Performance reviews are tricky business… you know the type.. “do I cut the green wire or the red wire?” kind of stuff. It’s easy to get it wrong and maybe easier to have it blow up in your face. But when leaders realize the impact these meetings have, they can put in effort year round to ensure a successful delivery.
I won’t focus on the performance reviews where you got more than you expected. Because let’s face it, we don’t usually pick apart a review unless we’re unhappy with the outcome itself. we didn’t get the rating we thought we would, the bonus or raise wasn’t what we had hoped for, or now we have to build a personal performance plan to improve over the next 6 months.
When a leader has to deliver any of these messages through a poor review it can be like attempting to defuse a bomb, or perform a risky surgery (neither of which I know anything about). There’s a small margin for success and if you haven’t done the work leading up to the delivery, a negative outcome will likely drive that employee further away acceptable performance or even worse they could turn negative and start to distract your team.
If you’re the boss, here’s some rules for getting it done right. (performance reviews, not defusing bombs or risky surgery)
1) Don’t let the performance review be the first time you’re talking about performance.
You’ll have a hard time successfully delivering an underperforming review if you aren’t familiar with and using the language of the review in your everyday coaching. For the uninvolved, coasting, self centered leader, this formal review is the only time they’ll be providing any sense of direct feedback. If the day to day coaching, communication and accountability are absent outside of the two times a year you delivery reviews, then the ONLY option for a successful reception of a review is for it to hold stellar marks.
2) Be prepared with specific examples
In addition to socializing the language and meaning of the evaluation criteria consistently across your team, strong leaders will be making notes in the form of follow up to support performance ratings throughout the performance period. This ensures there is a record of communication and awareness of strengths and opportunities and lends to much less debate on delivery day. Of course these notes should be discussed with the employee (so they can improve/continue the behavior) and should include positive feedback as well as constructive criticisms.
3) Get serious about your team’s performance
Performance reviews are huge for the individuals on your team. Their performance as a whole is a direct reflection of your leadership. Individual performance evaluations should be top of mind year round as you work with, communicate to, and support your team. Be realistic about how well you have provided tools for success. If you truly don’t want your people to be surprised on delivery day, then don’t surprise them with new information. You’re a team, and teams communicate and work together. Even if you are the boss.
If you are consistent in these areas, you won’t be telling your employee anything they haven’t already heard and they’ll likely be in a better place to move forward.
If you’re the one being reviewed, it’s your job to make sure the right wires get cut too. Here’s some tips to make it easier on you:
1) Gain alignment long before your review is delivered
You own as much of the process as your boss. He/She only documents it and (hopefully) provides coaching. As soon as you are collecting a check it would behoove you to get on the same page as your boss. Make sure you understand the objectives and criteria within the review. More importantly get very clear on the way your boss defines them and expects to see them executed. If you think “collaboration” means ‘working with peers when asked’ and your boss thinks it means ‘actively seeking opportunities to partner with others’… Someone is going to be surprised on delivery day, and it will likely be you.
2) Be prepared with specific examples
Just like your boss, you should be keeping track of examples that match the criteria. If you have alignment, then you’ll know if across time you demonstrated an attribute or ability more often than not. Armed with alignment and examples you are better prepared to accurately assess yourself and openly discuss any discrepancies in your evaluation.
3) Don’t take it personally…er, take it personally.
A performance review isn’t an evaluation of you as a human being. It’s not a measurement of your worth. It’s an evaluation of how your performance (what you did) measures up against the expectations of (what they want you to do) your position. At the same time, look at it as an opportunity to learn and grow, don’t just skip to the final rating and react. What elements of the review are accurate? How can you improve? What are the benefits of getting even better in certain areas?
Finally, nobody does anything perfect all the time. I’d be as cautious about a leader who gives me straight A’s as I would about a leader who has blindsided me with new information or a poor review.
No matter where you are in your career, reviews will come and go. But when the reviews are said and done, ask yourself Will I grow more thinking “I have more to work on, or nothing left to learn?”
Greer Method Complete Coaching provides one on one coaching for executives and business owners. Through expert coaches, habit locking technology, and proven processes we help leaders create, manage, and sustain personal and professional performance.
Jared J. Greer is the founder of Greer Method Complete Coaching. He is an executive coach, 6-time Ironman finisher, marathoner, ultra-marathoner, husband, and father of four.