Updated: October 7, 2020
Do your employees see your organization’s performance review process as a dreaded, time-wasting event that feels like a check-the-box-for-HR exercise rather than an opportunity to truly help people grow? You’re not alone. The annual appraisal process at Deloitte used to consume 1.8 million hours annually, yet provided little perceived value (HBR). That’s 900 years of effort invested in a seemingly pointless annual exercise.
While you may not be able to change your organization’s entire process overnight, you can demonstrate true leadership and make effective use of the time. In this post you’ll learn how to have impactful conversations and help people grow, even if your organization’s overall process “needs improvement”. Let’s control what you can control.
Performance conversations are a missed opportunity for human connection
Regular, ongoing performance conversations are a critical element of a High-Performance culture. The most important thing you can do to improve your performance conversations is shift your mindset. How would people benefit if we shift from providing ratings to identifying growth opportunities? How would people respond to an authentic conversation about how you can help them achieve their career aspirations, as opposed to discussing what they did wrong this year?
Three immediate ways to create powerful performance conversations - even if the review process itself ‘needs improvement’
1. Show genuine interest in helping people grow.
The foundation of a successful performance conversation is to show a genuine, authentic interest in people’s development. We can’t fake that part. Start by asking open-ended questions about where the person wants to go in their career. Then ask questions to help them identify how their current role can help them develop in critical areas. Asking questions (and listening) shows a genuine interest in somebody’s career and lays a solid foundation for the rest of the performance conversation. It begins a transition from the ‘old way’ of judgment and feedback to a modern, forward-looking approach to help people reach their career goals.
2. Focus on development opportunities, not ratings.
In a prior post, we discussed how performance conversations are much more effective if we focus on personal and professional development, not ratings. A judgment-infused conversation producing an arbitrary rating is not an enjoyable human experience. By working together to identify opportunities for role-specific process improvements or co-creating approaches to help the person build capability, we support the employee’s growth.
This is a simple, yet profound shift toward using feedforward to create positive opportunities for growth, instead of using critical feedback to make sure they know what they did wrong. Instead of saying “your work in support of our last quarterly planning meeting left a lot to be desired” (ie: criticism), ask the person “how do you think the last planning meeting went?” or “how do you think we could improve that experience for our team?” Try this yourself and you will find that employees who have moderate self-awareness and trust you, will likely surface the same critiques that you had and co-create a way forward.
3. Consider all three aspects of individual high-performance.
Most performance conversations focus on role performance. Is somebody delivering the work that has been assigned, with quality and delivering on performance targets. While role performance is important, it also lacks the conversational depth of the other two facets of individual performance:
- Is the person living the organization’s values?
- Is the person demonstrating effective leadership?
In my experience, these elements open up deeper dimensions of the human experience of work and much more impactful conversations. We get below the surface of tactics and actions. Asking people how they think they perform in these two areas uncovers the most important and challenging areas of personal and professional development. Managers can rise through the ranks based on functional expertise and individual success, but at some point they will reach their leadership ceiling without also living the values of the organization and the core leadership behaviours that cultivate a High-Performance Culture. We need to start that work as soon as possible, with the most junior employees. We are all leaders. That journey does not start once you are finally a ‘people manager’. That journey begins before you even enter the workforce.
What if my HR department requires a final rating?
Perhaps your organization’s performance conversation process requires ratings and you cannot avoid that. No problem. You can still have a meaningful conversation about the person’s performance, using the techniques outlined above to foster mutual awareness of current performance and identify development opportunities. You can still co-create a high-performance development plan.
Perhaps you can co-create the final rating together. This way it is completely transparent and you can align on what was entered, even if both people do not fully agree. This can become tricky if you have the misfortune of working in an organization where compensation, promotions or other benefits are tied directly to ratings. In that circumstance, ask yourself what is ‘fair’.
Research with the High-Performance Index™️ shows that ‘unfair performance ratings’ dramatically undermine future performance, employee development and the ability for people to find meaning in their work. Contact us if you have a tricky situation we can help you explore.
If you would like to learn more about how SupportingLines can help you create game-changing, inspiring performance conversations please contact us today.
Assess how well your performance management approach is serving your employees today. Complete our High-Performance Index™️ Prediction. It takes 5 minutes and accelerates your journey toward a High-Performance Culture.