Employment Today – September 99 issue                                back to articles menu

"The Dreaded Review – Part I"

The Scene: A busy, bustling office. The GM is going over her plans for the day. She calls in her PA. "Steve, have the managers done their Performance Reviews yet?" "All except one – Nick’s still dragging the chain as usual. I’ve reminded him three times." "Hmm. Make an appointment for me this afternoon with him, will you?"

Later that day… "So, tell me, Nick, what’s the problem with your Reviews? I note Steve’s reminded you several times. You’re way overdue…" "Um, I’m just too busy!" he said, somewhat evasively. "Performance Reviews are an essential management function, Nick. You know as well as I do that you get your result through the efforts of your team. If you’re too busy to motivate them, objectively evaluate their performance and help set objectives then we need to have a look at how you’re managing your time. If there’s trouble later with one of your team, you’re making us vulnerable in the event of a personal grievance". Nick shifted uncomfortably in his seat. "er, well it’s not just the time thing. I, um, actually hate doing them, if you want the truth" "Is that why they’re still not done – is that why you’re always late with them?" "More or less", he said. "What is it that you dislike about doing Reviews, Nick?" There was a long silence. Nick looked out the window. "We do need to talk about it you know. This can’t go on. We need to fix it. Come on, talk to me. Spill the beans". "Honestly?" "Honestly". "No come-back if I tell the truth?" "None, unless you’re doing something illegal…" And out it came. "It’s the whole process. It sucks. I hated them being done on me and now I have to do it to others. Two terrified people sit in a room for 20 minutes, I tell them what I think and circle some numbers on a form – (give me a break, how do you justify the difference between a three and a four?) - I ask them if there’s anything they want – like, do you wanna go on any training courses or anything, then I ask them if there’s anything else they want to say. They never do – they just sit there like stuffed dummies – except Glenn, he always uses the opportunity to tell me everything I’ve done wrong and then asks for a raise – and, and, that’s another thing I hate – they know that their salary increase – if there is one – is hooked to a good appraisal. So I have to justify every darned criticism. I hate it, and so do they." There was a few moments silence. "I’m not surprised they hate it, if it happens the way you described it", the GM said. "Nick, have you been shown how to do an appraisal?" "Er, no, not like on a training course or something. I just do what my boss used to do", said Nick.

"OK, let’s talk it through and see if I can change the way you think about the Review process. Firstly let me say that the numbering system needs to go – you’re right, it’s hard to justify and there is a tendency to avoid extreme low or high scores because that indicates either a need for performance counselling, or ‘perfection’ at the other end. So on a scale of 1 – 5, there’s a natural tendency to stick to 2 – 4, the safe ground being a 3. Hence you get mediocre review scores. And yes, we’re making moves to separate the Review process from salary. The Performance Review determines how well you’re doing your job. The Salary Review is a commercial negotiation that determines how much their job is worth, when it’s done well. We will change the system, but for now we’re stuck with it. Now, what preparation do your team get to do before the Review?" Nick looked puzzled. "What do you mean?" he said. "I don’t tell them until the day before, so as to reduce the anxiety factor. No point in stressing them for days beforehand."

"Nick, you’re missing an opportunity to make the job easier and more rewarding. Your team need some time to think – and not during work time either – about their job, the organisation, their career, and how they feel about the job you do for them. You’ll need to help, by giving them some questions to answer. Let me try some on you as an example:

  1. In times when things are going well, when you feel you’re a valuable employee, that you’d be missed if you went, and that you like working here – what are the sort of things that are happening that make you feel that way?
  2. When things aren’t going well, when you feel pressured, maybe not valued, and you feel like looking for another job – what are the sort of things that are happening that make you feel that way?
  3. If there were things that were getting in your way, slowing you down, making you less effective or preventing you from doing an even better job – what would those things be?
  4. How can I change the way I work with you, to give you more support, or guidance, or maybe even some direction?
  5. What can the organisation do to make your job more enjoyable and/or allow you to develop your own career?

Nick thought for a moment. "You mean give them those questions before the Review?" he asked. "Yes – at least a week before, and make sure there’s a weekend in there too so they can think away from work, and maybe even talk about it with their partners at home. They may need to ask you some questions in the meantime, too. You see, those questions are totally ‘open’ questions – you’re not guiding them in any way as to what to say. It means when they come to the meeting, they already know the ‘spirit’ of what you’re going to be talking about, and the ones who care will have some thoughts and some questions. So you can lead off the review by discussing those things together – you’ve already got something to talk about. No need for terrified silence." Nick thought for a moment, frowning. "But what about the ones who don’t care?" he said.

"If you think you can motivate everyone on this planet, you’ll get a flat head from banging it against a wall. You have to be realistic. The sad fact is that some people come to work only to get money – and as long as they perform their tasks well, you can’t have any issue with that. So there will be cynics who –no matter how good you are- will view the whole thing as a charade, a chore, a ritual dance that must be endured and then forgotten. If you can swing 90% of your team around to look forward to Performance Reviews, you’ve done well, so don’t grieve over the 10%. Over time, you might win them over too. The 90% will help too, by ‘cross-infection’ of enthusiasm."

"I’ve still got to ‘judge’ them sooner or later - all we’re doing is dancing around the tough bit" said Nick. "Yes, you do have to do some ‘judging’ -as you put it. But get your head around the fact that it is their performance you’re judging. You’re commenting on behaviours and outcomes – not the person themselves. Try and imagine that you could ‘see’ those behaviours and outcomes during the meeting, as if they were on the table in front of you, and that you’re both studying them in order to see where things could be improved so that both of you get more out of the process. It’s their Review, not yours - you’ve got to make them own it." "Their Review?" said Nick. "But it’s me that’s judging their performance. How can it be their Review?"

"Nick, it looks like you and I need to talk this through more. There’s a lot more I need to tell you and I’ve run out of time. Why not give those five questions to your team so they have time to think, and you and I will meet tomorrow and I’ll take you on to the next bit."

"Is this a training session?" said Nick. The GM smiled. "Just like you, it’s part of my job. It’s called Performance Review – you and I are in the middle of an informal one. You’ll see later that it’s a continuous process. The actual meetings are just the visible, formal way-points on an on-going journey."

(see next issue for what happens next – and more tips on Performance Review)

Carpe Diem

Steve Punter ANZIM, Dip Bus (PMER), FHRINZ
Staff Training Associates Ltd, Auckland, New Zealand. email: steve@sta.co.nz
Steve Punter 1999 All rights reserved by the author steve@sta.co.nz                                                                                                                              back to articles menu