Rugilė has transitioned her knowledge about organizational psychology and has been serving as a team lead for over five years, with three of those years spent at TeleSoftas. Throughout those years, she has consistently maintained a keen interest in performance talks. In the last three years, she has not only facilitated her team’s yearly performance talks but also trained others on how to effectively prepare for these discussions. Well, simply said – it is the discussion between an employee and their manager about employees’ work output and a look forward to future path and growth. It is important to understand, that performance conversations are a crucial part of our work, because not only do they help employees to reach their full potential, but also help to strengthen their work relationships and loyalty by sharing feedback to their managers, insights about the company and expectations for the future.

What is the performance talk?

We could say, that during performance talks there are two main parts of the meeting:

  • Performance evaluation & goals have been reached, 
  • Development evaluation & goals for the future. 

While looking back and talking about the performance, usually the manager discusses with an employee their work results,  KPIs, and other metrics. Also, feedback that should’ve been gathered before.

So, during this part conversation goes mainly about how an employee is performing on their direct responsibilities.

As the conversation moves to the development part, an employee discuss their personal and professional growth with their manager. Usually, this discussion happens about lessons learned, growth wishes, and opportunities for the future. And we should not forget that this discussion – is two-way talking, where we can share feedback, wishes, and expectations and bring the reality check with each other (and the organization). 

Why it is useful for managers and employees?

As the conversation moves to the development part, an employee discusses their personal and professional growth with their manager. Usually, this discussion happens about lessons learned, growth wishes, and opportunities for the future. And we should not forget that this discussion – is two-way talking, where we can share feedback, wishes, and expectations and bring the reality check with each other (and the organization).

How to prepare for the performance talk? 

Pre-meeting

Take time. Agree on when you’ll have the discussion a few weeks before the decided date (an event should be created). Both sides need to plan that this time is for you only – so for 60-90 mins there should be no extra interruptions, meetings, calls, etc.

 

Prepare questions. You can also agree on some questions, which could be useful to think about until the performance talk. For example, think about the work that was done during the whole period you’re talking about (year, half a year, three months, etc) – work that has been done, insights gathered, goals agreed on, lessons learned.

 

Collecting feedback. Gather feedback from other stakeholders (your teammates, clients, colleagues from other teams/departments).

 

Future. Think about the expectations, opportunities, and possibilities for the next period. This applies for both participating sides. Maybe there’s something that needs to change? Maybe there are some challenging situations? Who/what could help? What you could name as a result after resolving this situation? What do the next steps could sound like?

During the meeting

Expectations. After once more shortly agreeing on the structure of this conversation, it can be useful to align the expectations for this meeting/manager/employee and agree on where the conversation will start and how it will go.

 

Assessment. After the reflection on an employee’s performance, challenges, lessons learned, wins and opportunities, value and purpose you could move to the discussion – what was adapted from lessons learned, training, and/or conferences, what and how this experience is shared in the company or team.

 

Evaluation. If feedback was gathered and not discussed before – then the discussion about the feedback should happen – what could be taken out of it, and how could it be adapted shortly.

 

Prospective. The discussion about the future – plans, wishes, goals, opportunities, help needed, and deadlines/follow-ups.

Reflection & planning

This conversation could go to an end with an employee reflecting on this discussion – what conclusions have been made, what was agreed on speaking about the next steps, maybe there’s something that needs to be added?
Some questions, that could be used:

  • What could be the next appropriate step toward our agreement?
  • How did an employee (or both sides) evaluate what was discussed during this conversation?
  • Maybe there’s a need to add or emphasize something?
  • Maybe there’s some feedback/expectations/insights for the manager (if it was not discussed before)?

Important to remember

And finally, remember that you do not need to solve every question or problem during this conversation. Remember the goal and structure that was agreed on for this particular discussion. Maybe sometimes adjustments need to be made. Be flexible and open. You cannot fix anything if problems won’t be discussed, and the same if feedback will not be heard (or said constructively).

How to Steer Clear of Typical Errors in Performance Reviews

As it was discussed before, the performance review is the time of calibration with our employees. During this discussion, we reflect on the progress that was made, talk about growth & plans for the future, share & discuss the feedback (for both sides), and align the expectations towards each other, the team, the company, and other stakeholders.

And yet, we as managers, can prepare for the meeting as much, as we can, and still face complicated situations during this discussion. The complexity of those kinds of situations arises because we are not expecting them or we are not dealing with them quite often. For example, unexpected need to deal with strong emotional reactions, blaming others, or not having time for meetings with you or avoiding those. As you might already understand, while preparing for performance discussion,  consciously or unconsciously we are preparing for those situations also.

