How many times do we tell managers: “Don’t bring up new and unpleasantly surprising information during the annual performance review meeting.”
The conundrum is that most managers don’t bring up mission critical performance feedback before the annual review.
So what happens?
They adhere to the “no surprises” rule. And as a result the most important information gets shoved aside, and the review is padded with everything but the kitchen sink.
There are three options for incorporating new information into a performance review. I’ve ordered them starting with the easiest option (although the last one deserves serious consideration):
1 . Talk about future expectations and use the “Area for Development” section
This option is for the manager who could have brought up an issue earlier and didn’t.
If you’re presenting new information, then take the negative and turn it around to describe almost the exact opposite. This will have you thinking, writing and talking in terms of what you want the employee to do in the future, versus dragging up past deficiencies. It’s a great way to get the information into the review and conversation.
The point is to get the individual to pay attention to something that’s important, to hear your message, and to not feel six inches tall after their employee performance review.
Translate your request for new actions or behavior into a goal or capture it in the “Area for Development” section of your appraisal form. Be sure to think about what support the employee will need to be successful: coaching, on the job assignments, training, mentoring, etc.
2. You had no idea (until now)
Performance review season requires concentrated thought about each employee and it’s plausible that you’ve just concluded that there’s a problem area you should raise. So while this is new information for the employee it may be new to you too.
Be authentic and say what happened: “As I was really thinking about your contributions, I had a new thought I wanted to share”.
Here again, the “Area for Development” section of the performance appraisal form seems like the right place to address this skill or competency gap. The employee will be less likely to raise the “that’s not fair you rated me poorly” flag if you reframe the skill or competency gap as a development need.
3. Admit your complacency (really)
At Husky Energy , Tatjana Ilic-Balas says that managers are expected to make an honest assessment of an employee’s performance, which involves providing an accurate rating and supporting comments. This honest assessment is expected regardless of whether a conversation occurred beforehand.
I cried foul and said, “But it’s not fair to the employee”, to which she had a wise answer that’s since changed my thinking on the no surprises rule.
Tatjana said here’s what’s expected: The manager has to write an honest review and when the employee rightly asks, “Why didn’t you bring this up before?” the manager gives an honest answer with something like:
“I should have brought this up several months ago and I’m sorry I didn’t bring it up earlier.”
I’d also add,
“We can’t go backwards, but we can start from today and this is something I think you’re capable of doing.”
And if you feel this individual can be successful then I’d add something like,
“I have every confidence in you.”
Wow, talk about authenticity and accountability.
If you go on record with your managers, letting them know what’s expected if they don’t speak up beforehand, then how many will decide: “I’m better off having this conversation now versus eight months from now at annual review time.”
Now that’s what I call putting a stake in the ground!
Managers don’t have to keep up the infallible facade. We all make mistakes. Others appreciate an: “I was wrong; I’m apologizing and will do better”.
One place where we see this approach working is in healthcare. Hospitals that have adopted the practice of admitting medical mistakes, providing full disclosure, apologizing and sometimes offering monetary compensation, have lowered instances of patient/family lawsuits.
It’s when doctors and administrators try and cover-up and deflect responsibility that patients and their families become frustrated, angry and litigious.
Acting human and admitting when you could have done a better job goes a long way. There’s a good chance you can salvage your relationship and the employee’s self-esteem by admitting your part and making a commitment to doing better going forward.
Managers, do the right thing
The reality is that most managers are faced with the conundrum of how to bring up new information (where did the last eleven months go?) at annual performance review time.
If you do decide to bring up new information at the performance review, then think through the best approach.
But do the right thing and provide full information. We owe it to people to be honest and provide feedback on the real deal.
And remember, there are eleven months outside of performance review season to have “off-the-record” conversations that are less stressful and provide the opportunity to learn and apply.
I’ll write more on how to have performance conversations outside of performance review time in another post.
Your turn: Have you ever been on the receiving side of new and surprising information presented at annual performance review time? What advice would you share when it comes to bringing up new information during the review? Or how have you personally handled raising new information?
To read more of Jamie’s thoughts on management and feedback, read: When it comes to core competencies, actions speak louder than words.