Rising to the Review

For many of you out there, this time of the year is when the rubber meets the road, when your boss let’s you know where you stand or, as the leader, you need to size up your direct reports.   Yep, you guessed it – The Dreaded Annual Review.  Ugh.  As a Human Resource professional, I have read thousands of annual reviews.  Some well crafted, some not.  Some meandering diatribes that serve no purpose but to prop up the author, some with one or two sentence milk toast generalizations that do little more than say “hey, you showed up for work.”images 2

I’ve wondered sometimes what would happen if we had to give an annual review to our spouse or visa versa.  I can imagine my husband saying, “Great job this year on Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner but can we back off the bell peppers for 2013?” It’s really difficult to summarize the 2080 hours of work into one or two pages of meaningful, pertinent, impactful prose.

Here are some pointers on how to survive the process:

1. Embrace.  This is going to sound counter intuitive but – try to embrace the process.  If you dwell on the dread, you will delay the inevitable and suffer the process; whether giving or receiving.   Drafting the review hours before you have to sit down and give the review will not be your best work. It will be rushed, poorly thought-out and not likely to be thorough.  If you set the intention that you look forward to the process, the end product will be all the better (and it will won’t be as painful).  If you’re about to receive a review and aren’t open to constructive criticism, you won’t be able to benefit at all from the process.

2. Document.  The traditional advice from a Human Resource professional is, “Document, document, document.”  I’m not advocating “building a file”, I’m advocating that you make detailed notes throughout the year. Many annual reviews are a reflection of what has happened in the last two months.  All the great breakthroughs and successes from last February are a faint memory.  Memorialize the high points as well as the low points; there will be both.

3. Dissonance.  Most of us look for consonance.  We look for information to back up our beliefs.  So if we think that our assistant is sloppy, we look for more information that backs up our belief that he is slipshod.  So all we will see is misspellings, input errors and crumbs on the keyboard.  Look for the dissonance; seek out neatness, examples of straightforward execution, tidiness.

4. Equilibrium.  Seek out balance.  Focusing on only negative feedback can be demoralizing.  Only “pumping sunshine” can be just as detrimental.  Most of us want to know what we can work on to get better.  In a recent training there was an excellent analogy that a tri-athlete is constantly working for better form and time.  You never “arrive” at perfection; we are all works in progress.

5. Craft. Craft the message.  Phrasing developmental feedback in the form of what the person can do “more” of is important.  As I have posted before, trying to do “less” is much more difficult to measure.  Doing “more” is proactive.  So I should suggest that my assistant be “more” detail oriented instead of being “less” sloppy.  Stay away from negating words like “but” and “however”.  They erase any words before them.

6. Eyes.  Get a second set of eyes to read what you have written.  Getting a second opinion from someone you trust is important for perspective.  Sometimes we get caught up in our own “junk”.  You could end up dwelling on Excel techniques for a third of the review and not realize that you’ve lost balance in the appraisal.   You may use euphemisms that are lost out of context.  Having a second set of eyes can help clear up the message.

I hope this has alleviated some of the dread and challenges that come with drafting annual reviews.  You can make a difference with a well crafted appraisal and investing the time to deliver a balanced, well thought out message will be appreciated by the receiver.

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