By Don Rapley Share: LinkedIn Twitter Published on Sep 30, 2020

Why is it that people are so frustrated by uninspiring Performance Reviews they have with their managers? That’s not how it’s supposed to work is it?

With mid-year reviews coming very soon for many of you, this is a great opportunity to check out how you are doing.

So think about it … a leader, are your reviews boring and focused on ticking boxes, or are they real conversations that energise, engage and develop your team?

We have some tips to help you have great Performance Conversations

1 – Talk often and talk soon

All the research * and our own experience tells us that frequent check-ins work. Once or twice a year isn’t going to cut it any more!

Frequency is the key to engaging your team. It helps you to move your conversations from problem fixing to empowering and focusing on growth.

Give your team quality time and start right now with a great mid-year review.

It will be one of the best investments you can make.

2 - Prepare, prepare, prepare!

Can you imagine going into an important meeting with a client or a project team and not preparing?

No of course you can’t! It’s asking for trouble….. and the same goes for your Performance Conversations.

When you do prepare thoroughly, it makes a huge difference to the quality of the conversation and shows your team member that you really care.

• Prepare examples of what has gone well since your last conversation, not just what's gone wrong. That means accurate observations of behaviour, what did they do and say? This really helps when you have the facts and not just your interpretations!

• Think through your objectives for the Performance Conversation: How do you want your team member to feel after the conversation, what overall message do you want to convey?

“Spectacular achievement is always preceded by unspectacular preparation.” Robert Schuller

3 – Re-align your goals

The world has changed since COVID -19 and even if your overall goals haven’t changed, the way you work together almost certainly has and you will need to do some tweaking.

• Talk this through….what is the big picture of what you are trying to achieve? Involve them in updating their own individual objectives which are relevant to them.

• Check out you are both on the same wavelength and assume you may not be, that’s always a good place to start.

This re-aligning every time you talk sets the scene for your regular check-ins.

A perfect opportunity to agree your criteria for assessing performance.

4 – Talk straight

A lot of people, including me, bristle when they hear the words “can I give you some feedback?” They detest it, especially if its poorly handled. Sound familiar?

In our experience, giving high quality feedback is a key leadership skill, as well as an essential driver of performance, so you’d better get good at it! Your team will know if you are genuinely interested in their development, sense your positive intent and reciprocate.

Wouldn’t it be great if your team thinks your feedback is always helpful and constructive, even if it’s sometimes tough to hear?

Here’s a few things you can try:

• When you share examples of their behaviour, simply say what you saw/heard, without blaming or making a judgement.

• Describe the impact they had and your reaction. How did it make you feel? Be open and vulnerable, because you’re here to learn and hear their views too.

• Listen carefully and assume there is something about a situation that you don't know.

Dig deeper to get a better understanding of what was really going on.

5 – Talk less, listen more

This is one of our favourite tips.**

You want your team member to share their perspective on their performance and to explore their growth options. They can't do that if you do all the talking.

A review-mindset would trip you up here and make you feel responsible for filling up the airtime.

Leave space for your team member to share their perspective on their performance and to explore their thoughts.

Let them take ownership and accountability for what happens next. That’s empowerment!

Just try it, it's incredible what happens when you let go...

6 – Be clear about what’s next

Even if you’ve had a long discussion, consciously allow time at the end of the session to reflect on the conversation.

What was useful for them?

What action have you decided on together?

What support do they need from you?

• Agree when you will have your next Performance Conversation. Hint: not in 6 months time!

Don’t be surprised how powerful the wrap up can be. It pulls it all together and sets you both up for success.

Whatever you do, don’t skip this step!

If you’ve made it this far, I have encouraging news for you.

A study undertaken by Harvard Business Review Analytic Services on 700+ companies** showed that best-in-class companies are training managers to coach others (70%), to communicate clear expectations (67%), and to foster growth and development in their team members (66%).

And those are precisely what we’re guiding you on in this article!

We have upcoming articles devoted to asking great questions and coaching skills, so watch this space!

* “Peak Performance: How Combining Employee Engagement and Performance Management Fuels Organizational Success” by Harvard Business Review Analytic Services

** Michael Bungay Stanier in his brilliant book “The Coaching Habit – say less, ask more and change the way you lead forever” (Box of Crayons Press)

We all need feedback! I'd really like to hear your comments on which points you're already practicing, and which ones you want to tackle.

If you have other challenges related to Performance Conversations, I'd love to discuss them with you! Reach me via my DMs.

Don Rapley is a Leadership & Team Development Facilitator and the Managing Director of TYC (Transform Your Conversations), a leadership development organisation focusing on empowering leaders with the skills to have better, more effective conversations with their teams. He lives in Singapore.