One of the main issues in any performance review is “residual.” Past reviews will most certainly color a current review and many people will come into that meeting with feelings of dread or discomfort from their personal history of “constructive criticism” (an oxymoron, for sure).
So even a perfect plan and process is no guarantee that the other person will graciously accept what they feel is criticism of their performance and sometimes a “justification not to give me a raise.” I am a big believer in separating performance reviews from discussions of salary, by the way, and I am really in favor of using performance feedback as a tool for motivating people intrinsicly.
As my friend, Frank Navran, has repeatedly said, “Trust is the residue of promises fulfilled.” Trust builds up only slowly over time… Performance feedback builds credibility and allows the coach / manager to appropriately address issues of workplace performance without the Blame Frame that so many perceive to be in place.
This Blame Frame is the perception that many managers have about their performance reviews, that the meeting is simply an excuse to frame all the behavior negatively and to ignore the positive aspects of what the performer accomplished. And performers often see such reviews as the excuse to deny them wage increases, promotions, more training, etc.
Reality is less important than the perception of reality.
A number of people have given us positive feedback on a spin using my Square Wheels cartoons. The basic idea in the illustration is a wooden wagon being pulled by “a guy with a rope” who is generally seen as the leader. It is being pushed by people from behind, who generally are seen as the workers. The wagon is rolling along on wooden Square Wheels, which work but do not work smoothly.
The cargo of the wagon are Round Rubber Tires – better ways of doing the job.
The reality of using this cartoon as a diagnistic tool for individuals and organizations is that the viewer generally sees him/herself at the back of the wagon, pushing hard but not being clear about where the wagon is going. It is not a motivational view and the hands on approach of the pushers allows them to know that things are not working well. But their limited perspective is problematic to suggesting or implementing solutions, especially when the puller is viewed as isolated and communications is difficult.
From a coaching or conversational perspective, showing the illustration and allowing the people to project their beliefs onto the illustration, as one does with an inkblot or Rorschach Test, enables some creative thinking. By labeling some of the current behaviors as Square Wheels, either by the employee or the manager, it allows a more arms-length and unemotional discussion about the search for some Round Wheels.
Since solutions to these issues are often generated by the employee, it is not perceived as pushing; it is more about eliciting the ideas. Often, we will find that the top performers of any workgroup are already using Round Wheels in the workplace.
Through dissociation, we reduce emotionality. We put the performer in the situation of looking at their own behavior in the workplace along with the concept that there are different and better ways of getting things done.
Square Wheels are but one tool someone can use to generate perspective as well as considered alternatives. We can only select from those considered alternatives in order to implement any personal or organizational change and improvement.
Managers need to view their people from the lens of possibilities, seeing what they can become rather than where they are performing. This future-oriented view also helps to reframe the situation positively.
The idea is around how we can get our wagons rolling downhill in the future and how we can involve and engage people in performance improvement. The goal is to see potential and possibility in others.
It’s more fun that way, too!
Dr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant.
Connect with Scott on Google+ – you can reach Scott at firstname.lastname@example.org
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