Every year organizations invest thousands of man-hours in the annual performance review. And yet, despite all this effort, all too often employees walk away dissatisfied and demotivated.
Why? One big reason is that, for an employee, performance management is often less about the process, the form, or the final ranking.
For each of them, it is more about the quality of the ongoing conversation between them and their boss. And unfortunately many managers are not good at having these conversations.
The 5 reasons managers fail to have great performance conversations...
FAILING TO GRASP WHAT EMPLOYEES ARE REALLY SAYING
This is a common mistake and happens because managers fail to distinguish between listening (i.e., letting the other person speak) and trying to understand what they really mean. This means two people can be in the same performance review meeting and leave with completely different understandings of what has been agreed. Too often performance management is seen as a logical process, based upon a naive belief in people having a shared understanding of what words mean.
FOCUSING ON DATA, NOT INSIGHTS
There is a tendency for performance management conversations to be dominated by the sharing of carefully gathered feedback data. While data is clearly helpful, it should act as the catalyst for a great conversation, not as the be all and end all. Too often little time is spent exploring the implications of the data, which means shared understanding is superficial and any insights are likely to be trivial at best and, at worst to be actively value destroying.
BEING UNAWARE OF PERSONAL IMPACT
People in a position of power are frequently insensitive to how their words and behaviors are being interpreted by others. Every word (and gesture) is a loaded revolver, as one French philosopher put it. So whilst we may think we are listening to the other person, in reality we are focused on ourselves and on what we want to say next. We have lost the art of really wanting to understand our impact on others, preferring to wait for the opportunity to reload and point out why “I’m right and you’re wrong.”
PLAYING POWER GAMES
It is very common for people to go either dumb or dumber in the presence of senior people, with manager and employee not contributing equally to the conversation. Performance reviews are events that uniquely highlight power-distance (after all, this is when the manager passes “formal judgment” on performance) and so can increase the difficulty of people to speak freely.
MISSING THE IMPORTANT ISSUES
Performance management conversations are often unsuccessful because of a rigid adherence to a pre-planned structure. The truth is that important insights only emerge through the act of talking together—i.e. they cannot be foreseen or planned. Failure to recognize this means missing the opportunity to explore the genuine nuggets of insight that can turn the conversation from one that is routine to one that genuinely shifts performance.
These pitfalls are subtle and not immediately obvious, but they profoundly impact the outcome of the conversation. The good news is they can be avoided by building individual awareness and competence.