Get ready for everyone’s favourite time of year! No, not Christmas, it’s end-of-year performance review time! Yee-haaa! We can hear your whoops and cheers from here!
Although thankfully some organisations have moved away from the practice of annual or bi-annual reviews, many still rely on this activity as a way of measuring performance and contribution, and it’s widely considered to be a pain in the proverbial for managers and employees alike. There are objectives, targets, goals, KPIs, OKRs, competency frameworks, values and behaviours. There are forms (real or online), rating scales, calibration sessions, arguments about feedback… Ugh, no wonder it’s often something everyone dreads. But it doesn’t need to be. If done well, it can be a motivating, productive and insightful exercise for both parties.
Setting aside all the timetables, forms, processes and boxes to tick, a performance review meeting is simply a conversation. A conversation that provides an opportunity to take stock and reflect on how the previous few months. It’s a chance to sit back and think about strengths and potential, development areas and opportunities; a time to talk about what the future might look like. We can get so caught up in the process that we forget this is about two people sitting down and talking honestly together about how things are going.
Here are 5 ways to make it a productive and insightful process whether you’re being reviewed or doing the reviewing…
1. Put the prep time in
You know this matters. No-one has perfect recall, so it’s unrealistic to expect either party to come to the meeting with a clear memory of everything that’s happened in the review period. Ideally you should be keeping a record throughout the year and sharing together in 1-2-1s, (there’s a clue to number 5) but if you haven’t done this already, you still have time to prepare by thinking about highlights, key achievements, learnings and what’s next. That goes for both managers and employees.
2. Think about what you want to walk away feeling/thinking
Reflecting on what you want to walk away with / or what you want your employee to walk away with can help you prioritise what to talk about, what tone you want to take, and what questions you need to ask. Do you want to get a clear sense of where your areas of development are? Ask for specific, descriptive feedback examples to help give you that clarity. Do you want your employee to feel more motivated? Share what you think their greatest strengths are to encourage them and ask them when their best day was to get a sense of what drives them. Focusing on outcomes is a great way to help guide the direction of the conversation but be open to that direction changing as you go! (see number 4)
3. Cast your net beyond each other
Build a fuller picture of performance and potential by getting feedback from other people. Again, this is something you can / should do throughout the year, but there’s always an opportunity to ask other people what they think before a review conversation. You can be specific – linked to a particular piece of work – or more general: What do you love about working with me/my employee? What drives you mad?! What’s your one piece of advice? Give people the permission to be honest by reiterating that this is about development and growth. If you can agree together who would be good to approach for feedback, even better! You don’t need a full-blown 360 for this – a simple conversation or email will work.
4. Approach it with a growth mindset
Although we’ve suggested starting with the end in mind, it’s really important to approach the review meeting with an open mind. The idea behind focusing on what you want the person to think or feel is about seeing beyond a tick box exercise and seeing it for the valuable opportunity it can be. If you approach the review meeting with a growth mindset to see what you can learn rather than with a fixed mindset about being right, you will find it a much more insightful and engaging experience.
5. Make it a regular thing
Here’s the real heart of the matter: you have to be connecting regularly together to really build a strong understanding of each other and take performance and engagement to the next level. You both need to take this seriously: if you’re looking to develop, grow and progress, your manager is likely to be a key player in the process so engage with them often. Talk about your aspirations, your successes, what you’re proud of. Be honest about where you need help and listen to feedback as it’s how we learn and grow. If you want to lead a high performing, inclusive, innovative, collaborative and engaged team then you need to spend time listening to your employees, giving them super constructive feedback (positive and negative) regularly and making an effort to understand them.
If you’ve been dreading performance review season, then we hope we’ve given you some practical ideas to make it a less daunting experience. It really is about having a conversation: we’re all more than the job titles we hold so don’t let yourself be restricted by that and make the most of an opportunity to really sit down and reflect on how things are going, and where they could go next. If you take one thing away, let it be number 5 – make it a regular thing. It’ll be transformational…