It is that time of year again at my company – the Annual Review season. When the first email came out, you could almost hear the collective groan from the management across the company. Despite the fact that most leaders have regular communication with their employees and the annual review is simply a written formality, they are still darn hard to write.
This year, I decided to give this some extra thought. Why are these so tough to write? When talking with my colleagues, one of the first things they mention is the repetitive nature of our evaluations. We are asked to evaluate a leader’s communication style in both the “leadership” category and in the “personal skills” category.
The next thing they mention is the formality of it. We have a form with the requisite 5 boxes, from “far above expectations” down to “far below expectations.” While this certainly allows for consistent data capture from one employee to the next, and one year to the next, we are left feeling as though the conversation is scripted for us, and not tailored to the employee we are evaluating.
My search for alternatives led me back to a favorite subject of mine – strengths based leadership. When we focus on an individual’s strengths, their likelihood of success multiplies. When we focus on how they fit into a particular box, we might miss the things of value that our employees bring to the corporation.
I decided to do two evaluations this year for just my direct reports as an experiment. I did the regular, objective evaluation, and then, using resources from all over the web, but questions directly from http://www.strengthspartnership.com I created a strengths-based evaluation. For this second evaluation, I asked the following questions:
- What has [employee] achieved against the expectations set for her?
- What has [employee] done particularly well and what strengths and skills underpinned these successes?
- What task and projects will enable [employee] to develop her strengths and skills even further?
- What does she have to learn/acquire to get the full benefit from these strengths?
- What might be blocking [employee] from feeling fully confident and able to perform at her best?
- What weaknesses or unproductive habits need to be managed/mitigated to ensure success?
I will tell you, writing this style of evaluation was much easier, and actually rather fun. I was able to put stories from the past year into context, and explore what strengths made them happen. I was able to provide a plan for the future that made sense, was tailored to the individual, and had a much greater chance of success because of this. I was able to focus fully on the employee instead of the thesaurus (where I had spent considerable time looking for synonyms for “very” and “often”).
Not all of the conversations were as exciting as I had hoped, but at least one of them took on a meaning that would never had been present otherwise. For me, that was worth it.
Regular, on-going feedback is absolutely crucial, and when it comes to the written evaluation, focusing on strengths is the way to go.
Another good read on the subject: https://hbr.org/2013/12/what-if-performance-management-focused-on-strengths
Happy Monday! Keep it positive and smile!