I got in an argument with my mom when I was 16. I don’t remember what the argument was about, but I imagine it had something to with how nobody could possibly understand how right I was. My mom, a very patient person who mostly listened and offered gentle nudges through our adolescence, finally had enough of this conversation and snapped at me, “Celia. If it seems like the whole world’s against you, chances are the world’s not the problem.”
That ended the argument. It was so unusual to hear that tone of voice from her, I knew I didn’t have a chance. So I turned to walk (probably stomp a little and huff and puff some) up the stairs. But even in that moment, I couldn’t help but think, “Hmmm…. That’s a pretty good point.” Years later, that phrase still helps me on those days when I oversleep, spill my coffee, get a flat tire, disagree with a colleague, and light up over something I hear on the news.
The world really isn’t against me, and I have the power to respond in whatever way I choose. It was helpful feedback given in love – and maybe a little well-placed exasperation.
On the subject of feedback, I had my first official performance review about a year out of college. I was working at a university and my boss sat down with me in his office and read some notes he’d made about my first year on the job. I expected to hear how I needed to beef up my administrative skills like timeliness on returning phone calls and emails. And that was mentioned, but only in passing.
What Steve really wanted to talk about was my contribution to a team. He asked me outright, “Do you know you’re a good team member?” I was confused, never thought about that before. Then he went on to give examples of the valuable role I made to the team and encouraged me to keep that up. Overtime, that bit of feedback shaped me. Twenty years later, here I am running a company that helps people build strong teams. And I’m also better at returning phone calls and emails in a timely way, usually within the 24 hours Steve suggested. Though, in fairness, that skill still needs some attention.
We see and hear a lot from clients about performance reviews. Here’s a typical scene.
In what is no doubt a well-intentioned attempt to streamline preparation, limit emotional volatility and benchmark expectations across the company, HR offices and department heads tend to generate one uniform performance review. The boss marks an employee on a scale of to 1 to 5 (often with an unwritten rule that no one can have all 5’s). The employee fidgets uncomfortably as they hear vague reasons for their marks. Then the performance review goes into a file until someone needs “evidence” for either termination or promotion.
Most employees tell us they want sincere feedback on how they’re doing their jobs. Most supervisors tell us they want to give that kind of feedback. So why aren’t they all thrilled when annual performance reviews come around? And why do both bosses and employees dread them?
The performance review should be a time to strengthen employees, to empower them to understand their particular contribution to the success of your organization and to support them as they learn new skills and improve.
This is hard work, so here are a few things to help.
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