For many people, performance reviews seem like rather soulless exercises driven by organizational imperatives. Designed to measure performance in order to determine whether employees have met their goals and thus have contributed to the organization’s results, they are usually highly structured, formulaic, and data-oriented. Unless a leader or manager consciously sets out to make the performance review process about more than numbers, it’s not likely to help employees grow or gain greater insight into themselves and their work. Being rated on accomplishments is necessary, of course, but it is only part of the picture. If you want to invite people to bring their full and best selves to work, you must engage in a different sort of conversation.
Greg Eaton decided he wanted to change the way performance evaluations were held in his company, a thriving business that organized corporate meetings and incentive trips. The company was known for providing exceptional customer service.
“Whether in universities or business, in all my years I saw the same thing. If the manager said good things, people just humbly hung their heads or maybe smiled. And if there was a growing edge, you could literally feel the tension in the room because of who was speaking. Whether the evaluation was good or bad, it just shut down engagement and conversation.”
So instead of rating employees on specific competencies at his company, Greg invited his managers to list each employee’s strengths and potential for growth. Before the performance discussion, they also asked employees to reflect on two questions: What is it that you’re most proud of? What was a challenge or a struggle?
The new process changed the relationship between manager and employee. Hard topics still had to be addressed, but giving employees time to reflect in advance and to start the conversation with what they were proud of made a big difference.
Greg said, “Most people had never been asked what they were proud of before, and it made a few people get teary eyed.
Those were moments to celebrate. I saw people make huge gains in their work competence and performance and pride because they were taking more ownership.”
At the Center for Courage & Renewal, annual reviews are similarly structured with open, honest questions that each employee receives a few weeks ahead of time. The supervisor and the employee reflect in advance, then go out to lunch to chat, taking turns sharing “lauds, learnings, and looking forward.”
Lauds: What has gone really well that we might celebrate?
Learnings: What has been learned in the process? How do we “take stock” of where things are now compared to where we thought they might be?
Looking forward: What are you most excited about in this coming year? What concerns you most? What ongoing professional development will help you to grow in your current job and for your future? How can I be of most help to you and your work?
The manager then writes up their joint discussion and gives the employee a chance to make changes before they finalize it and put the document into the files to use as a baseline for next time. The process builds trust that is fostered with almost weekly check-ins that create a sense of ongoing conversation. It’s a give-and-take of openness, of being invited to say what’s really true.
The common thread throughout her career has been bringing to light best-kept secrets — technology, services, resources, ideas — while bringing people together to facilitate collective impact and good work. Her latest book The Courage Way: Leading and Living with Integrity identifies key ingredients needed to cultivate courage in personal and professional aspects of life.
This article was an excerpt from The Courage Way.