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How to Give Performance Reviews Your Employees Love to Get

Jul 8, 2008
Do your employees seem defensive, and do you feel tense when it's time for the annual performance reviews? Do they often seem to take your constructive feedback as damning criticism?

But, what if every evaluation or feedback you offered was received as a gift? The information in this article can help you create an environment that will empower your business or organization to function from a foundation of corporation and support.

Evaluation and feedback are essential components of human resource management for any business. The only way your people can know what the company needs from them, and the only way to improve in those areas, is to provide candid, timely, and effective job performance evaluations and employee reviews.

So why are these reviews still one of the most painful rituals in business?

Most organizations assume that everyone is on the same page about real value of this feedback. The problems created by this assumption can dramatically limit the amount of useful feedback employees are able to hear.

Not having both alignment and agreement about this opens the way to confusion, misunderstanding, stress, and defensiveness. What's missing in this assumption can be summed up as a lack of a Shared Conscious Intention, which in turn prevents Mutual Buy-in to the review process.

What do we mean by a Shared Conscious Intention?

Whether you are aware of it or not, every time you give feedback to an employee you have an intention. Even an unconscious intention is sensed by others, and if they sense your tension or irritation about the process, they will often take this personally and interpret it as criticism. This creates a hit or miss context for the resulting conversation.

We suggest that before you give one more performance review, or offer any more feedback, you identify what's important to you about giving your feedback in the first place. Identifying what is important will support you in creating a deliberate intention and a solid context within which your feedback can be well received.

So consider this for a moment. How would your next performance reviews be if everyone shared the intention to create a workplace environment of learning, support, and effectiveness? Getting there might look like this.

Imagine sitting in your office. You're about to give an employee evaluation. Your week has already been hectic and you'd much rather get some constructive work done. On top of this, the employee's performance could use some improvement. In fact, you think the employee could be doing a much better job and has been kind of lazy recently.

In this setting your unconscious intention might be to: get this review over with as soon, and as painlessly as possible. And to get this employee to agree that they should be working harder.

How do you think the employee is likely to respond when they sense this underlying intention?

They might think it means that you're just impatient and dissatisfied with their work. From there they can easily become defensive and resistant, trying to ward off any of the negative consequences of your opinions.

How do you think this conversation will go? Can you see how the employee might have a difficult time hearing or incorporating any feedback that you might offer.

Now let's say that, before you give any more feedback, you decide to create a conscious intention. You ask yourself: "What's most important to me, the company, and the employee about giving feedback?"

You might find that it's important to make sure everyone is clear about what is expected of them so that they can be most effective at their jobs. It may also be important that everyone has the freedom to ask questions and to make sure that they get all the support they need to learn and grow. And that this is important for both you and the employees.

Now image walking in to you next performance review and clearly stating that it is your intention to create an environment of clarity, effectiveness, learning and support - and why this is important to you and the company.

How do you think the other person would respond to this intention? Can you see how the conversation would already go differently than the one created by your earlier, unconscious intention?

Clearly identifying what you value about the feedback process is only the first step. The next step, after expressing what's important to you, is to create both alignment and agreement with the employee about this intention.

You do this by asking if these things are important to them as well, and then continuing this dialog until it produces a Shared Conscious Intention with Mutual Buy-in. This creates a powerful framework for performance reviews.

Within this framework most people welcome the opportunity to discuss their strengths and areas for improvement. It eliminates confusion, misunderstanding, stress, and defensiveness, and opens the way for mutual learning, support, and effectiveness. We believe this can produce a fundamental change in the workplace. One that will not only help you to create a highly effective organization, but also improve the quality of life for you and your employees.
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