The Performance Review “Needs Improvement”

My first performance review was a painful experience. It was 1997 but I remember it like it happened yesterday. I had just completed my first year of articling with a major accounting firm.

Like most first years I had a steep learning curve and was putting in ridiculous hours. When I entered the room for my first performance review I was unprepared for the rating I was about to receive: “Needs Improvement”. Ouch.

Leaders do a disservice to their people if they blindside them with a poor review. It shouldn’t be a surprise. Feedback should be regular throughout the year, especially if people are struggling. Not only does that soften the blow of the review, it gives people a chance to focus on development immediately.

Two Elements That Make Up An Effective Performance Review

What needs improvement is how we think about performance reviews. Up to 70% of multi-national companies are moving away from annual performance appraisals. The question is what should people move toward?

There are two elements of effective performance conversations:

  1. Performance conversations focus on development, not ratings
  2. Performance conversations need to focus on craft and leadership

We covered the need to focus on ‘development, not ratings’ in a prior post. The focus on both craft and leadership is also important. Many of us have worked for managers who were promoted purely on their ability to perform in their craft. Sales is an area where we commonly seen this. A top salesperson is promoted because they hit their numbers, with no acknowledgement of the aggressive way in which they got what they needed. This sends a mixed message. We have leadership principles and values about how we treat each other … but they don’t really apply if you hit your sales targets.

At Mobify we want people to perform in their craft and achieve key business outcomes. We also see our leadership principles as equally, if not more important. By focusing performance conversations on both craft and leadership you will enjoy many benefits:

  • You truly live your leadership principles. Many organizations post leadership values and principles on the wall but it’s hard to find evidence of them in daily life. Things get real when those principles are 80% of your performance conversation. Our ratings have five assessment areas: four leadership principles and how somebody performs in role. That’s it. This simple approach increases collaboration across the organization. People have to focus on how they show up, not just what they achieve.
  • Personal development is more balanced. Craft development is usually easier for people to focus on. We also help leaders create leadership development objectives in the context of their role. While improving technical skills is critical, we also want to see leadership development in areas like clear communication or being cognizant of our impact on other people.
  • You promote people when they are ready to lead. This approach to performance assessment ensures future leaders are not just promoted based on delivering results. Our performance reviews provide tangible, visible evidence of leadership capability to support talent management.
  • You will increase employee engagement. I have written before about how helping people grow and improving team collaboration correlates to increased employee engagement. We have seen this at Mobify, where teams see the supporting lines between each other and engagement is at record levels.

To learn more or continue the discussion, register for our upcoming webinar: “3 ways to improve your performance reviews – immediately”

Presenter: Jeff Smith, Mobify COO & SupportingLines founder

September 27, 2018 at 10am (Pacific)

(Register here)

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