Performance Reviews: There’s a much better way

Sat to talk story with a few managers who are currently facing their annual deadline with completing performance appraisals.

If you’re in corporate life you probably know the drill:
Performance reviews are conducted annually in one-on-one manager/employee appraisal meetings (and mandated), and managers are required to use a format designed by an HR office or some consultant, so consistent performance ratings can be used throughout the company for supposed equity in compensation levels — a poor reason for a bad process.

Employees hate it, and managers hate it, and yet scores of companies continue to uphold the practice. Pure yuck.

As you might guess from my tone so far, we don’t use that system in any of my Managing with Aloha-modeled businesses (we don’t have Job Position Descriptions either; we co-write individual Ho‘ohana Statements).

Do we review performance? Of course! The difference is that we do it constantly, coaching and mentoring on the job as the best possible context for having those conversations: Working on our Ho‘ohana is an everyday thing (and compensation is handled in another way as well). Thanks to opportunities furnished by The Daily 5 Minutes and our value-mapping practices, business partners (i.e. employees) are often the ones to initiate conversations on their performance with managers.

However I know that many managers have no choice but to comply with mandates, and like those I just coached, they have to work within the system they have until they are able to change it. Well, you CAN make improvements, making them work for you right now. Embrace your Systems Thinker: As we have learned, people can fix broken processes. Processes cannot fix broken-in-spirit people.

Here is what I advise.

Keep the good, get rid of the bad

In short: Turn your mandates into a positive and highly useful process.

  • Start with the basics of what you are required to do,
  • Improve the quality of those basics when done by your hand, and then
  • Build new improvements from there.

Here’s how.

1. Learn everything there is to know about your mandate. Good managers never wing it or fake it when it comes to putting anything in writing in regard to the performance of another human being. If you’re feeling somewhat powerless at this point in changing anything about the system as it now stands, imagine how your employees feel! They are counting on you: Hold yourself accountable for what is a profound responsibility.

Put your own manager or HR department to work for you, and get their coaching. Ask all your questions, and be crystal clear on the domino effect created by any appraisal form you complete: forms largely exist to expedite other processes.

2. Do your homework. If you’re working within a mandated system, you’re not alone. Chances are the employees in your charge have been reviewed before, and by others: Learn their history. I don’t necessarily recommend you use it (each situation is likely to have different variables requiring your judgment), but you should definitely be aware of it: you can’t build a new house (and culture of Aloha) without a solid foundation.

Second, put your feelers out for other managers who have a good reputation in your company (managing and leading with Aloha), and ask them to share any of their lessons learned with you: You may be pleasantly surprised in discovering great workarounds (legal ones) which already exist in your company culture.

3. Add some heart to add good energy. I cannot emphasize this enough: In “starting with the basics of what you are required to do” make the ‘official’ annual appraisal meeting a positive experience, helping without hurting. Do what you have to (more on this in the next section on timing) but be absolutely sure the annual appraisal itself ends on a high note: Positive and useful.

How can it be useful? Do have the appraisal focus on Ho‘ohana goal-setting, with action-specific goals that are achievable week to week (not year to year). Hō‘imi: Lay the groundwork for a near future flush with positive expectancy. Always remember that the energy of your people will fuel their capacity to perform magnificently going forward, and thus, it’s your greatest resource too: All other business assets flow from the performance energy of human beings. Your job as manager is to light those fires, not put them out.

4. Ace your timing. Until you can change the system itself, do whatever is required of you, by doing what you have to at the best possible time. If you have to deal with some negativity and have a conversation about poor performance, do so and do not avoid it. Be a good boss: Never shy from your opportunities to teach, facilitate, coach and mentor.

Corrective conversations do NOT have to occur during an annual appraisal: They should happen before then, and in their best context on the job. Alaka‘i managers will create a coaching m.o. where they deal with any messes first, and then use the annual appraisal as yet another time to celebrate a sweet victory with having done so. Give that victory to the employee whose performance you are coaching and mentoring as a win you can log during the ‘official’ review.

5. Keep conversation as the construct of each working relationship. Annual appraisals are a pain when you only do them annually. What I’m suggesting to you is that whatever is required becomes the culmination of better practices you’ve adopted day in, and day out. We talk about conversation so much here because it’s easy, enjoyable, and effective.

Work with Ho‘ohana initiatives to fuel performance energies in your workplace group huddles. Do the Daily 5 Minutes ® and you will have a wealth of one on one conversations:

I need to be crystal clear about something:
If you’re not giving your staff the gift of the Daily Five Minutes ®
you’re not Managing with Aloha „¢

Turn up the Volume, and Manage Loudly:
Don’t give up too soon. Enjoy the music of managing well.

This need not be overwhelming:
Don’t Just Add, Replace. Own the 100%
Scroll down to the footnote tags and see how much this relates to!

Bonus Idea: One of the practices we incorporate in the ‘Ohana in Business Model ® is the Annual Nānā i ke kumu Interview: We literally re-interview all our business partners (including our vendors and suppliers) to strengthen our relationships with the knowledge of any life shifts which have occurred over the past year. It’s a time we revisit innate talents, strength activities, and sense of place well-being as we purposely catch up with each other. Why do so many managers only do this when they first hire people?

Will this be enough for you?

Finally, please do question your own influence: Stretch and grow it, and do not underestimate what you are capable of. What can you do to effect change in the larger system? How can you be a change agent where you work so a bad system goes away forever?

I think of what I’ve just outlined for you in this post as managing well: As I love to say, managing and leading are verbs. Will you be satisfied with this, or will you now lead? One problem with leadership, is simply that we don’t have enough of it.

As I mentioned before, the obstacle faced is usually your company’s compensation structure if that’s what ratings are tied to: Break the ties which bind by offering to help them create a much better solution.