We’re nearing performance review season. It’s a season most people dread. If we feel we’re doing well, we’re gearing up for having to justify why we want an even bigger raise. If we’ve had an off year, or we’ve done well but our firm, company or division has been off this year, we’re prepping for bad news. If we know we missed a few performance benchmarks, we’re psyching ourselves up to walk in with head held high, ready to commit to doing a better job next year.
If we’re delivering the performance review, there’s almost as much anxiety. We tend to be friends with our co-workers, even those we technically manage. As a rule, we don’t give feedback to our friends. You don’t come back from lunch with a colleague and say, “Hey Larry, great suggestion on the Chinese place for lunch. By the way, you slurp your soup really loudly.”
How can we prepare for, and participate in a performance review meeting? This week, I’ll share some basic pointers on giving feedback. Next week, I’ll cover how to prepare to receive feedback, and how to handle the news, whether it’s good, bad or a bit of both.
Here are some basic tips for when you are giving a performance review:
Change the focus of the meeting.
“Performance reviews,” by definition, look backward. They are an assessment of the prior year’s accomplishments. Think instead of calling them “Performance Review & Goal Setting Meetings.” Assuming someone is not getting fired, the important purpose of reviewing the past year’s work is to figure out how to improve for next year. The more the focus is on what’s to come, the more positive the conversation will be, and the more invested the person receiving the feedback will feel in the conversation.
Target specific instances when discussing behavior.
You can’t say to someone, “You have a lousy work ethic,” or “You have trouble getting along with people.” Attacking someone’s personality will not help the conversation, in part because it’s too easy to rebut. Instead, identify specific instances of behavior. “You arrive late three times each week, and we’ve spoken about this many times.” If you have the data to back up your assertion, it’s hard for the other person to argue about the issue.
Do your homework.
No one should hear anything in an annual performance review for the first time. If I meet with you in December, and you share with me for the first time that I did a lousy job on a project back in April, how is that information helpful at this point? Over the years, I have had colleagues share feedback for me to share with a direct report. When they share negative comments, my first question is always, “What was that person’s reaction when you shared that feedback with them?” If they say they never shared the feedback, I guide them one of two ways.
If the feedback is regarding a recent issue, I ask them to share the feedback with the individual and let me know how that conversation progresses.
If the feedback is about behavior in the distant past, I tell them if they didn’t feel it was important enough to share with the person back when the incident happened, it’s not important enough to share now, and the feedback won’t be conveyed to the person; there is no upside for anyone in doing so.
Consider the importance of the meeting to the other person.
This may be the fifteenth review you have delivered this week, but it’s the only review this individual will be receiving. It’s the most important conversation of the year for them. They enter the room with a certain amount of trepidation. You need to look as if this meeting is an important meeting for you as well. If you come across as tired, or bored, or blasé when you are sharing important, meaningful, and challenging information with someone, you look as if you don’t really care. Performance reviews provide a great opportunity to help build a relationship with someone on your team. The wrong delivery style will undermine all the effort you put into connecting with them and helping them to see how they can grow.
If you are seated across the table from the person receiving the feedback, keep your spine straight and lean in slightly. If you lean back in the chair you risk being perceived as disengaged or that you aren’t taking the conversation with the same level of commitment as the other person.
Keep your hands apart; it will make you less likely to wring your hands or play with your pen. Any fidgety behavior can make you seem nervous, as if there is even worse news to come.
Make eye contact, particularly when sharing the toughest news. You manage this person. You are responsible for their overall performance. Keeping effective eye contact with them will suggest you are invested in them hearing information that, although painful now, will help them in the long run. If you can’t make eye contact when you deliver bad news, you appear as if you are not quite entitled to be delivering the news, that you are out of your element. Although it’s uncomfortable to deliver bad news to someone, you’re not only entitled to deliver the news, it’s your job.
Set the stage and get the more important info out first to get rid of the mystery.
If in your industry the annual performance review includes a discussion of someone’s bonus, start with a quick “congrats on a great year,” and then tell them the bonus number. They won’t hear anything until you share the number. Then you set the agenda and say, “Let’s talk about how we came to that number, and what the performance goals are for next year.
If your organization doesn’t distribute bonuses, or if they aren’t part of this discussion, start by setting the agenda. “Let’s talk about how things have gone so far this year, and how we can set you up for even greater success next year.
Check in to make sure the person understands what’s being shared, and pull them into a conversation, particularly when setting goals for the next year. The more the review is a discussion between two professionals rather than a diatribe by one, the more opportunity you will have to help the person grow.
Next week, I’ll post some tips for receiving feedback.