Center for Higher Ambition Leadership co-founder Michael Beer has written for years about ways to improve the performance appraisal process — one that continues to be dreaded by many managers and their subordinates. More recently Doug Wilson, an executive fellow at the Center, has offered insights on how to increase the impact of performance appraisal.
Mike’s advice centered on separating the development conversation from the performance review conversation. Each of these has a distinct purpose and format which makes combining them awkward at best. Development conversations should be ongoing and wide-ranging while evaluation conversations need to come at distinct points as they involve performance against specific objectives. Development interactions should explore possibilities while performance review is more black-and-white. Back in 2000, Mike told HR.com that many “appraisal systems are largely administrative nightmares” that serve neither the organization nor the individuals well.
Doug argues that many executives either avoid tough issues in an attempt to be kind or are so curt that they demotivate the person being reviewed. A third common mistake is an overly complicated review process. He offers a straight-forward approach designed to elicit “radical candor“:
Ask each of your direct reports to prepare for a discussion about next year and ask them to make sure they think through the following three questions prior to your meeting:
- What were my greatest accomplishments this year (no more than 4)?
- What is my biggest strength that I want to exercise more of next year? What opportunities do I see where this strength could be applied?
- What are the two areas where I want to build greater capability as a manager or improve as a manager?
Let the person know you plan to answer the same questions as you see it for them.
This performance review discussion, when held with radical candor, creates an opportunity for the manager to demonstrate both that he or she cares about the employee and is committed to direct, challenging feedback. According to Wilson, the conversation can then be both enlightening, energizing, and motivating. And isn’t that the best possible outcome of any interaction between boss and subordinate?