A Survival Guide for Staff Performance Reviews
Reading time: Wisely invested 15 minutes.
If your performance review often turns into a thunderstorm, try this ...
This is a practical guide for leaders.
Maybe you know situations like this.
Mike rush’s up and hisses at you with a snappy tone. "If that's the way you want it, ... well you're the boss! " and leaves the conference room with a bright red head.
Do you think Mike goes home with butterflies in his belly, already looking forward to your next chat? Your gut feeling is right, that meeting went like shit. No chance in hell of putting it right.
Here’s the real talk.
- Why do performance reviews go the wrong way?
- Why do they make you nervous?
- What can you quickly improve?
- What does my employee really think about me?
The answers to the above questions and how you master them like a professional dancer, that’s what this report is about.
In addition, you will get a checklist for your performance review including practical suggestions for the various phases.
Let’s dive into it to make your next performance review as easy as spitting out a baby's pacifier.
Here's how we do it.
1. Your blind spots - make yourself bulletproof
When you know your blind spots, you are in control. So let's start with you first.
2. The date with your employee
Then we talk about the actual conversation, the methods you can use and how the process should be.
3. Troubleshooting Survival Guide
In case things don't go perfectly right away and what you can do to improve.
1. Your blind spots - make yourself bulletproof
Emotional Intelligence means for me - you can understand and deal with emotions intelligently – yours and with others.
Let us start with you. Maybe this question spooks subconsciously around in your mind. “Why do staff performance reviews make me nervous?” No. Let me be more specific. Why do they make you nervous when you have to address an unpleasant topic?
The minds orbit ranges from horror movies to psychological thrillers. From warnings, refusal to perform, no pay rises to mobbing. Or. Having to tell someone they stink.
Not every performance review is like the movie La La Land. But you can do a lot to ensure that you are able to discuss even the most difficult topics in a relaxed manner.
Leadership is not a divine talent
Everyone can reflect, change and improve their current leadership behavior.
Unreal fears - get rid of that annoying fly
The first reason why many managers find performance reviews difficult is simple. They're scared. More specifically, fear of losing control. But the fear in your head isn't real. The lion who stands in front of you with bared teeth who wants to chew you as a snack is real. Unreal fears dominate our everyday life. This is going on now for thousands of years and has to stop!
The second reason why "official" performance reviews are difficult for you is the lack of routine.
You talk to your employees about all kinds of things on a daily basis. Right? Usually, these conversations are as unspectacular as your daily walk to the bathroom in the morning. When you're done, you have the first relieving feeling in the morning. Why? Because you’re an expert, you know how to do it. You mastered it and your brain decided it’s boring and set it on autopilot. You now do it every day - several times a day without thinking about it.
How do you get better at something you don't do that often?
It's simple. Relax.
Try not to want everything at once.
Your blind spot
Your most important and first step is to realize what you’re doing. What do I mean.
- How does your behavior appeal to others?
- What's good about it, and what’s not?
- What can I improve on?
This is always the greatest aha-moment for my clients.
Later we’ll talk about what you practically do - especially in the heat of the moment - because that's when you jump on autopilot without realizing it. If you manage to observe yourself consciously when you jump on autopilot, dealing with performance reviews will become easy.
Because with consciousness (your) control comes (back)
Here’s an example what I mean with consciousness.
Maybe this sounds familiar.
You are in the city after a wonderful day at work and park your car on a public parking lot you have to pay for. Pay the ticket? Nope. Not today, you think: “I'll be right back, anyway.” And sprint gracefully into the shop around the corner. Twenty minutes later and fully loaded you wiggle back (the line was longer than expected).
You know what comes next.
You turn the corner and there she is. The dear meter maid who gives you a ticket. You roar on her "I was parking here for just two minutes!” No, you earned that ticket - deep inside you know that. "But she's still a b****!" That’s what you might think...
Let's put on our professor glasses and inspect what happened. You see the meter maid and think. “Fuck!” A millisecond later the thought “that stupid bitch!!” races in your head. You're pissed off and on Autopilot without realizing it.
You’re sitting on the rocket of your emotions and are the passenger with no control. This thing will hit and hurt everything in its path.
Now we push the reverse button and give you an LSD pill
The good ones from the ‘70s and wait what happens next.
Probably this, after you see the meter maid again.
