Mean What You Say

by: Doug Michaelides

The other day I was having lunch with a former colleague. We had been through some tough times together at a previous employer so I was looking forward to catching up and learning about his latest successes.  We had a nice chat then, over coffee, he reached into his jacket and pulled out a sheaf of papers. “This is my last performance review from when I worked for you”, he said. “Do you think you could explain a couple of things for me?”

I racked my brains. The date on the document showed that I had prepared the review several years ago but I had no clear recollection. Fortunately, the two points he wanted to talk about I remembered quite well so we had a good talk – sort of an impromptu, post-game debriefing. All the pressures and politics of “the game” we were embroiled in at the time had evaporated so it was easy to have an open discussion. Afterwards in an email thanking me he said, “I wish I had been more open to your guidance when we were working together. More than ever I know what I want from work, what I thrive on, where I can find both …”

Wow! So often, when we do performance reviews, we’re not sure why we bother. We take them seriously because they can influence compensation but sometimes it feels like we’re just going through the motions of some corporate administrative process. Over my career, I must have prepared hundreds of them. And every last one is written down and stored somewhere, a permanent judgement on someone and a lasting legacy of my actions as a manager!

I have a friend who advised his teenage daughter when she started going out on the town, “Don’t do anything you wouldn’t want to read about in tomorrow’s newspaper”. The same applies to performance reviews. That doesn’t mean shying away from honest, constructive feedback. But you better make sure you are being objective and can substantiate your point of view. You should be writing a Pulitzer prize-winning story, not a gossip column!

I’ll bet if I had known that one day, a colleague would call me out of the blue and hold me accountable for what I had written in a performance review, I’d have worked a little harder on them all. What about you?

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