Performance Dialogue Is Year-round
ON THE FIRST DAY - EVEN SANTA PLANS AHEAD (think of that list)
So, no winging it! Your employees can tell.
Prepare ahead of time for the review session - take stock of what your team members have accomplished during the year that’s helped you, the department and the organization.
Review their job descriptions and goals and be ready to discuss relevant points. Be prepared to talk about employee development (more on development in the coming days).
Most importantly: If your company does self-appraisals be sure to read each ahead of time - Don’t let the meeting be the first time you do.
THE SECOND DAY – WE’LL SAY THIS FOR SCROOGE, HE PAID ATTENTION TO THE FUTURE
After you’ve prepared to talk about accomplishments, plan how you will engage your employees in a development discussion. More progressive leaders focus most of the performance discussion around development.
What do your employees want to do next? How and where do you see them progressing?
Where do they want to apply their strengths? And, do they want your job (a talent management system that's truly sustainable will be sure this question is asked)? How can you and the company support an individual's career aspirations?
THE THIRD DAY – RALPHIE ENVISIONED HIS PERFECT CHRISTMAS (and so it was, though he almost shot his eye out)
The review session and other informal ways you provide feedback and support are opportunities to build trust. So, it may help to envision how that special review day will go.
How does the most productive, motivating, trust-building conversation look to you and the individual? How do you carry out the conversation so that it accomplishes that?
Will it be a balanced two-way dialogue, or will you monopolize the air time? There's usually more at stake in these performance discussions than we as leaders like to think.
THE FOURTH DAY – CLARK GRISWOLD FOUND THE BEST SPOT FOR THE FAMILY CHRISTMAS TREE (complete with live squirrel)
Where is the best spot to have a performance conversation?
Pre-Pandemic, Office Environment
Cubicle and work stations won’t do. Go for privacy and reserve a conference room or use your office (for those of you leading front-line hourly staff, this still applies to you during the pandemic). Some leaders and their employees mutually agree that somewhere outside the office works well, like a café or restaurant (emphasis on mutual).
Post-Pandemic, Virtual Environment
You've been Zooming for months so you and your team members likely have adjusted to interacting in virtual reality, despite its artificiality and lack of true human feeling. As a leader in our current state, you now have to up your game for listening, overall attentiveness and empathy.
THE FIFTH DAY – WHO KNEW GEORGE BAILEY COULD BE SUCH AN EMOTIONAL GUY (was it that double bourbon that made him so?)
Sometimes, no matter how comfortable a leader tries to make the review conversation, employees (first year especially) may be nervous and some may get emotional. Think about this - for new college grads just in the workplace this will be that first time they get reviewed. So, the experience will be as intimating as you, the leader, want to make it. Advice: Don't make it so. Remember, back on The Third Day, we talked about building trust?
So, you may elect to give your employees a copy of their appraisal before the meeting, or perhaps an outline of the conversation with specific areas to be covered. This way your direct report can process it in private and then plan for the talk better themselves.
Caution: Be sure the review isn't the cause itself of an emotional reaction. If that appraisal is high on the developmental or critical side, don't share that in advance. Any review should not be the first time an employee hears about significant deficiencies or errors; that's always better addressed in the moment, and a review can be a time to discuss what was learned and what was improved.
THE SIXTH DAY – HEY, BAD SANTA WENT OFF SCRIPT (well, we’re not suggesting you go that far)
While the Performance Management Boat continues to make its 180 turn, many organizations are still stubbornly anchored to formal appraisal forms that both managers and employees find inhibiting and constricting. The forms are actually the process!
Does your company tolerate risk at any level? Does that extend to you going off script a bit to conduct the performance discussion with your talented touch? Ideally, as a leader, your organization allows you some level of discretion. In some companies just the mere action of asking questions of your team is considered off script. But in reality today's best leadership practices offer that performance and development demand inquiry.
Off script questions to ask your direct reports: Do you want to do my job some day? As your manager, what can I do better? Are we helping you build a successful career?
THE SEVENTH DAY – RALPHIE COULD HAVE USED SOME POSITIVE FEEDBACK FROM HIS TEACHER (but she was right about shooting his eye out)
There are different schools of thought on this but I prefer to start the performance conversation with some positive feedback and appreciation for all my team members personally bring to the company. You likely will have to deliver some constructive comments during the review so it may be easier if preceded by some positive remarks.
Of course we know people enjoy the compliments from the boss but they also appreciate feedback you’ve heard about them from peers and senior management. Does your company formally "crowdsource" performance input ? Cutting edge PM platforms like Lattice provide this capability and lots more to make the entire process more efficient, effective and easier for leaders and their teams.
THE EIGHTH DAY – BUDDY HAD INCREDIBLE STRENGTHS THAT WALTER HOBBS JUST COULDN’T SEE (who could make & throw snowballs as fast?)
Old school PM usually over-emphasizes weaknesses. While we all have areas for improvement, we also have incredible and unique strengths.
Concentrate the dialogue on strengths and ask:
What strengths did you use to achieve your goals and how did you use them?
How do you see those strengths solving future challenges? How can they play a part in your career development?
And make your own observations as to how these strengths are being used and how they can benefit someone's career advancement.
THE NINTH DAY – SPEAKING OF BUDDY, HE DIDN’T GET VERY EXPLICIT FEEDBACK ON HIS MAILROOM DANCE PERFORMANCE (or for finding new uses for that chute!)
Whether you're completing a formal appraisal form or prepping for a performance conversation, avoid offering just general feedback; be specific on behaviors you want your employee to stop, start, and continue. And don't wait for scheduled performance discussions to be explicit. That should happen in real-time.
Instead of generalized statements like “You need to improve your working relationship with others," pose questions to get a dialogue going so that your employee can reflect and perhaps even identify a particular situation where they could have done better. Try "So, how's the collaboration going with the Customer Service team?"
Fill in with details from your angle if needed and discuss ways to learn, develop and grow from distinct experiences.
THE TENTH DAY - YES, THE GRINCH FOUND IT CHALLENGING TO LOAD THAT SLED (as much as Max did to pull it)
Think about asking what your people found most challenging (and why) during the year (or relevant time frame). This leads to some meaningful dialogue around learning and gives you insight into what they might need from you for development and support.
Posing this question also gets them to identify and own their performance, which can be more productive and motivating versus a boss merely making assumptions and criticizing. And even within challenges there should be acknowledgment of employee efforts and results.
THE ELEVENTH DAY – MR. POTTER NEVER ASKED FOR FEEDBACK (and in 2020 no one wants to be him)
The new, enlightened approach of performance discussions reflect a de-emphasis on hierarchy and a re-emphasis on humility. This orientation also helps a workplace that might be high on diversity, but lacking in the areas of inclusion and equity.
Consider asking how you can help in your people’s success, and how you can do better as a manager. These questions can diminish the power dynamic inherent in a traditional review, allow for more authentic conversation and establish your working relationship as a partnership.
THE TWELFTH DAY – AND IF THEY SAY “SHOW ME THE MONEY”…(yes, there’s a holiday scene in Jerry McGuire)
During the conversation, keep the emphasis on performance, accomplishments and development. Separate this from a conversation about financial rewards.
Why? If you buy into many of the preceding points on PM, it's clear that you as the leader will be listening and taking seriously your employee's perspective on their performance. Were there achievements that you missed and were not considering prior to your discussion? How can you know at the time of the meeting what a reward recommendation looks like if something in the discussion will impact your comp decision?
Let the employee know you'll take some time to consider all that you both discussed and will subsequently submit a merit adjustment. Then follow up expeditiously.
Harvard Business Review