In December, I suggested ways to revise conventional so-called "progressive discipline." In January, I followed up on the topic based on reader input. This month, I want to remake the performance review.
When I speak at SHRM conferences on the topic of performance reviews, I typically begin with a question: "How many of you are in organizations that use a formalized performance review?"
Typically, there's a sea of hands. I then ask: "Do you agree with the following statement? 'The performance review is well worth the time and effort it takes based on its return in employee productivity, engagement and retention.' "
The sea instantly drains.
A Different Approach: The 3 Tools
In this column, I want to share an alternative approach. Previously, I've written about the Same Day Summary (a brief written summary of key takeaways from a recent meeting or discussion); the No-FEAR Confrontation (first Frame the topic of conversation, then go into active listening mode; Explore the other person's view; get them to Acknowledge that you understand their points; and then and only then Respond with your point of view); and the Star Profile (succinctly capture the most important behaviors and actions in a particular position.)
Here's how they work together.
Step One: Craft a Star Profile (SP) for each position reporting to you. This is not the job description, but it can draw key components from a current job description. Have a real-time conversation with each employee about what you wrote and why. When review time comes (I'm partial to 90-day intervals), the SP will anchor the discussion.
Step Two: In the review discussion, use the No-FEAR technique. Your Frame is a candid, succinct summation of how the employee has done with respect to each prong of the SP (I recommend taking one prong one at a time.) Then switch to active listening (EAR). The discussion will include both feedback (what happened) and what Marshall Goldsmith calls "feedforward" (expected future action). Use this discussion as an opportunity to celebrate successes and accomplishments, as well as to constructively address developmental needs.
Step Three: The last step is the Same Day Summary (SDS) that you'll write and give to the employee. It captures what you consider to be the key takeaways from the discussion you just had. This is a great tool for every important discussion you have with your employee, including the performance discussion.
An Example: HR Business Partner
Let's assume I'm an HR director whose direct reports include HR business partners (BPs) who work directly with company managers and employees. Here's what my SP might look like:
- Maintains a thorough working understanding of applicable human resources-related laws, regulations and policies.
- Works with our managers and employees primarily as a coach, not a cop.
- Collaboratively supports fellow members of our HR team.
Prior to the performance review, I will have met with each of my BPs to discuss the SP and ensure a shared understanding of what's most important.
When review time comes, I will employ a technique developed by Goldsmith for Stakeholder Centered Coaching that I call the 3-3-1 assessment. I'll confidentially ask a representative sample of managers, employees and members of the HR department what they think the BP has done well regarding the SP and what practical improvement suggestions they have for moving forward.
Next, I will meet with each of my BPs and review how they've done using the No-FEAR methods described above. Lastly, I'll write an SDS and preserve it for future review and discussion. Here's an example:
To: BP Sarah
Today's date: ___________
Re: Summary of Q1 2023 performance discussion
Here's a summary of key takeaways from our conversation this morning. Please let me know if I missed anything.
- Regarding the first sentence of your SP, all parties agree you that you have maintained a solid understanding of applicable law and policy. To keep yourself up-to-date, you plan to attend the online program "Employment Law for HR Professionals." I expressed my encouragement that you continue to seek out these types of opportunities.
- Regarding the second sentence, we discussed that although your goal is to be seen as a coach, you are sometimes perceived as more of a "cop." You and I agreed to spend more time together doing some role-plays on how to effectively blend compliance with coaching in your interactions with managers and employees. Also, we talked about you benefitting from additional training in coaching and that we'll work on this moving forward.
- As for the third sentence, everyone considers you to be a great team player who's always willing to lend a hand. As I said, I personally appreciate and am grateful for the wonderful service you provide!
This is the performance review process I would require, if given free reign. It has several key advantages:
- It's efficient and user-friendly, which lends itself to being done more often than annually.
- It promotes constructive candor. The focus is on progress and solutions, not finger-pointing.
- There's no money involved (bonus or pay increase), as money tends to skew things in the wrong direction. The focus remains on the needs of the job and on the relationship.
- Above all, the process says, "I may be your boss, yet in reality I'm your partner and coach as we work together to make this organization a better place."
OK, HR professionals, the "Czar" has spoken. Now get to work!
Jathan Janove is a former state bar "Employment Law Attorney of the Year," author of Hard-Won Wisdom: True Stories from the Management Trenches (HarperCollins, 2017), Master Coach & Practice Leader with Marshall Goldsmith Stakeholder Centered Coaching, and faculty member, University of California San Diego Masters Series.