Using Performance Reviews to Motivate and Engage

If you aim to create a high performance culture then you need to be thinking and talking about performance all the time.  I advocate that leaders should have regular performance review meetings with their team members. The frequency of the meetings depends on the experience of the team member but, for most, monthly or quarterly meetings are appropriate. Continuously attending to performance management means that when it is time for the formal Annual Performance Review there will be a sound basis for reaching agreement on performance ratings and the process will not be disrupted by unresolved issues.

In establishing Annual Performance Reviews organisations are mindful of the need to grade the current performance and future potential of their employees so as to identify and develop the next generation of its leaders.   The process is certainly not intended to demotivate people, but, unfortunately, that is what tends to happen when managers conduct the process poorly.

Take a look at a recent article from The Atlantic magazine that reviews the academic research on performance reviews:

In brief, researchers find that both workers and managers dislike reviews and question their effectiveness.  They find that the only people happy with constructive criticism are those least likely to receive it – the experienced “great” performers. They also find that the rating systems are heavily biased.  For example, typically, 2/3rds of those receiving the highest scores are not amongst the organisation’s highest performers.  The main bias comes from managers who systematically mark up those they have hired. All of these things cause people to disengage with the process.

So if you want a positive result from your annual review process you need to be mindful of the research and try to alleviate the stated problems.  Encourage commitment to the process by putting team members at the centre of the process, carefully manage criticism, and remove any perceived bias.

Here are some suggestions:

  1. Treat the review exercise as a test of your leadership rather than a management task.   Managers work in the here and now to resolve work problems and mould individual behaviour towards a better fit with team and organisation requirements.  Leaders are concerned with the future and represent the organisation in identifying and sponsoring the next generation of leaders.
  2. Recognise the importance of the exercise to the team member.  Treat the exercise and the occasion with great respect.  For the team member a career review can influence the future direction of the person’s career and life prospects.
  3. Ensure that there are no surprises.  Give a month’s notice of your intention to conduct the review.  Ensure that you are across the process. If the team member is new to the organisation schedule a training session so that the member has an understanding of the process in advance of the review meeting.
  4. Carefully manage the use of criticism. Too much criticism can make novices feel hopeless.  Too little criticism can make experienced people feel that they have nothing more to accomplish.  Everyone must have something to aspire to.
  5. Ensure that the team member has input to the review process.  People are not committed to processes that they have not been involved in.  Team members must be given the opportunity to record the achievements they are proud of and the issues that they find troublesome before any rating exercise is undertaken.
  6. Minimise perceived personal bias. Bias is reduced by using multiple sources of information.  Consult with other organisational actors and customers who interact with the team member.
  7. Run an efficient and respectful meeting.  Emphasise the importance of the meeting to both parties – leader and team member.  Allow sufficient time for the meeting to be properly completed with no interruption.   Document the agreed actions.  Show by your conduct that you care about the team member’s future.

The ultimate objective is having the team member leave a formal review meeting feeling positive about her/his future in your organisation.

Have a great week.




Mark Rosenberg