May is the time where many people in my company are having their annual performance review conversations, which are the culmination of a whole performance review process we have at MathWorks, based on our core values. Similar processes of course exist in many companies out there.
A lot of people do like neither performance review processes nor annual formal staff conversation. And lot of people includes both managers and individual contributors.
I think—well executed—the performance review process and the employee conversation can have a beauty and a profound positive impact. Actually, I see performance review conversations and the process leading to them as my prime service to my team and company.
Why is it that people do not like it? I heard five main reasons over the course of my career in different companies:
- ”I don’t get any new information during a review conversation.“
- ”I get negative surprises during the review conversations.“
- ”I alway feel beat up by my manager.“
- ”I feel my manager is just pointing out my nitty-gritty weaknesses.“
- ”I do not know what to do after that review conversation.“
Of course, there are also negative connotations from managers, also heard from friends in different enterprises:
- “We already spoke on all the incidents that did not go well. So why bring it up again?”
- “The staff member won’t listen anyway.”
- “They want to negotiate about what’s written in the review document.”
- “It’s a lot of stuff to write with so little impact.”
- “It’s so looking backwards.”
A lot of those perceptions I can understand, I see how people come to those conclusions. As so often it is the own mindset making a difference. In particular, there are 5 overwhelmingly positive aspects of performance review document and conversation.
- It is the time of the year where I get 360° feedback in written form. We employ not just the manager writing something, but also seek peer quotes from colleagues and—for managers—subordinates.
- I always learn something from the conversation. This applies to both manager and team member. It may be a viewpoint that I did not consider so far. It may be an opinion that I was not aware of.
- Other colleagues and my manager invest their time in me and my growth. This is appreciation. Institutionalized appreciation, but still appreciation.
- Writing my own self review gives me time to reflect on my own objectives, on my strengths, on my areas for improvement and growth, on my long term job related goals, on my relation to the competency model for my job.
- A lot of new ideas can spawn off a good review conversation. While discussing with others on a 30,000 ft. level (in GTD terms) I usually am inspired to lots of new potential projects that can then be assessed later.
Positive aspects also exist for the manager role, again I want to limit this to 5:
- The performance review process and conversation is the culmination of the ongoing coaching and staff development. It is my prime service to my team and company.
- I always learn something new about my team member if I just listen enough. If I am just curious about the thought process of the other person and truly interested in what they think and how they come to their conclusions, I will always learn.
- It is a conversation outside the daily business requirements, on a higher level. Nobody prevents me of course to do so over the course of the year, but here I have it in a mandated way, too.
- I get time to speak with my team member about patterns that I see and compare that to patterns they see. As we are different persons, we will see different things and enrich each others’ views.
- It is a great time to reinforce the team and company mission into every aspect of our jobs. Setting our activities in that context often helps distinguishing the important aspects from the rest.
This is why I think a properly executed performance review process and review conversation can be the best since sliced bread. As a last list for this post, I want to share 5 best practices for review conversations (this time not the process) that I was taught and found over the years:
- Have a walk with your team member. Go outside of the office, preferably into the green. Schedule 1.5–2 hours at least. (I have this tip from Steve Jobs’ biography.)
- Send the review document in advance so people can prepare. You do not want to spend time with extended reading during conversation. Nevertheless, have printouts with you—I have everything on my iPad.
- ”First seek to understand, then to be understood“. Meaning: before diving into your analysis, spend time to ask questions around their perception of specific parts of the review document. Be curious! (From the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.)
- Do not speak about individual incidents other than for illustration. Seek to identify patterns. Patterns in people’s behavior effecting their roles, patterns in the review documents. (Pattern seeking: old computer scientist habit)
- Focus on what habits people can develop to positively impact their work. (I learned much about habit development from Leo Babauta at zenhabits).
I have to thank my managers and mentors across companies for teaching me various lessons in review deliveries so that I feel comfortable now.
Now how do you think about performance review conversations? And how can you positively impact your experience from either side? Share your thoughts in the comments.
This article exists in German language, too: Die Schönheit von Mitarbeitergespräch und Leistungsbeurteilung – 5×5 Tipps