Effective performance management is a necessary part of building and maintaining a successful organization. Many leaders and employees are comfortable talking about developmental opportunities and how they can grow both professionally and personally, yet those same people get anxious and skeptical when a performance review cycle is around the corner.
As a People professional, you can shift your teams’ perceptions and emotions around reviews from anxious and resistant to receptive and positive. First, let’s start with the fundamentals to make sure we’re all on the same page. What’s the difference between performance and development?
- How well an employee executes their role related expectations
- Includes extra role behavior that supports the organizations' strategic objectives
- The focus should be on accurately measuring high/average/low performers
- Inspiring, equipping, and enabling employees for greater levels of performance
- Includes the acquisition or refinement of skills, knowledge, abilities, and experience
- The focus is to enhance employee performance and future growth, even beyond the current role
Where does the tension between performance and development come from, and what makes performance management so anxiety-inducing?
Let’s take a look at performance and development from different perspectives: those of the employee and those of the manager and organization.
- Most managers are interested in helping their employees perform and grow throughout the year. During a performance cycle, they’re also focused on meeting compliance requirements, managing employee expectations, and getting the process completed without disrupting work too much.
- From the employee perspective, things can feel quite different. Research shows that development and learning are driven primarily by intrinsic (i.e., internal) motivation, yet performance cycles tend to shift employees’ focus to external motivators (e.g., a raise or promotion). Employees often feel nervous and potentially defensive during reviews because they’re focused on justifying their performance in pursuit of a higher rating, raise, or promotion or even just to keep their job. In most cases, they’re not in the proper mindset to talk about their own developmental opportunities and goals.
De-couple of the conversations, but don’t decouple the learnings
While it might be convenient for managers to combine performance and developmental conversations, many people find it difficult to think constructively and objectively about their future development while defending their past performance.
Culture Amp recommends you hold separate, structured conversations about:
- Development to help individuals understand their own behavior, identify blind spots, and to grow into the type of professional they want to be. The use of peer and manager-requested feedback (separated from consequences) is recommended here.
- Performance regarding an employee’s role-specific competency. With a focus on day-to-day tasks, technical proficiency, goal achievement and behaviors outlined in job descriptions, managers make an assessment of the degree to which an employee has been successful. Information from performance conversations is fed into the company review.
Use a combination of feedback sequence and tools to amplify the learnings from both developmental and performance conversations:
- Developmental conversations should not happen just once a year. We want them to be more frequent, for instance, once a quarter. Getting more feedback throughout the year allows the employees to course correct rather than wait until the end of the year. If you do that, your performance review can be once a year to determine pay raise. In this one compensation review, you can go over the developmental reviews with the employee, see if they have made any positive changes and include that assessment in their performance rating and compensation reviews.
- Use a tool that structures the developmental conversation so that it's beneficial to the employees. Without a structured conversation, you’re leaving the conversation topics and focus to your managers whose various levels of leadership skills and qualities could create an inconsistent experience for employee across the company. Our list of performance review phrases is a great place to start training managers in these conversations.
- Consider using performance data to deliver tailored developmental resources rather than more generic, company-wide training. In other words, use data and performance feedback to help focus and accelerate employee growth.