To Encourage the Heart, Forget Performance Reviews


photo credit: Greg Giuliano

Performance reviews rarely encourage the heart. Just the opposite is closer to the truth. Both the manager and the employee usually dread them. A well-intentioned idea, performance reviews have become perfunctory exercises devoid of meaning that produce little to no value in terms of increasing engagement and raising performance.

I see two problems with performance reviews:

One, they look backward. Given the pace and complexity of business today, looking backward isn’t very useful. It’s too late. If someone isn’t as engaged as we would like or performing at the level we believe them capable of, why would we wait until a quarterly, semi-annual, or (heaven help us!) annual review meeting to talk to them about it?

Second, they focus on the person “being reviewed”.  Why do we assume that the person is the problem? When we focus on the person we are saying that their engagement and performance are totally up to them. That is simply not the case; and, it lets the leader off the hook. When people are not as engaged as we want or not performing as we would like, it’s just too easy to make the person the problem. And, making the person the problem is inconsistent with Kouzes and Posner’s leadership model, The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership®.

Engagement and performance levels are impacted by the actions of leadership. Does the person have the level of clarity they need? Do they understand the vision and mission of the organization and the team? Do they know what they are responsible for and being held accountable to deliver? Do they have the resources they need? Do the communication patterns and other processes support the person’s success? Are they seeing high engagement and high performance modeled by their leaders?

Low engagement and poor performance are, more times than not, a symptom of poor leadership and not a sign of a lacking aptitude on the part of the person undergoing a performance review. Our job as leaders is to give people with known aptitude (that’s why we hired them) what they need to make the best contribution they can. It’s time for a change leadership revolution that tosses the performance review and replaces it with Contribution Management.

If we use The Five Practices as a starting point, we can reimagine the performance review process as Contribution Management and engage people in a way that truly Encourages the Heart. We can Enable Others to Act through regular coaching conversations focused on the future rather than the past. We can develop a culture that not only allows but also encourages people to Challenge the Process. We can own our responsibility to Model the Way more fully when we engage to help people make a bigger and more impactful contribution. We can Inspire a Shared Vision by changing the way we engage to lead.

To take it a step further, let’s…

  • Imagine if we begin with the respectful assumption that the other person has the aptitude to perform.
  • Imagine if we confirm the person understands the contribution we want and need them to make.
  • Imagine if we ask people what they need from us as leaders in order to make that contribution.
  • Imagine we agree to provide more clarity or work to shape an atmosphere that will help them be more successful. 
  • Imagine we hold one another accountable to follow through with our commitments.
  • Imagine that we check in on a regular basis to gauge progress.
  • Imagine how the person feels by not being labeled the problem and, instead, by being seen as a valued contributor.
  • Imagine how much faster we can go when we are looking forward.

We are in the process of working with one of our enterprise clients to imagine and roll out a Contribution Management process like the one described here. Senior leadership wanted a process more aligned with the culture they have worked so hard to create. They are radically Challenging the Process! The change of this important people process was a logical and vital next step. 

The new Contribution Management process calls for quarterly “contribution conversations” in which people managers and team members create a scorecard and roadmap for the team member for each six-month period. The people manager uses a coach approach (inquiry and feedback) to help team members understand organizational and team goals and articulate what projects, assignments, and tasks the team member is looking to contribute to in the upcoming six months. The contribution conversation promotes mutual responsibility for the team member’s contribution to the organization, the team, and him or herself. Both the leader and team member share responsibility for contributing positive results. Both share responsibility for the experience of “team” they are having. And both share responsibility for how each are developing in order to make the best contribution possible.

We’re excited about our work in this next frontier of organizational health and performance—new territory that will challenge leadership to engage people to help them manage and own their contributions to the organization rather than review past performance. Success in this next frontier depends on our ability to shift our mindset and build a leader as coach skill set. It will require us to put people before process. It will require us to focus on moving the business forward and continuously developing our people at the same time. It will require us to double down on our daily practice and life-long journey of living The Five Practices.

Dr. Greg Giuliano is founder of Ecstasis, LLC, a leadership and organization development consultancy that calls leaders to take change seriously and make serious change, and author of The Hero's Journey: Toward a More Authentic Leadership.

Connect with Greg on
LinkedIn and Twitter @greggiuliano . For more information about Ecstasis or its Contribution Management process, visit ecstasis.com.

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