Tough Talk With Your Boss: The Performance Review

Posted by Rebecca Dannenfelser on Thu, Feb 20, 2014
"The thing about performance, even if it's only an illusion, is that it is a celebration of the fact that we do contain within ourselves infinite possibilities." - Sydney Smith, author

cc_difficult_conversationsYou never saw it coming. As a matter of fact, you thought you had a pretty good year, all things considered. Your results were strong and you made most of your goals for the year. So why do you feel so awful? You just had your performance review, and you were a "meets expectation", for the second year in a row.

Before coming to this company, you had always been a leader who receives an "exceeds expectation" and you really felt like this year things would be different. Instead, your boss is stressing something about you missing deadlines and not planning ahead. You ask him for some clarity and you realize, he's talking about something that happened 2 years ago when you first arrived at the company. You think to yourself, why am I here, doesn't he see how hard I've worked and the actual results I've produced. And, why is he talking about something that happened so long ago? You walk out, disillusioned and depressed, with a paltry 1.5% increase, which he tells you he fought hard to get for you. You begin to think about dusting off your resume and putting out feelers. You dread telling your spouse the news as you were both hoping for a bigger increase to help cover the cost of the kids' expenses that just went up again!

After you leave his office, your boss sits down at his desk and feels awful. He knows he was forced to change your rating from an "exceeds expectation" to a "meets expectation" because of the forced ranking system the company uses. Your boss already had one "exceeds" on the team and when he was forced to rank you or the other guy as #1 or #2, it changed the rating of your review. Your boss also knows that the company is only offering 2% increases to the highest performers, so he really did fight hard for your 1.5% raise. Your boss is puzzled by your questioning of his concern over you hitting deadlines though because he remembers clearly you blew that project 2 years ago. Tough Talk book cover

While the above scenario is fictional, it is created from the hundreds of actual stories we've heard from our clients on both sides of the table. Performance reviews remain one of the toughest conversations that most leaders dread having with others.

So what can one do to have a positive experience during a performance review? What can a person do to take the difficult conversation around performance, money or expectations and change it into a more engaging one where both parties--the manager and the direct report--walk out feeling good about things?

4 Ways to Improve Performance Reviews 

  • Break annual goals into quarterly milestones and meet quarterly to review them. Whether you are the manager calling the meeting or the direct report, be sure this step happens so there are no year-end surprises. Make sure the quarterly goals align with annual performance numbers. Also, make sure your results deliver more than just the numbers. If you are a sales manager, you will be looking at the numbers consistently. But what about the specific behaviors that led up to those results? Did you establish and meet your quota on cold calls, or set and get the number of appointments you wanted to? Did you convert at a higher rate than last year? The more specifically you can tie behaviors to your numerical goals the better the conversation will go on both sides with an appreciation for the work it takes to achieve success.
  • Ask for feedback on a regular consistent basis. As the employee, take responsibility for seeking feedback. Not just from your manager but from your peers, clients, direct reports. Learn to stand out in the crowd, by asking your manager for feedback before he gives it to you. After an important board meeting or sales call, circle back and invite him/her: "tell me a few things you think I did well and a few things I can do better next time". Thank your manger for the feedback!
  • Be bold and request a 360 degree feedback assessment. As the employee, show your commitment to professional development by requesting a 360 degree feedback assessment. This is a great way to get some feedback in a more formal way and it is a great developmental tool that can improve your performance going forward. Make sure you build a plan to constructively leverage the 2-3 things you want to work on for the year after receiving your report. And, go back and thank your raters. Sharing with them what you are working to improve is a great way to create support for your development. 
  • Be prepared for the annual review by doing your homework. Both manager and employee should heed this key. From the direct report perspective, this means really bringing to the review what worked well for the year, what could have gone better and what you will focus on in the future. From the manager perspective, this means doing your homework upfront as well. Going the extra mile in sharing all the data with the review committee and challenging assumptions around the ranking system will really pay off for both your people and yourself. DiSC Circle no descBeing mindful of what it takes to motivate each member of your team requires understanding who they are as individuals. If you are using the same approach with all your people, you are missing out on the ways to motivate their performance. Consider requesting each team member complete a DiSC profile to help you learn how to approach each person according to their style, create more trust, and communicate in a more positive manner.
So what's your experience been like with performance reviews? Have you had one you'd rather forget? And, if so what did you do to turn it around next year? 
prepare for a difficult conversation

Topics: difficult conversations, employee engagement, performance review

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