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Five Tips for Having Meaningful Performance Conversations.

By October 17, 2017February 14th, 2019Articles, Leadership

As the end of the year draws closer, so do the often-dreaded performance conversations. The long trek down to the Boss’s office to talk about you; what you have done, how you have performed, how you have added value, can be confronting and downright scary for some.

There’s debate as to whether performance reviews should be abolished for something more ‘new age’. It’s common for people to be hired on strengths but reviewed on weakness, which contributes to the dread about these conversations. However, in a recent Harvard Business Review article, Facebook analyzed their performance management system a few years ago. They conducted focus groups and a follow-up survey with more than 300 people. The feedback was clear: 87% of people wanted to keep performance ratings. And I would concur that people do genuinely want to know how they are performing. Unless they know they’re not performing so well!

Performance is the value of an employee’s contribution to the business over a period of time. Decisions about pay and promotion have to be assessed and a performance review seems to be the most logical way to do this.

If performance reviews are done well; if both parties prepare for a ‘conversation’, rather than a one sided talk, it can be a really positive experience providing transparency, clarity and a holistic review of the year that was rather than discussions based on what people think and what they are doing wrong.

In my opinion, if performance reviews are only completed annually you’re doing a disservice to your team. I understand in busy times it can be a challenge to find the time to dedicate to having performance conversations more frequently. And let’s face it; often any kind of meaningful conversation can be absorbed by busyness. However, for a 21st century leader, it is so important to be having frequent and meaningful conversations with your team so you have your finger on the pulse, so they are not guessing how they are performing and you can leverage strengths whilst also knowing how you can develop your team. It’s also to ensure you know how to engage and how engaged your team member is in the business. Your people being the power in your business so I believe it is absolutely necessary if not critical.

Here are 5 tips that you can implement as part of your review process for better outcomes

  1. Use Examples to Support Feedback
    Ensure you are using real examples to support any feedback provided. This then carries weight and the person receiving the feedback has the benefit of the context. This could be a client-based example behavioural, how they contribute or how they interact with the team This is important for positive and constructive feedback.
  2. Watch Your Language
    Your language will influence how the conversation is experienced. Be careful not to use accusatory language such as ‘why did you do that’ rather use words like what I am observing is…….this is how it impacts on the business/the team/the clients………..what do you think/what are you thoughts/ how do you feel….. . The aim is to engage in conversation rather than getting people’s defenses up. The intent of any performance conversation should be to support the employee, whether that is to continue to improve well, to improve or to support them out of the business. The intent needs to be cemented.Try to avoid ambiguous language ‘you’re performance is good……what does that event mean? Good compared to what? You need to try harder…….according to what? You need to improve….how? Be specific and ensure you clarify what you are suggesting as your team member’s interpretation of language that is ambiguous will often be completely different to yours and create confusion. I have challenged a few organisation I work with to ban the words ‘good’ and ‘busy’ from their conversations!
  3. Ensure Your Measurements are Accurate
    There is nothing worse than having a performance framework set up that has measures that are completely irrelevant to the individual. For example, a profit measurement included in a review where the employee has no way of tracking how their performance influence profit is a sure fire way to disempower and frustrate people. Ensure your measurements are relevant, can be measured and are actually able to be influenced by the employee concerned. As Peter Drucker says, “if you can’t measure it you can’t manage it”.
  4. There Should be No Surprises
    A Performance Review is not the time to be highlighting all the things an employee has been doing wrong throughout the year. Nor is it the only time to be highlighting what the employee is doing well. These should be addressed throughout the year as the situation arises. If you have been saving these instances to bring up at the review you are doing a poor job as a leader and I would assume you have some retention issues in your business. When feedback is included as part of regular, ongoing performance discussions throughout the year, the employee, the leader and the business are all better off.
  5. Make Sure Both Parties Are Prepared.
    As a leader, ensure you are prepared for these conversations rather than having them ‘off the cuff’. What are the key points you want the employee to walk away with? How do you want them to feel? What do you want them to know? This is a sign of respect not only for the process but also for your team member. And it’s important to give your team member the time to prepare also by providing them with the review document that includes all the measures they will be assessed on and ask them to self review, providing examples for their ratings and feedback also. This encourages much richer and more meaningful conversations. Times for the review should be made at least a week in advance to allow adequate reflection and fact gathering time.

These reviews can be such a powerful process for the leader, the employee and the business. When done well they can really enhance relationships, uncover new career paths and further strengthen the buy in from all parties.