4 Reasons Your Performance Reviews Are Failing (And What You Can Do About It)

4 Reasons Your Performance Reviews Are Failing (And What You Can Do About It)

If you’re running a team, no matter how small, you’ve probably conducted a performance review. They’re fairly simple on the surface – a periodic meeting between manager and direct report to assess performance and suggest improvements. We’re finding they are increasingly the subject of much debate, with many people questioning their effectiveness in the workplace. Done right – the reviews can be incredibly useful for everyone involved, but mishandled, they can be a waste of time and energy for all concerned. Today we wanted to share with you, 4 of the most common reasons performance reviews fail to deliver the results managers want and how you can change that for the better.

All The Wrong Focus At The Wrong Times

Let’s start with an easy one. Many businesses are conducting performance reviews once a year. This means that managers end up storing up all the things employees may have done wrong (and right), and rather than addressing them at the time, pour them all out in one go. This could be months after they actually happen. In our experience, performance reviews are most effective when they are done weekly or monthly. This doesn’t have to be a big formal meeting – just a 15 – 30 minute catch up weekly or monthly with each employee, to address issues and suggest improvements that are relevant at the time. This means they can be acted upon quickly, and so the opportunity to make changes stick increases.

That brings us to our next point. Performance reviews/appraisals are supposed to give an in-depth look at how individual employees are contributing to the overall direction and goals of the team. So that’s what the constructive feedback should be about. Yet we find many managers struggle with creating outcomes that leave employees feeling charged and ready to perform better, and instead focus too heavily on the weaknesses of individuals rather than on what’s needed to drive better performance and what the employee can do about it. While highlighting negatives and planning improvement is important, it can de-motivate if there’s too strong a bias or it lacks context. Great managers identify what didn’t work and find ways to recognise and praise what they want to see more of. Focus on what an employee’s strengths look like and how they can be used to enhance performance, and there is a much better basis for improving performance in the long run. To create a really clear and aligned focus, mutually agree goals and then agree what the key activities are that will achieve it.  So, for example, if there is a need to increase sales next quarter, what activities need to happen to achieve that goal? This way you can synergise your differences, capture ideas and be clear about expectations about how something is achieved, not just what needs to be achieved.

One Size Fits All

Every person is unique. Everyone’s perceptions are different, which means we will interpret information and respond to news differently to one another. So taking a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to performance reviews limits success. A little time planning each review individually will reap big dividends. Think about that specific person – what you want to say, how you want them to feel when they leave the meeting – and tailor your messages to achieve that goal. And don’t stop there – provide direction for that person based on what they need, and make sure you give them the chance to contribute to their own goal setting and review process. Then you’re more likely to get ownership of the activity that follows from the people delivering it. Finally, remember to consider personal circumstances. Don’t tolerate excuses, but if there’s a new baby in the household or a sick parent to care for, make sure you’re fair and considerate about your expectations and approach. Consistent care for individuals counts as recognition, often far more than a small percentage salary increase could ever achieve over the long term.

Too Much Listening, Not Enough Hearing

When two people have a conversation, they are listening to each other, but they’re not always hearing what the other is saying. In performance reviews this becomes really obvious – particularly where someone is trying to give difficult feedback or deliver uncomfortable news.  Inviting perspective about the issue before giving your view as the manager is essential before embarking on this type of conversation. It’s also worth considering whether it should form part of the appraisal discussion or be dealt with separately. When we tiptoe instead of saying what we mean clearly, it’s all too easy to think we’ve made ourselves clear, when in actual fact the person you’re speaking to hasn’t really heard and understood you at all. Equally, being too direct can have the same effect, because we haven’t given the other person the opportunity to absorb the message and ask questions of it for their own sense of clarity. This leads to mismatched expectations, and means managers and employees become upset when they can’t see a change they were expecting. When we deliver training around this we encourage the following question – ‘What did you hear?’ – The response can be surprising and very useful in making sure a point has hit home in the right balance, not too hard and not to soft and such a way that it compels the individual to want to take positive action.

Expecting Instant Results

Human beings are creatures of habit. There are no two ways about that. But it’s no bad thing – it simply means that if you want something to change, you need to give it two things. Time and repetition. Far too often I have seen managers suggest some behaviour changes and then be disappointed when those changes haven’t manifested according to their timescale. Research suggests that it takes 21 – 28 days to accept and implement a new habit, and much longer for it to become a permanent change in behaviour. That’s because people develop organically, based on what they relate to and understand – at that time – in their world as they know it – for themselves. Change is a process, not an event. So instead of expecting change right away, allow time for evolution and a few mishaps after your reviews. Let the learning and change happen in layers, as an iterative process. And through the process – understanding to action, mistakes, review and new understanding – change will happen. As a manager, it’s important to notice and recognise the incremental changes throughout this cycle, and guide your employees accordingly. Then you’ll really get some traction towards the results you’re looking for, your employees will feel recognised and they’ll appreciate your support too.

Organic Top Tips

Finally, let’s round up by sharing some of our own tips for conducting successful performance reviews and appraisals gathered through observation of achievements and learning opportunities of our own over the years:

  • Be specific about expectations in both directions. What do you expect from the employee, and what do they expect from you as their manager?
  • Be honest. Don’t undo the feedback you’re giving by generalising (or saying everything is OK when it’s really not, which we’ve seen too many times!)
  • Balance responsibilities and feedback fairly. Don’t give one employee a goal that the whole team will need to contribute to, or give a negative review if a flawed task, or other team members were involved in a failure. 
  • Focus on the activity, not just the goal, if you want to see results.
  • Allow time for change to happen naturally – don’t demand it instantly. 
  • Encourage ownership of performance by demonstrating it yourself. Set an example to your employees about how to be active in your own improvement.

At Organic P&O Solutions, we specialise in helping managers understand the review process, and learn how to adapt their leadership style to get the best results from their teams. If you’d like to find out more about how we can help with your leadership style, approaches to performance processes, or training and development programmes for you and your teams, please get in touch today. We’d love to hear from you.

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