I was chatting with a friend of mine recently, and I made the comment that my company had just finished up with our quarterly reviews. I complained a little bit about the amount of time the reviews took, but noted that I did pretty well on my personal review and was happy with my feedback overall.
My friend was a little confused … at least, that’s what her body language was telling me. After an awkward pause she asked, with a slight uncertainty in her voice, “Why did you get a review, don’t you own the company?” This isn’t the first time I have received this response after mentioning that I allow my management team to review my work performance. When I mention this to other business owners, and even go so far as to suggest that they should consider having key members of their team give them a review, the business owner will either laugh off the suggestion or adopt a look of terror that I can only imagine is a result of them thinking about all the possible points of criticism their employees may have for them as a leader.
As you read this, you might even be having a few adverse reactions to the thought of an employee reviewing you. I can assure you that I did at first too, but let me explain the method behind the madness before you write the idea off completely.
I am going to first start with the rules I set up for the review, and then I will cover why I allow my employees to review me.
Rule # 1 – You must be respectful with your critique.
Rule # 2 – Only department leads/managers get to have input.
Rule # 3 – No personal attacks.
Rule # 4 – I have the right to invalidate any response that isn’t looking at the big picture.
My managers are given questions via a free survey tool that allows them to answer and review me anonymously. I’m sure it goes without saying, but just in case, if you don’t allow people to respond anonymously, you’ll never hear anyone’s true feelings … unless your entire leadership team is made up of family, and sometimes not even then. Once we have everyone’s answers, those answers are reviewed by my two most senior managers, and then we discuss the findings.
My primary why for doing this is that many times you can’t see the forest for the trees. It is smart to be introspective and to find ways to improve yourself. However, sometimes the areas that require the most improvement are not obvious, and unless someone points out the issue in a time and place where you are open to taking feedback, nothing will change.
Let me give you an example of an area I got feedback on, needed to improve at, and was oblivious to the fact that it was issue.
In the early days of the company, when I only had five or six employees, I was told in my review that I made it very clear on a very regular basis that I could and would fire anyone at any time. The employees at the time felt like, at any moment, for nearly any reason, they could lose their job. In my review I told the manager who was giving me the feedback, “It’s true. We live in Idaho. Employees can be fired at any time for nearly any reason.” But I wasn’t walking around making comments like that on a regular basis.
The manager insisted that I was doing just that. Since I only had a handful of employees, I called a quick meeting and asked each member of my team. One-hundred percent of them said they had not only heard me say something to that extent, but I had also said it at one time or another to each and every one of them. Of course, I knew I had made comments about people being replaceable, but on that level, to all of them … I didn’t even realize I had done it.
The story is embarrassing for me to write about now, but how could that kind of fear have affected my long-term retention of key employees? How much did those regular reminders hinder my company’s overall growth? How could those fears have affected our clients? We’ll never know -- and I’m glad I didn’t have to find out.
That’s just one small example of an issue that was brought to my attention in a performance review that I didn’t even realize was an issue. It just goes to show that perception is reality, even when your intentions are pure, or at least without malice.
There is a lot of wisdom in finding out where you are weak and where you can improve as an entrepreneur, and either reflecting on and improving those areas in your life, or finding someone else to handle those tasks for you.
At the end of the day, it’s hard to fix problems you don’t know about.