The 3 things you’re not doing in performance reviews


Published on: November 2022

Written by: Becky Thomas, Neena Luetz

“I am dreading next week’s performance review conversations,” a senior leader recently shared. He was so stressed that he was thinking of postponing the conversations or making the performance conversations quick just to get them over with.

Sound familiar? Of course it does.  

When thinking about giving performance reviews, people leaders often fall into a “mind trap” of avoidance or fear. They may doubt their own ability to have the conversation, or don’t want to upset anyone. As a result, leaders end up wasting an opportunity to encourage growth and development in their team members. Direct reports leave these conversations without any useful information or guidance. They’re told something like, “You just need to be more strategic,” and are sent back to work until their next scheduled review. Performance conversations become a thoughtless exercise with no meaningful impact or results.  

So, what goes wrong in these conversations? 

BTS recently engaged with more than 3,000 people leaders across APAC, IMEA, NA, and LATAM who were interested in prioritizing development conversations with their teams. In addition to sharing knowledge of what was working in performance conversations, we discussed the challenges they were experiencing. The insights and practices discussed can be used to help all people leaders have better performance conversations. 

There are a few ways leaders can prioritize development:  

  1. Check in on a direct report’s goal progress and further define what success looks like 
  2. Help a direct report grow in their role because… 
    • They are highly engaged and ready for more
    • They have been disengaged in their role 

While all conversations are important to help people grow and develop, the focus and fear levels attached to a performance review changes based on an employee’s engagement level.

To help make development conversations impactful for the employee and the organization, focus on three areas:

  1. Set the Agenda. Share the intention of the conversation. This simple act creates clarity for both parties around what is going to be discussed and the expected outcomes. It does, however, require preparation. Setting the agenda also provides an anchor and structure to return to if the conversation goes off course. The agenda could be reviewing what happened together, celebrating successes, or looking at learning and development opportunities.                                         
    • Instead of, “You need to be more strategic,” which is vague and doesn’t explain the “so what,”
    • Try, “I’d like to talk to you about how you can be even more successful in your role. How does that sound?” This sets the intention, “I want to help you be more successful.” You can then share how strategic thinking can support their growth.
  2. Explore facts and impacts. As a manager, you probably have a lot of thoughts about what’s needed for your team members to develop, but it’s important to get their perspective. Listening to others’ perspectives allows leaders to widen their knowledge. Share  the “facts and impacts” of what you are noticing, especially the specific behavior of your direct report—and get their side of the story—before focusing on solutions or driving outcomes. Avoid broad generalizations and stick to specifics. 
    • Instead of, “Others always have to chase you to get what they need,” which is a big generalization,
    • Focus on the facts: “I have noticed in the last two weeks three people had to follow up with you in order to complete our deliverable.”
    • Then, state the impacts: “The impact for you is that others can’t trust you, and the impact on the team is extra work and stress, and the impact on the business is a drag in productivity, which risks our revenue.”
  3. Use the Coach Approach. Using coaching skills—being present with the other person, listening deeply, and asking powerful questions—is the surest way to empower others to find the best solutions and maximize their potential. Leaders who effectively prioritize development understand the importance of the role they play in growing their people. They know that showing curiosity, listening, and setting accountability are their biggest assets in performance conversations.

    • Instead of, “What works for me is…” and spending the majority of time talking about your perspective and expertise,
    • Try, “When you think about your career goals, what does success look like?” This focuses on curiosity and empowering them to co-create the plan. 

Performance review conversations don’t have to be a dreaded chore. By setting an agenda, exploring facts and impact, and using coaching skills, you can make them the inspiring and motivational tool they’re meant to be. You might even find yourself looking forward to them.

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