Now that it’s December, you’re probably setting aside time to hole up in your office and write end of year reviews for your direct reports. If you’re like 99% of the world, this gives you massive anxiety. Having direct, frank conversations with even your top performers can be a stressful endeavor. Read on for some tips on how to structure the conversation and how to make this a better experience next year.
Where do I even start?
Your performance reviews probably start out with an awkward line – “You’re here so we can talk about what went well this year and what … uhh… could use some work?” Then you launch into a laundry list of generic strengths and weaknesses for the employee. He or she is really good at attention to detail, but she should get more involved in company committees, or should practice delegating and managing up. Sound familiar?
The conversation about strengths and weaknesses is incredibly important, since “performance reviews are rarely or never ‘open, honest and meaningful,’ according to a majority (58 percent) of U.S. and Canadian executives, managers and employees.”1 If the feedback you deliver could be communicated in an emailed list, you’re missing a key opportunity to put employees’ skills in the context of tangible moments from the year.
The best way to tie strengths and weaknesses to actions is to give consistent feedback throughout the year. If you’re thinking, “That would be nice, but it’s December and I have four days and I’mfreakingoutrightnow,” don’t lose hope! Reach out to employees and ask them to come to the meeting with 6 examples of major projects or turning points in their career from the last year. The events can be examples of successes or failures, but should be very specific. Prepare a similar list for the employee to compare the importance of events for each of you.
Having your employees’ input on these major events helps you understand what they think is important, and also gives you specific examples you can refer to during your conversation about strengths and weaknesses. Your employees will feel like their big moments were appreciated, and will be better able to see how their strengths and weaknesses tie into their day-to-day work.
For example, let’s say Johanna is a really strong analytical thinker, but needs some help when it comes to the big picture. If you sit her down for an hour and talk to her about common practices of big thinkers, for the next week she’s going to think about the bigger picture. Pretty soon, though, she’ll be back to her natural tendencies and all of your preparation and worrying will have been for nothing.
If you have Johanna think about 6 big events from the past performance year and give her an example of how big picture thinking could have made one of those projects even better, she will retain that information longer as she now has a relatable experience to draw upon. The next time a similar opportunity crops up in a new project, she’s much more likely to remember and think about the feedback and suggestions you provided.
Give your employees the opportunity to be involved in the review process and attach the feedback to projects they’ve chosen. Each person will feel like their strengths and weaknesses matter to their day to day work, and will be more likely to adapt their work to reflect growth in their weaker areas.
Will I ever be able to give only good reviews?
This is every manager’s dream. How can I get all of my employees to be so awesome that I never have a poor performer? You might not ever get to that point, but you can definitely decrease the number of mediocre reviews you have to give each year by focusing on where it all starts — your hiring pool.
Dropbox is an awesome example of how an intense focus on hiring the right candidate can create an atmosphere where everyone is a top performer. In their hiring process, the goal is to pick people who they know can directly contribute to the all-star team they’ve already created. There are VERY few bad apples at Dropbox, and they’re striving to keep it that way. The video below describes how Dropbox built the team that turns heads and consistently gets comments on how wonderful the product they’ve created is.
If you want to create a team that will have you looking forward to performance review season instead of dreading it, take notes from the Dropbox puppets, who can still program without opposable thumbs. Now that’s impressive.
This season, don’t hide in your office from your employees. Engage your employees in the performance review process to inspire change and growth. Couple this with a focus on hiring the right people, and next year around this time you’ll be excited to sit down and chat with all of your employees about how awesome they are!
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