Five Sure Ways To Blow Your Performance Review


Photo Courtesy of istock

It’s performance review season in many organizations. Yes, the time to stop thinking about 2012 goals and to start reflecting upon 2012 results. It’s the time to complete the process you believe is too long, too complicated and too restrictive to showcase your real talent. It’s time for the feedback you say that you want. All set?

Photo Courtesy of istock

If you are a boss or employee who hates the process anyway, here are five sure ways to ensure that you get nothing out of it.

1.  Don’t Do It

Your boss is busy. You’re busy.  Who has the time? So, when you get the review from your boss, just sign it. When you are asked why you didn’t have a review discussion, just explain that your boss made you skip it. If you are the boss, explain that you didn’t have time. Yep, in both cases, that’s the kind of leadership everyone is looking for.

2.  Don’t Prepare

Just put something down. Your peers, managers and subordinates already know everything you’ve put into this year. Be sure to show your unfamiliarity with the written word, or even Spell-Check.  Do not give a second thought to the decision makers who read your final performance review throughout the year when they look for talent to fill new roles or opportunities. Don’t worry about what they think of the manager who approved a review that looks like a middle school report. Surely, they will understand that it was the damn process.

3. Surprise

By all means, save the best for last. You’ve been hoarding important feedback, client evaluations, extraordinary obstacles, changed standards or revised goals that affect this evaluation. Drop that baby right in there during the performance review discussion. Insist that it be the basis for the evaluation.

4. Blame

Of course, any missed goals were due to the new process, the new standards, the new timeline, the new employee, the new boss or the new team. Don’t forget to throw in old tools and no resources while you are at it. If you are the boss, blame your boss or someone else for the evaluation you give. Just explain that someone is  making you do this.

5. Take all the credit

You are the contemporary Sisyphus; nothing gets done around here without you. Sharing credit diminishes your brilliance. There is nothing left to learn, nothing left to improve upon.  The ball got over the line and that’s all that matters.

Your Bottom Line

You believe that your performance review system is broken anyway; you’re just giving it the attention it deserves.

Don’t worry about your peers who take the time to look beyond process, forms and deadlines to get  value out of performance reviews. They are way too hung up on making this year better than last. They spend far too much time on reflection, feedback and considering possibilities.  For the estimated 2, 088 working hours put in last year, they invest in and thoughtfully prepare for a one hour conversation about what happened. They actually think that they learn something useful!

You know that your performance review process sucks. And you’re going to make it happen.

The Performance Difference


Google is a pretty cool place to work.  It’s cutting edge in innovation, offers perks to drool over with attractive compensation and is full of really smart people.  There is no shortage of people who want to work at Google, evidenced by the fact that it receives one million job applications a year and can be more selective than Harvard.

As a result of its desirability and selectivity, it’s a fair assumption that Goggle has the cream of the crop of employees.  Leaders from the outside looking in might think of Google as a leadership utopia – a wonderland filled with best in class talent competing to work there, motivated to bring their best because of the dollar signs dangling in front of them.  A reason that leaders who think this way are in the outside of Google looking in could rest partly in the fact that Google understands what they do not about motivating people. Even at Goggle, a magnet for attracting top talent to exciting opportunities, leaders understand that the performance difference rests not in the promise of external rewards, but offering the conditions for intrinsic ones.

Rewards from the Inside Out

Here’s a summary of a whole lot of research: Our motivation is at its peak when we are engaged in something we chose that we love. There is a strong relationship between our level of motivation and our performance. Even on those occasions when we are motivated but not very good, motivation acts as the catalyst to get better.

The joy returned when you master something or just get better at it is intrinsic motivation. It’s the gold star of satisfaction because you did it- you dreamed it, you planned it, you worked on it, you saw it through – that creates a renewable resource of motivation that powers good performance.

If it’s That Easy…

If intrinsic motivation is as easy as opening doors for people to apply their talents to areas they love, and motivation fuels improved performance, then why don’t more leaders and organizations do it? Here’s why: too many of us confuse complexity with excellence, control with outcome and measurement with results. Too many leaders believe that if they don’t tell people what to do, how to do it and when to do it that it won’t get done. Too many organizations think that if they just reward past performance, they’ll get better future performance. (They should read their own marketing literature that informs us that “past performance doesn’t guarantee future results”, but I digress.)

