Bringing Value to Employee Reviews

Two men meeting

Are you gearing up for annual employee reviews?  And are you dreading it?  If you’ve answered “yes” to these questions, know you are not alone.  A 2018 WorldatWork survey shows 94% of companies conduct formal employee reviews annually – and a separate study suggests we hate them.  95% of managers surveyed are dissatisfied are with the process and nearly 90% of HR executives feel results are inaccurate.  A Gallup survey shows only 14% of employees feel performance reviews inspire them to improve.  So, if it’s so awful, should we just chuck the review process all together?  No.  Although there is frustration on all sides of the current traditional process, employees who have had a review in the past year are more engaged in their work than employees who haven’t.  Surprisingly, 82% of employees say they value receiving feedback (positive and negative) with 65% of employees wanting more feedback.  So rather than abandoning performance reviews entirely, here are the three ways to elevate your culture and your business by simply fixing what’s broken with our current approach to employee reviews.

1.  Increase the frequency.

Seems counterintuitive right?  Managers, HR professionals, and employees dread them, so do them MORE?  Much of what seems to be broken is that we are only talking about performance once per year.  A Gallup poll shows only 15% of employees working for a manager who does not meet with them regularly are engaged.  Consider this, what if you set an intention on January 1st to lose 15 pounds by December 31st?  Then, come the morning of December 31st you weigh yourself – for the first time since setting the intention nearly a year earlier and you instead gained five pounds.  How would you feel?  How would it have been different had you known in September that you were further away from your goal that in January?  You could’ve chosen to do something about it – but now that you waited the entire year, you’ve really painted yourself into a corner of disappointment.  Waiting to talk about employee performance is the same.  No one works their butts off only to have it all come crashing down when it’s too late.  Frequent, less formal reviews, often referred to as check-ins, allow employees some time for course correction and leaders the opportunity to evaluate employee goals and performance as needs of the business change.  Check-ins also allow for more trust to be established between employees and managers.  Social psychology identifies two types of trust, cognitive – trust based on what you know about someone, and affective – trust based on emotional connection and closeness.  It’s through frequent interaction with another that we develop affective trust in another – so long as both parties act in a trustworthy way of course.

2.  Care

Recently there has been a lot of talk, and some significant research on what makes a good boss.  Top traits include being a good coach, helping employees achieve their professional goals, and caring about employee success & well-being.  A Harvard study of 3,200 employees found employees describing their culture as caring, had higher levels of satisfaction and teamwork, less absenteeism, and better company performance.  What this means from an employee appraisal or check-in standpoint is – performance discussions should serve as a time to either support or recognize an employee depending on how that employee is doing.  Performance reviews – whether formal or informal – are not simply a time to report back performance data.  If an employee isn’t performing, work with the employee to identify why he/she is struggling – and how to fix it!  If an employee is performing above expectations, recognize the employee for a job well done.  Get to know about what is important to employees – what they love and dislike about their work.  Caring about employee success will not only make for more valuable reviews and check-ins but also make for a more open and honest relationship.  What managers did you have that cared about your happiness and success?  How did you choose to show up for them each day?  Our employees are no different.  Start each employee check-in by asking how they are doing.  Did they recently go on vacation?  Is his son graduating high school?  Did she get a new car?  Did she have a big sale?  Is it his busy time of year?  Start each check-in building rapport, reinforcing you care.  “I know you are wanting to spend every minute with your son before he heads off to college, so let’s talk about what you have on your plate and make sure we’re streamlining everything as much as possible to get you out early on Fridays.”  Empathizing with the employee and offering support to get work done in a way that benefits you both is highly effective.

3.  Collaborate on goals

The happiest and most valuable employees are the employees that understand how their work translates to company success.  They get it.  Without this understanding, an employee’s manager is no longer a manager but a babysitter or a person that barks orders.  But leaders are responsible for exposing employees to this mindset, by explaining company initiatives and describing how the employee’s work aligns to those initiatives.  For this reason, effective employee reviews happen when employees and managers collaborate on employee goals.  With a basic understanding of what the company aims to achieve for the month, quarter, year, or whatever timeframe, encourage employees to create their own goals for the period.  Aside from helping employees get more engaged in the business, there are also some psychological benefits.  Research shows that when we create our own goals, the emotional and strategic parts of the brain work together to plan for and envision the goal, turning our attention away from less productive thoughts and events that aren’t aligned to our goals.  When an employee then creates his or her own goal that a leader then reviews and/or tweaks, the employee is more emotionally and mentally committed to the goal that if we as leaders were to just prescribe them goals.  When we encourage employees to create specific challenging goals, studies show these difficult goals will actually lead to higher performance than easy goals (such as “do your best), or no goals at all.  Because mindset is critical to achieving any goal – regardless of it being personal or professional, this step is key to making a valuable performance discussion.

