An article I read recently said that a performance review is “a manager’s opinion on an employee’s performance.”
It’s hard to argue with the pure logic of that statement. But as a way to think about performance evaluation, it’s all wrong. It’s the kind of thinking that makes employees hate getting performance reviews (“they’re judging me”) and makes most managers hate giving them (“I’m uncomfortable delivering bad news”).
First, what’s the highest purpose of a performance review? I think it’s to achieve alignment between the goals of the employee and those of the company. A performance review is a huge development opportunity – a chance to get employees excited about the company, about their work and about their future. Well-conducted performance evaluations increase employee engagement, productivity and retention.
Badly conducted reviews do the exact opposite. There really is a lot at stake, and it pays to get the review process right.
We can’t explain the whole process here, but we can tell you the biggest mistake managers make: They start talking before they listen to the employee. Think about it: How could you possibly figure out how to align an employee’s goals with those of the company unless you first asked the employee what his or her goals are? Why would you want to evaluate an employee’s performance without first asking, “How do YOU think you’re doing?” or “What do YOU think you accomplished in the past year?”
We call this the “Seek-First-To-Understand” method for conducting performance reviews. Managers will conduct superior reviews if they:
- Reframe the process as an effort to achieve alignment between employee goals and company goals, and
- Let employees speak first. Find out what they value, how they like their work, how well they think they’re doing. Armed with this knowledge, you’re much better equipped to create alignment and get the very best from your people.
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