As you build your organization, you have probably thought about how to improve the performance of the current team that you work with. Whether you have two employees or two hundred, this series aims to equip you with common sense but not necessarily common practice tools. This week, I will be writing about the second step of building strong teams: how to keep your team at peak performance!
Annual Reviews: Most established organizations have an annual review process that normally coincides with a salary evaluation. If you do not have annual reviews, you need to consider the cost to your team; however small it happens to be. The common misconception is that annual reviews are not necessary for small teams, because “they already know what I think of them.” This couldn’t be further from the truth.
At minimum, annual reviews are a great time to recap the year and discuss what went well and what opportunities came along with your successes. It is customary to discuss not only a broad view of the organization’s achievements but to focus in on the individual contribution of the employee. In low trust environments, you will typically see a report card type of review — where a lengthy list of responsibilities is weighted against a measurement scale that attempts to give the employee feedback about their value to the company. In my experience, these types of reviews are not very engaging to the manager and frankly not much fun for the employee either. However, it’s better to have an annual record of such conversations rather than have nothing at all.
Ideally, feedback about an employee’s progress (good and bad) should be presented to them far more regularly than on an annual basis. If you are not giving feedback weekly, and at minimum, monthly to your employees, you are not setting them up for success. The pace at which our competition is moving warrants responsible managers to move swiftly to correct inappropriate behaviour that detracts the organization from reaching its goals. Remember the rule: offer one negative feedback for every five positive ones you offer to your employees. This will help you grow your emotional bank account with your team, and help make your negative feedback hold much more weight.
With this practice in place, you may ask then, what would be the point of an annual review? Good question.
- Highlight the year’s feedback. Since feedback is given regularly, I use the annual review to highlight the best feedback that I have given that employee in the past year and point out some of the more consistent opportunities. At this point, it should no longer be a surprise to the employee. In fact, the annual reviews should never contain any surprises or unknowns to the your people. A review of past conversations helps to frame the context of the annual review.
- Talk about what engages your employee. With feedback summarized quickly in your meeting, start talking to them about the best parts of the past year. You’ll soon find them talking about the work and responsibilities that excite them and bring purpose and passion to their role. You may even be surprised that the best part of their year was being called ad hoc into a committee that ordinarily had nothing to do with their role. Listen carefully to what their heart is drawn to. This is where you will find their engagement to be at highest level. As much as the business allows, talk about how you can give them more opportunities to pursue more work that brings them alive. Be sure to also check in on the tasks and responsibilities that drain your team. You may not be able to change the scope of the responsibilities but just being aware of it and offering them a chance to be heard is a valuable exercise in and of itself.
- Consider the partnership approach. All in all, it’s important to hold the perspective that your employees are partners with you on your organizational goal, rather than employees that need to be micromanaged towards the results that you determine. Don’t get me wrong, give regular feedback, but in your annual review, make it a time where you give the gift of true listening to your employees. You will be amazed at how much their engagement levels will change when they feel like they are understood and supported; even if their actual duties don’t change much.
Invest in your Leaders: If you have a larger team, you probably realize that it’s impossible for you to keep track of all the day-to-day operations of your business unless you appoint leaders that manage a segment of the business. If you have a large team with direct reports who are managers, it is wise to spend the majority of the time allotted to personnel issues with your leaders. I have an open door policy where any employee can approach me for any reason. However, I typically initiate and make sure that I spend a good chunk of time connecting with my managers.
- Connect intentionally. In these regular meetings, I use the same discussion process as the annual review but in a much more simplified fashion. First, I review high-level priorities and affirm all the great qualities that I have appreciated about my leaders. Next I discuss how their energy level is with their current load of responsibilities and do the best I can to alleviate any stuck points or hindrances. Lastly, I hold the perspective that we are partners, and consistently ask them for feedback on my performance as well as anything that I can do to help them do their jobs to their best level.
- Listen carefully whenever your leaders give you feedback about yourself because there is usually more underneath a meek offering that you can learn about yourself and how you can be a better support to them. As much as possible, involve them in major decision making processes and consider their concerns with the utmost care. I firmly believe that leaders ignore their manager’s opinions and suggestions to their own detriment. In a spirit of partnership, the less you treat them as underlings, the more engagement you will see as they not only interact with you but with the people that they lead.
- Be a resource. One of my worst career experiences was when I was starting out in business and was working for a prominent retail chain. As was common, there were management shifts that caused me to have a new boss. This manager would speak down to his people disrespectfully and every week he would assign work to his people that far exceeded a reasonable completion time. Imagine if your boss asks you to finish a project in a week that would normally take two weeks… and then did absolutely nothing to help you. Nobody wants to work for a tyrant and no one will respect your leadership unless you show your people that you truly care about their well-being. Jim Collins in the influential management classic “Good to Great,” writes that the most effective leaders leading today’s most successful companies have a deep humility with the people they work with. So consider being a resource to your people instead of only simply being a delegator.
- Ask your managers if you can shift around organizational and people resources to help supplement capacity for large undertakings and urgent tasks. Always ask if you have done your part in providing the best environment for them to succeed.
- Find ways to provide educational resources that can help your leaders grow professionally and personally. This could be supporting a portion of their tuition as they pursue a professional certification, or simply paying for the cost of a conference that would refresh their relevant work skills.
- Just because you’re not in it for the money, doesn’t mean that your people don’t care either. As much as possible, find ways to financially care for your leaders. It’s not easy to justify paying a premium for good work but consider the loss of productivity should a key person leave. Think about how expensive it would be to firstly find a person of similar qualifications and knowledge base about your business and then ask yourself how long it would take a new person to pick up where the other one left off. I think you see where I am going with this. The worst feeling for an employee is to give up hope that they will reach their financial goals with their current employer, find new work, give notice, and THEN find out that the current employer is willing to give them a substantial raise to stay. “If you are willing to pay me that much now, why have you held back all this time?”
If you take care of your leaders, you will find that the investment more often than not will only benefit the stability of your organization. Remember to connect intentionally with them, listen carefully to their feedback and always find ways to be a resource to them so they can be freed to focus on getting the bottom line results you need to see your organization thrive.