The season of performance reviews is upon us – and with it comes a variety of employee reactions, from dread to passive tolerance. And who can blame those who believe performance reviews to be a waste of time, a simple formality that often focuses on the negative?
In the United States especially, the fundamental premise of performance reviews is that employees have something to fix – “areas of improvement” – and the manager’s role is to point out their deficiencies and get the employee on a path for growth. But this method can be demoralizing and, in the end, not all that effective because both the manager and employee end up with a defensive mindset.
But what if instead we took a contrarian approach to performance reviews? What if we adopted the attitude that there is no ideal employee profile and it is meaningless to provide feedback to get employees to an “ideal” state? That every individual is unique and all a manager can really do is help make strengths stronger and put them in positions that minimize their weakness? I think we’d have employees who are encouraged and who feel they are reaching their full potential – and thus who are much more effective in their day-to-day tasks.
This approach can help managers inject positive energy into the workplace and build stronger relationships, rather than depress employees and create a defensive environment. In the contrarian approach, a manager’s job becomes understanding the unique strengths and weaknesses of each direct report, and finding jobs to optimize individual talents rather than the other way around. Of course, this is significantly more difficult and involved than conducting traditional performance reviews – but it can have a much greater impact on productivity and thus the financial results of a company.
In fact, I have always tried to manage my team in this manner and have discovered it is much more effective. And I’m not alone – many organizations and countries have proven this model can work. For example, in Japan, traditionally employment has been for life and promotions and financial incentives are based on tenure rather than performance. Under these circumstances, managers have to focus on finding the good in employees and positioning them so their weaknesses are minimized. It’s just as if you were building a SWAT team; you need many types of skills to deliver a successful outcome, and there is no “ideal” team member, because each skillset is just as necessary as the next.
So how would you go about implementing this alternative to performance reviews? To begin:
- Don’t make performance reviews about pointing out weaknesses. Instead, create a positive experience focused on defining and increasing strengths instead.
- Find unique strengths in your team. Everyone has something he or she does well.
- Mold the job description. Define the job to feed the strengths and starve the weaknesses.
Try this approach – you might be surprised to see how big of a difference it makes to your team’s teams spirit and productivity, and the organization overall. And isn’t that the true intent behind performance reviews in the first place?