Stop Blindsiding Your Team

The performance review process is an integral component of the employee experience. These reviews not only evaluate an individual's contributions to a company, but they also set the course for personal and professional development. When executed correctly, performance reviews can inspire, motivate, and direct. However, a poorly executed review can deflate, demotivate, and even devastate an employee, especially if they’re blindsided by unexpected negative feedback.

Why Do Employees Get Blindsided?

To tackle this problem, it's crucial to understand why it happens in the first place. Some common reasons include:

Misalignment of Expectations: When an employee's perception of their job responsibilities doesn't match that of their manager's, it's a recipe for surprise feedback. Without a shared understanding of what success looks like, reviews can be unpredictable.

Infrequent Feedback: If feedback is only shared annually, the accumulation of a year's worth of observations can be overwhelming for an employee. This can lead to situations where minor issues, which could have been corrected earlier, snowball into significant performance concerns.

Incomplete Assessments: Some managers, often unintentionally, may focus only on recent achievements or failures, overlooking an employee's consistent efforts throughout the year. This is known as "recency bias". Others might miss out on certain aspects of an employee’s contributions altogether, failing to recognize all the dimensions of their role.

How Can Managers Avoid Blindsiding Their Team?

No employee should ever be taken by surprise during a performance review. Managers can employ several strategies to ensure that reviews are fair, balanced, and devoid of unexpected criticisms:

Set Clear Expectations

  • Job Descriptions: It starts with a clear job description. Before an employee even begins their role, they should have a comprehensive understanding of their responsibilities, and what’s expected of them.
  • Set SMART Goals: Managers should work with team members to set Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound goals. With clear milestones and expectations, employees can better track and measure their progress.

Implement Continuous Feedback

  • Regular Check-ins: Rather than waiting for an annual or semi-annual review, schedule regular check-ins. This can be monthly, bimonthly, or even weekly, depending on the nature of the job. During these sessions, discuss the employee's progress, address any challenges, and provide feedback.
  • Open Communication Channels: Create an environment where feedback isn't a formal event but an ongoing dialogue. Encourage team members to seek feedback and clarify doubts whenever they arise. Remember, feedback isn’t just about pointing out areas of improvement, but also recognizing and appreciating achievements.

Holistic Evaluation

  • Use a Structured Review Framework: Rather than relying on memory or recent events, use a structured format to evaluate performance. This can be a checklist, a scoring system, or any other format that ensures all aspects of an employee's contributions are considered.
  • 360-Degree Feedback: Incorporate feedback from an employee's peers, subordinates, and other departments they interact with. This provides a fuller picture of an individual's impact within the organization.
  • Avoid Recency Bias: By reviewing contributions regularly and keeping notes on achievements and challenges throughout the year, managers can ensure that they don’t just focus on recent events during the annual review.

Provide Development Opportunities

  • Constructive Feedback: It’s not enough to point out areas of improvement. Managers should also provide resources or training to help employees develop in those areas.
  • Personal Development Plans: Collaborate with the employee to craft a personal development plan that aligns with their career aspirations and the organization's needs.

Review the Review Process

  • Feedback on Feedback: Just as employees are reviewed, the review process should be evaluated too. Gather feedback from team members on how the review process could be improved and make necessary changes.
In conclusion, the objective of a performance review isn't just to evaluate but to foster growth and development. Blindsiding employees with unexpected negative feedback does more harm than good. By setting clear expectations, offering continuous feedback, and ensuring a holistic evaluation, managers can create a transparent, fair, and beneficial review process. It's time to stop blindsiding and start enlightening.

Duane Edwards

Cofounder & Head of Product Development & Customer Engagement, Teamatics


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