Pasadena Star News: Performance reviews don’t have to be one-sided

A Los Angeles-based business and trial consultant and author has some thoughts on how to make the performance review process more productive for both sides. (Dan Coyro — Santa Cruz Sentinel)

Many would rank performance reviews right up there with getting a root canal. But Noelle Nelson, a Los Angeles-based business and trial consultant and author, has some thoughts on how to make the process more productive for both sides.

Q: Would it be safe to say that most employees dread performance reviews?

A: For employees, it’s the fear that they are going to be dinged for something they had no clue they were doing wrong. Sometimes employees, even the best of them, just don’t understand what is specifically expected of them. Employees resent it when they think they’re doing just fine only to find out during their annual review that they didn’t meet the expected goals or standards. An employee should never be surprised by a performance review. All along the year, employees should receive regular, frequent, targeted feedback on their work. Feedback is critical to employees’ ability to know what they’ve done right, and what needs improvement.

Q: Do you think most employers put enough thought into these, or do they tend to shoot from the hip with their evaluations simply to get them in on time?

A: Putting together a meaningful performance review for each employee can be a time-consuming process. Some bosses take the task seriously, others don’t want (or have the time) to put in the work to do it right. The bosses who do it right have already been communicating their praises and their concerns to their workers throughout the year. They see a performance review not just as a time to reinforce positive behaviors and discuss possible improvements, but also an opportunity to discuss the employees’ goals and career/job aspirations, to engage with employees on what matters to them.

Q: You have suggested that it makes sense to open up the performance review process to be more of a two-way exchange. How would that work?

A: The boss shouldn’t do all the talking in a performance review. When the feedback is positive, employees can usually just nod their head in agreement. When it’s negative, employees feel they need to defend themselves and the meeting can quickly go downhill. To avoid this, start off the review with a set of questions that can turn the review into a conversation, rather than an indictment. Questions to get the conversation going could include “What have you noticed about your performance this year?” “What do you think went well?” “What would you have liked to have done differently?”

Q: What are the benefits of opening up the process?

A: A review that’s a two-way conversation is more satisfying and more productive to both the employer and the employee. It prompts the employee to think out loud about his or her work ethic, areas to improve and goals for the future. It gives the boss a chance to see where he or she could make changes that would help the employee succeed.

Noelle Nelson is a Los Angeles-based business and trial consultant and the author of “Make More Money By Making Your Employees Happy.”

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Dump The One-Sided Performance Review: Engage Employees For Better Work Results

Performance reviews are typically a one-sided discussion–with the boss taking the dominate role and employees often feeling forced to defend themselves. It doesn’t have to be that way.

During a ‘traditional’ review, both employer and employee are in a no-win situation. For bosses, having to sum up an employee’s performance for the whole year, rating according to scales that have little to do with the actual quality of the work done certainly do not measure the true value (or lack thereof) of the employee’s contribution. It’s a thankless task at best.

Employees don’t like reviews any better. As Samuel A. Culbert, professor at UCLA Anderson School of Management, wrote in a Wall Street Journal article:

“Performance reviews instill feelings of being dominated. They send employees the message that the boss’s opinion of their performance is the key determinant of pay, assignment, and career progress. And while that opinion pretends to be objective, it is no such thing. Think about it: If performance reviews are so objective, why is it that so many people get totally different ratings simply by switching bosses?”

The solution? Give employees a sense of ownership of their review, a feeling of participation with you in their review. Start the review with a set of questions that can turn the review into a conversation, rather than an indictment.

Review questions that will get the conversation going include: “What have you noticed about your performance this year?” “What do you think went well?” “What would you have liked to have done differently?” “What pleased you about your work?” “Was there anything that disappointed you?” “What would you like to see happen differently this year?” “Anything you’d like to change?”

You may find that a review conducted in this manner, fulfills a more satisfying and performance-enhancing purpose than your average review process. It prompts the employee to think out loud about his or her work ethic, areas to improve and goals for the future. It’s the opportunity for both boss and employee to take responsibility for their work, which means each can become more productive and engaged at their job.