Creating the engine of intrinsic motivation IS as easy as allowing people some level of autonomy over their work and opportunities to master areas of special interest. Goggle, an organization that has models and measures for just about everything, knows this. It’s why they allow their prized engineers 20 percent of their time to work on projects of their choice. Recently, Google’s Manager of the Year, Farzad  “Fuzzy” Khosrowshani explained that he improved loyalty and moral on his Google Docs team by allowing employees even more discretionary time to work on projects of their choice. If Google, with its deep pockets and lavish perks, knows that even it can’t drive performance through extrinsic motivation alone, why do so many others keep trying?

Ideas to Create the Performance Difference

Daniel Pink, in his book Drive, describes several practical ways leaders and organizations everywhere can tap into the intrinsic motivation that rests inside each employee and unleash it onto improved performance. A few are listed below to get you started.

1. Ask your associates what they really want to be good at.  Help them find ways they can do more of it. Don’t hand them the list of competencies from HR that tells them what the organization wants them to be good at, but ask what they want to be good at. Here’s an example. I once worked with an analyst who had the responsibility for data maintenance, analytics and reports. During a conversation, she shared that she had a journalism degree and experience as a reporter for a local paper. She loved to write as a hobby. I asked her to write up summaries of the analysis she produced like “special investigative stories.” She looked for opportunities to take on other department communications. She enjoyed the challenge, was better at it than I was, and was motivated to do well. It was a classic win/win outcome.

2. Carve out time for associates to think about how they could improve their jobs or contribute differently. Ask them to share their ideas the next day.  Daniel Pink gives several examples of creative managers “clearing the day” for associates to “advise up” on how they could improve performance or results. The only rule is that associates have to present their ideas the next day. Other than that, associates can work where they want, on what they want, with whom they want. In a related idea, Pink talks about a customer service manager who periodically manages customer calls for an hour so her associates can take the time to develop ideas about how they could improve performance. The manager gets much better insight into the experience of her associates and receives good ideas about improving performance. All for a couple of hours.

3.  Just get out of the way.  Assume your associates are capable and interested in doing well. They (gasp) may even know more about their jobs than you do. As a leader, focus 80 % of time on why their contributions matter and 20% on how the work should be done.  Better yet, ask associates to tell you how they’ll deliver.  Care less that someone works differently and care more that his or her performance continually gets better.

We do not have to look at cutting edge employers like Google and wonder “if only.” We can get the same performance momentum by realizing that what really motivates associates is autonomy over their work, the opportunity to find something they enjoy and the pride that comes with just getting better. And, accepting that some things that are easy don’t have to be so hard.


Examples of the “whole lot of research” on motivation:

Blitzer, J., Schrettl, W. and Schroeder, P.J.H. (2007). Intrinsic motivation in open software development. Journal of Comparative Economics (35) 7, 4

Frey, B. (1997) Not Just for the Money: An Economic Theory of Personal Motivation. Burlington, VT: Edward Elger.

Pink, D. H. (2009). Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. New York: Penguin Books.

Google Reference:

Walker, J. ( 2012). Google’s Algorithms for Talent. Wall Street Journal, July 5, 2012, page B1.

If You Always Do What You’ve Always Done….


Frustrated because efforts to encourage greater teamwork and collaboration aren’t working? Part two of this series challenges leaders to focus on what they do more than what they say.

Perhaps you’ve been to awards ceremonies like the one described in yesterday’s post: Do You Inspect What You Expect?   Have you participated in change efforts where buzzwords were one thing and the behavior quite another? Thirty seven years ago, Steve Kerr wrote a classic article:  On The Folly of Rewarding A While Hoping for B, citing the frequent inconsistency between what gets said and what gets rewarded in many organizations.  If A gets rewarded, A gets done – regardless of the number of colorful posters extolling the virtues of B.  To get something different we must do something different.

For organizations that want to experience expected behaviors beyond vision statements or values lists, Morton Hansen describes the basic routes to get there in his book Collaboration: How Leaders Avoid the Traps, Create Unity and Reap Big Results.  First, know what you want when you see it.  Then, choose associates who demonstrate these behaviors, especially in hire and promote decisions.  Finally, encourage change in associates already in your organization by recognizing the behavior you want.