“Fuuuuck, you got me. It's my fault, the good woman is just doing her job. And why is everything so colorful here? Ohhhh how beautiful.”
Well? How's that? Different? I think we agree on this too. Emotional state? Chilled and relaxed. With LSD in your head it's easy, right? Well, but in the long run that turns ugly too. "Drugs are no solution.” To quote the moms and dads of this world.
You'll have better skills in your pocket soon.
Back to the performance review
- What images do you have in your mind regarding your employees (especially those you dislike)?
- How does it change if, for example, you have a critical discussion with this employee?
If it's more likely that you want to treat your employee as a fool... and if you want them to do what you want, the meeting will turn bloody at the first issue.
Your thoughts towards your employees play a leading role. You remember? LSD? Where these thoughts are coming from is very individual and complex and nothing we should discuss in this way.
One question I want to give you, anyway.
Will it get better if you stay the same?
This is important for me right now. Notice the movie in your head. It's affecting your behavior massive. With an elephant on your foot you have little patience to paint the picture of harmony. And you’re not alone. The same happened to me.
Let’s quickly sum up.
You know why it's so hard to conduct a performance review
- Fear of losing control
- Missing routine
- And that you are able to create a different basis for conversation with a relaxed attitude.
- The blockbuster in your head influences the result.
One thing is certain. Anyone can master critical meetings.
Now we will go from this.
Suppose you have a bad image of your employee or you dislike him.
You shouldn't be ashamed, don’t feel guilty, it's human and normal. Some crazy people call them emotions.
Since you've read this far, you're determined to change and improve. You will. That’s the good news. The bad news? There is no bad news. Honesty is enough.
We will tackle this in two steps.
No. 1 - The movie in your head
I cannot coach you here, but we can optimize your attitude towards the employee.
Let's say you think your employee is a dumbass. Even on the biggest dick you can find something you appreciate. What is it? This is surprisingly easy for most employees. But what if the employee in front of you stinks to high heaven? I too had no clue what to say.
Here is what I did.
Let’s say he stinks so much that even a skunk would be jealous. Maybe because he doesn't shower. You can respect him for saving the resource water and saving good old mother nature.
Understand the principle?
No. 2 - Understand your role
This is crucial.
If you don't take that to heart, save yourself from reading on. Be bluntly honest with yourself. The better you manage that, the better you will succeed with the next step.
- How do you see yourself?
- Are you the one who can do it best, fastest, (insert a superlative of your choice here)? Come on.
- Only you know how things really works? That's why you're the boss! Right?!
Again. Be honest here, as honest as a 4-year-old child.
Suppose you think you are the best ... (everyone believes that sometimes ...). What are you saying to yourself?
Between the two of us. I don't care how you see yourself. That doesn't matter to me. But it matters to you, because your employees sense that.
You put yourself above them. Yeah, you're right. You're hierarchically above them, but if you let someone feel that, how do you think that makes them feel? Btw. It’s the same in agile teams, were we have informal hierarchy. That’s even more of a mess. I will cover that in another report.
Remember when you were a little one in fourth grade.
When you met a policeman. Was he your best friend? When this dude was standing in front of me, I was glad I didn’t shit in my pants. And your school advisor? Different story, right? He was cool. You could tell to him almost anything. He also stood above you, but you trusted him.
Do the same with your employees. You're the executive. Your position is already clear. Overdoing it, only amplifies your own insecurity. And be sure, it's outwardly clearly visible for all.
This kind of attitude works against you subconsciously. That’s another pervert game of our brain.
Ok, now we've talked a lot about you. Let's get down to business.
2. The date with your employee
The performance review is your private time with your employee. This is special for your employee. Normally employees and bosses meet only twice a year in such an intimate setting. That’s the time where you can shine as a leader. Unfortunately, most managers do not take advantage of this special opportunity at all. They rarely pick these low-hanging-fruits.
Here is the promised checklist
- State the subject in the invitation.
- Build up a good relationship
- What is today about?
- What is the purpose of this conversation?
- Your perception
- Employee's perspective
- Interest in a solution?
- Where do we agree?
- What shall we make of it?
- What are we agreeing on?
The list above sounds logical. Right?
