Traditionally performance evaluations (or reviews) are a “check the box” exercise designed to appease HR. These evaluations typically come down to a “good kid” (you made your number / performed to expectations) or “bad kid” (you didn’t make your number) comment from a manager. This comment prompts an emotional reaction, positive or negative depending on the evaluation, which triggers conflict and leaves neither party feeling good mentally or emotionally about the meeting.
To break the “good kid / bad kid” cycle use these nine suggestions, viewed through the lens of David Sandler’s “Success Triangles,” to give structure to your performance evaluations to turn them into a development opportunity instead of a source of conflict.
- Performance evaluations are a process, not an event. In fact, if you’re following the accountability structure described in Accountability the Sandler Way you’re doing a performance evaluation every week. If your evaluation is only once a year, it puts too much pressure on everyone involved.
- Performance evaluations are a development opportunity, not a “gotcha” opportunity. As Bill Bartlett described in The Sales Coaches Playbook, your people will fail because they’re human so give them permission to fail and the protection that when they do fail you use it as a learning opportunity instead of a chance to beat on your employee. If you want employees to push the limits of their abilities and grow beyond their current skills, they will need permission to fail.
- Performance evaluations are not a place to get your emotional needs met as the manager. A play on David Sandler’s rule, “Sales isn’t a place to get your emotional needs met.” An effective performance evaluation leaves both you and your direct report feeling good about your interaction because they feel supported and you have their commitment to specific performance expectations and mutual agreement on the consequences of not performing. You should not be making yourself look good or transferring blame to your employee during the evaluation.
- Schedule your performance evaluations. The best time is at the end of a coaching session, before you and your direct report end that meeting. If you don’t schedule a performance review as the next step from your coaching session all you had was a nice, polite conversation that probably won’t result in any behavioral change on the part of your direct report. Put these on the calendar and show up for the appointments.
- Gather performance data. As David Sandler’s rule goes, “People don’t argue with their own data.” This data will be important for another tip under “technique.” But for now, be prepared with verifiable proof and questions to help your employee discover their performance level.
- Plan your performance evaluation. Just like pre-call planning is critical for your salespeople, planning your performance evaluation is critical because performance evaluations, where you are discussing good performance or not, are fraught with emotion. By planning your outcomes, the questions you will ask, and the questions (or excuses) you expect your direct report to give, you’ll be better able to stay focused on evaluating your direct report’s performance instead of getting caught up in their emotions.
- Set a strong Up-Front Contract at the beginning and the end, One of Sandler’s most universally applicable techniques, a strong Up-Front Contract at the beginning of your performance evaluation means that you and your direct report both agree to the purpose, time, agenda and outcomes of your meeting at the beginning. When you get to the end, you’ll set a new Up-Front Contract for your next performance evaluation that will include consequences for not performing to mutually agreed expectations.
- Focus on role performance, not their identity. This is where the data you gathered before your meeting comes into play. By using objective data as the focal point for your performance evaluation, the potential for conflict is reduced because you’re not attacking your direct report as a person you are seeking to understand their performance in their role. If they aren’t performing and continue to underperform, they may fall into the “good person, bad fit” category of employee who should go be more successful elsewhere. However, make sure your feedback is direct at their fit and behavior, not at their self-worth or identity characteristics.
- Control your meeting using questions. In any human interaction, the person who is asking the most questions (and by extension listening the most) is in control. When asking questions remember David Sandler’s “Rule of Three Plus,” which means that it typically takes three or more questions to get to the truth. There are no magic bullet questions in performance evaluations, just as there aren’t any magic bullet questions in sales. To illustrate, a favorite question for our management clients in a performance evaluation is “How would you evaluate your performance on a scale of 1-10, one being terrible and ten being excellent?” Followed up with “What prompted you to give yourself that score?” and “What would you need to do to raise your score at our next meeting?” Note that the last question is “raise your score” not “get a ten,” because performance improvement is a process. Also, the series of questions is what leads to the best information, not the first number they pick.
Go back through the list and score yourself 1-10 based on how often you implement each of those suggestions. One is “just heard about it, ” and ten is “do it all the time.” You’ll probably have a few tens and few areas you can work on. Then pick the one attitude, behavior, or technique you believe will provide the most benefit to you and your team in their performance evaluations and commit to it until you would score yourself a ten. Then pick another and another until you would score yourself a ten on all nine suggestions.
Instead of being a source of stress make your performance evaluations a source of support for your team, and all of you will come to appreciate them more.