Yeah, But…

Are your eyes rolling? Oh, if it were only that easy. It’s not easy, but it’s also not as hard as some might think. It’s certainly not as hard as rewarding A and hoping for B.  There are three ways to modify behavior to aspirations that organizations of all types, sizes and resources can effectively use.

1. Describe it.  Words like “Teamwork” and “Collaboration” conjure up all kinds of behaviors for people.  The characters rewarded from the last post are good examples. The Region X leader might legitimately feel his role is to lead the team.  He leads, you follow. Know people who think like that? The Breakthrough Innovation leader thinks she collaborates because she brings people together for everything. Don’t assume people understand expected behavior through labels alone. Be explicit.  Hansen offers an example.  In German software maker SAP, the leaders didn’t just state they expected “collaboration” and hoped everyone would know what they meant. They stated an expectation that “leaders would ensure the appropriate involvement of others across roles, departments and locations to accomplish goals.”  It’s clear, has room for adaption, yet specific enough to spot it when it happens (or doesn’t).

2. Measure it. The gift of stating expectations in observable behavior means that people know it when they see it. When that happens, measurement is possible. In rewarding behavior change, how you measure is as important as what you measure. To really understand how someone is changing his or her behavior, ask peers and subordinates. Tools like Survey Monkey make this type of anonymous feedback easier than ever.  Hansen cites an unnamed investment bank that asks associates to rank their peers on a scale of helpfulness, and the list of the top ranked is provided to the senior team.   What a powerful idea! Can you imagine the behavior change in some organizations if rating and ranking of behavior came from the bottom up as well as the top down?

3. Reward it. This is the most obvious and brings us back full circle. Think of rewards, including incentives, promotions, and honors, as spotlights. They illuminate behaviors the organization wants and brings its intentions to life. Rewards also take the most discipline. It’s tough to tell Region Leader X that he’s not getting the award because of his behavior.  It’s difficult to deny the enthusiasm and effort of the Breakthrough Innovation Leader because her focus is misdirected.  Resist the temptation to dodge disappointment. Disappointment is temporary, your message is lasting.

These three steps look simple. Simple doesn’t mean easy. Easy is doing what you always do and expecting something different. While Hansen’s three steps for changing behavior of incumbents might not ultimately be enough, it’s hard to imagine a change plan without them. And, it’s a place to start. Sometimes, that’s the hardest place to find.

Part Two of Two


Kerr, S. (1975). On the Folly of Rewarding A While Hoping For B.  Academy of Management Journal, vol. 18. No. 4, pp. 769-783.

Hansen, M.T. (2009). Collaboration: How Leaders Avoid the Traps, Create Unity and Reap Big Results. Boston: Harvard Business Press.

Photo from istockphoto.


Do You Inspect What You Expect?


The behavior an organization truly expects shows up in what it rewards.  Part one of this two part series shows how  an organization sends its clearest communication about what it values.

The awards dinner is designed to impress.  It’s the event of the year with no expense spared to create the ambiance of success. Laughter and chatter fill the room until the crowd is called to order. Associates and guests excitedly make their way to their seats. The CEO hosts this annual awards night every year as a way to publically acknowledge another year of success and reward those who made it happen. This year, the CEO emphasizes the importance of teamwork and collaboration as organizational tools to improve results and lower costs.

The crowd’s anticipation level rises as the first award is announced. The Sales Officer from the X Region is announced as the winner of The CEO Award. This announcement is followed by stifled gasps, then polite applause. As the winner accepted hugs and steps to the stage, the CEO proudly reviews a list of achievements as the basis for the award: revenue growth across all lines, increases in share and units sold, glowing customer reviews. Others in the audience reviewed their lists, too. The angry phone calls and hostile emails about promises he made to the customer that they were threatened to keep. Meetings about cross unit selling that the Region X leader blew off.  The fire drills that took up the weekends of their team members with little follow up on what happened, much less expressions of gratitude. All agreed that the Region X Sales Officer got results. They had his shoe prints on their backs to show it.

