performance review

Have a Holly Jolly… Performance Review?

The first time I wrote about performance management, more than a decade ago, “Death, Taxes, and Performance Management” was a fitting title. At the time, I argued that all three topics conjured up images of unavoidable misery, paperwork, and delicate conversations about money. So, I jumped at the chance to tackle the topic again―this time with a little ho-ho holiday cheer.

I’ve observed, despite all the reports of revamped performance management approaches and continuous coaching cultures, that the tradition of year-end performance conversations is still alive in many organizations (much like the annual delivery of Aunt Ida’s holiday fruitcake that could double as a doorstop). I’d like to offer up three performance review tips for managers on how to make the most of the conversations.

Make a List and Check It Twice

Just like the fabled big guy in the North Pole, make sure you have the information you need. Before you start the conversation or make entries in your HRM system, review your notes from conversations you’ve had throughout the year. What were the expectations? How did they change? What accomplishments made a difference? Were the outcomes stellar or not what they needed to be? What criteria are you using to shape your thinking?

Don’t stop with what has been achieved. Go back and consider how your team member managed to deliver results this year. Which organizational values were demonstrated? What special capabilities or efforts did the individual bring to the role? What behaviors do you want to highlight―naughty or nice? After all, if you have a team member who creates chaos or a trail of tears in pursuit of results, you need to address the situation now.

It’s Not All About You

A quick but relevant holiday aside: When I met my husband, he used to go to his favorite discount retailer to buy things he thought were cool, and then he decided who in the family was going to get what. It took me a year or two to help him realize that holiday gifts should also reflect what the recipient cared about. Here’s the connection to end-of-year reviews: Sure, they’re about performance, but sustainable results require your team member’s full engagement.

Plan to ask questions that explore the team member’s experience, like: What aspects of their projects were most challenging or fulfilling? What would they like to do more of? Where did they learn the most? What did they enjoy? If you’ve been having regular conversations with team members, you may think you know the answers. But the time you spend exploring each person’s engagement drivers will help ensure continued team member commitment and create a more holly jolly vs. ho-hum discussion.

Avoid Surprises

Finally, save the unexpected for your office “Secret Santa” gift exchange. There is no place for surprises in a performance review. If you’ve been talking to your team members regularly throughout the year―revisiting goals, coaching performance when you see it, clarifying evolving expectations, and identifying development opportunities―the end-of-year discussion should be a recap of everything you’ve talked about already. It’s a wrap-up of “performance past” (get the Dickens’ A Christmas Carol reference?) and a great jumping-off point for planning a stellar future.

You may notice that all three of my points assume regular coach-in-the-moment conversations. What if, despite your best intentions, those haven’t occurred? Prepare as best you can for the performance reviews… and start working on your New Year’s resolution to talk to your team more next year.

About the Authors

Mary Ann Masarech

Mary Ann Masarech spent the first third of her career writing, designing, and marketing skills training for top-notch consulting firms. She acquired a broad base of instructional design and client experience building learning experiences in sales, negotiations, account management, customer service, selection interviewing and leadership skills. The programs she designed were all about the “how.” (When “X” happens, do “A, B, C.”) When she joined GP Strategies’ BlessingWhite division in 2000, Mary Ann began to explore worlds beyond skills: The internal workings of individual learners – expressed as personal values and goals, the puzzling workings of organizational culture, and the often complicated dynamics of trust and relationships at work. She quickly realized there was no going back. As Lead Consultant for BlessingWhite’s Engagement Practice, Mary Ann creates practical tools and strategies that clients worldwide apply to create successful businesses and thriving workplaces. Think of her approach as "research meets real world." She is passionate about great days at work – where individuals experience the highest levels of personal satisfaction, apply their skills to what matters most, and deliver their best work to drive their employers’ strategies. As lead consultant, she also works with senior HR and business leaders on how to take meaningful action on engagement survey results to drive organizational performance. She is co-author of The Engagement Equation: Leadership Strategies for an Inspired Workforce (Wiley, Oct 2012), has written numerous research reports and articles, and is a well-regarded speaker on the leader’s role in engagement and building a culture of engagement. Mary Ann's commitment to meaningful lives and meaningful work extends beyond her day job. She is a founding member of the Norma Pfriem Urban Outreach Initiatives, a not-for-profit that addresses food insecurity (serving 10,000 meals a year) and education of underserved adults and children. She is a graduate of Wesleyan University. She enjoys her mostly-empty nest with her husband, 2 cats and a dog, cooking, reading and running (not simultaneously) in her spare time.

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