While it’s true you should never be surprised by your performance review, it happens. In a perfect world, employees enter their annual review with a clear understanding of how their work measures up against the expectations of their position. If someone is caught off guard, it usually means there has been a lack of communication, either by the manager or the employee. In order to avoid surprises in performance reviews, two key elements are needed:
- Setting clear expectations, and
- Providing regular feedback in relation to those expectations.
This doesn’t seem to be happening as according to Gallup, only 14% of workers strongly agree that their performance reviews inspire them to improve.
“If ever there were a time to learn how to coach, a performance review during a pandemic is it.” ~Gallup
Blindness to Gaps
When I see a surprising review happen with my executive coaching clients, there is usually a blindness to performance gaps. This usually happens with leaders are faced with one of three scenarios:
- a new supervisor
- a company reorganization
- a transition to a new organization, especially if their leadership style is not a fit with the new organizational culture.
For example, one of my clients Keith (not his real name) was very effective in his last position, in fact, he was tops in achieving his KPIs on his team. When he left his position for a new one, he was excited to bring that level of experience and knowledge to his new team. But Keith’s new company is very collaborative and very relationship-oriented, whereas his previous company was all about executing results. He came from an environment where it was acceptable to steamroll over whoever you needed to get the job done, and he was rewarded for being super aggressive.
Keith brought this same enthusiasm to his new company, and he literally thought he was killing it. He entered his performance review feeling very good and excited for the future. Instead, he was shocked to hear from his supervisor that he wasn’t fitting into the organization and instead of a raise or bonus, he was getting a 360-degree performance appraisal along with a performance improvement plan.
Luckily for Keith, he had a supervisor who was very supportive and wanted him to succeed in his new role. He suggested having Keith’s colleagues provide feedback so he could understand how others saw him and how his prior practices didn’t align with his new company’s philosophies. He came into his position having the attitude that he knew what would work best and didn’t take the time or care to read and adapt to the organizational culture. Once he heard how he was perceived by his team, he understood just how wrong he was.
This kind of surprise in a performance review can be truly hurtful because you have been blind to the behaviors that are eliciting the harsh, direct feedback.
Like Keith, many of us have a template of our performance and our standards that we think we are meeting or exceeding. When we’ve been successful at something for many years in our careers, we keep doing what we are doing because it works. However, when we get a new supervisor, we may learn that person that has a different standard or level of expectations that they may or may not have articulated. Or, we may not have heard. There’s not an end of year that goes by that I don’t have a leader in my office who is shocked they are on a performance improvement plan.
They typically blame their supervisor, and it could very well be true that the supervisor didn’t share with them their standards or expectations, but the leader is also at fault for not proactively getting feedback about their performance. More often than not, supervisors may not assess you in the same way you assess yourself.
That’s why it is very important to get measurable goals and standards to be reviewed upon. A third party should be able to objectively look at these goals and standards and judge whether or not there has been satisfactory performance, deficiency or improvement.
Don’t Be Blindsided
In most cases, leaders can triage any areas of development needed to turn a negative performance review around. This could be in the form of a leadership development workshop or one–on-one executive coaching.
Executive coaching is most useful when there’s a need for a leader to become more self-aware and increase their emotional intelligence. An experienced coach can help you learn how to read the room, hone your interpersonal skills, cultivate resilience and increase followership for an aligned and engaged team.
There’s also tactical training that can be done if there’s a specific area in which you need help, such as public speaking or how to create better PowerPoint presentations. You could certainly read a book on those skills and just tactically apply what you learn. It will be good as long as you remember to apply it, but if that’s not repetitive enough, you’ll go right back to your original performance. That’s why we believe in systemic executive coaching, because it improves your leadership skills rather than just providing a basic script to follow in all situations.
One of the first places we start with our clients who have performance gaps is our intensive, interactive, now virtual, leadership workshops. But since most of our clients are high level leaders or at least middle level executives, they don’t really think they need a weekend of workshops. They think they are exceptionally good with delivering results and being accountable.
However, in the first hour of our Accountability Mirror™, it is rare for someone to not find two or more gaps that they have been previously blind to. In day two of MindMastery™, people learn about the perspectives that they are bringing to their performance, whether they realize it or not. You learn to identify situations that throw you off, how you get triggered or threatened, and how you exhaust yourself with stress and overwhelm. Leaders find out how they are entering these negative states in ways that they were not aware of previously.
Have an Open Mind
When you are surprised by your performance review, think about your reaction. If you are angry or disagree with the assessment, you will be more challenged in approaching the situation with a willingness to change the results. The capacity to learn and change is diminished if you don’t come to the situation with an open mind.
If you aren’t ambitious or excited about facilitating any change, you are far less likely to get powerful outcomes. The worst thing you could do about a negative performance review is to put your head in the sand and think it will become better or simply avoid it because it’s unpleasant. It’s not going to go away, nor will the situation get better without some work on your part.
Once you obtain a level of self-awareness, you are able to perform adjustments to optimize your performance. It’s not just skill. There has to be a component of measurement around self-awareness and then correction of behavior or assessment of situations in order to bring another level of performance to the table.