April 2, 2018 2:50:00 PM EDT

Why Do Low Performers Get Rockstar Reviews?

Organizational Effectiveness

Why Do Low Performers Get Rockstar Reviews?

Bob stinks at his job. He heats up tuna fish sandwiches in the kitchen microwave...every day. His main contribution to the bottom line is not using the company WiFi while he's watching Netflix on his iPhone during conference calls. Worst of all, Bob hoards the multi-color post-its.

But Bob, and many others like Bob, escape the annual performance review process with nary a scratch. Why is that?

When assessing the effectiveness of company performance management processes, I see the same thing time and again, where "exceeds expectations" or "high performance" or "4-out-of-5" are by far the most commonly selected categories, while "average performance" is a rating for people who are actually performing below company norms.  

This "Everyone's a 4" culture destroys potential utility of the formal performance management process, but a fair, honest, well-executed process should result in positive consequences for the organization.

Have your managers focus on 3 Cs - Candor, Communication, and Consistency - to get the most out of your performance review process.

Candor: Being nice isn’t nice

Performance reviews should be helping employees grow and improve. If you shy away from saying things that don’t sound or feel nice, you miss out on opportunities to help your employees grow. Also, be specific. The general "I need you to be more client-focused" is useless. "Here's how you supported Client X, here's what I liked about that, and here's what I'd like you to have done in that situation" is actionable.

Communication: Managers should be having conversations, not checking boxes

The forms of old had many boxes, with selections between good and bad, meeting or exceeding expectations, etc. Reviews are far more valuable if managers are asking open ended questions and working with the employee to develop answers. It's important to note, though, that these conversations should be occurring throughout the year, and that the content of the performance review does not come as a surprise to the employee. If the conversations happen throughout the year, the performance review can become a nice opportunity for the employee to say "Back in August, you mentioned I should be more proactive in seeking new business with existing clients - have you seen any improvement?"

Consistency: Reviews should be consistent in what they appraise

The definition of what is low, medium or high performance should be the same across the board. Expectations can vary based off of position, but the traits that are valued should be consistent. Consider calibration sessions, where multiple managers who know the same employees can discuss and agree upon those individuals' performance levels. These are very helpful when unveiling a new competency model or performance management system and can be very helpful for new managers as well.

One final thought: throughout the year, use the 5:1 ratio. Give five positive comments for every negative comment. Don’t leave out constructive criticism, but don’t focus entirely on things that need improvement either. Recognizing the positive aspects of an employee’s performance throughout the year builds trust and commitment.

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Judy partners with executives and leadership teams to engage and inspire employees in a way that delivers sustainable strategic results. She brings deep expertise and creative ideas to solve organizational effectiveness issues and closely collaborates in a way that builds internal capabilities. Judy has spent over 25 years consulting in a variety of industries, bringing her expertise in behavior to a wide range of organizational issues including organizational behavior change, leadership, change management, culture and engagement.

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