One Simple Thing To Make Performance Reviews Way More Effective


Performance reviews are dreaded by most, whether the one being reviewed or the one delivering the review. There is a reason. Most performance reviews talk mostly about the performance of a person, less about the results delivered. The results get tied to the person so that the atmosphere is one of ‘here is a list of what you have done wrong’. Who wouldn’t just eagerly welcome that, huh?

Maslow showed us a model of the levels of human fulfillment and told us that if we didn’t have the lower needs met we simply could not get to the higher levels. When I Googled Maslow’s hierarchy I found many pages of material explaining his idea of six levels of human need, in a hierarchy, gotta have the lower levels to get to the higher levels. Yup. Looking at all of this, a question that arises is ‘at which level will my team be most effective?’ It is my opinion that the higher in the hierarchy people are the more effective, more productive and the happier we all will be. Is it not so that if we fear for our safety or are constantly berated, live in a organization of silos where I clearly am not welcomed in many places, that my ability to work effectively will be seriously impugned?

Yes this article is about performance reviews. What would a performance review be like if the above description of a work environment  is pretty close to how it is where you work? Yes, a waste of time. We need to be at the top of Maslow’s hierarchy to deliver the very best. And… realistically, what if my organization does not exactly provide Maslow’s ideal environment?

By sticking to a ‘review’ of the results delivered by an employee we provide a bit of dignity to the one receiving the review. We can say almost anything about the project and keep back from tying the person to those results. We can ask all kinds of questions like, ‘what part of this is working best, what part is most in need of help, when was the last time you came across this kind of thing, who do you think might be of help with this, what responsibility do you need to take with respect to the present state of the project?  The list goes on. Using this approach can keep the conversation at the ‘esteem’ level, which is second from the top level which is self actualization. Use another approach that does not support esteem and we are down the hierarchy, sometimes by many levels, even visiting the bottom sometimes. Oh good, that would be motivating, don’t you think?

That said, it is quite appropriate to ask questions like, ‘how much of this do you own, who owns the rest, which part are you most proud of, most disappointed about, what are your plans going forward?’

By working from the esteem level in the hierarchy we invite the one being reviewed to reach toward the top tier. When asking questions about ideal future outcomes, paths to ‘better’ (however better might look) start to show up, which encourages folks and up the esteem can go. If this feels too much like walking on eggshells, so be it. The alternative of going down the hierarchy is way worse and causes more long term damage than being careful about where and how hard you step in a performance review. Want better performance? Move people up the hierarchy at every opportunity.

Joseph Seiler MCC