Confrontation Station

August 30th, 2011

One impressive thing I find in working with large organizations – those with HR departments – is a focus on conducting regular performance reviews with employees. Many of these include creating development plans to help direct reports improve in needed areas. Smaller companies? Not so much. It seems every time I ask a small business owner, “When was the last time you conducted employee reviews?” the answer is, “I need to do that.”

There are two sticking points that seem to get in the way of accomplishing this important task. One is time. That’s a given in both large and small organizations. There is always something else to do. Who has hours available to review eight or 10 people? The other challenge is strictly internal: aversion to confrontation.

Most of us simply don’t like to address hard issues. After all, if we call someone out on a behavioral trait, several things could happen: 1) They could react – with anger, with tears, with the silent treatment; 2) They could leave – it’s easier to move on than to change; or, 3) They might not like us – and who enjoys being the bad guy. Makes sense that the way to prevent any of this is to avoid the issue altogether.

Of course, then there is no growth and you continue having employees with the same challenges. You’ve substituted frustration for confrontation. A better way is to change your mindset. Instead of thinking of employee reviews as a ‘time to point out what Susie does wrong’ exercise, look at them as the opportunity to have a candid and open discussion around how to help Susie improve.

If you’ve never done reviews, here’s a simple process to implement them:

1) Spend one hour thinking about your employees’ individual strengths and opportunities for improvement – make notes on each person (a common form would be a good thing to use);

2) Schedule a 30-minute meeting with each employee, letting them know the purpose is to help them identify ways to be a better contributor and to seek their input on how you can be a better leader… and when you get together allow them to share first (you may have to prompt them with a few ‘What do you do best?” and “How can we improve?” questions);

3) Acknowledge their answers (no need to defend your shortcomings or respond to their suggestions, just say thank you and let them know you’ll consider), then share your thoughts – be sure not to focus on just negative things… complement their positive attributes;

4) Agree to two or three things they want to improve over the next three-to-six months – then check in with them every few weeks to see how they’re doing… following up is essential to keeping them on track.

Take this approach and you’ll see reviews are more about helping your employees grow and learning ways you can better serve them. Instead of confrontation, you’ll discover cooperation.

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