The CEO happily moves on to the next award, newly created this year to emphasize the organization’s increased emphasis on the benefits of collaboration. The Breakthrough Innovation leader excitedly jumps up as her name is called. The CEO beams as he discusses the passion this person holds for innovation and the enthusiasm thrown into the job. Her peers agree, but for different reasons. They wonder if she’s ever met an idea she didn’t like. Her enthusiasm for possibilities has produced dozens of disconnected ad hoc teams, resourced from other responsibilities, pulled together for days to “explore possibilities”.  The position of Breakthrough Innovation was created without the “burden” of a P&L to tamper exploration, and her lack of tangible results show it. Some wonder if her performance is measured by the number of meetings she creates.

As the lovely evening closes, the CEO thanks the award winners as role models for the type of teamwork and collaboration the organization values. All agree that he’s right about that.

Could this describe your organization? Does it expect behaviors it does not reward? Does it know how to spot behavior that represents stated expectations? Check back for tomorrow’s blog for some better ideas to “inspect what you expect.”

Part One of Two

Beyond The Carrot and The Stick: Impact of Culture on People Practices


“Never try to change culture. Try, instead, to work with what you’ve got.”

Peter Drucker 

It’s hard to find an organizational mission statement that doesn’t include some reference to people.  People are our most important asset. Our most important customers are our people.  Yet, reliable surveys like Gallup show that employees frequently don’t feel the love.  Organizational leaders grumble that talent management practices don’t deliver results. Why do these stubborn gaps persist through good and bad economic times?

Many variables go into the employer/employee relationship- far too many to cover in a single blog post. My focus will be on just one:  Context is everything in people practices. “One size fits all” strategies – the kind many in global organizations find attractive because they are easier to manage – are frequently trumped by culture.

Examine talent retention strategies as an example. Assume that the organizations that discuss people as their most important asset really mean their strongest performing people are their most important asset. It’s not unfair.  The twin goals of 1) retain and optimize top performers and 2) replace poor performers with better performers are at the heart of many talent management strategies.

Research shows that turnover and performance follow a “U” shaped relationship. Most voluntary turnover occurs at the twin peaks of high performers and low performers. Voluntary turnover is lowest among average performers- at the bottom of the “U”. Why?  High performers are more attractive to alternative employers and, as a result, have more options. Low performers are often more doubtful about their ability to succeed in their organization, and are often more dissatisfied with their job.  The “U” shaped turnover pattern relates to well known talent management strategies, e.g. forced ranking and pay for performance schemes.

What’s the Problem?

Talent management solutions focused on retaining top performers and upgrading poor performers have mixed results, particularly in global organizations.   Interesting research recently out of Cornell University helps to explain why.  Most talent research is based on the 5% of the global workforce in the U.S. and, as a result, has a Western bias. Sturman, Shao and Katz offer that the bias in turnover and retention research misses the cultural context so often at the root of “stay or go” decisions by employees. While they agree that the principal of the “U” shaped relationship between performance and retention is generally true across cultures, the details are very different.  Think of it this way: a global organization wants to keep the top performer in New York and the top performer in Mumbai.  But the cultural factors that influence the “stay or go” decision of each are quite different.

Beyond the Carrot and the Stick

Sturman, Shao and Katz examined data from a large multi national corporation to show how culture can trump intent of global talent management solutions based on North American cultural values. A few examples follow:

Pay for Performance compensation schemes that over- reward high performers and takes away rewards from low performers works best in individualist, performance-oriented cultures, like the U.S.  It works far less well to retain high performers or encourage turnover in low performers in collectivist cultures, like India, with a strong orientation that group effort gets results so rewards should be shared.

Senority is a critical factor in cultures with a high power difference orientation, frequently found in emerging markets Brazil and Russia. High or low performers with significant seniority may be more reluctant to change employers because in doing so they surrender the authority and deference provided by tenure. Seniority is less a factor in turnover decisions in cultures with low power difference orientations, often found in Canada and the U.S.

Voluntary turnover is discouraged in cultures where uncertainty avoidance is valued, such as the Nordic countries and Singapore. High performing employees find it difficult to gain a return on movement and lower performing employees are more difficult to identify, so the overall performance- turnover relationship becomes weaker.

Why Does This Matter?

