It is the limitations of performance reviews that go against the work cultures that we are all being told are paramount to the success of companies, and it is why I wrote my previous blog Stop doing performance reviews!
Some companies have abandoned the performance review but they are the exception not the norm. I’m hearing so many start-ups talk about their business and a majority of these start-ups have, sadly, instituted performance reviews.
I believe there is a better way, a way that fits your company culture and allows people to be innovative, allows them to learn from failure rather than be punished for it, and teaches people to teach themselves and approach what they do in a more team-focused way.
The latest trend is an approach called “coaching”. I have seen good and bad versions. The bad versions just remove the name “performance review” and in place call it “coaching” or “check-ins” that are really, under the surface, a semi-annual performance review. They are a little more effective because they require regular “check-ins” with your manager to discuss operationally what you are doing as well as talk about your career. But they are usually top-down discussions that involve little collaboration and is very one-sided.
The problem I have with the “coaching” approach is it, sometimes, when done poorly, becomes an obnoxious micro-managing tool that treats its people like nothing more than an adult child.
I think there is a better way.
Teach your managers to be mentors
The definition of a mentor is: noun: someone who teaches or gives help and advice to a less experienced and often younger person; transitive verb: to teach or give advice or guidance to (someone, such as a less experienced person or a child): to act as a mentor for (someone).
What I also think is very important are the synonyms of mentor, which include: coach, counsel, lead, guide, pilot, shepherd, show, and tutor.
To me these words mean a lot and can help us approach how a manager manages his or her team. People work better when they are taught rather than when they are told. To lead a person to success is to train them in how to be collaborative, how to take chances, and how to continually learn and improve in all they do.
Train your team to be successful
To be a great manager you need to train your team in how to be effective in their work and how to continually learn and improve. And this doesn’t mean micro-manage the way they do things. Just because you do things a certain way doesn’t mean it should be the only way. If you approach tasks this way then you are creating a team of drones rather than a team of doers who think for themselves.
I was reading an article recently about “coaching” and it was suggesting that a good way for a manager to coach people is to have the manager ask a person on their team, regularly “What went well?” and “How could you have done that better?”. Personally if I worked with a manager who came up to me and asked me those questions I would hand in my resignation on the spot. I am not a child, I have the intelligence to self-review my work and to learn from the outcomes without having someone ask me those ridiculous questions.
I’d rather give people training and guidance before they do that specific task, not after. Again, performance reviews are reactive, we want to be proactive and allow people to be successful before they do something, not after.
For example, under certain coaching models you ask a person after they conducted a meeting those two questions I listed above. That’s all in good but if I approached it as a mentor rather than as a manager then I would train them on how to conduct a successful meeting and after the meeting give guidance, if necessary.
How? I would start by teaching the person how to approach a meeting. What is the goal of this meeting, is it to inform or to collaborate on a project? If it’s to inform, maybe the meeting is not the best use of peoples’ time. Might it would be better to create a wiki page or send an email on the information and have a place where questions can be asked and answers can be viewed by everyone.
If it is a meeting on a project, what is the goal of the meeting, who is the audience and how does this meeting impact them and what questions will they likely have? Be sure you answer these questions in your meeting.
I would also give the suggestion that they always let their attendees know they can ask questions that haven’t been answered in the meeting as well as give feedback on how the meeting went.
And don’t think this person needs to be perfect in conducting this meeting because they will learn and improve as they have more meetings. The first few meetings might drag on or may go off-topic as people do in meetings. It might be helpful to point out these issues by letting the person know you felt it could have ended sooner or that things got off topic. But understand people conduct meetings differently and this particular person might have felt those off-topic conversations put people at-ease or got more people involved in the conversation which allowed for a more collaborative and involved group when they returned to the topic. Again, don’t try to micro-manage the way things are done. As long as the goals were met and the attendees felt it helped progress the project, then it was successful. A good mentor (i.e. manager) knows when to step back and let the person learn for themselves.
Have regular one-on-one sessions
One suggestion I have is to meet with each of your team members one-on-one, regularly, to discuss what is going on, for both of you. I suggest weekly but understand this may not be possible, so every fortnight (every two weeks) is acceptable. Monthly is probably passable but not ideal.
My suggestion on these regular one-on-one sessions is that they are collaborative with no specific goal other than to talk about how things are going, for them and for you, and work collaboratively on solutions, if possible or necessary. You want to teach people what questions to ask themselves when they have a roadblock so next time they can help themselves.
Each person on your team has unique experiences and to not tap into that knowledge is foolish and people want to know they have a say in things. They want to know they are respected and appreciated and one way to do this is to include them in your road to success by asking for their input and ideas.
I worked on a multi-million dollar build-out of an office space and we had the IT person as part of the project team because their knowledge and expertise in all IT was paramount to the success of the build-out. But they contributed in so many other ways during the entire project. This person had design ideas that we incorporated which, in the end, made it an even better space than what we had designed. Never underestimate your people because great ideas can come from the least expected places.
