Leading with Trust

Building Trust in Performance Reviews – Four Ways to “Meet Expectations”

Performance ReviewWhen it comes to building trust through performance evaluations, do you “meet expectations?” The beginning of the year finds many leaders busy preparing and conducting annual performance reviews for their employees. I don’t know of many leaders who are overjoyed at the prospect of spending hours compiling data, completing forms, and writing evaluations for their team members. Most leaders I speak to look at performance reviews as a tedious and mandatory chore they’re obligated to complete and they can’t wait to have the review meeting, deliver the feedback quickly and painlessly, and get on with their “real” work.

With that kind of attitude, it’s no wonder why performance reviews are a dreaded event, both from the supervisor’s and employee’s perspective! The reality is that performance reviews are one-of-a-kind opportunities for leaders to build trust and commitment with their followers. Having the right supporting processes and systems in place are helpful, but regardless of your organization’s approach to performance management, you can build trust with your team members by doing these four things:

1. Deliver candid feedback with care – One of the biggest mistakes you can make as a leader is to sugarcoat your feedback to an employee. Your employees deserve honest and sincere feedback about how they’re performing so that they have the opportunity to improve, otherwise you are handicapping them and limiting the capabilities of your organization by accepting sub-par performance. Unfortunately, many employees don’t hear about their poor performance until the situation has become critical and they’re put on a performance improvement plan. A look back through their personnel file reveals a series of performance reviews where they’ve met standards and suddenly they’re surprised with this bad news. There shouldn’t be any surprises in a performance review. Through regular conversations during the year, the employee should have received regular feedback about how they’re performing relative to their goals and competencies of their role. I think most people know if they aren’t performing up to snuff. Your people will trust and respect you more if you’re honest with them about their performance.

2. Listen – Don’t do all the talking during the performance review. Yes, you have to review their performance and deliver feedback, but you should also take the time to ask your employees how they felt about their performance. Ask open-ended questions like: “What did you learn this year?” “What would you do differently?” “What did you feel were your biggest successes?” Soliciting the thoughts and opinions of your employees sends the message that you care about what they think and that you don’t assume you have all the answers. You’ll learn valuable insights about what makes your people tick and you can use that information to help plan their future performance. Lending a listening ear is a great way to build trust.

3. Focus on the future – Wait…aren’t performance reviews about reviewing the past? Yes, they are, but in my opinion the real bang for the buck is using that information to focus on growth and development opportunities for your people. Learning from the past is essential, but it’s only valuable if we apply it to the future. What training or education is needed? What are some new stretch goals that can be established? In what ways can the employee leverage his/her strengths with new opportunities? Demonstrating to your employees that you are committed to their career growth builds trust in your leadership and commitment to the organization. Don’t miss this valuable opportunity by solely focusing on the past!

4. Ask for feedback on your leadership – I’m not suggesting you shift the spotlight from your employees to yourself and hijack their review in order to feed your ego, but I am suggesting you ask them two simple questions: “Am I providing you the right amount of direction and support on your goals/tasks?” and “Is there anything I should do more or less of next year to help you succeed?” One of your primary goals as a leader is to accomplish work through others. Their performance is a reflection of your skill as a leader so it’s only appropriate that you use this time to recalibrate the leadership style(s) you’ve been using. It may come as a surprise, but have you thought that the reason why your people aren’t achieving their goals is because you’re not leading them properly? Make sure that’s not the case and get feedback on how you’re doing. Asking for (and graciously receiving) feedback from others is a trust-boosting behavior.

Performance reviews don’t have to be a painful, tedious, mundane task. If you approach them with the right mindset, they can be prime opportunities to build trust with your followers which in turn will help them, and you, to not only meet expectations but exceed them!

Addressing Poor Performance is a “Moment of Trust” – 5 Steps for Success

Addressing poor performance with an employee presents a leader with a “moment of trust” – an opportunity to either build or erode trust in the relationship. If you handle the situation with competence and care, the level of trust in your relationship can take a leap forward. Fumble the opportunity and you can expect to lose trust and confidence in your leadership.

Now, I’m the first to admit that having a discussion about an employee’s failing performance is probably the last thing I want to do as a leader. It’s awkward and uncomfortable for both parties involved. I mean, come one, no one likes to hear they aren’t doing a good job. But the way in which the feedback and coaching is delivered can make a huge difference. The key is to have a plan and process to follow. The following steps can help you capitalize on the moment of trust and get an employee’s performance back on track.

1. Prepare – Before you have the performance discussion, you need to make sure you’re prepared. Collect the facts or data that support your assessment of the employee’s low performance. Be sure to analyze the problem by asking yourself questions like:

        1. Was the goal clear?
        2. Was the right training, tools, and resources provided?
        3. Did I provide the right leadership style?
        4. Did the employee receiving coaching and feedback along the way?
        5. Was the employee motivated and confident to achieve the goal?
        6. Did the employee have any personal problems that impacted performance?

2. Describe the problem – State the purpose and ground rules of the meeting. It could sound something like “Susan, I’d like to talk to you about the problem you’re having with the defect rate of your widgets. I’ll give you my take on the problem and then I’d like to hear your perspective.”

Be specific in describing the problem, using the data you’ve collected or the behaviors you’ve observed. Illustrate the gap in performance by explaining what the performance or behavior should be and state what you want to happen now. It could sound something like “In the last week your defect rate has been 18% instead of your normal 10% or less. As I look at all the variables of the situation, I realize you’ve had some new people working on the line, and in a few instances, you haven’t had the necessary replacement parts you’ve needed. Obviously we need to get your rate back under 10%.”

3. Explore and acknowledge their viewpoint – This step involves you soliciting the input of the employee to get their perspective on the cause of the performance problem. Despite the information you’ve collected, you may learn something new about what could be causing or contributing to the decline in performance. Depending on the employee’s attitude, you may need to be prepared for defensiveness or excuses about the performance gap. Keep the conversation focused on the issue at hand and solicit the employee’s ideas for solving the problem.

4. Summarize the problem and causes – Identify points of disagreement that may exist, but try to emphasize the areas of agreement between you and the employee. When you’ve summarized the problem and main causes, ask if the two of you have enough agreement to move to problem solving. It could sound something like “Susan, we both agree that we need to get your defect rate to 10% or below and that you’ve had a few obstacles in your way like new people on the line and occasionally missing replacement parts. Where we see things differently is that I believe you don’t always have your paperwork, parts, and tools organized in advance the way you used to. While we don’t see the problem exactly the same, are we close enough to work on a solution?”

5. Problem solve for the solution – Once you’ve completed step four, you can then problem solve for specific solutions to close the performance gap. Depending on the employee’s level of competence and commitment on the goal or task, you may need to use more or less direction or support to help guide the problem solving process. The outcome of the problem solving process should be specific goals, actions, or strategies that you and/or the employee will put in place to address the performance problem. Set a schedule for checking in on the employee’s progress and be sure to thank them and express a desire for the performance to improve.

A moment of trust is a precious occurrence that you don’t want to waste. Using this five step process can help you address an employee’s poor performance with candor and care that will leave the employee knowing that you respect their dignity, value their contributions, and have their best interests at heart. That can’t help but build trust in the relationship.

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