When I started working at Senator Kohl’s office, it was my first time managing people. Needless to say I had a lot to learn. We did annual performance evaluations, and most of my team members dreaded them. And I’ll be honest, I didn’t exactly look forward to them either!
I thought an effective way to evaluate their performance was to spend most of the meeting telling them all the ways in which they had (or had not) met expectations and then set their new goals for the coming year. This was my chance to be a great boss and turn them into better employees! I needed to have all the answers.
But then I got certified in coaching, and I started to see the flaws (and there were LOTS of flaws) in my approach. It turned out that my desire to prove myself meant I was overlooking something really important: partnering with the employee and asking their opinion.
I also learned from the Senator himself. He was masterful at holding his employees as the experts and asking lots of questions.
Talk Less, Ask More
Upon realizing that my evaluations included almost no questions of the employee, I used my new coaching muscles and changed that. I started every evaluation by asking the employee how things were going. I gave plenty of space for their opinion on what was – and wasn’t – working on an individual and organizational level.
Focus on the Future
The other thing I was doing wrong was focusing too much on the past. I would rehash mistakes that were made or expectations that were missed. But this got people feeling down (or worse, defensive) about what was, instead of giving an opportunity to focus on what could be.
So instead I started asking how they wanted to close gaps that existed and what they hoped to accomplish in the coming year. This helped them focus on what was coming and be part of the solution.
Feedback Shouldn’t Wait
And as important as the annual evaluation is, perhaps the most important thing I realized is that it actually doesn’t help improve behaviors if you wait until December to raise any issues! Coaching encourages you to give feedback and ask questions in the moment – to clarify what is needed and what might need to change – for greatest impact.
These days, I don’t even do performance evaluations with my team! We do consistent feedback in the moment, regular check-ins, and are always working to make everyone feel successful. I channel my inner Herb Kohl as often as I can.
While you might not be ready to get rid of performance evaluations altogether, rather than doing an end of year Debbie Downer session, I encourage you to coach for performance. Ask questions, let your team be part of the solution, and get the next year off on the right foot.
Your father will be proud!