Yet another high-level leader told me recently that she hasn’t had a performance review in 2 years. An executive I worked with a couple years ago told me he hadn’t had a performance review in 25 years. So it goes. Another client told me he is committed to “no surprises” and always shares feedback as close to the situation as possible (e.g., project, interaction, work product). I asked him why he is so committed to that (I want to bottle it!) and he said that he believes it is totally unfair to talk about “ancient history”, or things that happened months ago, at the end of the year. He also said that if as a leader you don’t bring it up as it happens, that is a missed opportunity. I would like to clone this leader.
If you read this blog you know I am thrilled that companies are finally changing their performance management system design. It is so long overdue. The thing I am curious about is, will it make managers more willing to provide real, timely positive and developmental feedback? I am not so sure. A fairly common leadership virus is “conflict avoidance at any cost”. For many leaders providing constructive feedback is uncomfortable. So they often diminish it, or communicate it in such a way that it is unclear. Through the years when I asked leaders about this the most common reason I hear is, “I don’t want to diminish [this employee’s] motivation.” Upon further inquiry, it turns out many leaders are either nervous about delivering difficult or negative feedback, or they are not very skilled, or both. So many leaders don’t give real, timely feedback because it makes them uncomfortable and that is one of the biggest and most prevalent stumbling blocks to real time performance management. So you can change the system and you still need to support leaders in having the conversations they need to have.
Let’s get back to my client who told me that she hadn’t had a performance review. My standard response is, “what is keeping you from writing your own?” Yes, you do need your boss’s input but if you make it easier for them, they will probably comment, agree, and hopefully offer other insights that you don’t have. I find the best way to get their take is to say, “I would rate myself an “achieved” on this project and here is specifically why. Given the outcomes, and what you observed from my performance, where would you rate me? I am asking you, because I genuinely want to continue to grow. You have more experience on this and I need your take.” If you set it up to “give them permission” you are more likely to get real feedback. There is no good reason why the boss should be the font of all wisdom. And truthfully, you should be scheduling a meeting to conduct a post-project review with your boss and team as a standard practice. We need to get better quicker – and each of us owns that – not our boss. It is our boss’s role to support our development, but I don’t buy the "parental model" of leadership. We are all adults and all employees can have the capacity to manage their performance. We need to provide learning, tools and support.
The same holds true regardless of whether you are moving to a more, quick, “pulse” performance feedback system. Leaders need to share both the outstanding, “positive with the why” and the “constructive with the why”. But if they don’t, help all your employees become more powerful and teach them how to get the feedback they need even from a reluctant manager.
And regardless of your level, if you want more feedback, go out and get it. If you are uncomfortable receiving difficult feedback, there is only one way get more comfortable hearing it – ask for it more often. When other people are brave enough to give you feedback, sit still, listen, breath and thank them. And you should be asking people beyond your boss. Ask peers, other superiors and “customers” with whom you work. You can choose whether you think the feedback is accurate or not, but be open to it and the patterns that emerge.
The bottom line – if you are not getting enough feedback, ask for it. You need to own your career trajectory and performance feedback is vital for development and to get a reality check on your reputation. If you don’t, don’t be surprised if your skills and career stall.
Welcome to Moira's blog. I write a (mostly) monthly post about the work of building better work places: people strategies, systems, teams and leaders.