The dreaded time of year is nigh: Companies the world over are poised to conduct annual performance reviews. It’s an end-of-year tradition that makes employees uneasy and managers nervous. After all, the review typically happens during an awkward, stilted conversation. The employee’s paycheck is on the line, and the manager knows deep down that filling out a form once a year isn’t the fairest way to set an employee’s pay.
Performance reviews also make management experts crazy. They stifle honest and open communication between supervisors and their employees, write management consultants Jeffrey and Linda Russell in their book, Fearless Performance Reviews.
“Performance reviews have a bad reputation – for a good reason,” the Russells write. “They often aren’t structured in ways that bring out the best conversation between managers and employees.”
Performance reviews endure even though they reflect a rigid, top-down approach to management that is outdated and ill-suited to the modern workplace.
Despite all their flaws, performance reviews needn’t be contentious, self-defeating encounters in which managers intimidate workers and dictate how they should do their jobs, the Russells write. Instead of inspiring fear, performance reviews can be productive experiences based on a “performance-coaching conversation.” In these transformational dialogues, employees direct the review process and managers act as coaches.
Handled correctly, performance reviews can motivate employees to take ownership of their work performance. “Fearless performance reviews” are easy to organize. They require only a fresh mind-set and a disciplined, systematic approach.
The Russells’ tips:
- Have a two-way dialogue
To accomplish your overall managerial goal of improving performance, focus this conversation on mutual learning. Encourage the employee to conduct a self-assessment of his own performance.
- Look to the future
Conventional performance reviews focus on how employees performed in the past. They aim to evaluate and correct. This “looking-backward focus” highlights past problems, when the purpose of performance reviews should be to set goals for the employee’s future performance.
- Keep financial considerations separate
Face it: If you’re worried about how a review will affect your paycheck, you’d get defensive, too. So, wait at least a day to talk about pay. Hold a brief follow-up meeting to go over the final performance rating, and discuss any implications related to salary and benefits.
- Focus on next steps
After the review, both parties make a strong commitment to a set of actions that will follow the conversation.
- Check in regularly
Schedule future check-in performance sessions. To be effective – and less fear-inducing – a performance review should happen regularly, not just once a year.