The two questions you must ask when managing a performance review

18 August 2017 -

performance reviewIt might be time to ditch time-sensitive objectives and adopt a straight-talking approach to performance reviews

Guest blogger Dr Stephen Ellis CMgr

Managers in all organisations, across the public, private or charity sectors, understandably think about how to manage their team performance. Traditionally, this has meant looking at what has been achieved on an annual or, (heaven forbid), monthly basis.

However, my experience as a manager across a range of businesses, tells me that in most situations an annual review is far more likely to have a negative impact on the organisation and the individuals concerned.  

Mitigating factors are rife in performance reviews. I have yet to meet an employee who, when confronted with a less than rosy assessment of their performance cites poor evidence, training, colleagues or difficult clients.

Likewise, if a performance review is positive, managers must consider whether it reflects efforts from other team members, an abundance of resources or unchallenging goals.

In addition, objectives set in previous performance reviews can become redundant over time as an organisation’s strategy changes mid-year.

A new approach is needed

There is room for a rethink about how performance management is framed. We must ensure the time and emotional investment of the review process is productive.

Memorably, when teaching an MBA course, a successful business owner shared two ‘killer’ questions with me that all employees should be asked.

The two questions you need to ask in a performance review

  • What have you learned since we last discussed your performance that has made you better at what you do?
  • Why are you worth more to my business now that you were last year?

His view was that if you could not answer either of these questions positively there was no point continuing with the discussion. Pay rises or promotions were certainly not on the radar. He further reported that once staff knew what was coming they altered their behaviour well in advance and were more inclined to learn new skills or approaches, to argue their case.

With the complexity that has surrounded performance management over time – in an attempt to right an often-blighted process – we may have lost sight of the key purpose of a performance review. That is learning and development, and professional success. I urge you to start your next performance review with those two questions. 

Dr Stephen Ellis CMgr is interim dean of the Business and Management Faculty at Regent’s University London

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