Mistakes to Avoid When Communicating About Performance

When you read the words, communicating about performance, does it make you want to run and hide? I have yet to meet a manager who enjoys doing employee performance reviews. Realistically, who wants to sit with a staff member and tell them all the areas they need to improve, or discuss why they aren’t getting a raise or promotion? Who would think that’s fun or even something you want to engage in?

Is it possible to make these interactions less painful for both you and the employee and a conversation you look forward to having rather than avoid? YES!

Here are a few mistakes to avoid related to employee performance reviews.

  1. How you think about them. Part of the reason performance reviews are uncomfortable is because you see this as a potential confrontation. You assume the employee is going to think differently than you, argue with you, maybe even cry. When approaching a situation you believe will be confrontational you have negative emotions, which will affect your thinking and how you handle the conversation. (If you missed my article on how emotions can impact your communication, check it out here. What if you could shift your thinking and simply see them as a conversation? How might your demeanor and communication change?
  2. How you define the term performance review. Performance discussions aren’t simply about where someone needs to improve. Thinking that way is a mistake. Think of performance reviews as an opportunity to mentor, coach, and develop staff. They can and should be as much about where the employee is improving or how well they are doing, as areas of development.
  3. Not being specific enough, or at all. Too often I hear comments from leaders such as “John, you did a great job in that meeting” or “Sally, you need to be more upbeat when talking to customers”. I don’t know what either of these mean, do you? When you want to encourage behavior you, as the leader, need to be specific about what they did well. For John, did he manage the agenda well, keep the meeting on point, leave the meeting with actionable items…what exactly did John do well so he knows next time to behave the same way? And with Sally, what does upbeat mean? Are you expecting a personality change or does she sound uninterested or what? Specificity is the key to how people learn behaviors and skills.
  4. Not having performance conversations regularly and frequently. Part of what makes these discussions so darn uncomfortable is they happen once a year, when it’s time to discuss raises, bonuses, and promotions. Consider having these conversations often, and more than just quarterly. You don’t have to find an hour or two on your calendar. When a staff member does something really well, have a short conversation about this, acknowledge them in the moment. The same is true if they misstep or mishandle something. Take them aside then and have the conversation. There are literally hundreds of opportunities throughout the year to have short conversations about performance.
  5. Not being completely honest. Are you worried about hurting someone’s feelings so you aren’t quite as honest as you need to be? I’m betting that when you think this way the review themselves are shorter in length also. My first coach told me that if I was afraid of getting fired by a client I would never do my best work, as I wouldn’t tell the client what they needed to hear. This is applicable to how you conduct performance reviews. You may never get the best from your employee if you aren’t completely honest. Instead of worrying about their feelings, focus on your role as leader, to develop them as best you can.
  6. Having no process or structure for the conversation. Whether you are sharing something positive or not, having a conversation with no process or structure will not lead you where you want to go. What do you want to accomplish during the conversation? How do you want to open the conversation? Do you want to consider what you discuss by time constraints? There are many considerations around structure, process and outcomes that impact the success. What do you want yours to be?

As long as you consider performance reviews to be an annual activity that coincides with compensation and promotional discussion, it will be a conversation you dread and at times even avoid. When you think of performance reviews as every conversation you have with someone where you discuss anything they did you need to acknowledge or correct, your thinking will shift to seeing them as coaching/mentoring opportunities.

Hoping you can give a few clues and they will understand what you expect is a waste of time. In the end you will not get the results you want and you’ll be frustrated thinking they don’t care, didn’t listen or are just stupid. Be explicit so they know how to repeat the action/behavior you want, or how to change what they are doing to meet your expectations.

Performance reviews are as much a part of your role as a leader as anything else. In fact, in my opinion, more so. Leadership is about developing others. Without frequent conversations about their development you are denying them the opportunity to be the best they can be.

Frustrated with having the same conversations over and over again without any change? Change the Business of Business Through Communication provides tips and tools you can use immediately.

© 2017 Incedo Group, LLC.