Performance Anxiety: Are you the Cause?


“Treat people the way they are and they will stay that way. Treat people the way they can become and they will become that way.”   ~Goethe~

How many of you are going through the Performance Review Process in your organization?  Is is your favorite time of year or is it a time that you approach with complete dread?

Any leader worth their weight will tell you that the performance evaluation process should be done on an ongoing basis and not focused solely on one time of the year.  However, I believe that there are a great many supervisors, managers and executives who tend to wait until the formal process is on the calendar before really taking the time to reflect on how each of their employees are performing/contributing on an individual basis.  If this sounds like you,  I have a few tips on how to utilize this time in the most effective way to create a powerful and positive feedback process:

Take the Time to Prepare

◊   The picture above shows my desk in my home.  It looks like a mess doesn’t it?  This was one of the days where I decided to not go into my formal workplace but chose to cocoon myself from any external distractions (and for those of you who know me, that is a challenge  in and of itself because I gain my energy from being around other people). At this time of year though, I needed to take the time to really focus and reflect on the past year before writing up the performance appraisal documents (not only for my direct reports but also for my self-evaluation).  I dug out objective data, facts and figures to support my comments and ratings.  I also reviewed comments and emails that I had saved as a way to remember the significant little things that occurred day-to-day over the course of the year. I have five direct reports and it takes me a few hours at a minimum to complete each person’s written review.  It takes time because I need to communicate in a way that supports the other person’s thinking and values.

Celebrate – Don’t Negate

◊    Start with the positive and end with the positive.  This is a time to acknowledge and recognize.  Focus on the strengths that the individual brings to your organization.  How did those strengths support the goals of the organization?  If you feel it is necessary to document critical issues that arose during the course of the year,  I hope that this is not the first time the other person is hearing about your concerns…,if it is, please go back to my blog on candor…

As a former Human Resources Director (Interim Director is more accurate but the interim part actually lasted a few years…), I know that it is important to use this time to follow through on good documentation for performance.  I encourage you to ask yourselves a few questions regarding the areas of concern(s) that were at issue during the year: What is the current status of the concern(s)? Has the individual improved, deteriorated or not moved off of the mark after prior feedback was given to them?  Have specific examples.

Bring up the areas for development during the body of the discussion and not at the beginning or the end.  If you bring up perceived negative comments at the beginning, you risk shutting the other person’s listening down.  If you end the conversation with something viewed as a downer, the other person will most likely walk away either 1) mad or 2) sad…neither of which is what I would consider a great outcome…

I read a quick read on leadership recently by John Graci called The Buck Stops with You (  John stated something that really jumped out at me as I was reflecting on the performance review process:

What does recognition have to do with leading a group of people?   Consider employees who like to hear often they make a difference.  If they don’t hear it often enough, work becomes a negative place for them.  They might make choices not to work faster, harder and smarter, and maybe the ultimate choice, not show up for work.

Don’t change the game after it is over

◊   Annual performance reviews are not the time to change up what the goals were for the prior year – a little late for that don’t you think?  Make sure you are focusing on what was agreed upon as goals at the beginning of the performance appraisal process and if you think those goals were not the right things to focus on, use this time as a learning experience to set up expectations that are more in alignment with the goals as you are going into the new year.  I cannot stress this enough…don’t have performance discussions  as a one time event. Schedule frequent times over the course of the year to check in and see how everything is going.  If priorities or expectations change (which in an ever-evolving organization they should),  communicate it frequently and in writing so everyone is clear on what the end game is.

Evaluate yourself

◊   I believe this is a critical time for a leader to look at their own performance as it pertains to each of their employees.  What have I done to provide the tools and resources that this individual needs to perform at their best? What support have I shown this individual over the course of the past year?  What kind of direction have I given this individual to stay on course?  Did I provide direction and support at the right times?  Am I providing the direction and support that is appropriate for the level this person is at in their performance?

Being a leader requires being the coach, the quarterback, the blocker, the tackler and the cheerleader all rolled up into one…

Have you ever been surprised at one of your performance reviews?  If so,  what did you learn from that?

What type of performance evaluation process does your organization use?  Do you like it or hate it?  Why or why not?

2 thoughts on “Performance Anxiety: Are you the Cause?

  1. It is review period at my organization. Our policy requires a monthly review for staff so by the time the evaluation is presented nothing comes as a surprise. We make sure that the steady eddy performers and the stellar performers are given the credit due. We do however take this as an opportunity to reinforce performance concerns that we have. Having been in a leadership role for years, one lesson I’ve learned is that nothing should come as a surprise to the staff. Performance management requires consistent documentation and follow up. It’s always a sensitive situation, and one that sometimes weighs heavy on one’s conscious. Excellent read Pat. I’ve enjoyed each and everyone and always come away with new perspectives! I can’t tell you how much it’s appreciated.

    1. Lori,

      Thanks for the comments. It is good to hear that some organization actually require monthly reviews to create the structure and habit of giving feedback on a regular basis. I have a 1:1 scheduled on a recurring basis with each of my managers and they know that I expect that they do the same with every one of their direct reports. I like to do the 1:1 every two weeks except when the relationship is new – then I like to do weekly check-ins just to make sure we are communicating regularly and learning our different styles and expectations. Good luck with your reviews!

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