Ha-ha! Yeah, I thought the same when I first saw the list. But the above list won’t help you at all. It's just pure theory. There are nasty and invisible trip wires in this checklist nobody talks about. Particularly, how to do it in real life.
When I think back, I still see myself sitting there. Wet like fresh out of the swimming pool. With the only difference, I had no intention to dive into it, instead I slipped into it. I was more like the wet poodle who shook himself afterwards.
And. I was on fire; I mean really boiling!
My pulse was constantly pounding against my chin from below as if Mike Tyson wanted to make sure he really knocked me out. And my heart was the wild alien in my chest that finally wanted to enjoy the fresh air.
And polish Mike’s manners, of course.
You know what I mean! Right? I'm glad you're leaving this behind now too.
Shake yourself and move on quickly
In boxing (and in life) the basic attitude plays an important role. If you see the performance review more like a boxing match, it usually blows up. This happend to me fequently in the beginning. My insecure ego came out in all its glory. The attitude was more like: "I’m the boss, you are nothing."
There was nothing achieved except an increased pulse and a lot of blown energy. Than I changed something. When I danced light-footedly like Bruce Lee and behaved more like “Be like water", I made progress.
Check out the video and then read on here.
I'll wait for you.
"Be water my friend."
To quote good old Bruce.
Your basic attitude is relaxed during the entire conversation
Criticism of the behaviour, not of the person, is in focus. In other words. "Hard" in the topic, "soft" to the person. You may have heard it before. You're the facilitator, not the problem solver. You must always hold this mental distance. If you can’t, your ego has a real problem, my friend. The ego-thing is as important as calling your partner by the right name.
Address the topic in the invitation
For the record, this is where opinions differ most. Here’s my view. Nothing is worse for an employee if he doesn't know what the meeting is about. If you're doing this on purpose, I can only shake my head. State and say what it's about. Neutrally formulated.
Your employee already smells in the morning like when his favourite shower gel is called After-Sweat? Write. Appearance, public image, dress code, or cooperation.
Does that make him nervous? Maybe, but it's worse if you just write “Consultation”. That would be like having your partner tell you "Let's talk today." I'm sure you would think. "WTF?!" On the other hand, if you put "cooperation" in there, he roughly knows what it's about.
Building up a good relationship
But how would you do that? Think about it for a second before you read on. Perhaps like this. With an artificial smile: "Hello Mike. Well?! How are you? " What do you think Mike says? “GOOD! " And Mike is on mute again. The ball is back in your court. Most managers start out that. Btw. You probably already know how he feels today, because you ask the same question every day. Asking it again makes you weaker, not stronger.
Here is a more polished question that melts down several internal borders and barriers.
“Hello Mike. What is occupying you/ What’s on your mind / at the moment / the last weeks?”
This shows you care about your employee. You will pick up important background material which you 'd never know with a short "How are you?"
The answer "GOOD" is so deeply engraved in our brains, it's impossible to escape the autopilot. If your employee is just saying: "Nothing." Or. "What is this all about?" Smile, be happy, and take it as the perfect transition to the next stage.
You don't have to force small talk for 2 minutes and 23 seconds just because it's in almost every leadership book. Faked small talk is like artificial cheese. Doesn't taste good and hits your belly in the long run.
Topic: What is today's topic?
Tell him what this meeting is about. Let’s go back to the stinky example. Don't say: "Mike, I want to talk about your nasty smell." Nope. It's too early for that.
If you're wondering. "Michael - how the hell can I say this?" Relax! I had no idea too, and then I said something like this.
"I would like to talk to you about your appearance and public image. I'd like to give you some feedback on that and what I noted. Afterwards I would like to hear what you think. Are you okay with that?"
You're asking for permission. If he says No, understand why. You can't go on before he agrees.
If a conflict is the topic, say something like. "I would like to talk to you about our relationship. How I perceive it and how you perceive it. And what we can do to improve it. OK? “
Then you tell him what you’ve noticed. And I mean businesslike. “I smell xyz ... this is my perception.”
Explain to him what you’ve noticed and how it affects you. Don't tell him. “You stink.” Better. “I notice a very noticeable smell of garlic when you come into the office in the morning."
Then you ask him. "What do you think?" Now, let your employee tell you his point of view. Yes, trust me, it’s hard to wait for an answer. But wait, stand it. Say nothing more.
Your employee talks now. Your job is to listen like this guy.
