Eating Your Vegetables at Work: Quit Whining about Giving Performance Appraisals

By Tom Davidson

Like making fun of Donald Trump’s hair, performance appraisals are an easy target, and I’m tired of the whining.

For example, a recent Cornerstone OnDemand/Harris survey reports the following: “Of employed U.S. adults who have experienced their employer’s performance review process

  • Less than half (45%) said the feedback they receive is a fair and accurate representation of their performance,
  • Only a third (33%) said the feedback they receive is not a surprise and is feedback they have gotten prior to the formal review,
  • Only a fourth (25%) indicated they are given specific examples of their work to support the feedback they receive.”

Yes, performance appraisals take time to do and do well. But, hey, it’s your job.

Yes, people don’t like to get criticism or “constructive feedback.” But guess what, very often it’s deserved, and we need to hear it and give it.

Yes, people might get their feelings hurt when they don’t get a “participation trophy” or the raise and corner office they desperately deserve.

But watch closely. The ones who complain the most about performance appraisals and gripe the loudest about getting negative feedback are most often the ones who can dish it out the most.

Unlike Donald Trump’s hair, at least we can do something about performance appraisals by (1) doing them better and (2) stop letting the pampered and entitled run our lives and our workplaces into the ground. It may be a generation before we toughen up again in the workplace, but here’s how we can eat our vegetables in the workplace and do our part as managers and leaders, starting today.

Tom’s Top Ten Tips for Better Performance Reviews

  1. Constantly check what your associates are interested in, good at, aspire to learn, and want to go in their careers. Without taking their pulse and knowing these vital signs, you have no traction in your feedback and they have little reason to care.
  2. Stop saving everything up for one end-of year conversation. Performance discussions are a contact sport (i.e., one-on-one conversations) and year round.
  3. Make your expectations crystal clear, with behavioral examples that can be observed and scored.
  4. Tie people’s goals into the organization’s so that there is a line-of-sight connection between what they do and what the organization needs.
  5. Evaluate both the “what” and the “how.” Far too often, we pat people on the back for getting their work done accurately and on time but never talk about how they get it done (i.e., stepping on toes, alienating co-workers, and being sarcastic to customers). The how can be even more important than the what.
  6. Rise above the form. Even the worst appraisal forms can be made better by using them better (e.g., adding results criteria, behavioral anchors, and expectations that can be measured).
  7. Stop staring in the rearview mirror without looking through the windshield even more. The performance appraisal closes one chapter and opens a brand new one with hope, help and opportunity, if you make it so.
  8. Stop doing it all by yourself. Get your employees involved in collecting evidence about what they do well and could do better, interviewing co-workers and customers to get their feedback, and share the responsibility for getting quality appraisals done and done right.
  9. Stop winging it and “pencil-whipping” the forms to “get HR off your back. “ Prepare for every conversation, gather information, and look at the whole appraisal period, not just the last three months.
  10. Above all, do whatever it takes to avoid surprises in the final evaluation. It’s supposed to be a review, not a dumping ground.

We have to stop giving the naysayers easy fodder and easy laugh lines about our performance review systems or your use of the process. It’ your job as a manager, and it’s the nature of leadership.

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