It’s that dreaded time of year again – performance review time.
Otherwise known as the yearly (or half-yearly) point at which the HR team and line managers do battle.
HR want managers to get all their performance reviews completed on time and to actually have a performance conversation before they fill in any related documentation.
Line managers are turning into skilled avoiders of this process, which they see as being HR-driven rather than a fundamental element of their management role.
This causes problems, including:
- Tension and sometimes outright conflict between the HR team and line managers.
- Performance review paperwork being completed after a cursory conversation, or maybe even without any conversation at all.
- Endless rounds of chase-up emails from HR to managers, cajoling, enticing and, ultimately, begging managers to complete the damn performance conversations.
If you work in HR as part of a typical organisation, this is a routine you know only too well. But other than throwing in the towel, and accepting the avoidance tactics, what can you do?
In my experience, there are three things that will convince line managers to spend time having performance conversations. They work because they save time, build a better relationship and lead to more meaningful outcomes about performance.
1. Cut paperwork back to a bare minimum
Instead, put the focus on the conversation. A good performance conversation is essentially about getting the team member to talk. These are the areas a manager really needs to explore to encourage this.
- How does the team member think they did over the last 6/12 months? How does this compare to the line manager's perspective? Where do they share views about performance? Where are their views different? What are the reasons for this?
- What did the team member enjoy about their work over the last 6/12 months? Why did they enjoy this?
- What did the team member not enjoy about their work over the last 6/12 months? Why did they not enjoy this?
- What has the team member learned from work over the last 6/12 months? How will this inform the way they work in the next 6/12 months?
- In what ways has the line manager been an effective manager from the team member's perspective? In what ways has the line manager not been an effective manager from the team member's perspective?
2. Get each team member to write up their own record
If the manager fills in the paperwork for every member of their team, they have to repeat this process several times.
But if each team member fills in their own paperwork, each individual creates their own record of the conversation and only has to do it for one person. This becomes a much more manageable task.
I can hear you screaming that the quality of the record that some individuals make will not be up to standard. Maybe not, but better to have a basic record that the individual has thought about and committed to than have a record that someone else has written for them, with little or no input from the team member.
3. Eliminate performance labels
I am amazed at just how complex labeling systems become in performance reviews.
How big is the difference between 'slightly under-performed' and 'minimally under-performed' - okay, I am exaggerating slightly, but only slightly. I have worked in organisations where managers have spent most of the review discussion trying to convince a disheartened team member that ‘satisfactory’ really means the person has done well.
Labels are counter-productive in most walks of life, and they are certainly counter-productive when it comes to measuring an individual’s performance. Always judgmental and often patronising, they have no place in a healthy performance conversation.
The point of a performance review is for the manager and direct report to share views, to explore what is working and what is not working, and to use the learning from this to improve in future.
When labels come into play, the whole discussion hangs or falls on that one final decision - what performance label to give?
Performance reviews no longer have to be dreaded. With my winning formula, you should be able to convince more managers to undertake performance reviews in just three simple steps:
- Minimise paperwork and put the focus on the conversation
- Get each individual to complete their own written record
- Eliminate performance labels
The points I raise here assume that managers are already skilled in having good conversations with their team members. Sadly, too often, this is a significant weakness for managers and one that must be addressed if performance reviews are to be meaningful and more than a dreaded box-ticking exercise.