Don’t Talk Performance – Discuss Value and Change the Review Experience

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By Penny Locey
December 07, 2021
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Does the mere mention of performance reviews cause you to roll your eyes? Scream? Give a resigned shrug?

Management, human resources, and employees alike dread these discussions, and research says they are often ineffective. In a telling statistic, Gallup finds that only 14% of employees strongly agree their performance reviews inspire them to improve.

If the main reason for reviews is to justify pay decisions, it is in the company’s interest to skip the review and hold only pay discussions. However, we know that feedback is something important to and for employees and so organizations do their best to find ways to make review discussions useful.

One main reason these discussions do not “inspire” is that we are talking about the wrong things in our annual or periodic review of how an employee is “performing” in their job, company, and career. If we want to drive engagement, we should move away from “performance” in these discussions and shift toward value.

Assessing and giving feedback on “performance” is important but is best when provided frequently and close to the events for things that can be monitored and measured. The term comes from the study of things like engines, machines, races, and watches. It translates well to employee metrics like response time, quality, output, and/or something done in a particular moment in time: how a person conducted a meeting, closed a deal, or handled a difficult discussion. It can also be used for progress on specific goal attainment. People need and want regular feedback on these things so they can adjust and advance. The more immediately they receive feedback on both what is working and what is not, the more they can learn and improve, and the times they are not “measuring up” are less loaded.

There is a clear place for a more overarching, meta-level review – a year can be a good interval – but if we are serious about engagement, these conversations best focus on how the employee has contributed value, how valuable the employee’s strengths have been, where they can increase their value to the business or their own brand, and what you can do for them that would be valuable.

  • Helping employees understand how their role connects to the goals of the unit or company overall – the value their work adds – contributes significantly to engagement.
  • Sharing their input on what they found personally valuable helps them, and you, understand their motivation, and how they engage best.

If you focus on a two-way discussion of impact, instead of hits and misses, the employee is less defensive, and you also get more information. Consider the difference in your own answer to the question: “What might have allowed you to add more value this year?” versus “What did you miss in your goals this year, and what could you have done differently?”

Up for a challenge? Independently, your employees and you prepare these three questions for the review meeting; discuss them at the meeting and see if you notice a difference:

  • What were your most valuable contributions?  (Here’s what you did that I believe added a lot of value…)
  • What might have allowed you to add even more value? (What I believe could have been more valuable would have been…)
  • What did you value most about the work you did, and how you did it? (What I value most about you and your work is…)

You both might just find more value in the review!

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