you.  Feedback is not meant to be saved and unleashed all at once.  Feedback is best delivered near the moment that required the feedback.  If this is the only time employees get feedback, than you shouldn’t be a manager.
    • I don’t know about you but I can’t process too much information at once.  I’ve been the victim of the long checklist of values, abilities, skills, etc…where a manager gave a comment for each topic across 5 pages.  I stopped being able to process after the first half page.  Plus, I can’t work on everything at once either.
    • The problem with making a yearly or bi-yearly performance review is the weight of the feedback at that point.  What could be a small request, feels like a brick when written formally out on a long checklist of items.
    • Which question do these systems really try to answer?  Does your employee really not know their performance?  Or do they really not know what you (company) value their performance?  If too much focus is on the latter, we have missed an opportunity for our employees to own their performance.

Want to align rewards based on performance

    • Please take the time to learn from Daniel Pink’s Drive
    • So this often results in the “ratings”.  I’ve seen different variations:  wording such as meets vs exceeds to 1-5 scales.  Sure at a high level that 4 might be dead on, but just like conference speaker ratings, what is that really telling a person?  Does this help them grow?  Does this really recognize/reward them?  No.  You labeled them with a number or word.
    • The moment that this really became clear for me was once I had someone give themselves a rating and then I gave a rating.  They gave themselves a 4.  I gave them a 4.  They walked away disappointed.  Turns out they really didn’t do the reflection necessary to OWN that 4.  They put a number down that didn’t sound bad and waited to hear what my number was.  I had ownership of their performance.  This is not what you want!
    • Plus now that we have associated feedback to money, do people really want to reflect and be honest?  You know the qualities that lead to performance.  How is that helpful?
    • Let’s also get real… for many companies, the difference between a 4 and 5 in terms of bonus and/or increase is small.  Is all of this worth it?

Want to ensure managers are doing their jobs

    • I’ve already talked about frequency of feedback.  Instead, I’m going to focus in on that big word…calibration.  You know the exercise where managers are told to fit people along the bell curve.  Guess what….if you force the bell curve, it’s not actually adhering to the theory.  Now the argument is that this prevents managers from just being nice.  Ok, can’t you give feedback to them?  Why create something that sends all sorts of bad ripples into the workplace?  I’m sorry, I couldn’t give you a 5…I’m only allowed to select one person and you didn’t beat them out.  Don’t pretend you haven’t heard this delivery!
    • Ratings and reviews are SUBJECTIVE.  There is no way around that.  The more we try, the worse the impacts are for people.

So what can you do as a leader especially in companies where getting rid of performance reviews is not an option:

    • Give feedback regularly.  Think of the performance review as a way to summarize the feedback over the past 6-12 months.
    • I am partial to the glow/grow approach to the feedback in the performance review.  What’s the 2-3 top things I want to appreciate for this cycle?  What’s the 1-2 things I want to challenge you on for this cycle?
    • Clearly communicate what areas you are considering when providing feedback.  For example, mine are:  Mastery in their discipline (are they doing their jobs well), Personal Growth (are they challenging themselves out of their comfort zone), Change Agent (are they helping others/company/etc to grow), values, and company/team goals.  What each person might do is different but the topics are consistent from person to person.
    • Spend most of your time on discussing their self-reflection.  The why…the ah-ha moments that a person experiences.  This is where pivotal moments can occur for someone’s growth.   This is where true ownership of what they need to do to increase performance takes place.  In fact, hold this as a separate meeting if it helps.
    • Ratings…if at all possible, don’t give them one.  Let them rate themselves and duplicate the rating.  This won’t always be possible and I give the disclaimer “that if I have a specific reason to adjust, then I will”.  But I’ve experienced the power of letting someone own getting to the 5 for themselves vs having someone tell them they were a 5.  I’ve experienced the power of observing someone own that they were a 3 and this is what they want to do to improve.  In only a few cases, have I had to adjust and even then I wonder if the adjustment effect was worth taking away ownership.  I’m still experimenting and learning on this.  More to come later 🙂

In my perfect workplace, all the reasons for performance reviews are being addressed in a more productive way.  In my perfect workplace, the time spent on performance reviews would be leveraged in other ways.  In my perfect workplace, people own their performance.

In your experience as a leader, have performance reviews helped or hurt the workplace?  

Tricia Broderick

Tricia Broderick

Tricia Broderick is a leadership and organizational advisor. Her transformational leadership at all levels of an organization, ignites growth of leaders and high performing teams to deliver quality outcomes. Tricia has more than twenty years of experience in the software development industry. She is a highly-rated trainer, coach, facilitator and motivational keynote speaker. Beyond her extensive knowledge and skills, her biggest offering is inspiring people to believe anything is possible.

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