Because it is January, chances are you are frantically trying to schedule year-end performance reviews. The dreaded performance review - quite possibly the most detested HR program ever invented. It doesn’t matter what process, form or technology is in place to accomplish this task, it is always bad. But what if I were to tell you that you can put an end to the madness? It is probably not realistic to eliminate the task altogether (someone from HR will hunt you down eventually), but you can put an end to the dreaded part. I know I did.
Step 1: Focus on performance planning, not performance review
How would you feel, as a fan, if your favourite hockey team showed up on the ice without a game plan. Instead of carefully crafted and well-rehearsed strategies and plays to get the puck in the net, the coach decided just to ‘play it by ear’. That is what a lot of leaders do with their teams. Instead of investing time and energy in crafting well-considered performance contracts that align tightly with business objectives, a lot of leaders leave their direct reports to ‘wing it’ on a day-to-day basis. I have seen large, complex organizations with serious strategic objectives fail to engage employees in anything resembling a robust performance planning process. Each member of your team should have clearly defined deliverables that directly align with your deliverables, which should directly support your boss’ deliverables, and so on. This process takes effort, but at the end of it each of your team members will have a concrete business plan they will use to prioritize their time and performance. They will know what is expected of them and align their activities accordingly.
Step 2: Hold weekly review meetings based on the performance contract
When I took on managing a senior team my coach gave me a piece of advice: hold weekly 30 minute update meetings with everyone. The prospect of that seemed overwhelming to me at the time, but I decided to trust her and give it a shot. While it wasn’t always easy, and sometimes the weekly meeting drifted to a bi-weekly meeting, I can tell you it worked. For 30 minutes each week, team members provided a short and snappy update against their performance plan. Anything not directly related to the plan was dealt with in a separate meeting. What did this accomplish? Focus. Momentum. Timely, relevant two-way feedback. No surprises. Results. My team got the important stuff done. This is what performance management (and people leadership) is all about. More importantly, as a team we knew we were contributing in a significant way to helping the organization achieve results and we felt good about our accomplishments.
Step 3: Watch performance review become a non-event
When formal mid-year or year-end performance reviews were due, it was a non-event for us. Everyone knew where they stood because we tracked this on a regular basis. And because I knew my team were achieving their goals, I knew I was delivering on my commitments to my boss. So instead of spending time arguing about and negotiating performance ratings, we spent our time talking about development and career goals. And that is how you engage employees. Not by handing them a report card like they are still in grade-school, but by helping them paint a picture of their future.
I have many shortcomings as a leader, but performance management is something I was pretty good at. But only because I was intentional in building it into my management routine and relentless in executing against it. So make this the last year you say you hate performance reviews. It’s January, after all. Time to get on that performance planning process.
This month's blog was inspired by a conversation on building organizational alignment with DC, a newly appointed CEO.