Most people are promoted to the level of incompetence.
That may sound harsh, but I see it over and over again. As a matter of fact, it has a name. It’s called the Peter Principle.
Someone has strong technical expertise, and so they are promoted to manager. But they aren’t given the training to succeed in that role. So when performance review time comes around, they just check the boxes to try to get through it as quickly and painlessly as possible. They don’t know how to make the performance review meaningful for their direct reports in order to positively influence their behavior. So they go through the motions in giving the review, but don’t really know what they are doing, or how to maximize it for greatest impact.
I learned a lot of this the hard way when I was the Director of U.S. Senator Kohl’s office when I suddenly found myself managing a team of people without any formal training. So I’m hoping that my missteps can help you be more thoughtful!
Here are a few easy ways to tweak your reviews to make them more effective and less terrible.
- Don’t wait until review time. Ideally, when you have feedback to give, you provide it in real time. Don’t pile it all up and share it during the annual review. This will be more effective in helping the employee make improvements throughout the year! Waiting to give a year’s worth of feedback all in one meeting is not effective or well received!
- Remember that you’re on the same team. Reviews can feel a bit adversarial, with the boss on one side and the employee on the other. But you are in this together! You work towards common organizational goals, so keep in mind that you fundamentally want the same things.
- Ask questions. It’s ideal to involve the other person in their own review! Kick things off by asking them what they think is going well and where they would like to improve. Even better, send these questions in advance to give them time to reflect and write thoughtful responses. If it becomes more of a conversation, everyone will be more at ease, and you’ll probably learn something.
- Accentuate the positive. Make sure you tell people what they are doing right! Reviews often become a time to focus on what needs to be improved. However, if you start with the good stuff, research shows people are much more receptive to hear constructive criticism.
- Focus on what you want. Similar to the above, reviews give you the chance to identify the things you want more of by using appreciative inquiry as an approach. The more specific you can be, the better. For example, ‘You did a great job outlining the timeline, benchmarks, and deliverables on xx project. Where do you see yourself doing even more of that this year?’
- Create a follow-up plan. Creating a system for regular follow-up can make reviews a year-round conversation. Set specific times to check on progress, ask how things are going, review specific metrics, etc. This will also help avoid any unhappy surprises (and difficult conversations) next year.
- More questions! As you are working on an accountability plan, ask what help or resources they need to be successful. This is also a great time to make space for any comments or questions they have for you. Remember this is a partnership, and it should be a two-way conversation.
It’s important that you make time and space to follow-up as planned, and keep the conversation (and accountability) going all year. When you can turn reviews into a constructive, ongoing dialogue, you can remove the fear and improve results.
No more Peters here, just good managers who provide constructive feedback and a system for accountability. Come back next week when we’ll talk about the importance of 360 assessments and their role in a healthy workplace.
And if you are a manager who wants more support to be as effective as possible, don’t hesitate to reach out and explore working with one of our coaches!
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