Building a high-performance team beyond performance reviews

Building a high-performance team beyond performance reviews

Performance reviews are a common method to measure success, but the needs of the individual are often not considered, leading to mistrust, fear and lower performance. In this article, ontological leadership coach Lucy Faulconer explores ways to broaden your focus, look at and encourage each individual’s unique contributions and open avenues of communication.


May 22, 2022

5 mins read

Most professionals know the feeling of going into a performance review to look back at the last six to twelve months and check whether they have achieved their KPIs and personal development goals. Unfortunately, the experience typically involves being measured against standard performance indicators that may seem cold, unrelatable and constraining. In many cases, the session may leave them feeling confused, unseen, unheard, or as if they need to change themselves to fit the mould of their role or their manager's expectations.

Cast your mind back to your last performance review. Perhaps you were told to be more confident or more effective under pressure. Or maybe you were encouraged to strive for higher standards with your work or be friendlier with your peers. Conversely, suppose you are a team leader or HR manager responsible for delivering performance reviews. In that case, you may relate to this as an ineffective way to review your people for their benefit and the organisation's benefit. 

Performance reviews can be golden opportunities that have detrimental effects if not used well, taking away trust and engagement instead of building it. Regrettably, many professionals have had negative experiences with performance reviews in the past that have led them to mistrust or fear the process. However, most companies persist with evaluations and make them compulsory throughout the organisation.

According to a survey of Fortune 1000 companies conducted by the Corporate Executive Board (CEB), 66% of employees surveyed were strongly dissatisfied with the performance evaluations they received in their organisations. More strikingly, 65% believed that performance evaluations were irrelevant to their jobs.

So what needs to change and be addressed to ensure performance reviews are effective with your team? How will you make the review process worthwhile in that it leads to conversations that drive performance and engagement? While I am not an HR manager, my experience as a leadership coach and background as a management consultant has provided me with many instances to see what works and doesn't work when it comes to performance reviews.

The primary gap I see is that performance reviews have become an organisational process to just ‘get done’, which loses sight of the individual sitting on the other side of the conversation. If we broaden the focus and are more intentional about each human being and the factors that encourage them to perform and stay engaged, we have a better chance of building engagement and high performance. You can have KPIs and metrics to guide the conversation, but it's critical not to lose sight of the uniqueness of each person. Each person will have a unique set of distinct advantages that can bring increased effectiveness to the team if developed.

According to the research of Ashkan Tashvir, author of BEING, the uniqueness each of us holds and how we relate to this and express it to the world motivates high performance. From this, we can conclude how important it is to spend time discovering each individual's unique contribution to the team by just being who they are. The next step is to explore the most effective ways to develop and leverage each person’s unique contribution and support them to do that over the next six to twelve months. This investment in time and change in focus will drive performance, retention and development of talent. 

Here are some ways to put the above into practice:

Awareness: Have ongoing and day to day feedback conversations that allow the people you lead to have the awareness to act differently now, while something is happening, not six months after the event. Withholding feedback only leads to anxiety, fear and uncertainty. They should never get to a formal performance review and be surprised by what you see as their strengths and development areas. So, don’t sit on any feedback you have for your team. Rather than leave them wondering, be straight with them and regularly check and adjust expectations. With a culture of ongoing on-the-spot feedback, your team members will know what to expect, increasing their performance. 

Authentic conversations: Let your people have their say. Listen and understand what they need and want going forward in their roles, career in general and life. Give them the experience of being heard and take action to support them as their manager.

Partnership and contribution: Support your team to build partnerships and create different opportunities that honour the uniqueness of each person. You will be a more powerful team if you can support each other and bring everyone’s strengths to the table, understanding where each plays at their best.

Accountability and responsibility: Let your team member own the session as it is their career. You can hold them accountable for their actions on a project or initiative, but you can’t hold them accountable for their vision and dreams. The accountability for their role needs to be clear, and the ownership of the outcomes needs to stay with the individual. Your responsibility as a leader is to create an environment where they can thrive and not take the ownership away.

When working as a consultant, I remember one particular end of year performance review that left me feeling confused and angry. The written review provided feedback about something I had done four months ago, but this was the first time the matter had been raised. Because nobody had brought the issue to my attention when it happened, it was too late for me to do anything about it. I remember my project manager apologising to me in the session, knowing I would confront him on it, as this did not align with our feedback culture. The good news is the issue was easily resolved. It was also a great learning opportunity for both of us about the importance of on-the-spot and ongoing feedback in the lead-up to performance reviews. We both knew this would support me to remain focused on achieving the outcomes expected for the project and my intentions for my career.

I encourage you to review what it would take to make the most of the performance review process with your team. Start by having a conversation with each person individually and get them involved in creating a way forward that maximises their uniqueness. By approaching it this way with your team, you will transform each team member's experience of performance reviews and their individual and collective performance.

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