Complicated situations & going through them:

Shallowness

The conversation becomes shallow, we can feel if information keeps repeating itself, we feel like being in the loop.

  • Voice this observation out loud;
  • Discuss what is happening: maybe there’s something you are not voicing or cannot agree on;
  • Together decide, how you could move from this shallow point.

Lack of openness

Conversation and answers are reserved, there is no trust, and the person is not open during the discussion.

  • Check if you chose a safe and calm environment;
  • Think, if your relationship is based on mutual trust and respect;
  • Think, if your communication and care are consistent when you’re working together;
  • Be human – be curious not only about the work part of your employee but also – about the human part (if you see, that your employee is ok with that).

Personal problems

You know, that your employee is having a hard time in their personal life.

  • Don’t be afraid to talk about it;
  • Remember – you’re the manager, not a buddy (it is important, that you care, but at the same time some boundaries also are needed);
  • See the tendencies (sometimes people like to abuse the system);
  • Listen & care. Share your expectations based on the situation;
  • Share an invitation to seek help (if it is needed).

Need to be challenged

You see the need to challenge your employee (in a constructive way) because of contrarieties in the conversation.

  • Make sure that you want to challenge them for a valid reason (not just to show your authority);
  • By sharing what grabbed your attention – you show that you’re paying attention and care;
  • It helps to find new insights about the situation or see what might be hidden.

Strong emotions

An employee starts crying, shouting, or expressing other strong emotions.

  • Give them time and/or space (if needed – move the meeting to another day);
  • Be human, show that you care, but try to be neutral (by staying calm, you’ll help to get calm for another person too);
  • If needed – keep your boundaries (you don’t need to be shouted at);
  • If there’s a possibility – discuss – what happened, and what triggered this reaction;
  • If you’re responsible for this expression – apologize, if not – don’t make unnecessary excuses.

Blaming others

An employee tends to blame others for their failures.

  • Find and help your employee understand – where and how they can make an impact / how they can take responsibility for their results & performance;
  • Agree on what will be done soon;
  • Help them find the answers:
  • How responsible do you feel in this situation;
  • What is missing in this situation to be solvable?
  • How much you’re involvedHow much do you believe that this situation will be solved?

Ignorance

Your employee says, that everything is OK as it is or they do not know what they want and do not want to take on new goals or challenges.

  • Try to understand what is happening – what is lying under their ignorance for growth (maybe everything IS fine, maybe the person does not know where to start, or maybe they do not feel recognition for all the extra work they are doing already);
  • Make sure, you understand what your employees can and want to achieve & what is the situation in your team and company (maybe you see some opportunities for them, but they do not see them? Maybe there are some obstacles, that are preventing them from moving forward?);
  • Help your employee understand the priorities and/or outcomes of their chosen position (role & responsibilities, and impact of it).

Asking for answer

When an employee is asking questions they should know the answer for or do not want to make an extra effort to find the answer they need.

  • Remember, that you, as a manager, do not need to show off your expertise in the question if the person should know the answer (or can find it easily);
  • Show and explain the value of finding the answer by themselves;
  • Be curious about the reasons why your employee chooses not to take ownership of this question (maybe you two interpret the task or ownership/accountability differently?);
  • When you need to support and guide (if you believe, that this person has the skills and competence), when – to answer (maybe your teammate is quite junior and doesn’t have the needed competencies to solve this situation).
Adapting and reacting

As you can see – there might be different kinds of complicated situations, and the list is non-finite. Sometimes life happens and we are forced to adapt our plans and reaction to reality. At the same time, you can see -healthy curiosity, mutual trust, respect, openness, knowing what we want from our employees (role, responsibilities, development, etc.), and understanding your role and accountabilities can help you a lot, even if you’re not prepared for some spicy situations.

Communication in the working relationship

As you possibly, already understood – a performance review could be understood as a broader thing, than a once-a-year meeting. This is a continuous process of consistent communication, actions meeting words and agreements, an ability to raise concerns, and challenge each other if there are some contrarieties in the working relationship. That’s why it is important to work on mutual trust, healthy and constructive conflict resolution, and mutual accountability if we want to have fruitful and honest performance discussions for both parties. And of course, active listening skills, feedback-sharing skills, an ability to listen and consider it – are universal skills, which help a lot in various situations, where we need to understand each other. So, prepare and plan your performance discussions not only by having a structure for the meeting but also by actively working on it throughout the year.

Rugilė Žickytė

This article was written by a Learning & Development Lead in TeleSoftas. For more insights, follow her on Linkedin – Rugilė Žickytė.