Annual performance reviews are critical to the success of any organization. As part of this process, here are the top things I recommend leaders consider before heading in to meet with a team member.
- Provide the opportunity for team members to reflect on their accomplishments and overall performance over the past year. Start with the team member and have them give an overall summary of their work. You might hear some surprising things and I often find they are more critical of themselves than you could ever be.
- Dedicate time for an interactive conversation about what is working and what could be improved. Always lead with the positive—the things that are going great—and then explore with the team member those items that, if improved, could take their performance to the next level. Remember to make sure it is a two-way conversation and that you are “hearing” them. Encourage team members to provide constructive feedback on both their department and organization. It is also important to recognize that the annual performance review is not the only time to have these conversations. Leaders should meet with their direct reports on a quarterly basis to review performance as well as solicit feedback. This will ensure that there are no surprises. Let's be honest - no one likes to operate in the gray. When it comes to communication, people appreciate the black and white. Additionally, team members need consistent and frequent feedback to feel empowered, understand where they stand and that they have the tools they need to be successful.
- Make sure that expectations are set from the top down and that every team member has a clear understanding of the organizational strategy and goals. This is critical to success. Spend real time with your team reviewing the strategy for the organization and how their work plays a key role in what you all are trying to accomplish. Whether this is through one on one meetings or a town hall, your team members should possess a 360-degree view of the organization and where they fit in. By doing so, you provide meaning and purpose to each person’s role. And at the end of the day, it takes a team of people working towards a common goal to accomplish something great.
- Once goals are set, confirm that your team has what it needs to be successful in executing these in the coming year. One of the most important questions you can ask your team members is “what do you need to do your job the best you can and how can I help?” I am not talking about a salary increase or a corner office (while those might be appropriate at certain times). I am thinking more of those abstract things—like listening, support or training—that, when put into practice, can make a dramatic difference. This also demonstrates that you understand that their success is tied directly to your success as a manager and your ability to lead.
- Take the time to revisit your organizational structure. I have found this to be an invaluable exercise. I take time each year to tweak our overall organizational structure to make sure that specific responsibilities and tactics are best accomplished by the team to which they have been assigned. Over the course of a six-week period, I work with my direct reports and their teams to dig deep and assess the work that they are doing. Are they accomplishing the goals they set out to accomplish? And do these goals still clearly align with our overall organizational strategy? As part of this process, I stretch my employees to look both at the work they personally generate as well as the work of their team so that we can continue to come up with ways to be even more intentional, productive and efficient. Each year, we come out of this process with several adjustments to our organizational structure and tactics that help drive our organization forward.
- Identify team members that have demonstrated leadership and growth potential and determine ways that you can invest in and nurture their skills. One of the real added benefits of this exercise is that it gives me the opportunity to increase the capacity of team members who demonstrate a real potential for leadership and growth. As in any organization, our future success lies in the talent and skill of our team members. By providing additional opportunities for these people, we not only help develop their talents, but we keep them in the organization and happy.
The performance review period is not the time to annually reinvent the wheel and recast your mission as an organization. It is a period of reflection and to work with team members to make minor adjustment—small, but important, tweaks that will lead to continued growth and productivity. Often, it is those minor little adjustments—like tightening a screw on a wobbly table leg—that can make all the difference.
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