We tend to think that what’s true for us is true for everyone. In organizations, it’s easier to think what works here will work everywhere. And, if we just explain it often enough, “they” will get it.

We can agree on many things that work across cultures. One is that people truly are an organization’s most important asset. It’s difficult to have that promise come to life when practices fail to recognize that people do not exist in isolation from their culture. It comes to work with them. Human resources and talent management practices flexible enough to compliment cultures, instead of work against them, have a far greater chance for success.


Sturman, M.C., Shao, L., Katz, J.H. (2012). The Effect of Culture on the Curvilinear Relationship Between Performance and Turnover.  Journal of Applied Psychology, Jan, 2012. Vol. 97, pg 46-62.

Lessons Learned About Feedback


Feedback has been a constant ally in my career. My memories are like a slide show; snapshots of giving or receiving feedback mark the beginning of many stories of personal change. It moves in all directions in my retrospective; up, down and sideways. It traveled among direct reports, peers, bosses, sometimes clients. At times feedback was formal, as a part of of performance reviews. Other times it was informal, such as post meeting debriefs. My highlight reel shows triumphs and mistakes on both the giving and receiving ends of feedback.

My key conclusion is that it’s well worth the effort to master a personal practice of giving effective feedback and receiving it with grace. Feedback develops my self awareness. It’s the mirror that reflects what others see, despite what I might wish to project. Self awareness can be a little magic. It brings the spark of change – knowledge of gifts that enable my success or behavior that blocks our it. As Maya Angelou says: Once we know better, we do better. Most positive change in my life started with feedback. I am grateful to those who planted the spark.

Five Things I’ve Learned About Feedback

While I’ve benefited from great thinkers who have shared formulas and advice, my principles for giving feedback have been formed from experience. (I’ve listed my favorite feedback resources at the end for those interested in models and formulae.)

Start With You.
Reflect on your motives to give feedback. Follow the Hindu practice Help Ever, Hurt Never. Are you motivated to truly help? Can the person do something about this behavior, even to make it a little better? Is it about them or about you? Have honest and positive motives before you give feedback.

Set Boundaries.
Establish what you dowant and don’t want as a result of offering feedback. Like goal posts for football and soccer players, boundaries keep your feedback on target. If you do want the person to build awareness and don’t want to damage their motivation, be aware of the boundaries that keep the message in bounds.

Set Yourself Up for Success.
In their book, Willpower, Roy Baumeister and E.J. Masiacampo discuss the harm too many distractions, inadequate rest and poor diets have on our self control. I offer that this extends to self control and focus necessary to discuss constructive feedback. This may go on the “duh” list, but don’ give feedback when you or the other person are depleted or distracted. I learned this lesson the hard way. I attempted to give feedback to a colleague when we were both rushed. It did more harm than good when the colleague focused on my timing instead of the message. If you invest the effort to get the right message, don’t blow it by the wrong conditions.

Link Feedback to Aspirations.
Feedback that helps an employee achieve something meaningful shows good faith in your effort to help, not harm, others. Linking feedback to aspirations can be motivational. It’s a forward looking orientation that gives others a chance to make change in the only place possible – the future.

Offer a Vote of Confidence.
Include your belief that the employee can change their behavior or skills and that you will help. A vote of confidence makes feedback constructive instead of destructive. It adds to your credibility that the feedback is sincerely intended to be helpful. The single most important “must do” to maintain confidence and trust is to follow through with help and encouragement when change hits the bumpy path.

I am a beneficiary of others who cared enough to develop masterful feedback skills and the personal leadership qualities to deliver it. They encourage me to follow their example. As I do, experience may change these five lessons. And, once again, it will all start with feedback.

A Few Favorite Resources for Feedback

K. Patterson, J.Greeney, R. McMillan, A. Switzerland (2005). Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When The Stakes Are High. New York: McGraw Hill.

Marshall Goldsmith Feedforward Tool.

Goulston, M. (2010)Just Listen: Discover The Secret to Getting Through to Absolutely Everyone. New York: American Management Association.

While not specifically about feedback, Willpower provides great insight into the focus and control necessary to deliver it effectively.
Baumeister, R. & Masiacampo, E.J. (2011). Willpower: Rediscovering The Greatest Human Strength. New York: Penguin Books.

