Inspire Performance by Providing Optimum Feedback

Aim for for the gold standard when conducting individual reviews. Create an environment where ongoing evaluation is a welcomed aspect of workplace culture not a loathsome ritual.

learn more about Karima Mariama-Arthur

By Karima Mariama-Arthur

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Do you give annual performance reviews or a similar form of feedback to others? If so, your mission is to make your company more effective. Your tools are quality feedback and the power to inspire performance.

Here's the problem: No matter where someone is on the food chain, no one likes performance reviews. Annual reviews are even trickier. A 2012 study by the San Francisco-based consulting firm Achievers found that out of 2,677 respondents (1,800 employees, 645 human resources managers and 232 CEOs), 98 percent reported annual performance reviews as unnecessary. These statistics beg the question: Are performance reviews simply perfunctory measures?

Without a legitimate value proposition, perhaps they are.

If you want to effectively manage performance, hack the appraisal process. The secret sauce is providing optimum feedback so that you can inspire performance. Here's how:

Related: Stop Delaying: 3 Surefire Ways to Do Employee Reviews Properly

1. Set clear, practical expectations.

In giving performance reviews, be sure that employees are informed of expectations in a clear way well in advance. It's ridiculous to hold someone accountable for standards that are ambiguous or that were not previously introduced.

How do you avoid these pitfalls? Dick Grote, author of How to Be Good at Performance Appraisals, has suggested conducting yearly "performance planning" sessions to discuss mutual goals and expectations. This will clear up confusion about how to evaluate performance and provides a meaningful opportunity to exchange ideas and discuss objectives more fully.

Additionally, customize expectations as much as possible, making the goals feasible for each player. Exceptional performers should be challenged to stretch and expand their reach. Average performers should be given the resources to bolster their skills and secure their success. Keeping the whole team on a mechanized track is a recipe for disaster. Maximize collective results by setting clear, practical and customized expectations.

2. Don't sugarcoat.

Have you ever received sanitized feedback? If so, how did it make you feel? Offended, perhaps? Performance reviews aren't about stroking egos. They're about having an open, honest dialogue as a means for achieving results. That can't happen if you're simply trying to make the other person feel good.

"What a performance appraisal requires is for one person to stand in judgment of another," Grote said. "Deep down, it's uncomfortable." That's precisely why performance reviews have the potential to encourage emotional dishonesty.

But honesty isn't something you should have to work at. Just tell the truth. Use good judgment and exercise decorum.

3. Provide a mixed bag.

Performance reviews aren't only about identifying blind spots. They also offer an opportunity to highlight excellence. If you don't offer balanced evaluations, you're not maximizing their potential to inspire your team's performance.

Emphasizing the pros and cons of performance are critical. Identifying pros in someone's behavior grants you an opportunity to recognize strong suits and explore them further. Identifying cons gives you a chance to examine inadequate performance and take corrective action. Seek to strike a balance in the two types of feedback provided.

Related: Banish 'Annual' From Your Performance Review Vocabulary

4. Add value.

The sweet spot of every performance review is adding value. Achieve it by providing solid examples of conduct and results, so there will be no confusion about past or future performance.

Actively solicit employee input throughout the entire process. Make each session interactive. Include elements of innovation and technology. Lastly, offer tangible prescriptions for improvement. These are fundamental takeaways.

5. Start a long-term conversation.

Don't make performance reviews a dreaded annual affair. In other words, establish evaluations as an exciting, multifaceted component of the workplace culture. At their core, they should inspire trust and a long-term commitment to the greater good. Ideally they should occur frequently over the course of 12 months.

"Performance management is a process," said James Baron, professor at the William S. Beinecke School of Management at Yale University. "Presumably you're giving a tremendous amount of real-time feedback, and your employees are people you know well. Hopefully your relationship can survive candid feedback."

Start the conversation. Build and strengthen relationships. Engage and indulge the process. Your goal is to create an environment where feedback is a welcomed aspect of workplace culture.

Edward Lawler, a business professor at University of Southern California, has observed that about 93 percent of companies use annual appraisals but only 6 percent have considered dropping them. If performance reviews are going to be used at your company, you might as well embrace them. Be a maverick. Hack appraisals. Inspire performance.

Related: 5 Ways HR Technology Can Improve Performance Reviews

Karima Mariama-Arthur

Founder and CEO of WordSmithRapport

Karima Mariama-Arthur is the founder and CEO of WordSmithRapport, an international consulting firm located in Washington, D.C. that specializes in professional development. She trains, coaches and consults for individuals and organizations on the dynamics of complex communication and high-performance leadership competence. 

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