Don’t promote people into a manager role just to reward great performance
One thing I have found that we all do because we think it’s the right thing to do and that’s to promote someone into a management role because they’ve been an awesome performer. You should promote people into a management role because they are going to be an awesome manager.
If you wouldn’t hire the person into the manager role if they were external, then you shouldn’t if they are internal, at least, not yet.
I think you should reward great performers and it’s imperative for the company’s long-term success to do so, but do it in a manner so they succeed.
This means training people to be great managers before they are promoted to a manager. It will save a lot of headache and heartache later on.
Currently people are promoted into a management role because they were awesome at their job and they knew their stuff and people came to them for advice all the time. But going from a doer to becoming a person who helps others do well is a major shift and not everyone is up for the challenge.
If you have been having regular one-on-one sessions and if you have been talking about this person’s career goals, then you should know whether they would be interested or effective in a management role.
If they are, have them manage a project and see how it goes. Of course you don’t throw them into the project without training them on how to be a successful project manager, so please be a great mentor and do so. Give them the support they need to be successful, after all, you are their manager and you want them to succeed.
Continue to increase their management skills and experience knowing when the time arises they will be promoted into a management role they are prepared to be successful in.
Stop rating and start rewarding
Performance reviews usually have a rating system, usually numbered in a 3-tier or 5-tier system or a graph that indicates two metrics. The graph is designed to take a rating system out but it’s still a rating system because everyone wants to be in the upper right and if they aren’t they feel as though they have failed.
A rating system might be helpful to your top 1% of performers, and even then studies show performance reviews do not motivate your top performers, so why do we still do them?
And a rating system will alienate 99% of your staff. Why would you do anything that demotivates 99% of your people? Does that even make sense?
Instead chuck the whole thing, stop rating people, and instead reward people for awesome work by giving them a bonus, by giving them more stock options, by increasing their salary, by publicly recognizing their efforts, by giving them work they love doing, by giving them the opportunity to show others what they can do, by giving them more responsibility, by giving them more decision-making opportunities, by giving them the training they need to be successful when you promote them, and by promoting them. The key is giving people more decision making opportunities and promoting them into roles they will thrive in.
You want your staff to be team focused and yet you create a system that creates an us-vs-them scenario every time you do a performance review. Give the same percentage raise to everyone, across the board, since it is a team effort. Then give additional raises or bonuses to those who deserve it. You can do this without the demotivating performance reviews that alienate a vast majority of your people.
Focus on what they do well, not where they need to improve
We all have stuff we like to do, whether at work, or at home. And there are certain things that each of us thrive doing no matter how much we do it, no matter how long we do it, and no matter how tired we are. Whenever we do it we are energized and ready to do more, no matter what kind of day you have had. It’s those types of activities that people should do more of. Just how productive would your teams be if they are spending at least 50% of their time on things they love doing?
So talk with your people, find out what they love doing in their current work and what they hate doing, those things that just sap all their energy, even if it is during their peak performance time. During your one-on-one’s try to figure out, together, how to remove those things they hate doing. If you can’t remove them, can you reduce how many times they have to be done? Are there alternative ways to achieve the same results? Is there someone else who would love to do those things?
This will also help people have a clearer idea of their career goals because they will start to analyze where their passions are and what gives them purpose. They will start to look at opportunities that allow them to do more of the things they love doing.
And help them do those things even better. Why focus on improving the things you hate doing? Who wants to spend time on improving things that only sap all the fun and energy out of their day? Wouldn’t you rather focus on improving the things that get you excited and makes you happy? Imagine a team of people spending a majority of time on things they love doing and continually getting better at doing them, it would be awesome!
One thing we train managers to do and that’s to delegate. It’s part of the “stop doing and help others do” approach. You should train and give people opportunities. But with this we tend to have a top-down approach to disseminating information as well as in who makes the decisions as to how and when things get done. Over time people on the team feel they are less involved because it’s always top-down with none of their input. And suddenly you have a team of people who are not engaged because why bother, you don't include them in any of the discussions. Why innovate when the manager runs the show and takes the reward?
As a manager you need to pay attention to the subtle changes that occur over time and try to fix them long before you get to the point of no return. You do this by continually listening to what is happening and what isn’t happening.
It’s all part of ensuring that performance reviews are never necessary because you don’t need a formal document to tell you what you all ready know. You should have the pulse of your team every moment of every day. If you don’t then you are not being effective. And before you know it an executive thinks a more “formal” approach to performance management is necessary. I say never give them that excuse!
There are more things people and teams and companies can do, which include keeping a focus on trust, the importance of employee engagement, the need to always think about the effects decisions have on company culture, as well as the imperative need for Human Resources to change. But the first is to understand there is a better way to manage performance. Chuck out the performance review and start treating your people like human adults, because they are just that, human adults.