Using Performance Reviews to Improve Performance

The end of the year means time for the dreaded performance reviews. What if your performance review actually improved future performance?

For many managers, the end of the year means conducting the dreaded annual performance reviews.

The goal of annual performance reviews is to set the stage for higher levels of future performance, yet the focus tends to be on past performance.

The problem with focusing on past performance is people's response to criticism. In the words of Dale Carnegie: "Criticism is futile because it puts a man on the defensive and usually makes him strive to justify himself." If you've ever had a relationship with another human, you know this to be true.

Some of us are ready to scrap the old ways and turn performance management into progress management. If that's you, check out this video from the Society of Industrial and Organizational Psychologists (SIOP) for ideas that work (or better yet, give me a call).

If you aren't ready for something so drastic as a new performance management system, but you still want to do better, read on below for some ideas.

Complex Problem: Performance Reviews Don't Work

Unsolvable complex problems plague managers. In coaching, I guide managers to identify the problem, figure out a straightforward course of action, and observe behaviors and outcomes. The goal is not to reach a definitive solution but to deepen understanding and make meaningful progress.  

Problem: Performance reviews don't work.

Does your organization constrain you to provide annual performance reviews? Are they something you dread, doubt, or delay? You aren't alone. While you may not be able to overhaul your organization, you can tweak your own approach to get the most out of a bad situation.

Try this: Positive feedback

"People change best by feeling good." - BJ Fogg, PhD

Giving criticism or pointing out past mistakes is easy but ineffective. Sure, you never got positive feedback when you started your career, and you turned out just fine!

Why should you give positive feedback? Because you're smarter than your old managers. Giving positive feedback can feel unnatural; that's why BJ Fogg provides a table of 32 ways to give positive feedback in his book Tiny Habits (he does not include a table of 32 ways to give negative feedback 😉).

Use prompts like these to craft personalized (and true) positive feedback.

Best ever: "Even though you didn't close any sales, you brought in more qualified leads than ever."

Trending in the right direction: "You are helping your team get increasingly more efficient at iterative design."

Positive feedback has a priming effect.

It doesn't prime people to receive criticism; rather, it primes them to become creative. Now is the time to engage them in co-creating a high-performance future. I suggest a simple process:

  1. (Optional) State a specific objective you'd like them to focus on.
  2. Ask, "What would you like to do better or grow in next year?"
  3. State what your expectations are related to their goal.
  4. Ask, "What will you do about it?"
  5. Shut up and listen.

What they say becomes the basis for future feedback and encouragement.

Expected outcome: Increased engagement

Most people will respond well to this approach. They will leave feeling optimistic and more engaged with their work. You'll leave feeling encouraged by their strategic thinking and increased level of ownership.

If you don't see that outcome, there may be bigger issues of demotivation and disengagement. One meeting won't change that. It may be time for corrective action. This is when a coach can help you find the right tools and the right words to turn the ship around.

What I'm working on now 

I attended the Colorado Space Business Roundup, where I heard from the people who make Colorado the 2nd largest aerospace economy - engineers, project managers, military leaders, and business executives. There is a lot going on in the commercial space industry! It was also great to run into friends and colleagues from Agile Space Industries, who gave me an amazing introduction to the aerospace industry as a contract project manager in 2020.

January will see me kicking off my first group coaching program in partnership with Strata Leadership. While 2022 was full of one-on-one coaching and workshop facilitation, I’m excited to combine the best of both worlds to accelerate the development of cohesive leadership teams who communicate well and foster creative conflict to run amazing companies and divisions. The only thing better than one good leader in a business is a team of great leaders working for a common cause. 

What I'm reading now

If/Then by Jill Lepore 

A history of an early predictive analytics company called Simulmatics and how their work in the 1960s paved the way for big data. It tells the story of how they brought (questionable) statistical analysis to the prediction of social issues, from elections to the Vietnam battlefield to race riots. It provides an interesting look at how fraught with bias, personal agendas, and overall poor judgment predictive analytics can be.


What's new

After a year of volunteering as Lead Organizer for 1 Million Cups, Fort Collins (a weekly entrepreneurial meetup group), I'm handing over the reins. This group has been instrumental in helping me refine my business and a tremendous source of encouragement and friendship. If you're in the early stages of founding a business, find a 1 Million Cups group in your area.

 Disclaimer: The links in this post may contain affiliate links.

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