What’s your immediate gut emotional reaction when you hear those words? For most of us, our hackles go up and we’re saying something to ourselves like “Here it comes….” Inevitably it’s perceived as a potential threat to our status or sense of self-worth. And according to the work of the NeuroLeadership Institute, this naturally invokes a “fight or flight” response since that’s how our brains are hot-wired to respond to perceived threats.
Often the person on the receiving end will try to suppress that initial emotion, particularly since our culture promulgates the myth that if you are a mature adult, you should be receptive to constructive feedback. But let’s be honest, how many of us truly like or welcome criticism? Suppression of emotions is not the greatest of long term strategies, so you may sit there and grit your teeth, but sometimes it doesn’t even work in the short term, and the receiver responds with defensiveness and even anger. In any case, the conversation’s emotional charge from this point on, makes it difficult for the receiver to really hear what the person is saying.
Even if you follow all the rules for giving effective feedback, like “be descriptive not judgmental,” it still feels like criticism. So, what happens in the traditional Performance Review? The manager takes the employee’s work effort for an entire year, reduces it to number representing EVALUATIONS for different dimensions which yields a single number representing the overall EVALUATION of the person’s 12 month performance. If I’m the employee, what am I supposed to do with this information? Since these numbers all represent an evaluation of performance over time, they’re seldom specific enough to be actionable. And if it’s not actionable, how am I supposed to improve my performance. Without being told, often the evaluation is a comparative measure, meaning my performance vs. yours. But no manager in their right mind is going to sit there and tell me that my performance is not as good as one of my co-workers. Talk about a threat to the person’s status..,all the employee hears is that he or she is better than them .You thought the conversation up to this point was emotionally loaded?...That’s a recipe for an instant fight. And yet, that’s exactly the message being sent when companies go to forced distributions or rankings often for Pay for Performance compensation purposes. And since these comparisons inevitably involve employees doing very different jobs, the ranking process often turns into a political football.
And then executives shake their head in wonderment when Gallup releases a white paper showing only 2 in 10 employees strongly agree that their performance is managed in a way that motivates them to do outstanding work. (Gallup, “Re-Engineering Performance Management,” p,4)
Actually most executives know that the vast majority of their employees (including managers) hate performance reviews. Many executives don’t bother doing them for their own direct reports. What does that say about how senior management perceives the value of the process?
Finally, however, some major companies like Cigna, Microsoft, Adobe and GE are doing away with formal employee evaluations, and the number is growing. According to a recent article from the NeuroLeadership Institute, their research show the number of companies making this change increased from 55 in 2015 to 155 in 2016. (NeuroLeadership Institute, “Want to Kill Your Performance Rankings? Here’s How to Ensure Success”)
Instead most of these companies are revising the process to emphasize managers giving continuous feedback to their employees, and having conversations regarding employee development. Are we there yet, where the process will no longer be perceived by employees as threatening. No….but at least these steps are starting to move us in the right direction.