It’s performance review time in Australia, which means employees across the nation are either surrendering to the process and going with the flow, plotting to get a pay rise, or readying themselves for a confronting, awkward or difficult ‘talking to’.
For these reasons, and many more, the annual “performance review” has become something that employees (and management alike) dread – but what if it doesn’t have to be that way?
Performance reviews are an excellent idea, and some organisations do it very well, but there are still many businesses and managers that do them poorly.
Like many aspects of people management, the humble performance appraisal has evolved from being an annual “check-up”, which felt very much like it was “done to you”, to a more collaborative experience.
Historical and economic contexts have shaped performance reviews over the years, from rating and ranking, to a more balanced approach that aims to align people to the values, objectives and KPIs of an organisation.
We have also seen the performance review attempt to address generational shifts such as the brain drain, or succession, when the exit of baby boomers leaves a loss of knowledge and skill in the workforce.
These are important and well-intentioned reasons to hold performance reviews and certainly serve to mitigate the risks for businesses and to develop and recognise employees.
The issue is, that personal reflection – particularly when based around “performance” – is innately challenging and can be difficult for people to frame as a positive.
The organisations I work with that “do it best” have recognised that the process has been framed poorly and done poorly. They have invested in personalising the process and giving managers and staff the tools and courage to bring themselves into the conversations. They understand that performance reviews are about engagement, agility and learning.
So, how can you as a manager or employee reframe your next performance review to be a more positive, productive and progressive experience for everyone involved?
Give your performance review a rebrand
Rather than thinking of it as “reviewing” someone’s performance, think of it as a conversation starter.
A great way to start a conversation is by focusing on what people are passionate about.
What do they want to master, create or learn?
By reframing the conversation to be more about aspiration rather than past contribution each party is given the opportunity to explore what could be, rather than what has been.
One way to do this, is to give your reviews a different name that better reflects the positive intention and outcomes of the meeting. This will help everyone going into the review to bring their best to the table.
Reflection rather than review
There was a time when performance reviews were based on a rating system, which is incredibly unhelpful for both parties involved because it leaves so much space for bias, or the halo effect.
A more constructive way for people to review their work practices is to ask them this series of questions:
1. What inspired you to take this role in the first place?
2. Are you getting what you envisaged?
3. If not, why not?
4. How can you get more of what you want from your work?
If you can figure out a way to align employees hopes and aspirations to your business, they will have more drive to contribute to the success of the business in the long run.
It’s a two-way street
I often meet managers who feel like they have to do all the heavy lifting in a performance review, while staff often rely on their managers to tell them what to do. They are both stuck in an old way of thinking and behaving.
People often think that their career is in the hands of their manager, which can often lead to awkward, stilted or defensive interactions in reviews.
This isn’t, or certainly shouldn’t be, the case.
Everyone has the ability to create their own destiny, to set their own goals for themselves, their work, and the business they’re working in.
In this way, the performance review is a great interruption to set patterns of thinking and behaving, and could be utilised to encourage a growth mindset rather than a fixed mindset, commonly known as above the line or below the line thinking.
But in order to do this, you have to open up a discussion. Ask questions to “dig deeper”, and to allow people to go beyond busy and listen to the opportunities that present themselves.
The more you listen, the more you will uncover patterns and the more informal opportunities will present themselves.
Social and experiential learning is a wonderful way to unlock the change skills that will allow people and organisations to thrive.
Save the tough conversations for another time
The other way to ensure you have positive and productive performance reviews is to save the big issues for another time.
These types of conversations put people in “protection mode”, whereas in a performance review what you’re looking for is to make learning your competitive advantage.
Therefore, you need to create an environment where staff are willing, to be authentically themselves and see opportunity. Learning and change is key to your success and theirs.
Similarly, it’s important that employees know performance reviews are not the time to ask for a pay rise, or to bring up their own issues, these conversations should happen as and when they arise.
Ultimately, performance reviews should be kept sacred for passionate conversation, goal making, and positive action setting.
A final word
The old days was about the system; today it’s all about the conversation.
When human capital was in plentiful supply it was about “do we keep them?”; today it’s about working with people to refine their strategy.
The old days the manager was judge, jury and executioner; today a manager is a coach.
So why not try shaking your performance review up this year… and see what happens!