Don’t dread your performance review, it should be a positive experience

Ted Surette, National Sector Leaders, Power & Utilities
Ted Surette, National Sector Leaders, Power & Utilities

It’s late June, and the time of year when hundreds of performance management review conversations are occurring across Australia. Many relish in these one-on-one conversations. They help them develop and grow their career. However, many people also dread the process.

If you’re an appraisee you want to make the most of your performance discussion. Here are a few tips from my own experiences to help you.

The process is quite straightforward but I know it sometimes it doesn’t feel like that. Appraisee’s summarise how they see their individual performance for the past year against their goals. Performance managers provide feedback. Often the conversation has a direct link and result in a remuneration outcome.

Anyone who has been through this process can recall a personal experience where the process has gone well. They might have received insightful developmental perspectives, which assisted their personal growth. But there are also the not-so-great conversations. Even worse, sometimes there are accusations and stonewalling. Review meetings can sometimes be demoralising.

Let’s face it, there are great performance managers, and some that are, well, less good. But remember, as an appraisee, you are in a two-way dialogue. You have a big role to play in getting the most from these conversations to assist in your personal growth. But it can be hard to make the most of this opportunity if the performance manager is not going about it the right way. The role of your performance manager is to engage you and provide the best possible environment for you to ask for and also receive feedback.

Early in my professional services career in Canada, I was puzzled why I was not getting picked to work on external audit jobs. I was getting upset and showing some level of frustration around the office. One day, a work colleague who knew me a little (and now is a great friend in Australia) took me to one side while at a client site. He whispered that I might want to think about how I was responding to routine request from my supervisors.

Wow, was that a big moment for me. He helped me see that I had been dismissive of the value of the task I was asked to perform. I could see that I was perceived as not listening to work direction assigned to me.  His gift of honest and timely feedback had a big impact on me for many years.  It shaped my efforts in terms of listening to subtle messages people were giving me. It helped me make sense of various feedback points – it also helped me to seek feedback more often and not just wait for it to be given to me. It also helped me realise that I could learn and improve and address issues in my own performance. I also better understood the things that I was great at.

Fast forward to today. Now I have 18 years’ experience as a Partner. I’ve been involved in thousands of performance conversations across all professional levels. I have continued to learn about myself and also been able to help people make sense of their performance management feedback. Specifically, as I took on more mentoring roles, I became passionate in helping appraisees make sense of the feedback they receive. After all, it’s given for their personal and professional growth.

Appraisees, here are a few final thoughts.

  • Ask for feedback – be open and seek insight
  • Listen attentively and be in the moment for the conversation.
  • Put everything else outside your mind so that you can pay attention to the direct and indirect – subtle and quiet – messages.
  • Pay eagle-like attention to what you’re told you excel at and where should you continue to focus.

Your performance manager will be following a process, building rapport and looking to create trust and space for your conversation together. Appraisees – play your part here too. While sometimes it can be an anxious/awkward conversation, you can help the process by being present and paying attention to the words and body language.

It’s vital to listen for facts, observation and subtle messages. You might not agree (you don’t have to) with all the perspectives shared, but you need to hear and analyse them. Look for insights, themes and messages around potential blind spots on your performance. Allow the performance manager to deliver the feedback. Don’t interrupt abruptly.

It’s fine to reflect during the session. Ask questions and seek examples where possible. Remember, this should not be a forensic exercise to challenge everything. It’s not always black and white; often it’s shades of grey. Many times, a challenging perspective will be shared with you. It needs to be viewed with other sources, such as 360 degree feedback.

There is a trend to do away with formal performance management evaluations. In general, what is proposed involves more regular ongoing conversations throughout the year. In my experience, those performance managers who are outstanding in developing their people do this already. They provide ongoing feedback as well as having more formal check points. Appraisees need to maximise the insights from these conversations. Done well, this will be great for accelerating personal growth. It was for me.

High performing appraisees ask for feedback a lot and seek to understand, listen attentively, and triangulate various sources of performance feedback. They regularly self-assess what they are doing well and could be doing better, strive better in their career. They also have a more positive outlook on learning.

Today’s work environment has a lot of pressure. We live in a more complex environment. Knowledge workers are expected to learn fast, adapt quickly, experiment and remain relevant. Reflecting back on that conversation 25 years ago still brings me amazement of the power of listening and being in the moment.

In your upcoming performance discussions, take control of how you will seek out insight and also receive the messages shared with you. This will enable you to listen to the potential subtle but vital messages that could make a big difference in your personal growth and career going forward.

Ted Surette

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