Review Time

This is the time of year when some leaders struggle to complete annual reviews. Often the process involves filling in a comprehensive form that requires you to rate each team member on a scale of ‘Exceeds Expectations’ to ‘Needs Improvement’. After approval up the ladder, it’s time for the oft-dreaded face-to-face meeting – during which you deliver results to the employee and let him know what percentage of annual bonus and performance raise he’ll be receiving.

Last week one of my clients was struggling in preparation for the review meeting with a direct report who tends to react dramatically in these settings. As Bill explained the approach he intended to take – which was a line-by-line explanation of each category on the form, I asked him a simple question: “Why do you need to do all the talking?” I could see the ‘Aha!’ insight clearly in his raised eyebrow and smile.

“I’m not sure,” he said. “That’s how I always do these. Guess it might be better if I first ask her how she thinks the year went, huh?”

Reviews work best when there is a two-way dialogue around performance that identifies development opportunities and leads to specific action steps for improvement in the months ahead. Seems to me it makes sense – to paraphrase Stephen Covey – to understand the other person’s perspective before commenting on your rating. There might be strong alignment of opinions or a complete misperception about the efforts of your employee.

At this point I had my client stand up and look out his window. Then I asked him to turn around and look at me. “What you’re seeing right now,” I said, “is in the past – and nothing you say is going to change it.” I put my hands on his shoulders and repositioned him to look out the window again. “That’s the future,” I said. “Focus the discussion on that and you’ll position Joan to deliver what you expect in 2015.”


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