When I was training leaders on the topic of feedback, we always joked about that day when you received the email, with many attachments from HR: Performance Assessment day is coming! It was universally viewed as a burden, one more thing to do. It was done quickly to get back to real work. The prevailing sentiment was, ‘Oh brother, I’ve got so many other important things to do right now’. This experience was consistent across 10-15 countries, different cultures and different sectors. I’ve never heard anyone say ‘what a great opportunity to work on my team’s development’.

One of the responsibilities of any leader is to support people in their performance and their development, and this activity is a continuous process. The good news is that when you get used to performance feedback as a continuous process, it becomes easier, quicker and definitely effective. You don’t wait until the next year for results, the results come daily.

Let’s call things by their real names.

In one of my classes, students were asked to role-play a performance review. The student playing the employee was arguing and debating every comment and point issued by his ‘manager’. I didn’t understand what was going on so I stopped the role-play and asked the ‘employee’ why he took this approach. The ‘employee’ explained that in his company, everyone knew how much money was assigned to a particular rating. So he was placed in the position of defending his salary. The performance review had transformed from a discussion to a negotiation.

What is a performance review?

There is a universally implicit belief that the performance review is an evaluation, and being evaluated results in negative psychological and emotional triggers. Traditionally these evaluations have been a judgement about past performance. The performance review process should really be about the future and about improvement. Consequently this means that the manager must transform from a judge to a mirror. In this way you create the right scenario, which is:

  • the employee is accountable for their ongoing performance
  • the manager is supportive of the employee in their role while keeping the employee performance aligned with organizational needs.

In short, the manager maintains the organizational context in which the employee performs and improves in their role.