Ten questions that encourage open, positive performance discussions
I was recently promoted to a senior executive position in my company. I have worked with most of my direct subordinates for many years as their peer and now I find myself in the role of their boss.
Fortunately, my relationship with them is very good. My concern is that I must evaluate them at the end of the year and complete their performance review. Please be assured that I am not hesitant to give them honest feedback on a regular basis. What bothers me is that I prefer not to do a formal evaluation; I want to use the opportunity to build our new relationship and establish myself as more of a coach.
These people are all experienced, senior managers and are good performers. They would resent close scrutiny of their work and a "performance review," yet, I want to set a good example and encourage them to hold coaching sessions with their employees. I find that evaluations tend to cause defensiveness and hard feelings, with an over-emphasis on the negative. What would you suggest?
You sound as if you know the difference between managing and leading; it's no wonder you have a good relationship with your team.
You are not alone in doubting the value of an annual performance review. There is new thinking about the purpose of a review and whether or not it is really a helpful exercise, particularly if it is the only feedback an employee receives each year. It is much more motivating for employees to have built-in measurements (and coaching) in their jobs, which allows them to know how they are doing at all times in relation to the goal.
Leaders like you know that coaching and feedback should occur all year long. The performance review should be nothing more than a summary of the year's growth and experiences and an opportunity to set expectations and new goals for the coming year.
I recommend that you hold a two-way discussion with each of them. It will give you a chance to build your new relationship. They will be wondering what kind of leader you will be and they may be anxious to see if you will change your stripes in your new job.
To set the tone, give them some questions like the following. These questions are designed to create a positive discussion that will stay focused on the right things.
1. What did you do that you are most proud of this past year?
2. What was your biggest challenge?
3. What was your biggest disappointment?
4. If you had to do it over again, what would you do differently?
5. What did you find to be the most stimulating and caused you to grow the most?
6. What was the most fun?
7. What are you looking forward to doing in the new year?
8. What worries you the most about the coming year?
9. What would you like to say about your performance one year from now?
10. How can I help you? (What would you like me to do more of, less of, the same?)
Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist.
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