Recent NPR story about (lack of) value in performance reviews caused a stir. Esther Derby reminded her long-time hate relationship with performance appraisals pointing that not only employees but also a lot of managers hate them. What more reviews are tied to merit pay which is also evil.
Well, I think it is oversimplification. We think performance review and we see corporate environment with multiple levels of management, constant fight for budgets, tough negotiations about rises and likely yearly appraisals which are so outdated that hardly bear any value for employers. If we discuss this kind of reviews, then agreed, they suck. They should be banned and people enforcing them should be forbidden to manage teams for at least 5 years.
Now, tell me I’m lucky but I had probably just a couple of these crappy appraisals. And hopefully I have performed none of those by myself. By the way if I did it to you, feel free to kick my butt if spot me somewhere.
Actually I tend to agree more with Scott Berkun who says that it is better not to do performance reviews at all if, and only if, they are done badly. It basically means most of the time we shouldn’t run performance appraisals but I boldly state I can to do better.
So this is the time I should answer simple question: “How the hell do you do this damned thing?”
Don’t make it all about money
To some point I agree with Esther. If performance appraisal is reduced to a discussion about merit bonus or raise it is fruitless at best. Money-related negotiations always suck and this isn’t an exception. If you follow some formalized process you likely have to talk about money too, but then make it as short as possible. It is no fun for both of you so make it quick and move on to more pleasant parts of the ceremony.
It is your goddamn duty to listen
I am a chatty guy so this one I should tattoo this on my forehead to remind it to myself every morning when I look into the mirror. Performance review is one of the best occasions to listen what your team mate has to say. Let me guess, you, as a manager, don’t have a lot of one-on-ones with folks from your team. And even if you have, there are people down there who are always omitted. By accident of course. When you run performance reviews you suddenly have to meet every single one of them, so don’t miss this chance. Learn what they want to tell you. Let them talk. Listen. Not everyone will be open but at least give them opportunity to talk.
Make it more a chit chat than a formal meeting
One thing I learned during my early years as a manager is that when people are stressed they won’t tell you much. Yeah, that’s an epiphany, isn’t it? The most valuable things I learned about people, about teams and about me as a leader I heard during informal chit chat which I often turn my performance appraisals into. When we have the hard part (money-related) done we can talk more openly. Actually we may discuss your last holidays for an hour if you like. If nothing else I will know that you love hiking next time we meet in the kitchen. But we may also discuss situations when I screwed up as a boss or new technologies you’d like to learn.
Let them set the rules
You have different people in the team. There are those who don’t really care. Performance review is something you both have to get through but they don’t give a damn. The money doesn’t matter. Your opinion doesn’t matter. A discussion doesn’t matter either. What then? Don’t waste time of both of you. Say what you have to say and get back to work. But there are also people who want to talk. Let them talk. Listen. Learn. There are people who need a discussion about different things. Be a partner in this discussion. There are people who look for information. Share it. Besides the small part you have to go through, it’s not you who should write the agenda.
Be open, be transparent
If you are about to say a bit more than on weekly team meeting would there be a better chance than during one-on-one? If you are about to show your human face would there a better time? If you are about to discuss your motives standing behind tough decisions would you wait for another occasion? Yes, we managers are scared to shit when we share our secrets (or things we think are our secrets). But believe me; we should do it more often. As one of the best game strategies of all time says, if you play fair you will get the same in return. Be honest, be open and you will get exactly the same from your team. Isn’t that a fair deal?
With these few simple rules I believe I’m able to run performance reviews which people don’t hate. Actually the last performance appraisal I’ve run I’ve started saying “As you already know no bonus money this time, so we can skip the formal part. Now, let’s talk.”
I think it was pretty good appraisal. And yes, I’ve learned a lot. I’ve learned a lot despite I know the guy pretty long time already.