Just in case, let’s be clear – Performance Reviews are, in my opinion, one of the most valuable and most important tools in any organisation. People need feedback, people need attention, people need challenges, people need to be encouraged to be great and Companies need their people to be great. Performance Reviews, in the right hands, can deal with all of these needs.   In the wrong hands, or rather with the wrong heads and understanding, managers can knowingly and unknowingly do serious and lasting damage to people through how they review people and their performance.  Yes; serious AND lasting.  Extreme?  Not a bit!

My nephew got a job some months back, in a nice, modern, fun Company and was told he would be on probation.  (I told him he should tell the Company THEY were on probation with him too, but he didn’t want to do that!)  Anyway, he got trained for the job and in a short time was able to handle the role and, I am sure handled it very well, as I would bet my house on him.  Then he got his first review and it was a good review. But, when I say he ‘got his review’ I mean just that!  It was given to him and he just had to sign it.  He had no major problem doing that but he did query why some areas were scored ‘Very Satisfactory’ and others just  ‘Satisfactory’.  His boss told him not to worry about it, that it didn’t really matter and told him he should just sign it.  He did because he knew that if he insisted in asking questions, he would create problems for himself.  He had no choice.  Damned if he did and damned if he didn’t.

Now you might not see too much wrong with this because you are used to this kind of thing.  Isn’t it a manager’s job, after all, to let an employee know how they are doing?  Give them ‘feedback’?  Appraise them? Rate them?  No it’s not!  Or if it is, then it is a stupid and wrong job.  It is stupid because a manager does not know how an employee is doing, they only have an opinion, a perspective, based on the limited information they have.  Hard as they may try, they are never objective  and never can but see the world, reality, including the employee, through their eyes, biases, prejudices, and often based on very partial information – snapshots of the person. But that little problem doesn’t get in the way of managers, like my nephew’s, deciding how things are.  And it is this that makes it so wrong.  They decide, they impose their subjective and very partial view of the world and of the person on the employee, who has little choice but to go along with it.  Damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t.

But what is a manager to do?  Nothing?  Say nothing?  No! The manager has the right and the responsibility for lots of reasons to come up with an assessment of the employee, how they are doing and what they need to do and be even better, which is what it is all about.  But, to do this, they have to listen to and take on board how the person, the employee, understands how they are doing?  Why?  For the sake of peace? To reach agreement or a compromise? To get the employee to accept the rating? No!  To arrive at a more complete, more accurate  and better version of reality, which, because it is more accurate, will also be more acceptable.  What currently happens and happened in the case of my nephew was that a flawed and poor version of reality was formed by the manager and, then, this poor version was imposed willy-nilly on the employee, my nephew.  A double whammy!

“But, come on,” you might say.  “Do you really think employees will be honest about their performance? “ Yes, I do because they invariably are when we treat them with respect and trust them and when they and we are clear that the prime purpose of the Review is to help them to improve as professionals and as people.  Then we are working together on a joint project to help someone learn and be better.  And, the great thing is that we managers also learn and get better.  It’s great and it works.  No need for swords of any kind. Just attention, care and invitations to be great.