How to talk about performance with your team members.
John Schnobrich on Unsplash
What I find difficult in a management job is not the actual management in terms of allocating projects, monitoring capacity, checking financial reports, or approving holidays. The most difficult for me is to evaluate my team members and talk about their performance.
As many might relate to me, I like my team, and I am on good terms with them. Some are even my friends.
However, both my team and the company expect me to rank them to indicate who is successful and who is ‘just’ average or even underperforming.
I want to be fair but delivering both positive and negative feedback is a real skill, not any mysterious talent which all managers possess. That’s a simple fact supported by the recent Gallup’s research ‘The Manager Experience’ involving over 50,000 managers:
“Many talented people who are highly successful employees are not talented as managers. Being a successful manager takes a completely different skill set than what’s needed to work effectively in an individual role.”
So, yes. The demand for soft skills is high. What helps a lot is to accept that there would always be someone asking you for something; an approval, a discussion, a solution, an opinion, and of course, a performance evaluation.
Keep yourself organized and practice to feel like fish in the water.
1. It is a project
Every project needs project documentation, a transparent process, and proper planning. It is not any different from the performance review.
So, you start with the background and expectations. You involve relevant parties, set a realistic schedule, have meetings, and evaluate the outcomes.
The business background should not be taken for granted. Make sure you and your team understand how your team contributes to the overall objectives of the company. Otherwise, you face losing the purpose of the work. Role description = place within the organization and the team. This will make the evaluation so much meaningful, and people won’t feel disconnected from the business.
Now the administration. You might use some HR system like Workday, People HR, or Hibob, or you fill and sign a paper sheet in hand. Whichever type you use, you should be able to navigate in it, as well as your team.
Be aware of the whole company schedule. However, it is wise to set your team schedule. People tend to do things at the last moment, which does not have to work in your favor. You need to save some time for yourself.
For instance, if the whole company schedule says all employees must fill their comments into the system by the end of December, in reality, you want your team to have it done a week in advance, so you can check it and do your part without stress.
2. Don’t rely on your feelings and memory
Seriously, regardless of how many people you manage, you need to have a system of evaluation. Ideally, you keep notes from one-to-ones, save feedback from others, email conversations, audit results, etc.
The more feedback you collect, the better you understand the actual performance. Simply put, you need evidence.
One of the worst moments I experienced was when I was listening to a manager evaluating his employee. He pretty much praised her performance and summed it up by giving her a mark of 5 out of 10.
She did not believe it. What a disappointment! However, she stood her ground and asked why. She felt she performed at least 7.
He was completely caught by surprise. He tried to talk his way out of it, but he didn’t have any evidence for the mark he gave her. Nothing.
Completely unprepared. As one could imagine, this meeting ended up in confusion and lost credibility.
3. Set agenda
If you want people to come ready for a performance review meeting, set an agenda. It helps them to prepare answers for areas you are going to discuss. To be fair, some can’t be bothered by reading it. But that’s something managers must count on.
While they somehow ‘can’ come unprepared, a manager absolutely cannot afford such luxury. Keep it simple such as:
· Performance summary in your own words
· Manager’s evaluation and feedback from others
· Summary of the main take-outs
· Next steps and actions to be taken
4. Train your voice and body language
Leading performance meetings can be stressful and emotionally demanding. Before you even realize it, your body language and tone can spoil your true feelings and opinions.
Crossed arms as disagreement, playing with your pen and doodling as lack of focus, shoulders down as tiredness, speaking silently as being shy, jumping to others speech as lack of patience.
One way around it is to prepare a structure and a script. It does not have to be written. You want to hear yourself say it aloud. How does it sound?
Analyze if that’s how you want it. Or if not, change it. Another way is to train it with someone. Perhaps another manager or an HR colleague can help and listen to you.
The advantage is they can watch your body language and tell you if you have some bad communication habits.
5. Treat it as a meeting, not your stand-up
Sorry to disappoint you, but the evaluation meeting is not about you. You are playing second fiddle to your team. One time I had a manager who liked listening to himself.
So, all our meetings were about him talking about thousands of things, but me. After one hour, he thanked me for the work I did and sent me away. He appreciated me, right? However, I was not sure if he even knew what I was doing.
So, yes, the performance review is not your stand-up. You don’t have to entertain anyone. It is a discussion in which you should listen in the first place. Focus and make notes to be able to go back to them.
Provide your opinion when suitable and have a vision. That way, you can guide your people towards a bright future.
Lastly, it is crucial to say that no matter what, you always need to treat your team members respectfully.
You are the face of the company, and how you talk to them, that is how the company talks to them. You don’t judge their personalities; you always focus on skills.
Thank them for their efforts, even if they did not have the best year. That’s the least you can do, and it pays off a great deal.