Changing The Performance Appraisal Conversation


In my last blog post, I wrote about  Rethinking Performance Appraisals, the ceremonial event of the year for white collar workers in post-industrial economies.  I was encouraging you to rethink it and move away from making it the centrepoint of your performance management process.

This blog post follows on from that with some strategies for making the performance appraisal conversation more pro-active and helpful. The strategies you use will either dis-empower and disengage your people, or motivate, inspire and empower them to much fuller engagement and commitment.

The second half of this article – What to do in the Next Year – is about using different processes in your organisation for developing and enhancing the performance of your people, rather than using the traditional annual performance appraisal process.

  • Think of it as a conversation – a dialogue between you and your team member about his/her contribution to the team and the organisation, rather than as a “performance appraisal”.
  • Position the conversation in the context of their career development and future opportunities they may want to take up. If they have a career development or professional development plan, use that in which to position what you say.
  • Create a “safe” space in which to talk, that means safe for your team member.
  • Be conscious of your body language and tone of voice and ensure they are not threatening or intimidating.
  • Act with integrity and professionalism. Stay calm under pressure. Never, never regress into Neanderthal mode.
  • Call the person by his/her name often in the conversation. That personalises and softens the conversation.
  • Be committed to a win/win outcome and manage the conversation with that at the forefront of your consciousness.
  • Determine what the problem is for you first before you try and interpret it for them.
  • Seek first to understand and then to be understood. This is Stephen Covey’s 5th Habit of Highly Effective People. If you listen to them and let them understand that you understand their position, it is much more likely they will then listen to you.
  • Make a distinction between a difficult behaviour and a difficult person and focus on the behaviour not the personality. Dr Steven Sanders : Be hard on the behaviour, but soft on the person.
  • If they get angry or abusive, let them rant and don’t say anything until they are finished. Acknowledge their anger (or whatever emotion they are expressing) but then turn to finding a solution. What are WE going to do about this?  We = this is OUR problem. We are the ones not connecting well. Then ask, How can I help?
  • If they become defensive, use a similar tactic. When they finish, move into supportive mode, and resist defending yourself. Megan, I’m not attacking you. I’m on your side. I simply want to know where your project is at given we had hoped it would be completed last week. What can I and the team do to help you?
  • Good approach to the performance appraisal conversation is to deal with it in 3 contexts.

CONTENT: The person is very abrupt with everyone in the office.
PATTERN: It tends to happen every time there is a deadline.
RELATIONSHIP: It is affecting their relationship with everyone in the office and impacting on morale and the work practices of the whole team.

  • If you give ultimatums, you must follow through. Give them a choice about changing their attitudes and the consequences of not changing. Make it about how not changing will disadvantage their career development, rather than as a threat. Coach, don’t threaten.

What To Do In The Next Year.

  • Get skilled up. Determine what skills you need to get the best from your people and find a way to learn them.
  • Deal with performance issues when they are an OBSERVATION and before they are a PROBLEM. This means before you are so frustrated with the person that you are unable to deal with it appropriately because you have become part of the problem.
  • Develop a culture in your team where issues are dealt with at a team level. Everyone knows what is expected and everyone is expected to “report” on how they are meeting those expectations. The team, not just the manager, is aware of every team member’s performance.
  • Give on-going regular feedback while walking around, in team meetings, in huddles – verbally and in writing, water cooler conversations – “Oh, by the way….”.
  • Learn skills so you can be the coach, not the critic. Learn to feed-forward, rather than feed-back.
  • Work with your staff to develop their professional development plans and align their goals with those of the organisation.
  • Find common ground with potentially difficult people as early on in the relationship as possible to have the optimum chance of them changing.
  • Protect yourself from very difficult people. Even when you do everything possible, some people will remain difficult. These people tend to be very focussed on themselves and their needs and wants. They rarely take responsibility or ownership of their behaviour, rather tending to blame others for what is happening for them. So watch your back when dealing with them but do it from a position of integrity, not from a position of fear. Cc at least one other person to emails about the difficulties you are resolving and make sure you have a mentor, coach, manager or senior colleague who knows how you are managing that difficult person. Sometimes you need to seek legal advice before proceeding. Have someone else present when you are talking with them. Invite them to do the same.

When you use strategies that empower your people you are more likely to get what you want from them. Criticise them, put them down and dis-empower them and your performance appraisal conversation will back-fire. Be the coach, not the critic and learn the skills to be able to do it.

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