What do you think about performance reviews? When I talk to other leaders about the practice, I am surprised at how strongly many resist it. For some, it’s the idea altogether–isn’t it obvious to our employees how they are doing?!
Others express frustration on the cumbersome nature of their organization’s process or the time commitment involved. A precious few leaders I know truly value reviews and have learned how to leverage them for results. But the frequent resistance is surprising to me since I have come to see candid conversations about performance and value to the organization as powerful tools to increase employee engagement and drive results.
My second performance review as a professional, over twenty-five years ago, illustrates the value of reviews when done effectively. I remember it vividly: in a thirty-minute conversation, Andre made a huge difference in my relationship with the university and future success in the job. After cracking a few jokes and flashing his broad smile (he knew I was nervous), he offered a compelling vision for how I could grow in the position, providing caring, candid feedback. Andre affirmed the work I had done, emphasizing the difference it had made for our institution and students. And he shared how he had seen my strengths as a leader on display in the context of our team.
Things had already been going well for me at the university, but our brief conversation set me up for further success. In that short time, my boss energized me by helping me see my own strengths. Sure, I had a sense, but the tangible examples he provided me further perspective for the season ahead.
Andre did two other things that day that helped me. He tapped into my deep desire for meaning by emphasizing the difference I was making in my students’ lives. And, by talking me through some of the obstacles I was facing, he pointed me toward an even better future with the institution.
As I consider that conversation and the performance reviews, I have done with my own team members over the years, a few thoughts stand out. First, with rare exception, I have found them to be an invaluable context to help people see the big picture and recognize the importance of their work. In addition, reviews are an ideal context for candid conversations about the challenges involved in the work; both customers and the organization benefit as a result. Finally, review processes provide important opportunities to affirm the strengths of employees, reinforcing positive behaviors and strengthening the connection between boss and employee.
All of these elements make a difference in one essential area: employee engagement. By affirming their work, offering candid feedback, and identifying the gifts of employees, performance reviews can help them to feel better about themselves and enable us to strengthen our connection with our workers and theirs to the institution. As leaders, we do well to seize this opportunity to impact our employees; we neglect it to our own peril.