As a leader, are you leaving leadership performance management to chance, or are you pro-actively driving it? Are your performance reviews a chore, or do you relish the growth they can motivate for your subordinates, for your team, for you and for your organization?
If I were to ask your staff this question, what might they say about your leadership?
Are You Leading?
Last post we talked about the staff member preparing for the (annual) performance review. Given the volume of my clients that are leaders, this time I’d like to focus on the managers or leader’s role in that process, however this should nonetheless be useful also to the “hungry” staff member in that understanding this leadership perspective might certainly add to their preparation.
Shouldn’t Performance Reviews Be Ongoing, Rather Than Annual?
One often hears about the “annual” performance review. Why? Probably because the professional performance management systems most large corporate s use stipulate that there needs to be at least one formal review of staff performance each year in order to comply with certain quality standards.
I always used to smile when a few weeks before the annual HR set deadline when all reviews had to be completed, one saw boss and subordinate coffee meetings happening all around, as they all made a mad dash to meet the deadline. Everyone was stressed. It was always a rush. I often wondered how effective these reviews were. In fact, that probably fuelled my view of how much of a farce they had often become. How do I know that? Because I too was one of those stressed and rushed managers at one time in my career.
My recommendation is now always that both parties ensure multiple such progress review discussions during the year. Those employees that have a “fetch” attitude that have taken control of their career will be the ones that insist this happens and don’t let the boss get away with anything less. I believe it’s their call. And if you’re a leader, please be “big enough” to see the merits of this pro-active approach.
We Are Feeling Beings
As a leader of people I find it important that we keep reminding ourselves that we are dealing with individual people of different professional, cultural and personal backgrounds. People, who like you and me, have feelings and expectations. They want to be respected. They want to be valued. They want to be taken seriously. Above all they want a fair go and want to be treated fairly. Consistently and with consistency. They want to learn and grow. Some will fetch more than others. Not everyone has to be ambitious. Most want to grow and excel at what they do and deliver great outcomes; to be proud of having made a contribution. Don’t you?
The “10 Commandments” of a Good Performance Review
Running a good performance review is not hard, even if it has to deal with poor performance. What’s required is an open mind, an open attitude to the conversation, a fair and just approach and a consistency of standards. A Positive, Pro-active and Responsible attitude creates a great environment for both parties to learn from the process and the outcomes achieved from these conversations.
Of course the organizational culture of being a “learning organization” that empowers “having a go” will see completely different review processes than where “punishment” and “micro-management” are the rule of the day.
Outlined below are the factors I found helped me achieve many of these above attributes:
- Be Genuinely Engaged
You are genuinely interested in who your people are, what they do, what their strengths and weaknesses are so that you can harness their strengths and help them develop their weaknesses into strengths for their and the company’s benefit. Investing time here will come back to you, if you are genuinely interested in stretch and growth.
- Role and Outcome Focus
They know what their role is, what the expectations for that role are, where the dependencies and boundaries and constraints are and how they (and you) will know whether they are doing a good job. They feel their work is meaningful and contributing to the organization’s success.
- Know the Targets
They know what the company and your unit are shooting for and what part they are expected to play in achieving those targets. Remember that they will get you the results you need for you to shine. Be sure to give them context that they understand their role in achieving that and their “What’s In It For Me” if they do.They know any specific goals or objectives or targets and what criteria you (and they) will use to measure how and whether they have / haven’t been met or exceeded so that all parties know what a successful outcome will look like.
- Career Pathing
Your people can discuss, “fetch” and see a career path for them in this organization, first within your team and then beyond your team. The discussion is open and honest and deals realistically with inevitable constraints.
- My Door Is Always Open
You have developed a trust and respect for and with your staff so that they are willing to come and discuss “anything” with you because they know you are “fair dinkum” and will have their interests at heart without compromising yours or the companies.I liken an “open door policy” a little to dealing with adolescent children: “lecturing” doesn’t work, does it? However, when they come and ask, you had better be willing to make time and listen, right? Otherwise that “trust is blown” and they are potentially left with the feeling “he or she doesn’t really care anyway”.
