Reviews, Relationships, & Roadmaps

“It’s performance review day. Last year my performance review started with Michael asking me what my hopes and dreams were and ended with him telling me he could bench press 190 pounds. So I don’t really know what to expect.”

-Pam Beasley | The Office


I love The Office, and I love Michael Scott. His heart of gold outshines his human resources failures, but that doesn’t make the situation any easier for Pam during a critical human capital function. Pam’s quote sums up the challenges and angst that many of us feel when it comes to performance reviews. The unknown begets distress, and Pam’s comments may very well reflect the anxiety on both sides of the review table. Let’s break down her comments:

  • “It’s performance review day. Last year….” It’s likely that we’re talking about annual reviews, and it suggests that this is the one time each year that the topic of performance is discussed, as opposed to a continuous culture of communication, trust, relationship building, and development.

  • “...started with…asking me about my hopes and dreams and ended with him telling me he could bench press 190 pounds.” While the previous discussion started down a positive path, it deviated along the way and lost sight of the focus of the discussion. When there is no plan, it’s easy to get off track.

  • “So I don’t really know what to expect.” I had a mentor once tell me that if you didn’t know what to expect going into a review, then it was as much your fault as it was the fault of the person doing the review. Lack of communication goes both ways.

That feeling of “I don’t really know what to expect” is often a source of stress and discomfort that can lead to people reverting to the comfortable but useless practice of just going through the motions during what could be a very productive and positive conversation about development and performance. In its worst manifestation, it can lead to complete avoidance of the uncomfortable situation as a whole. The number of clients I work with who report not having consistent feedback and reviews with or from their team or leadership is disheartening.

So let’s consider some of the sources of the angst that surrounds these delicate conversations and consider how you can work to solve them further upstream.

  • Relationships - When we’re discussing performance and development, we’re talking about an important part of people’s work personas. In order to have constructive conversations around delicate topics, there has to be trust between the parties. Do both parties believe the other side has their best interests at heart? A relationship without trust is no relationship at all.

  • Roadmap - A much wiser man than I once said, “If you aim at nothing, you hit it every time”. Is there a plan to follow in these discussions? Do both sides understand and agree with where the roadmap of development should lead? Are there milestones and agreed-upon expectations by which they can assess success? Without a roadmap, you’ll never know if you’re headed in the right direction.

  • Repetition - Is this a one-off event? Or is there consistent communication between parties and a culture of continuous improvement? How about check-ins along the roadmap that allows for smaller corrections before large adjustments are necessary at an annual review? Lack of scheduled, consistent, and timely feedback often leads to one or both sides being surprised come review time.

  • Remuneration (that’s fancy for compensation, but you see what I did there…) - Often, annual reviews set the framework for discussions around compensation. Do both sides understand the market value of the services being provided? Do both sides understand the financial position of the company? Can either side tie performance to metrics that impact the bottom line? Without research and data, everybody is guessing and opinions are often colored by perspectives that are not based on fact.

I hope to help create an environment where team development and culture are at the center of the ecosystem and success radiates outward from there. If I can help you set the framework for a review process that leads to better relationships, higher retention, and a more productive human capital resource, I’d be happy to sit down with you and your team.