Answer the following questions in stealth mode.
- How is he doing?
- Does he understand the problem?
- What is he saying in terms of content?
- Did he get it right?
- What can you appreciate?
- What does that trigger inside you? You remember?
I can’t emphasize this enough.
If your employee opens up, show him understanding and appreciate something you can really appreciate. How would you appreciate / say it to someone when you truly think something is great?
"I think it's great that you do ... have principles and do xyz. " Period! Be quiet. Say no more. Let it work for a while. You must bear the waiting and relax. Let your employee talk first. Wait. I'm sure he has more to say.
Go on wit a smooth transition. “You know (put his name here), there are always two sides to the coin. This may feel a little uncomfortable now. Do you want to get into it?" Waiting for the YES.
Then you explain how this one thing affects you. "„... I find it unpleasant."
And conclude with: "Do you understand this? " Wait!
When you ask the last question, you start a reflection process and your employee has the feeling that you are not doing anything to him.
He faces the invisible mirror and kinda sees himself. This increases his understanding of the problem. Then he’ll say something about it, eventually. Your job is easy - wait with patience.
After he told you what he thinks, go on.
"It's important to me you understand that your behavior has side effects." The word "side effects" works because everyone knows the instruction leaflet of drugs. Drugs usually help more than they harm. Nobody wants the side effects, but they are real anyway. The side effect is an effect nobody expects. That takes the pressure off your employee. He’s not standing in the stocks.
Explain him what impacts this side effect has.
"This effect bothers people/ clients/ colleagues who are important for both of us. " We have a responsibility towards the company.
“You might feel a bit of a quandary right now. You might think, what others are saying about you. I get that and I’m here to help you there too.” Your employee probably won't say anything about that at first. Bear with this silence. Btw. That’s emotional intelligence.
Interest in a solution?
Since you are not Rambo, but a noble Jedi, you go now into solution mode and ask your employee. "What can you offer to solve these side effects? And how can I support you? Do you have a wish?"
If your employee sours in silence you turn on leader-mode say something like this: "I'll tell you what I expect." Give your employee a helping hand. This time with a practical example, how you would handle it.
Then define your desired solution in a nice way. Refer back to the responsibility towards your company/customers/other team colleagues.
If don’t know how, don’t panic. Just read on and watch out for the word SMART.
Where do we agree?
If he shows understanding, that's marvelous. If not, well then, he has still no awareness about the problem. Ask what he hasn't understood yet? If he get’s it, make a recommendation. If not, ask him what he offers instead.
Now the "negotiating" begins. The important thing here is that you know at the beginning what you're satisfied with. If you’ve reached this point, summarize what you have agreed upon.
What are we agreeing on?
The classic smart goal approach helps always.
S - Be specific – What exactly will he change. Name it. Shower in the morning. Don’t eat garlic in the office.
M – Measurable – When do you know it’s achieved? Well, that’s easy, if you define the first one proper.
A – Activating – What’s in it for him? Why in hell should he change? If the skunk was never invited to a after work party because he … - you know what I mean - you could offer that for example.
R – Reasonable – Step by step. Don’t ask for too much. It must be achievable.
T – Time-bound – When is D-Day?
And finally - thank him for the great conversation and for being so open-minded.
Do it like that, and you'll kick asses like a rock star!
If not - read on.
Here is how to take it like a real hero.
3. Trouble Shooting Guide
If it goes wrong (again)
Happens to the best. Relax and remember you’re human. The upside is, you are a person who is determined to have himself and your emotions under control. Calm down and then genuinely ask yourself the following.
- Where did I sleepwalked on autopilot?
- Where did my emotions kidnapped my brain?
- Where was I objective like a drunk man?
- Where was I appreciative like a rock?
Go for a walk and start a remix in your mind.
Usually it is one of these four elements that distracts you from your good intentions.
You did it! Congratulations!
I am thrilled that you have read so far and I am happy about any feedback.
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If you want to get more clear tips and tricks to make your life as a leader much easier, click on the orange button.
One last thing.
This report is handcrafted and written with passion. I have proofread this report a few times. Nevertheless, there may still be some typos. If you find a grammatical error, please let me know. I appreciate this very much and send you a bar of chocolate as a thank you. Really, it doesn't matter where you live on this planet. Thanks again.