Most managers hate performance reviews. Which can surprise a lot of employees, who also tend to view the whole event with a universal sense of dread. So, in a season when many are preparing for this regular professional event, let’s look at a few big performance review tips that not only make the whole experience less painful, but also make it powerful.
Enormous amounts of time, money, and energy are spent trying to improve training and procedures for performance reviews. But in most companies, these evaluations are still (correctly) regarded as
- (Perhaps worst of all) ineffective
All this is made even more tragic by the fact that treated correctly, the performance review can (truly!) be a great opportunity to engage, direct, and motivate employees, triggering great progress on your team.
If you can’t fathom this, read on. Because for many clients and companies, these performance review tips are as effective as they are revolutionary. The approach centers around 2 core concepts:
- Realign performance reviews based on attributes.
- Focus on behavior change, not person change.
Attribute-Based Performance Review Tips
We each have inherent attributes within us—natural traits that affect the way we function in and interact with the world.
Everyone’s attribute profile is unique, and therein lies the power of attributes as a leadership tool: by understanding both our own attributes and those of the people we work with, we can optimize performance and unlock the full potential of our teams.
I have mountains of information available on the topic of attributes, because it’s one of my most powerful and popular concepts, but for our purposes here, let’s pivot quickly to how all this applies to these performance review tips:
To be blunt, the next time you sit down with an employee for an evaluation, if you focus on discussing that person’s greatest challenge attributes, you’re not only wasting everyone’s time, you’re also launching a negative discussion and likely demoralizing your employee. Which is not what we’re going for when hoping to ignite action and growth.
This can sound like:
- “Yes, you’re great with people and your customers love you. But you just can’t get your reports in on time. Let’s talk about what’s going on there.”
- “We’re going to examine how to finally get you focused on the numbers, instead of on whether the people on your team are happy.”
- “I love how detailed you are, but how long have we been working on your people skills, and we’re still not seeing progress? We need to dig into that.”
Familiar? Notice the common denominator in these examples: the manager is brushing aside the person’s strengths and placing emphasis on weaknesses.
This is not at all unusual. And in light of this trend, I’m not surprised when I hear managers vent that they’ve spent years of performance reviews discussing the same issues with certain employees, without ever seeing change. But I am still amazed.
What could possibly be the point of this kind of futility?
Employees become immune to repeated evaluations focused on the same issues and approach. At some point, the performance review turns into a sort of ritual dance, where everybody goes through the steps, but nobody expects it to lead anywhere.
The fact is, a review that’s focused on the person’s challenge attributes is a wasted and negative discussion.
The reason we’re not “good” at our challenge attributes isn’t because we’re not aware of them. And it’s not because people haven’t hammered on them for most of our lives. It’s because we’re not wired to be good at them—we’re wired to be great at something else.
So the most likely outcome of incessantly harping on challenge attributes will not be to produce any long-term change, but rather to reduce morale.
Tip #1: Leverage the Power Alley
In contrast to this, consider what happens when both parties understand the employee’s attribute profile, i.e., what he or she is naturally good at (the power alley) and where the natural challenges are.
Now the manager can speak to the employee about leveraging those high attributes to adjust behavior in a way that will enhance performance.
Let’s say you have a manager working for you who is terrific at developing people, delegating to them, and fitting their high attributes into what’s needed within the department. However, she is also extremely disorganized and horrible with follow up.
If you spend your performance review telling her to get better at follow up, you’ve wasted your time and hers. Nothing is going to change—not long term.
Instead, suggest that she leverage her strong Developer attribute to select someone on her team she can depend on to make sure she’s on time to things, following up on commitments, etc. When she uses her high attribute to overcome the problem, there’s a much greater chance of success.
As her manager, it’s your job to guide her through this, and this is your most effective route to doing so. And since you’re a pretty sharp manager, you’re probably already recognizing that the power of these performance review tips actually extends far beyond the review itself, so start practicing this type of thinking as soon as possible. It will only improve your efficacy as a leader.
Bonus Tip: Not Everyone Fits Everywhere
Here’s the 1/2 tip, because it’s kind of a side note, but not to be missed: it is not true that every person with every type of attribute profile can perform effectively in every role.
A person with no caregiving ability will probably make a poor nurse. Someone who is in disarray when it comes to numbers is unlikely to be successful in accounting.
Make no mistake about it, there’s such a thing as a mismatch between the role and the person’s attribute profile. Hiring for attributes can prevent this, but that’s another topic for another blog post.
Tip #2: Address the behavior instead of the person
One of the biggest mistakes managers make in performance reviews is in addressing the person instead of the behavior. Let’s look at a simple example to illuminate this distinction:
Let’s say you have an employee who is consistently showing up late to an office that opens at 8 o’clock in the morning. Day after day, Shane walks in at 9:00 AM.
So you sit down with Shane and start with this: “We need to fix this laziness issue.”
First of all, it’s pretty much guaranteed that addressing Shane’s supposed “lazy attribute” will create defensiveness—which is a huge impediment to constructive change.
Secondly, if he is indeed lazy, chances are that he’s not going to change much anyway.
But think about it. Are you really interested in whether or not Shane has a lazy trait? Or in addressing his laziness? Not at all.
What you want to address is his behavior: he’s arriving at work too late.
Whether or not he is lazy is actually irrelevant to the behavior. Regardless of Shane’s traits, if he can change that behavior and arrive on time, you’ve solved your problem.
It’s also worth noting that Shane could have ten other reasons why he’s having a problem getting to work on time. Not only do you not need to know about those reasons, but you actually can’t care about them, or you’re going to end up allowing different arrival times for everyone.
It’s a clear and strong rule: Always attack the behavior you want to change. Never attack the person.
So before you start planning for your next performance review, ask yourself: Do you look forward to the opportunity these evaluations provide? Or do you, like so many, view them as more of a fruitless and cumbersome requirement?
I encourage you to at least give these performance review tips a try. Because the evaluation you (and your employee) might be dreading is actually a valuable opportunity to spur change or continue positive growth.
So make the most of the next review! Focus on the potential in people’s positive attributes, and target behavior modification rather than person modification.
Let me know how it goes.