Let’s Be Honest… About Your Performance

by Joe Lavelle on December 17, 2010

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Over the years I would estimate that I have been involved in several thousand performance reviews.  Since I am so passionate about career acceleration, I have taken each one seriously and have tried to do my part to make the review as fair as possible while providing the person being assessed with the HONEST feedback that they need to achieve the goals that they have identified.  It took me several years of assuming management responsibility for new people to discover that in general, HONESTY IS COMPLETELY ABSENT from the most performance reviews.  And more often than not, employees are totally dissatisfied with the performance review process at their company.

There are probably a million reasons/excuses for this, and here are only a few:

  • Neither the manager nor the employee has been trained in the company’s performance management and review process
  • The manager has to complete 20+ reviews in a short time and does not have the time to do a good job on any of them
  • The employee does not care for performance feedback, they only want a good raise
  • The culture at the company is to refrain from writing anything “negative” in an evaluation

You are probably thinking of several more excuses, and they are probably all true and valid.  But the real question is:  are you willing to live with the excuses as status quo or are you going to take a different approach for your career (and those that report to you, if applicable)?  Well if you want the pace of your career growth to accelerate there is only one answer, take a different approach.  This may be scary and you may be viewed as a renegade in the short term, but I have never seen a case where someone started injecting REAL HONESTY into the performance review process was affected negatively for very long.

Honesty has to start from the very beginning of the process.  Each year you should meet with your boss and tell them what your career goals for are for the year (I’d like to get promoted to senior analyst… I’d like to get at least an 8% raise).  Based on those goals you should ask your boss what specifically you have to accomplish in your job to attain your career goals – these are your yearly objectives.  You should ask your boss to be as specific as possible and you should write them down.  Hopefully, your company has a form for documenting your yearly objectives as part of the career development/performance management process.  If not, simply put type them into a Word document and send them to your boss for verification.

Now,  the first hard part.  You must meet regularly with your boss and insist on getting specific feedback on how you are progressing on each objective.  If you get “wiggly-words” from your boss like “you are doing fine,”  ask them pointed questions like “what could I be doing to make the cost reduction project go better?”  If you don’t get the REAL HONESTY at this point, you will likely be disappointed at the end of the year.

Additionally, you should seek regular feedback from those who you interact with.  Many times you only need informal feedback.  Ask your customers how you are doing.  Tell them you are interested in serving them better and are looking for specific (HONEST) feedback on things you should start, should stop, or should do more of.   Go thru the same process with your peers, those who work for you, and those who you regularly interact with in other departments or companies.  Document as much as you can (good and bad) to be used as input to your performance review at the end of the year.

Now, the hardest part.  Giving and receiving feedback is easy and fun when the feedback is good.  Where most people fail is they don’t provide meaningful feedback when there is bad news to share.  Only you can fix this for the sake of your career and those who work for you.  You need to learn how to make it easy for people to share bad news.  Here is how the conversation might go:  “I really appreciate all the nice things you have shared about me (or my team), but what I am really looking for is how we can do even better.  What can we start doing that will serve you even better? What are we doing that we should stop?  Please be as blunt with me as possible because I really want to raise the bar for my (or my team’s) performance.”

As you reach the end of the year and you have been diligent about checking in regularly with many constituents about how you are tracking towards meeting your yearly objectives, you should already know whether you have met them.  You may have fallen short of your objectives.  Well at least you know that you probably won’t get the promotion and/or raise you desired and you know what things you have fallen short on.

On the other hand, you may have met or overachieved your objectives.  You would normally expect that this will automatically get you the promotion and the raise.  Unfortunately, it may not be a slam dunk.  Your boss may have changed his/her mind, there may not be enough “slots” for you at the next level, your boss may not have understood what kind of political games were required to get someone promoted or some other “unfair” reason.  Guess what, life isn’t fair.  But you have had a tremendous year and you have demonstrated the ability to meet or exceed your objectives!  You may have to leave your current position or even company to get recognized but if you maintain your discipline of ensuring there is TRUE HONESTY in the performance management process, you will accelerate your career!  I guarantee it!

Can you please share how you have ensured there is REAL HONESTY in performance management?   How has it made you more successful?

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