Hands up all you leaders out there who look forward to the annual round of formal performance reviews. And hands up everyone in Human Resources who enjoys the annual game of chase-up-the-leaders-who-haven't-done their-performance-reviews.
No one? Really?
It's surprising how this most innocuous of leadership practices can turn fully-grown professionals into sulky, rebellious children at least once every twelve months. (For all those businesses where there are also formal reviews every six months or even every quarter, this resistance/chase-up spectacle can be 'enjoyed' with even greater regularity.)
Everyone knows that, in theory, it's a great idea for leaders to sit down with their direct reports at least once annually to review the year just gone, and plan for the year ahead. These reviews are intended to provide good opportunities for development planning, giving and receiving feedback, and relationship building. But, in practice, the formal performance review period can feel like a time-wasting, pointless ritual dreamt up by HR to get in everyone's way.
So, given that taking time out with your team to formally review performance on a regular basis has value for everyone involved, what can be done – by HR and the leaders themselves – to help leaders fall in love with performance reviews? Changing these four things will make a huge difference to everyone's experience...
1. Reduce the complexity of the paperwork that has to be completed
The best performance reviews focus on the conversation between the leader and the direct report, not on filling in paperwork. If you're really adventurous, get rid of the formal forms completely – replace them with a blank sheet of paper and help your leaders learn how to have a great conversation based around just a few questions. (My next post will explore some of the questions that will get the best results.)
If you aren't feeling quite this adventurous, set yourself the challenge of reducing the number of pages and the number of boxes to be completed by about 80%. Apply the Pareto Principal – which 20% of the questions on your current forms bring 80% of the useful conversation?
And – for those HR professionals who are screaming: "Without the structure the forms bring, there is no way leaders will be able to have a meaningful conversation!" – please be assured that, if your leaders can't have a good conversation in the first place, filling in forms isn't the remedy you're in need of.
2. Get each individual – not the manager – to record the key points from the conversation
This one is so easy to introduce, and such a winner for everyone. Why should one manager be faced with recording lots of conversations every time the performance review cycle comes round, when each individual can fill in just one – their own?
And record the key points of the conversation while it is taking place – details can be fine-tuned later if both parties feel this will be useful. In one fell swoop you will make the process so much easier – even if you decide to ignore number (1)!
Asking each individual to record the key points themselves makes it far more likely that they will engage with the whole process as well, and it turns the whole thing into a conversation between two adults. The very act of the leader filling in a form about the people who report to him/her changes the power balance significantly and makes the whole process far more judgemental.
3. Hold a performance review monthly – not quarterly, six-monthly or annually
Now, all those managers who were beginning to think I was on their side are wondering why on earth I'd come up with something like this. What's the point of removing the shackles of filling in lots of complex forms and then adding in maybe 11 – yes, ELEVEN – more performance reviews each year!?
Before you throw up your hands in despair at my total lack of understanding of just how little time you have available to do this once a year, never mind every month, let me reassure you that this one will save you time, build better relationships with your team members, and drive productivity far higher than anything else you can do. It will also remove the hurdle of the BIG REVIEW.
Monthly reviews with each member of your team, lasting 60-90 minutes, will help them stay focussed and on track. It will mean that the formal quarterly, six-monthly and/or annual reviews will be far shorter – they'll just be part of a regular process.
4. Make sure your leaders know how to have a good conversation
Reflecting my point in number (1), the best performance review is fundamentally nothing more than a good conversation. The problem is, labelling them as 'performance reviews' and running workshops on how to have a good 'performance conversation' makes them seem far more complicated than that. It feels like a lot of special skills are required. And that gets in the way.
So, rather than training your leaders to carry out performance reviews, help them develop and build good conversation skills. This will equip them to do far more than have performance reviews – they'll be better able to coach, to give feedback, to influence, to engage, to talk about change...
And that's because all of these are about good conversations. There is no special magic that sets any one of these apart from the others.
Of course it will take some time to implement these changes – but just think of all the time that is spent every year as the respective parties play out their 'chasing-up' and 'resisting' roles. The problem with that approach is that the time is wasted; it becomes a perfunctory annual process and the required changes don't stick.
By following the four steps above, good leadership communication practices will be embedded and will have a far greater impact – ultimately driving up individual, team and organisational performance.
Image courtesy of bplanet / FreeDigitalPhotos.net