Do these songs sound like your last performance review?

November 25, 2013
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While it seems like many people are moving away from annual reviews and toward an ongoing performance management culture, there’s no disputing that the annual review is still happening. And that’s not a bad thing… unless you’re struggling to really do good reviews of your team. Here are three song titles that describe major pitfalls in the annual review – think of this as “what not to do” when giving reviews, and perhaps the tune will stick in your head when you're doing your next one.

“What Have You Done for Me Lately?” (Janet Jackson, 1986)

Depending on how frequently performance reviews are done (or infrequent as the case may be), it’s tough not to fall into the trap of only highlighting or remembering what the employee did most recently. This is especially true for annual or semi-annual reviews – you put pen to paper and end up remembering just the most recent things, good or bad, and that recent impression ends up coloring the entire review.

Yes, I realize it’s hard to remember the whole year (or whatever time period you’re covering)… that’s certainly natural. You’re going to end up focusing on recent events. But you should probably also take the time (if you’re not continually doing it) to go through the whole year – making notes on good performance and coachable events, and then bringing those up.

Sometimes what’s done most recently might be more indicative of your expectations of what’s to come. Say you had an employee start off the year poorly, but through solid coaching and perhaps some changes in job responsibility, that person is really picking up steam. Yes, highlight those changes for the better, and focus on the direction they’re going as a means to encourage future performance. But don’t pretend that it’s always been rosy, and unless you’ve documented those coaching discussions and the turnaround story as it happened, you probably still need to use the annual review to capture the full essence of the year.

PerformYard Review - Don't Worry, Be Happy

Don’t Worry, Be Happy” (Bobby McFerrin, 1988)

Sometimes performance reviews and conversations can be difficult. I get that, but they have a purpose, and an important one at that. So they require honesty. OK, perhaps not brutal, no holds barred, scream it from the top of your lungs honesty. Honesty with tactful delivery.

But have you ever found yourself trying to bookend some “constructive criticism” with compliments? You may have something negative to communicate to someone, so you sugarcoat it, make it easier to swallow. Downplay the meaning. But what sometimes happens here? Your message is lost. All the fluff you’ve decided to put around it means that the real focus – improving performance – gets covered up.

A good performance review needs to encompass both the good and the bad, with appropriate emphasis depending on what really happened. Now that doesn’t mean you need to dwell on things, but you shouldn’t try to skip past the bad stuff and focus on only the good, because you won’t end up doing yourself or the employee any favors. If there are opportunities for improvement, then discuss them with a clear understanding of what happened and what can be done.

PerformYard Review - When You Say Nothing At All

“When You Say Nothing at All” (Keith Whitley, 1988, but probably better known as performed by Alison Krauss, 1995)

In my mind, the cardinal sin of a performance review is actually no performance review. Why? At least the poorly executed one meant that something happened – someone took some time to write down something and have a conversation related to the employee’s performance. It might not be the best review, but it’s better than radio silence.

I don’t think you could signal something worse to an employee than to not do a review. Unless you’re having regular (and I mean really regular) performance discussions that truly supersede the need for a review, the lack of a review might tell an employee that they’re not worth your time and effort, or that you just don’t care. Not a good sign.

This also extends to late reviews… where you’ve made a promise (implicit or explicit) to do a review, only to push it off or “forget” to do it. Has an employee asked for a review or checked in on when they might get a review? If so, you’re probably already late on providing necessary feedback.

I get that sometimes timing is difficult. Something comes up once? Excusable. But to keep moving it or never reschedule? That says that the employee and their performance is less of a priority than many other things. You really can’t find or make time for a review?

Has any of this happened to you? Can you describe your last performance review with a song title?

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