How to Give (and Receive) Performance Reviews

performance_reviewAll over the world supervisors are gearing up for their least favorite time of the year. Sometime between January and March employers involve their organizations in a time of reflection, evaluation, and planning. Well, that probably sounds too altruistic. In reality, the annual performance review process is painful, unproductive, and a downright waste of time.

Reviewers often fail to keep adequate records to evaluate well and seem to be surprised that reviews have snuck up on them again at the exact same time as last year! How did that happen?! As they continue to put out fires and keep operations moving forward, they have to carve out time to think about the past. It seems like a fruitless effort, but it’s a requirement, one in which the outcome often determines the merit increases of their staff.

Merit increases have their own challenges, since “management” allots a specific dollar amount or percentage to each manager, which they have to figure out how to divvy up to their team. This often means juggling performance scores so that the budget isn’t exceeded. What a mess!

So what can supervisors and managers do to make the most of performance reviews? Here are three things to keep in mind if you’ve once again been surprised by the review cycle and have to get them done in a hurry.

  1. Adjust your mindset about reviews. Know why you are giving them, and consider what the benefits are of performance reviews. If you can modify your attitude toward evaluations and begin seeing them as an opportunity to recognize people for what they’ve done well and coach those who are struggling in certain areas, you will become more objective and solutions-minded as you prepare to write the evaluation.
  2. Focus on the purpose, not the process. When you view the performance evaluation process as a once-a-year pain-in-the neck you will likely approach the process (and your staff) negatively. But if you have made performance management a part of your everyday leadership, the annual review is just one step in the process.
  3. Make it a dialogue, not a monologue. Because supervisors often rush through the process to meet the deadline for annual reviews, they present the performance review as a monologue, checking off the score and a brief explanation as they make their way down the page. This one-way street approach denies the humanity of the employee who has little room to participate in their own performance review until the end when the supervisor says, “any questions?”

These three things will set you on a path to making performance appraisals more positive, productive, and purposeful – and hopefully a lot less painful!

If you’re on the other side of the desk, receiving a performance review that is less than dynamic and obviously rushed, here are some things that you can do to get the most out of the process:

  1. Set YOUR tone. Because you expect this years’ review meeting to be just as meaningless and frustrating as last years’, you are shut off to any other possibility. Whether your manager is taking the process seriously or not, you can set the tone by approaching the meeting with an attitude of discovery and a chance to have some positive face-to-face time with your boss.
  2. Ask questions. Don’t let your manager get away with their typical monologue of essentially reading the review verbatim, hardly making eye contact. If they aren’t coming up for breath, interject a question mid-stream. Don’t waste this opportunity to find out more about why they rated you the way they did. Make your questions positive, not attacking or defensive.
  3. Prepare! Since your boss may not have kept the best records and may be judging you based on your most recent performance or with lots of generalities, bring examples of your work. Take time to prepare a timeline of the past 12 months and what you were able to accomplish in that time. What were your successes? How did you provide value? And when did you drop the ball? Be prepared to talk about lessons learned and renewed focus.

Annual performance reviews are often forced upon the workforce, but individual managers and employees can make them better. Performance evaluation doesn’t have to be a dreadful, migraine-inducing endeavor. Really! It all depends on how you approach it – the mindset you bring with you and the preparation you undertake. Your organization may have a stupid process that seems like a departure from the day-to-day culture, but you can choose to make the most of it whether you are the giver or receiver of performance feedback.

Here’s hoping you exceed expectations!

3 Essential Elements of Strategic Thinking

Strategic Thinking

 

After years of talking strategy with business partners I have come to the conclusion that most of us don’t know what strategic thinking really is. Most of what we call strategic thinking is really not that strategic.

 

 

Thinking comes in many forms:

  • Howard Gardner talks about five in his book Five Minds for the Future, and describes at least six kinds of intelligence in his other writings
  • Edward de Bono describes Six Thinking Hats, written specifically for thinking in a business context
  • I have compiled a list of about a dozen or so approaches to thinking.

The Clifton (Gallup) StrengthsFinder identifies strategy as a distinct strength that some of us have, and I know many executives who proudly declare themselves to be strategic thinkers.

