Tis the season that some employees love and others dread. Many companies around the globe are gearing up for the annual performance review season. It’s a time when managers are drowning in performance reports and employees are hoping their previous 12 months of effort will lead to high praise, new career opportunities and perhaps a bump in pay.
This annual ceremony, however, has lost its luster and more importantly, its relevance. The speed at which we operate, the volatility of markets, the fickleness of consumers, the ruthlessness of competitors, and new meanings of work mandate that we look at performance feedback and have career dialogues more regularly than this traditional annual cycle.
Employee goal setting at the beginning of a fiscal year is also at risk, thanks to the levers listed above. Rarely do the goals objective stated in January become the tasks and projects completed by December. Again, our inboxes are in a constantstate of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (VUCA). Employees need and deserve regular feedback, timely coaching, and the opportunity to lead from their place in the organization. Achieving this can be done in three simple (but not easy) steps.
1. Create Opportunities for Frequent Feedback
In feedback-rich cultures, feedback isn’t saved up and then dispensed at formal monthly one-on-one conversations between managers and employees. Companies that do this well create environments where feedback flows up, down, and sideways. Employees at such companies demonstrate an interest in making their colleagues better and do that by being generous with developmental insights and suggestions for growth. This takes some getting used to for the average human. Humans are hardwired to avoid pain and protect our ego (our sense of self). When all employees are expected to offer and receive feedback, the game changes. When senior leaders actively model such behaviors, the culture changes.
Most of these opportunities can be informal. For example, after giving a presentation, the presenter might exit the room and ask attendees for their impressions. Conversely, if your colleague doesn’t initiate the inquiry, you might gently offer, “I thought you did a really nice job in there. I have a couple thoughts for your next presentation, if you’re interested.”
In feedback-rich cultures, leaders understand how important the ability to offer and receive feedback is to the quality of their products, services, and working relationships. They will ensure that most one-on-one meetings end with 10 minutes of two-way feedback (manager to employee and vice versa.) A simple question of “What two things could I do that would help you do your job better?” could lead to an invaluable discussion and a modeling of a healthy feedback exchange.
During team meetings (in person or virtual), leaders can schedule 15 minutes of “speed feedback” on a quarterly basis. This activity asks employees to take turns sitting across from one another, offering feedback for two minutes, switching the focus on their partner for another two minutes, and then switching to a new partner altogether to repeat the process until everyone has had a chance to receive from and give feedback to each peer. If you have an opportunity to do this in person, simply line up two rows of chairs facing each other, assign a facilitator with a stopwatch and go. Encourage participants to have their questions ready. “What could I do to be a better peer to you?” “What could I start doing, stop doing, or continue doing to better support this team?” “Will you offer two leadership strengths and two areas for development for me?” If your team is remote, create digital rooms for your pairs and switch after the allocated time.
After action reviews (AARs) are another way to ensure that your people learn from their experiences. AARs can be quite formal or short and simple. After a presentation, difficult conflict, critical client meeting, or a project wrap, take time to debrief the pros and cons of that experience. Make lists of what went well and what you would change the next time. Sense if the changes require greater skill, different behaviors or new knowledge and then make plans accordingly.
2. Ensure That Each Team Member Has a Development Plan
Today’s leaders can’t expect to know it all or do it all. The world of work has simply become too complicated for such a top-down approach. They need to scale leadership and commit to putting a leader in every chair in the organization. These empowered employees will, in return, find unique and timely opportunities to move the business forward.
Companies committed to leadership development ensure that each team member has an active development plan. You don’t need a sophisticated human resources (HR) system to track volumes of detail for this task. Simply ask each member to think of three skills or behaviors that they’d like to improve over the next 12 months. Discuss their list in your next one-on-one meeting and offer your own insights. Once you have agreed upon the skills or behaviors to develop, build a development plan together. Offer resources that employees can read, watch, listen to, and attend with the intention of developing specific skills over time. Offer special assignments or project exposure to apply the skills acquired. Have the employee manage their development plan and set the expectation that you will be anticipating an update on their progress each quarter. With this discipline you will create a team of lifelong learners and highly skilled leaders.
3. Be Coach-like In Every Interaction
Professional performance coaches have the training, experience and skills to coach at depth. Don’t put so much pressure on your people leaders by asking them to be coaches. Instead, ask that they and all employees in your organization be “coach-like” in every interaction. Employees who are coach-like have a certain kind of spirit at work. They want everyone to bring their best self to work. They offer and are open to feedback and suggestions that improve their overall performance. They value relationships over work. They skillfully build, repair and maintain trust among colleagues. They support, but don’t rescue, their direct reports. They hold themselves and those around them accountable for good work. They clarify expectations and reinforce commitments within their work groups. They are self-aware, lifelong learners and model that for others. If this approach is new to your team or organization, start small with an offer of support or to help one another.
Is this the year you end the annual performance evaluation ritual? Is this the year you establish a culture of frequent, timely, and genuine insights with the sole intention of making your people and your company better? Leverage the tips in this article to get started.