By Margaret H. Greenberg and Senia Maymin, Ph.D.
It’s that time of year again, and we’re not talking about the holidays. It’s the time of year when most medium to large companies do year-end performance reviews (insert collective groan here or do you hate us for reminding you?). Unfortunately, when it comes to reviewing performance, most people—the employee being reviewed and the manager who has to “conduct” the review—dread them. Dread them no more. Follow these four simple steps to boost performance and build bonds:
1. Don’t Guess, Ask Instead
Most employees, even those we call individual contributors or who work remotely, don’t work all by themselves — they still interact with teammates, customers, business partners, and vendors. For each employee who reports to you, ask a cross-section of the people she works with for their candid feedback. You can solicit their feedback either through an email, Survey Monkey, phone call, or in the last 10 minutes of an already scheduled meeting. Keep it short and simple. Remember, each person you ask may be supplying feedback to multiple managers for multiple employees.
These are our three favorite questions:
- To get at areas of strengths: What does this employee do especially well?
- To get at areas for improvement: What do you wish this employee would do more of? Less of?
- To get at ideas for development: What suggestions do you have for her continued development? In particular, what experiences, exposure, and/or education would you recommend? (We call this the “3 Es” to make it easy to remember.)
Then summarize the feedback you collect into no more than two pages. Use this as a discussion guide when you meet with your employee.
2. Make a “Wow” and a “Woe” List
In a lot of companies, managers ask their employees to write their annual summary first and then they just review it. We don’t recommend that approach. Why? Because that does nothing to build bonds between you and your employees. Instead, it leaves employees thinking that you haven’t a clue or value what they do.
Make a list of what your employee has accomplished over the last year (the “Wow’s) and where she fell short (the “Woe’s). Be mindful of the balance between the two. Remember you want your employee to leave the meeting feeling pumped up, not deflated. If you have regular one-on-ones with your employees, this step should take no more than 10 minutes per employee.
A week or two before her performance review discussion, ask your employee to do the same. Compare lists when you meet.
3. Obsess Over Strengths, But Don’t Ignore Weaknesses
A Corporate Leadership Council study of over 2,000 employees in 29 countries showed that focusing on employee strengths during reviews led to a 36 percent increase in productivity. One of our clients divides year-end feedback into two-thirds positive feedback and one-third things to work on. When she delivers the feedback, she finds that her employees are more open to the smaller dose of corrective feedback and grateful for the specific positive feedback.
4. Preview, Don’t Just Review Performance
Year-end reviews are an excellent time to not only look back on accomplishments, but to also look ahead and set challenging and specific goals. Over 400 research studies have shown that people who set challenging and specific goals perform better than those who don’t. Like a great sports coach who asks an athlete to visualize a perfect golf or tennis swing, you can ask your employees to do the same. How?
- Fast forward to year-end 2015. No, that is not a typo. Ask your employee to imagine that she has been incredibly successful over the last year. Have her share what she will have accomplished. If you read our Turn Mid-Year Reviews Into Mid-Year Previews and are lucky enough to remember it, then now is the time to revisit what your employees committed to back in June. We think you will both be surprised by just how many things that she envisioned six months ago have indeed been accomplished.
- Inquire about the “how.” It’s often not enough to only visualize a successful outcome. Two University of California, Los Angeles psychologists—Shelly Taylor and Lien Pham—asked college students to visualize either the process of doing well on an exam (the study habits) or the outcome (the good grade). Those who visualized the process they used did better on the exam. Ask your employee to describe specifically how she achieved the success she envisions.
- Get it in writing. Chances are the forms you have to complete for HR have something in there about future goals. If not, just ask your employee to put her future accomplishments and specific steps for achieving them in writing. University of Missouri psychologist Laura King has found that such writing can boost positive feelings, which in turn can lead to self-fulfilling prophecies.
Remember that like great sports coaches, great business leaders have more influence over how well people perform than they may realize. Make these four simple changes to the annual performance review or get rid of it altogether. We’re curious to know, which will you do?
Margaret H. Greenberg and Senia Maymin, Ph.D. are organizational consultants, executive coaches, and the co-authors of the Amazon best-seller Profit from the Positive: Proven Leadership Strategies to Boost Productivity and Transform Your Business (McGraw-Hill Professional). They devote a whole chapter to “Performance Reviews: Change ‘Em or Chuck ‘Em. Free tools are available on their website ProfitFromThePositive.com and you can follow relevant business news at http://www.Facebook.com/ProfitFromThePositive, as well as @profitbook and LinkedIn for Margaret and LinkedIn for Senia.