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  • Mike Bensi

The Biggest Mistake You Make in Talking about Employee Performance (and Five Ways to Fix it)


When the topic of employee performance comes up with leadership teams, I typically hear two challenges:

Challenge #1. The process is too long. Too confusing. Leaders get frustrated that employees aren't better connected to company performance and goals.

Challenge #2. Employees are asking for feedback but getting little to no information from their manager on their performance or their development goals. Employees get frustrated - and less engaged.

To address these challenges, leaders take on the burden to manage the entire process. Carrying that heavy load tends to lead to the desire to blow up the performance process and do away with it altogether.

The biggest mistake in doing this is that it makes the employee a spectator rather than a key player. By flipping the script and allowing the employee to see what’s in it for them, leaders establish the expectations for the employee so they can see how they support the company’s - and their own - success.

So how can you better engage your employees by making the conversation about them, rather than focusing on a form or process?

Allow employees to initiate the conversation So many times employees wait for their manager to give them feedback. For employees to be truly engaged, they need to start the conversation. Trust in your employees to be focused on their performance as much as you are. By doing so, employees can better own the process and think about what they want to get out of the conversation. And then managers can be better positioned to coach and guide.

Deliver open and honest feedback We all have the tendency to be poor judges of our own achievements and opportunities for improvement. Some of us downplay our accomplishments, while others hide their faults. Support your employee to give an honest assessment of where they’ve excelled and what you feel you want and need to improve moving forward.

Build meaningful goals together A key outcome of a well-done performance conversation is to help employees and managers discuss where there are opportunities to support the company and the employee’s career path. Take note of how the employee’s current position ties into the short- and long-term plans of the company. And then use this information to guide the conversation around the employee’s personal and professional development objectives over the coming months.

Focus on the journey, not just the destination Strong goals and outcomes are important, but help your employee think about how you’ll track progress and make contributions throughout the year. This can help keep you both connect on progress and possible changes in priorities. Older reviews detracted from this focus by using ratings in the performance review conversation.

Listen to learn Constructive feedback during a performance review can be difficult to hear and give. It’s important to listen carefully and objectively on both sides of the conversation. If you both can go into the conversation with the goal to learn, you’ll be more open to what was said and try to make improvements.

While it’s not a surprise that employee performance is a topic many try to avoid, when the conversation is done well, leaders are able to better connect employees to the bigger picture. And the more an employee can see what’s in it for them, the more engaged they are throughout the year - and the years to come!


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