How do I nail a performance review conversation?

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By Serendis

June 7, 2022

There is an ongoing body of research demonstrating the impact performance conversations have on both recipients’ and managers’ brains. The level of anxiety it generates, often prevents team members from engaging their pre-frontal context and remembering or learning from the experience.

This is disappointing when we know that one of the most critical factors in employee retention is the perception they have of their manager’s investment in their career. So how do you deliver the feedback they need while ensuring this remains a positive experience for them?

We have prepared three techniques you can apply in your upcoming conversations.

  1.     Prepare to shift your mindset: you are not delivering performance feedback, you are facilitating a growth opportunity

In her book ‘Mindset’, Carol Dweck outlines the difference between fixed and growth mindset. The single most powerful word to embrace a growth mindset is: YET. Here are some examples of growth mindset feedback:

  •       ‘I have not seen you present in a compelling way yet, how can we grow your presenting skills next month?’
  •       ‘You are not quite yet able to respond to stress in a resilient way. Let’s work on this in the next few weeks: what can you do differently?’

By engaging your team member to think about what they will do next, you are decreasing the fight or flight response they experience when hearing your comments about what they have not done or failed at.

It is likely that you will be a little anxious yourself during the conversation and you may forget how to frame the conversation effectively when in the middle of it. It is a good idea to prepare and have some notes ready. What have you seen from your team member that has surprised you in a positive way? What would you like to see from them in the next three months that would indicate they are growing?

  1.     Take before you give

This can feel counter-intuitive particularly because feedback should be considered as a gift. To decrease your employee’s anxiety about the upcoming conversation, start by asking them for feedback on your leadership first. Many managers share that they have tried to no avail as their team members tend to politely respond that all is well. A technique to ensure you receive an answer, is to frame your question differently:

  •       ‘What is one thing I could do differently in my leadership of the team?’
  •       ‘Can you please share one thing that you would find helpful for me to support your growth?’

When you ask for ‘one thing’, they will have to find something to share and if you are listening deeply, this should give you some insights about what they are really thinking.

  1.     Ask questions and then ask more

The best way for humans to learn is to find their own answers. Most of the time, your team member will know what they have done well and what they should improve. By giving them an opportunity to articulate this themselves, you are giving them a true coaching experience. Based on your own preparation, you can articulate questions that will then help you deliver your feedback on the areas that matter:

      ‘When thinking about your presentation skills, what do you feel you have improved? What do you need to do next?’ 

Finally, the impact of your performance meetings does not solely lie in your delivery on the moment, but in the frequency of your development conversations. Monthly chats will ensure that junior members of your organisation feel that their leaders care about their career and that this is a good place to learn and grow.