“Performance Review”. Two words that fill most employees with a sense of dread. Even more so this year, when most of us did the best we could in hastily assembled home-offices which, ten months later, we still occupy with little perspective on returning to some form of office normality. The last thing any of us need right now is a review of our performance.

My end of year performance review looms next week and sure enough, one part of my brain is asking all the usual questions: “Did I do enough? Was I good enough? Should I have done more? Will they be happy?”,while the other part thinks “Hell, you did pretty well just surviving this year with your health and sanity intact!”. 

In my role I work with people and organizations as they navigate moments of change: acquisitions, strategy changes, leadership changes and culture change, or in this case: the impact of Covid-19. That being my background, it comes naturally to question what we expect of people and how we take them toward those expectations.

Which brings me back to performance reviews in 2020.

With millions of employees world-wide doing their best to navigate work priorities, zoom meetings, childcare and obliterated work-life boundaries in unsuitable spaces with limited down time, no in-office days and no exotic holidays to disconnect, my question is this: is 2020 really a year in which we want to review people’s performance?

Which brings me to my second question. Against what do we review someone’s performance in 2020? Against pre-Covid-19 objectives that are no longer relevant, or against interim objectives to which the goalposts keep changing faster than you can say “I think you’re on mute”?

I think I speak for many when I say: let’s rethink the concept ‘performance review’ this year. The conversation we should be having with employees as we end the year is one that celebrates their wellbeing, resilience and tenacity in an extraordinary difficult time. Let’s take time to celebrate our successes – great and small – and call it a ‘Celebrate Surviving 2020’ conversation.

Let’s also redefine ‘success’ more broadly to include both professional and personal accomplishments like prioritizing self-care, maintaining some form of balance, displaying courage, resilience, creative problem-solving and progress in a time of adversity. Wouldn’t that be a conversation worthy of 2020?

If you are planning 2020 performance reviews, here are some tips to help create and hold space for a conversation that celebrates  the best in your people.

  1. Don’t copy-paste.
    Don’t just repeat last year’s process. Think carefully and intentionally about what really mattered this year. Redesign the conversation to be meaningful. Make it a co-creation process with the employee in question: align and agree on the topics to be covered and make it a spirited conversation based on the appreciative enquiry
  2. Choose your time well.
    People’s resilience has been put to the test. Be mindful of choosing a moment that supports the conversation. Organizing an important meeting the day after a big project ends may see you facing people who are trying to hide that fact that they’re exhausted or emotionally stretched. Choose your time with care for the employee’s wellbeing.
  3. Be intentional about what you want from the meeting.
    Don’t overload the conversation. People’s capacity is limited right now. What do you really want your team member to take away from the meeting? How can you set him/her up for success in 2021? This is a time to connect authentically and discuss both their professional and personal journey of the past year with care, empathy and a positive forward focus.

  4. Listen first.
    Meghan Markle said it beautifully in a recent NYT opinion piece,: “This, I realize, is the danger of siloed living — where moments sad, scary or sacrosanct are all lived out alone. There is no one stopping to ask, “Are you OK?”

This year is first and foremost about making sure we’re all OK. Asking the question matters. Don’t undo that kind gesture by following up with nitpicking about inconsequential performance issues that don’t matter in the bigger picture, though. You’d only be sending mixed signals that undo the kindhearted intent of your initial question. Instead, stay with the conversation, give it space to unfold at the pace of the employee. And finally, if people give you raw, unfiltered feedback on how they’re doing, be understanding and – if you can – act on it.

  1. Give good feedback.
    Revisit the rules of giving good feedback with the O.I.N model. Remote working required us to work in vastly differently ways. Remember to also give feedback on behaviour and skills that proved vital in this extraordinary year, including self-motivation, proactivity, time management, collaboration, flexibility, adaptability and championing positive change.
  2. Don’t sweat the small stuff.
    Sure, we all have ‘areas for improvement’, but in 2020 we all did the best we could under unprecedented circumstances. We don’t need to be hit with an exhaustive list of ‘what could have been better’. When giving employees feedback for improvement, mention only the one area for improvement that will really make a positive impact in the months to come. Word it kindly and positively and forget the stuff that doesn’t really make a difference, because as the quote goes: “’If it’s not going to matter in five years, don’t spend more than five minutes being upset by it.”

On that note, I wish you, and your team members, supportive, compassionate and kindhearted ‘Surviving 2020’ conversations.

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