Episode Transcript

Hello everybody. And welcome back to another episode of the GRIT – Give, Recognize, Implement, Time® podcast. I’m your host Steve Nathenson, CEO and founder of Strive for More. And today I want to tackle the question of, how do I have performance reviews?

This is a topic on the top of mind for a lot of managers. Especially ones who don’t necessarily enjoy those conversations. And that’s something I want to call from the beginning is that’s okay. There’s a natural discomfort that can come from these conversations. Often it can come from a couple things. One, maybe someone did not get the rating that you perhaps think that they would want, or even know that they would want. Could also come from maybe during this conversation, I have to have some performance related conversations. And a third can just be I don’t necessarily enjoy doing this in the first place. I don’t feel comfortable with, say, the compliment sandwich. Saying something good, then saying something bad, then saying something good.

And that brings out one of the most important things for us today, is finding what’s truly right for you to have these performance review conversations. We want to do it in a way that you’re going to be as comfortable as possible with. We may never be 100% comfortable in doing it, and just like that, flipping a switch, everything’s fine, and I’m not worried about it whatsoever. It’s okay to never be at that point, it gets back to that discomfort that comes with these conversations for some of those reasons we talked about, and some others that may exist for you as well. And that’s okay, because we can get as comfortable as we possibly can be with those conversations and then deliver it in a way that’s truly right for you.

So what do I mean by that? There’s two parties involved in this conversation, and I think it’s important to understand what each party wants. What do you truly want to convey in this conversation? How do you want that to go? Do you want to give them the review? Let them read it, and then talk through it afterwards, do you want to pinpoint certain things that you want to bring out and discuss or feel that you need to have conversations around? And what is it that they want? This can vary from person to person. Some people may just say, “All right, get to the rating. Tell me what I need to know.” Or, “I want feedback, please share your thoughts and comments with me.” There’s a lot of different approaches to this. And so part of this is what is it that the other person wants as well? So I highlight these because I think that blend differs for whom we’re having this conversation with.

So we may ideally have a set way we want to go about it. Maybe we give the review, we walk through it with them, we give them feedback, answer any questions that they have, and it works well maybe for 70% of people. But for 30% it doesn’t work well. We may know that some people like to derail the conversation, if you will, and go off on tangents or talk about things that don’t allow us to get to where we want to go. We may also find that people just come in and are very gruff and abrasive and argumentative right from the beginning. “Why didn’t you give me this review? You should have rated me this way. I think it’s unfair.” A lot of this. A lot of this can come out.

And we just did an episode on talking about difficult conversations. Those things apply here as well, in terms of how are we going into the conversation? Are we focusing on I versus we? And what language are we using? We covered those three elements in a prior episode. For this episode, particular to performance reviews, they’re definitely factors. So when we know what we want and what that other person wants, it then makes it easier to understand what that we is. And we don’t necessarily have to know that going into the conversation. We can actually discover that at the beginning of it.

Here’s one way that I will do something of that nature. I like agreements instead of agendas. What do I mean by that? An agenda is, “Hey John, thanks for coming in today, I want to talk about the performance rubric. Obviously for what we’re here for, I want to walk through what went well, some areas that I think we can dive into, and then I’ll share your rating with you after we’re done with that.” That’s an agenda. You’ve clearly outlined what’s going to be talked about throughout the day.

An agreement is very similar. It’s a small nuance, but a critical nuance in how it differs. To do the agreement, we tack on a question at the end, and we shift slightly in how we present the agenda. “John, thanks for coming in. Obviously this is our performance review conversation. What I thought about doing for us today was as to walk through what went well, talk about some feedback, give you the rating. How does that sound to you? Do you want to do in that order, or is there something different that you would prefer?” The shift there creates an agreement. It’s important because instead of just talking at somebody, now I’m talking with them. And what I’ve done by asking that question is I’ve given somebody a choice. That choice inherently builds greater collaboration and engagement, because they are psychologically giving you their acceptance in having that conversation when they say yes. Or they say, “Yeah, that sounds great. But can we do this first?”