STRATEGIC THINKING DEFINED

So how is strategic thinking defined? Maybe if we start there we can better identify whether we are doing it, and how we might do it better. Someone contributed the following definition to Wikipedia:

Strategic thinking is about finding and developing a strategic foresight capacity for an organisation, by exploring all possible organisational futures, and challenging conventional thinking to foster decision making today.

From this definition we can glean the three keys to real strategic thinking, although I want to switch the order around…

CHALLENGE THE STATUS QUO

Strategic thinking requires that we recognize and shelve our entrenched mindsets.  The current state of things is what we have determined needs to change, so we must move away from our regular routines when it comes to solving problems. It’s important to look at things from a new angle, to as ourselves why today’s performance, sales, market share, operational processes, and financial results is unacceptable.

Our minds are amazing in that they create efficiencies that allow us to operate with the least amount of effort. We go through much of our days on auto-pilot and do pretty well by this method. But this acting without thinking can also dig grooves in our minds that are hard to get out of. That’s why habits are so hard to break.

We don’t realize that the habits in our thinking prevent us from innovative solutions to persistent problems. Our normal problem-solving techniques, including brainstorming, are barely scratching the surface of what is possible as far as solutions are concerned. We tend to settle for an incremental shift rather than a break-through, and hope for the best outcome with the least amount of effort.

We say we want change, we believe we are entrepreneurial, but in reality we are tethered to self-limiting patterns of thought. So we must challenge the status quo, meaning that we have to face our limited thinking head-on and push ourselves to see more.

FORESIGHT CAPACITY

I like how thefreedictionary.com defines it – “Perception of the significance and nature of events before they have occurred.”

When we begin to challenge the status quo by becoming more aware of our limited and limiting assumptions, we gain insights into where our thoughts are leading us. We may discover that our current patterns are a vicious circle. When we take our beliefs and actions to the end of their logical progression, they may just lead us back to where we started from rather than to the new horizon we were hoping for.

The capacity to see into the future is not the purview of fortune tellers, but the domain of those committed to actively seeking to give the time and attention necessary to realistically see where a decision is headed.

Because of our brain’s capacity for efficiency, we often give up the benefits of strenuous thought. The rigor required for foresight prevents our well-organized minds from resting and reflecting. The best strategic thinkers are those who can train themselves to really consider the probable results of a number of options with realistic insight.

EXPLORING ALTERNATIVES

Expediency is an enemy of strategic thinking. We want to make quick decisions and move on to the next challenge. We go with our first instinct and dismiss all kinds of alternatives because they do not fit our parameters of possibility.

Saying things like, “that won’t work here”, “it’s too expensive, we’ll never get the budget for it”,“so-and-so will never go along with it,” and many similar statements slam the door on what might just be the breakthrough that turns the organization around. And to be honest, our organizations have created this mindset by reinforcing narrow-mindedness.

Exploring alternatives means not shutting down an idea out-right. The best brain-storming sessions allow ideas to be considered for a longer time. No alternatives are shut out of discussion, but are weighed for the unique merit they bring to the discussion.

The energy and high-level thought that comes from considering multiple options not only increases morale by encouraging people to contribute their wackiest ideas, but actually bring innovative solutions to the surface.

STRATEGIC THINKING UNLEASHED

There is no doubt that our world is getting more complex and that technology has accelerated the pace of organizational life, almost to an unbearable speed. To answer these challenges of more information and the need for better and quicker decisions, we must learn to be better strategic thinkers.

Innovation in-and-of-itself is not sufficient. Entrepreneurship is important, but the quality of our thinking cannot just produce more ideas, or they will quickly fizzle out and die, or get eaten up by the competition. We must go beyond the creative to the wise, which can only be accomplished by challenging the status quo, increasing our capacity for foresight, and improving our ability to explore alternatives.

Todd Conkright is a performance technologist, human capital strategist, and organizational development professional. He helps organizations and individuals mind the gap between what is and what ought to be through analysis of current state and strategic design of processes and practices to achieve what is possible. Todd is owner and chief consultant of Cornerstone Global Training and Performance Solutions in Omaha, Nebraska. Follow Todd on Twitter @GapMinding.