6 Insights to Make the Most of Your Performance Reviews

With the bulk of survey season behind us, soon Maritz employees, managers and executives will be participating in the performance feedback sessions that will lay the road map for our next fiscal year.

This is an incredible learning and feedback opportunity for our organization. We have the chance to reflect on our successes and failures, our individual strengths and weaknesses, and lay the foundation for a better future. With that in mind, we’d like to impart some valuable insights that will help you make your feedback sessions more impactful.

The kernels of these suggestions come from Maritz Motivation and MHI Board Member John Schweig. In addition to serving on our board for eight years now, John led an organization of thousands as president of Grainger International and today chairs two other corporate boards.

We hope you keep the following recommendations in mind as you enter your performance review sessions in the coming weeks.

1. Performance and Potential

Understand the difference between performance and potential. High performance employees stand out from their peers with work that delivers client value at a high standard of quality. Engaged employees with high potential have the ability to become high performers in the future, but may need additional support, training and development or just more time on the job to get to that point.

When you provide your feedback, be mindful of the critical distinctions between performance and potential. If your review criteria include a “meets expectations” marker anywhere on it, you’re rating performance. Most managers grade high potential employees — especially new hires — too highly on performance because they can see the possibilities in store for them. Don’t praise high potentials for the things they’ve yet to accomplish.  Similarly, don’t underrate those who may have reached the limit of their potential but are performing very well in their current roles.

2. Results and Behaviors

Be explicit about whether performance refers to results, behaviors or both. A great attitude can go a long way towards boosting team morale and aligning everyone on a common goal, but that doesn’t always translate to positive KPIs. Similarly, some people get great results leaving chaos in their wake.

You can help your employees grow by being clear about both their results and their behaviors, praising areas where they excel and coaching them where they have room to improve.

3. Manager know thyself

We all have our blind spots when it comes to performance reviews, and these can compound for managers who don’t have just themselves to rate, but teams with several employees. It’s all too common for managers to dismiss their own shortcomings in their employees and rate employees with their own strengths too highly.

Resist the temptation to be more forgiving of your flaws and more favorable to your positive attributes, especially when it concerns the performance of others. A clear-eyed evaluation of your strengths and weaknesses conducted in good faith will set you — and your team — up for the best outcomes in the year to come.

4. Intelligence and Performance

Our clients pay us in part for our market wisdom and our ability to draw insights that drive client results. Employees with that kind of knowledge and skill have the potential to go far in their careers and deserve our praise.  Beware, however, that book smarts (or being articulate) isn’t the same thing. Similar to our last insight, particularly intelligent managers invariably favor smart and articulate employees in their evaluations.

5. Recency bias

Managers can often overreact to a recent dip despite years of solid performance (often a sign of the market/segment/client, or a personal issue). Conversely, some will overlook poor recent performance based on an employee’s past history of positive outcomes. In general, most of us have an easier time remembering things that happened recently and will characterize potential future outcomes based on our impressions of those events — even if there’s plenty of evidence in the past to contradict it.

So while best practices in feedback sessions call for providing recent examples, be mindful of the employee’s performance over time.

6. Take the environment into consideration

A decline in performance doesn’t always correlate with a decline in the ability and effort employees demonstrate. Sometimes the team is trying its hardest but outside factors aren’t allowing performance to shine as brightly as it should.

Are the products not quite right for the market? Are sellers ill-equipped to sell new products? Is a segment simply softening? Did we create an unrealistic goal to close the sales gap? Whose performance, if anyone’s, is really at issue? Be conscious of these environmental factors influence and interface with employee performance.