- It’s Not Annual – It’s Ongoing
You don’t wait for the annual review discussion to discuss performance. It’s OK to meet and discuss it more often – perhaps quarterly and both sides giving an update on progress is part of Managing Expectations well ahead of the end of the year, when it might be too late to arrest or correct any shortcomings. Milestones create ideal opportunities to checkpoint performance. Poor performance certainly demands and deserves more frequent conversation and focus on progress etc but not at the expense of everyone else.
- Fair and Reasonable
You are fair and balanced and above all apply consistent standards in your assessment. You are sure to have evidence (anecdotal and facts) to support your observations. No performance can be “all good” or “all bad”. Start by emphasizing strong performance and results and move from there to address the weaknesses. Remember your diplomacy here. Honour and respect your people. There is no such thing as failure – only feedback. We all have to fail to succeed.
What is achieved if you “cut somebody to size” in a performance review? You might feel better but are they likely to try harder after that?
- Bring and Fetch
It is good to expect the person being reviewed to ask how they can “close the gap” between what was seen as weaknesses and your expectation of their performance. Watch for it. Remember “Are You a Fetch Person”? If that is not forthcoming, why not ask the question yourself and let them contribute?
- Recognize and Reward Good Performance
You recognize, praise and reward “good performance” (preferably as and when it has occurred) and counsel them (one on one – never publicly) when they under-perform or behave outside the cultural and behavioral norms you and your company have set.
- Deal With Poor Performance
You recognize and deal with poor performance quickly and effectively.
Please don’t ever shy away from dealing with such poor performance right away. The worst thing you can do as a leader is to let it drift and hope it will go away. It won’t. There are usually reasons for such poor performance and it is your responsibility to engage with the individual and help them figure them out, carefully, sensitively, diplomatically, but assertively. If you feel uncomfortable about it, I strongly recommend that you seek and engage the services of HR professionals to guide and assist you in that often difficult process.
Everyone is watching you and how you lead and manage. Why should they bust a gut if “Joe” doesn’t, and you let him or her get away with it?
Managing The Bell Curve
Often organizations have HR policies that impose a “bell curve” on overall performance review outcomes. That means that a given proportion of people will traditionally be “behind” the curve, the majority will be “within” the curve and another small minority will be “ahead” of the curve. I have found that it can be frustrating to have to “fit your teams’ outcomes into that curve”.
However, this approach can be very useful to assure a more level playing field across the organization so that there is some consistency of interpreting and rating strong performance, because “weak” managers may try to rate their people higher so as to avoid the “tough conversations”.
But what if you do rate your performance within consistent norms and you simply have more “really good performers” than the others? In such a case, I would urge you to gather your facts and develop a strong case for each so you can defend that.
The best organizations I worked in and have been exposed to often have a performance review “panel” where leadership peers within a division meet to discuss and compare relevant performance of each subordinate in a “committee”. It is time consuming but very useful to eradicate “rose coloured” and also overly or unfairly “tough” assessments.
Critical in this context is that any conclusion reached in your performance review discussion with your subordinate needs to be qualified in terms of it having first still to be ratified by this committee before it is finally concluded. Please never make the cardinal error of having the employee think they achieved a certain ranking which you then have to go back and “mark down” afterwards because of the panel. Such damage would usually be irreparable.
By the way, those committees were also usually a great platforms to discuss “Succession Plan?”.
So What Will You Do Differently in the Next Performance Review?
Please remember that whatever the degree of performance you are rating and discussing, your primary objective as a leader is to have both parties emerge from this discussion motivated to achieving greater things.
I know that it can be a very time consuming and onerous task, particularly if you are new to this part of the game or if you have a large number of direct reports. However, what could be more important to you as a leader than to have your staff primed, focused and motivated towards (over) achieving your targets; that they are making a meaningful contribution towards something worthwhile? Isn’t that worth investing time in if it aides the process and shapes and maintains the right attitudes?
Just as I emphasized how much value coaches are managing to add to the prepared “blitzing” of a staff member’s personal performance review, so it has been my experience that when I have assisted a leader in the preparation for the review processes during or at the end of the year, they have always come out feeling that they achieved much better outcomes. Why? Because their preparation looked at so many different scenarios and perspectives that they could confidently engage in the reviews and have both parties emerge feeling that they are “winners”, even if there had to be some conversation about some “inconvenient truths”.
So why not consider that for yourself for your next round of reviews? What if you could?
Click here for the other 2 blogs in this trilogy: