Can performance reviews be painless?
Your heart beats a little irregularly. You start to sweat. You feel a bit sick to your stomach. You tap your feet or shake your legs to get rid of some of the excess nervous energy you feel. You even feel a little angry because you anticipate something bad is going to happen. No, you are not waiting a diagnosis from your doctor; you are waiting to have your performance review meeting with your boss.
That brief scenario describes how many people feel when it is that time of the year. It is no wonder that many companies around the world are changing their model of the outdated annual performance review to setting performance goals and ongoing feedback conversations to assess, monitor, and discuss the goals set. Often considered biased and subjective, another challenge of the traditional performance review system is the disconnect between the reviewer and the employee’s perception of his or her performance. In other words, each has a different idea of the employee’s performance and this gap can be the cause for much frustration, anger, and disappointment. How can this gap be closed?
1. Review the performance review system in your organization. What is the current system of measuring performance in your organization? What is the philosophy behind it – is it tied to bonuses and compensation or tied to career development and career goals? How is the culture around it? Do employees hate it? Do managers dread it? Are managers prepared to facilitate this process effectively? These are a few of the questions that should be asked and the biggest one of all is: should the current system be changed? The performance management system is a very important part of the talent management of any company and the tone that it sets can determine how well employees perform, even the key players.
2. Establish clear expectations for performance. The best way to get rid of misunderstandings about performance is to talk about it. When expectations are not clearly defined on both sides, coupled with little to no honest communication, the review system will fail. Managers must get comfortable with setting the parameters around which work happens: goals, standards, process and the like. Employees are equally as responsible to share their own expectations: growth, development, and advancement. I find that all too often employees expect managers to be mind readers and know when they need help, training, or want a promotion.
3. Set achievable and measurable goals. Goal setting isn’t the easiest thing, especially when they need to be measured let alone communicated. Many people like to use the SMART goal method, the acronym that stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time Bound. This means that the more specific a goal is, the better it can be measured. Goals should be within someone’s reach to accomplish while being a bit challenging as well. Finally, goals should have a deadline. Can deadlines be changed? Absolutely! But if there is no deadline, it may never get done. An example of a SMART goal: I will increase attendance in customer service training class sessions per week by 20% in the month of April.
4. Communicate regularly. Yet another downfall of the traditional performance review process is that performance feedback conversations only happen once per year. How can someone get direction about their performance if they don’t know how they are doing? How can they get a fair opportunity to fix it in a reasonable period of time? How do people know what goals they are expected to achieve if they just find out about it at the end of the year? Communication is key to any human interaction; it really isn’t just a cliché. The conversations don’t have to be painful if they are planned, precise, and focused on growth and solutions.
5. Be open to feedback – on both sides. When feedback is not delivered effectively and even harshly, it is not well received and defeats the purpose of the exercise in the first place. People like to call it constructive criticism but the word criticism already has a negative connotation and feel. Feedback should be specific and provide solutions to improve. Don’t tell me I need to improve my attitude or even that I’m doing well, I have nothing to worry about. That tells me nothing. Here is a better reframe: “When customers enter the room, they would feel more welcome if you look up from your computer, give eye contact and acknowledge their presence with a smile. After observing you over the past week, I noticed that you waited until the customer got to the counter before you greeted them.” That’s more specific and provides an alternative action. Feedback shouldn’t be one-sided either. Managers should invite their employees to rate them as well; at the very least, ask them what they could do more and less of to better lead their employee. It takes great humility to have that type of conversation with team members but fosters greater mutual respect and improved performance by both manager and team.
Feedback is a wonderful thing – when it can be given and received effectively. It is really important for companies to train managers on how to conduct great performance review conversations, how to rate employees, and how to set performance goals, in addition to how to train and coach employees along the way. Employees can also be trained on the value of setting performance goals and having an achievement mindset, understanding not only the reason they work, but how that connects to the overall vision and strategy of the company.
• Simmone L. Bowe, MSc, SPHRi, is a seasoned human resource and organization development consultant & trainer, speaker, author, personal development coach, mentor, and activist who focuses on helping business owners, leaders and professionals ‘live limitless’ by identifying purpose & vision, aligning to purpose through authenticity, and breaking free of limiting mindsets and practices. For comments, queries, strategic solutions, and bookings, email firstname.lastname@example.org.