What Great Leaders Get About Performance Management


We’re in full swing of the Performance Management season again. You know it’s time when Human Resources professionals have inboxes crowded with forwarded articles citing merits of doing away with the process. Pleas are made to make the process simpler, complaints about the time commitments ring through every meeting. In some organizations, year-end reviews are as welcome as the bathroom scale on January 2.

In fairness, some performance management systems have terrible design flaws. Employees and managers complain that only a narrow range of evaluation points is used because of cultural or financial practices. As a result, ratings and rewards don’t differentiate performance.  On the other extreme, some misguided organizations still insist on relative force ranking of employees, despite the evidence that this destructive process harms, not helps, overall organizational performance[i].   Efforts to instill consistency can make the process onerous.

All of these design flaws produce legitimate complaints, but each can be fixed with the right leadership attention. Don’t allow bad practices to interfere with the organizational benefits of performance management, including year-end reviews.

Five Things Great Leaders Get from Performance Reviews
Great leaders look beyond the practice of performance reviews to its possibilities. As Edward Mone and Manuel London (2009) describe in their book Employee Engagement Through Effective Performance Management, great leaders look beyond the stacks of forms and meeting schedules to opportunities to develop more engaged employees who feel “involved, committed, passionate and empowered” through performance management.

1. Great leaders get information to make the next year better than last year.
Great leaders use the year-end review process as a point to gather critical stakeholder information from a 360 perspective. What does this employee do well? How can I leverage their talents in new ways? How can I help them maximize their potential? What can I do differently? Great leaders know it’s not about the forms; it’s about the insight.

2. Great leaders get maxim benefit from rewards and recognition.
They know that year-end bonuses and merit pay are more meaningful when employees’ understand what they did to earn it. Great leaders don’t just deliver the number, but offer feedback on how employees can enhance or change their performance to achieve their compensation goals for the next year.  They know that it’s not only dollars that increase employee motivation, but also the knowledge of how they can grow as people and contributors.

3. Great leaders get improved self-monitoring by employees.
They know that the ultimate goal of feedback is to develop employee self-awareness, which fosters greater understanding into why they get their results.  Once employees understand why, they can change how they approach situations for different outcomes. Through constructive feedback with specific, relevant examples and description of impact, employees become more aware of how to utilize their strengths and minimize their shortcomings. Great leaders shift the burden of monitoring behavior to employees through constructive, helpful feedback.

4. Great leaders get more optimistic, higher performing employees.
Medlin and Green ( 2009) examine the relationship between goal setting, employee engagement, optimism and individual performance through a survey of 426 employees. They conclude that goals engage employees with the organization by informing them of their specific responsibilities and available opportunities.  Measuring performance and experiencing progress against goals increases optimism among employees. Medlin and Green cite numerous studies that show the relationship between optimism and higher performance. Great leaders know that, like athletes, achievement oriented employees’ want to know how they performed against goals, and competitive ones want to do better next year.

5. Great leaders get even better through performance reviews.
They use the process to seek feedback from subordinates, customers, peers and supervisors on what they can do to be a better leader.  Great leaders use the performance review to address questions or concerns that may have impeded their development or that of others. Through the performance management process, great leaders improve their ability to set goals, communicate, evaluate results, coach and listen.

Maybe you know of leaders who don’t want to be better next year, don’t benefit from offering rewards, enjoy the burden of monitoring employees, demoralize achievement-oriented employees and don’t care if they get better. These will probably be the leaders moaning about the forms. They will be hounded to get year-end reviews done. On the other hand, great leaders will use the same process but get far more out of it.  Chose the outcome that best suits you.


E.M. Mone and M. London (2009). Employee Engagement: Through Effective Performance Management. New York: Taylor and Francis Group.

B. Medlin and K.W. Green (2009). “Enhancing performance through goal setting, engagement and optimism.” Industrial Management and Data System, vol. 109, no. 7 pp. 943-956.

(1) S.G. Roth, A.M. Sternburgh and P.M. Caputo (2007). “Absolute vs. Relative Performance Rating Formats: Implications for Fairness and Organizational Justice.”
International Journal of Selection and Assessment.  Vol. 15, No. 3, pp. 302-316.