They’re agreeing to have that conversation and talk about what you’ve outlined. You are creating an agreement that naturally sets the conversation up for better success, because both parties are willing to talk with each other, versus I’m just being forced into something, excuse me, as a participant in that, if I’m the person getting a performance review. So that’s a critical element that can help really blend the conversation together to have a better performance review conversation. Because you take into account what they do want, and you’re asking for that advice.

Now, here’s a scenario that does get asked of me a lot is, “Well, what happens if they say no?” Well, what does happen? I like to view it as a win-win, and here’s why. Very, very rarely to never have I actually had somebody say no to that. If they do, I do feel that triggers understanding that perhaps this has to go a different way, and there is a win there. And because if someone says, “No, that’s not okay, and sorry. You just got to give me your rating.” And they come across in this way and they’re talking in this fashion, they have this tone, they have this kind of body language to it. There’s something different. There’s something deeper going on there. Something that’s really spurring that disengagement, that rudeness and disenfranchisement, if you will. That’s a win for us because it lets us know a couple things. It lets us know that one, there is something deeper that’s there. And two, that it does need to be addressed. It can be addressed in that conversation by opening up something to the effect of, “Okay, I can see there’s something that’s very important. I can share that with you, I’ll share the rating, and then I would like to open that up and understand that a little bit more, and talk through that with you.”

That is a win. And here’s why. Not only does it give us that opportunity to potentially bring that out into the open and clear the air, but it also lets us know that as leaders and managers, there may be other action that has to be taken. If someone is truly that disenfranchised and unwilling to have that conversation, and they are acting that way, that lets us know that it may be time for a performance improvement plan, or other actions to be taken. That’s the win in it. Yeah, if they say no, you know what? That’s okay. Because it at least lets you know there are the other steps you can take as a leader and a manager, and maybe it’s truly ready and time for that unfortunately.

So there’s the win-win. Like I said, very, very rarely to never have I actually experienced someone saying no, but in the event that they do, there is a win because it does trigger subsequent actions that can be taken to understand where things truly come from to help bring that person back, or that maybe it really is ready to take steps that while we don’t necessarily really want to take or enjoy taking, are necessary at this point. So that’s the context around agreements and the potential things that can come from it.

I’ve harked on that because it really incorporates the things that we’ve talked about. It can alleviate the discomfort because you create an agreement between both parties, it incorporates what you want to do. It incorporates what they’re looking for, and then that agreed upon path for the conversation is going to make it easier. And it also makes it easier to get back on point should you drift. Let’s say you’ve got 30 minutes to do the performance review, or more realistically let’s say 60 minutes, because that’s the more common.

So let’s say you have 60 minutes to do this review, and maybe 45 minutes have gone by and there’s still a couple things you need to get to, we can always go back to that agreement and steer people back to what we do need to cover. And it could be something to this effect of, “Sharon, I’m sorry for stepping in. I just noticed we had a 15 minutes left. I know when we talked up front we both agreed to cover certain elements in it. I want to make sure that we can get to that. Would it be all right to shift into that for us to cover the remaining time?” We can orient us back, based upon something that we’ve already both agreed to talk through and to ensure we cover during the that time, so it makes it easier to get us back on point as well.

So I hope you enjoyed this talk about how to have performance reviews. Couple key things I will leave you with is they’re not necessarily the most comfortable conversations to have, and you know what? That’s okay. Because there is a way to have them. And there’s a way to have them collaboratively and engagingly in a way that both you and that other party want that does make it naturally easier to do it through having an agreement that’s set up up front. And this is going to shift and adjust to each person that you do this with. And that’s okay.

That flexibility I think is crucial for us as leaders because it allows us to not only adhere to what we are wanting to ensure that we get across and convey during that conversation, but it also allows that to shift and take form that’s appropriate for that other person. Because I may have items, say, one, two, and three that I want to cover, and for one person you may go one, two, three. For someone else, you may go two, one, three. For someone else we may go three, one, two, and that’s okay. We can still hit everything that we want to cover. It just may be a little bit of a different way, a different fashion, and a different order. So that flexibility can help us have a set framework that then is tailorable to the individual person we’re having that performance review conversation with.

So I hope you enjoyed today. If you have any questions, please reach out to me. But until the next time, be the movement in your life.


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