It always helps if a manager provides an honest and candid opinion about what s/he feels about the employee's performance across the year
Managers generally abstain from saying the last “good-bad-or-ugly” word about what s/he thinks the employee's performance has been
A manager can utilise the performance review discussion to build true credibility and trust with an employee
It is that time of the year when the performance appraisal process in most companies has reached the ultimate step — performance review delivery. For managers and direct reports alike, performance review delivery is considered the hardest conversation that happens in the annual calendar. The multitude of literature in the public domain on how managers and employees should conduct the conversation is of no help. Experts say that being prepared only with data and metrics about the employee’s performance is not enough for a manager to have an effective performance review discussion.
Though the review discussion is intended to help the employee get a real picture of his/her performance and set goals for the next year, he/she is often left confused than before. Most of the contemporary professional literatures suggest that a manager needs to strike a balance between positive and negative feedback so that the employee feels that the review was fair and balanced.
One of the key reasons why most advise blending positive and negative feedback in a review are the possible after effects. While intending to drive an employee to enhance his/her performance, if the manager delivers a review that is too negative, it may lead to disenchantment and disillusion. On the other hand, if a manager delivers a review that is too positive hoping it will drive motivation, the employee may feel cheated that s/he has not left the room with a promotion. In either case, overly positive or negative feedback may lead to disengagement with an employee.
Very few managers get this right. While trying to deliver a balanced review, most managers take the safe route, delivering a scripted discourse that makes the employee dismiss the entire performance review process as a mere eyewash. Here are four factors that a manager should keep in mind while delivering a performance review:
True, a balanced feedback is the way to go. But scripting the conversation based on a rehearsed structure isn’t cool. Employees are too smart for that. Rather than question the intelligence of an employee by presenting standard and scripted ideas, it always helps if a manager provides an honest and candid opinion about what s/he feels about the employee’s performance across the year.
While the manager’s expectations and opinions may not be in a 1:1 alignment with the organisation’s expectations, the employee gets a chance to truly understand how directions from the top translate into everyday job expectations of a credible senior. It can also help abolish the practice of managers becoming a mouthpiece for the organisation who do not reveal their true professional personalities.
Noted author and HR thinker Dick Grote writes in his book How to Be Good at Performance Appraisals that providing candid feedback is the one singular thing that can build trust during a performance review discussion and make it worthwhile.
Understanding personal aspirations of the direct report
It is very important for a manager to portray that s/he has the empathy to understand the employee’s strengths and aspirations. Nothing works better than the sense of security that a manager can instil in an employee that s/he understands the employee’s capabilities and is serious about helping him/her succeed.
Taking a firm stand
Everybody has the right to an opinion and an employee understands that. Most often, managers aspire to provide balanced feedback and abstain from saying the last “good-bad-or-ugly” word about what s/he thinks the employee’s performance has been. It is often left up to guess-work and the employee leaves the room more confused than before.
Columnist Rebecca Knight in an HBR publication emphasises the importance of the manager taking a firm stand during a performance review discussion. Clarity to design his/her career is among the few benefits that Knight mentions in her column. A manager may end up gaining more respect from an employee if s/he is able to take a firm opinion and is able to defend it, even if the opinion is not positive.
Stop-start-continue works better than may and might
Knight concludes her article saying that a performance review discussion can work like magic if the manager provides directional guidance regarding the next steps for an employee. Rather than using ambiguous auxiliary verbs such as “may,” “might,” and “perhaps,” it always helps build a fruitful discussion if the manager is able to provide definitive guidance on what an employee should stop, start, or continue doing.
While it is a difficult task, it is important for a manager to approach the performance review with all earnestness to help an employee. Failing to make it a fruitful discussion may have a far-reaching cascading impact beyond immediate disengagement. More than everything else, the commitment a manager demonstrates during a review to help an employee to build his/her career will raise his credibility as a leader who is smart and follower-worthy.