Like any interaction with employees, it’s more valuable to both parties when it’s an exchange, not one-way feedback.  Historically, performance appraisals were one-way discussions in which a manager advises each employee of how well or poorly he/she performed over the year.  Is it any wonder we all dread this process?  By implementing these three simple strategies in your performance management process, you solve for a healthier and more effective feedback loop in which leaders work with employees to achieve success.  More successful companies start with more successful people and feedback paves the way.

Does your performance management process need a boost?  Learn more about our tools from a Culture Engineer.

Managing difficult employees – Can good employees have bad attitudes?

There are two reasons an employee fails to meet reasonable employer expectations – either they can’t or they won’t.  Falling short of expectations is often assessed through the lens of skill or will.  When the employee is trying but lacks the knowledge or experience needed to succeed in his/her role (skill issue), the solution is most commonly solved with training, coaching, better systems or access to resources, or sometimes mentoring.  Managing difficult employees, employees that are not trying however (will issue), is a much bigger challenge.

Behavioral issues are often misdiagnosed as skill/performance issues and therefore often go unresolved.   This is especially unfortunate as these behavioral issues can be incredibly damaging to a company’s culture and success.  Some of the most common workplace behavioral issues are:

  • Excessive absenteeism or tardiness (when not as part of an accommodation)
  • Insubordination
  • Gossip
  • Disruptive to others
  • Poor quality of work
  • Harassing behavior
  • Theft
  • Failure to meet KPIs
  • Emotional outbursts

There are two reasons behavioral issues are more difficult, 1) inexperienced leaders, and 2) employee actor-observer bias.

Experience Matters

Perhaps the hardest lesson learned in managing and leading people is that we all perceive, think about, and value things differently.  It’s easy to say, but when leading a team of conflicting personalities and priorities to achieve a common goal – the leadership can seem overwhelming.  Diagnosing why a person with the desire to succeed isn’t, is a tactical diagnosis.  An employee wants to get more sales, has a great attitude, works hard, and asks for help – it doesn’t take a lot of experience to recognize he needs training.  He’s putting the work in but needs help turning activity into sales.  What about the salesperson that isn’t “working hard”?  She previously hit her quota every month – but her sales have declined steadily over the last few months.  Is she calling out sick all the time?  Is she showing up late?  Leaving early?  When at work – is she working effectively or talking with co-workers and tending more to her social media accounts than customers.  Is she selling to fewer people, closing smaller deals, or both?  She has shown she can do the job, but somewhere along the line stopped.  Why?  This is a harder problem to solve because it requires insight, empathy, and a genuine desire to understand.  Generally, these are leadership qualities developed with experience.  It’s by managing and leading people that you develop the confidence and self-awareness needed to step outside of your own head willing to look at a situation from the perspective of another.  Good people make bad choices all of the time.  Many inexperienced managers assume the person “doesn’t care” or simply “has a bad attitude”.  A leader I worked with in the past would respond to managers complaints about an employee by asking the manager, “was the employee bad when you hired him or did you make him bad?”.  If you want employees to understand the “why” behind your company’s purpose, you need to understand their why as well.  Why do they choose to work hard?  Why do they sometimes choose not to?  You can discipline them, you can warn them, you can suspend them, but nothing serves as a solution to a behavioral problem unless you first understand the why behind it.  Why did they stop caring?  That’s the first step on the path to a solution.  Most employees can regain their love and passion to succeed in their role.  First though – we as leaders NEED to ask what caused it to be lost in the first place.

The actor-observer bias at work

The actor-observer bias is one of several attribution biases, concepts used in social psychology to describe irrational patterns in how we view our own behaviors and interpret behaviors of others.  The term refers to our tendency  to attribute our own behaviors to situational factors while attributing behaviors of others to internal factors.  Put simply, we see our behaviors as a reflection of a situation but perceive others behave a certain way because that’s who they are.  This bias causes behavioral problems to surface in two ways, 1) biased employees see their decisions and behaviors as the only option, rather than a choice, and 2) biased employees subscribe to the idea that only bad people do bad things.  Because someone doesn’t see himself as bad a person, he is incapable of doing bad things and as such, his behaviors are justified.  Think of an employee who is frequently late or absent.  Does she always have a reason?  Does she seem to feel you too should excuse her absence –as though she had no choice but to be late or miss the day?  A person harassing others, although clearly a more serious offense, often does not recognize himself as a harasser.  Because the person doing the harassing believes the person he is harassing either wants or deserves the unwanted attention, he typically feels his behavior is justified.  Ironically, the harasser is often the most offended by harassing behavior demonstrated by others, seeing other harassers as bad people rather than people engaging in harassing behavior (2 Reasons Your Harassment Training is Failing).  Research suggests this bias occurs less often with people we know well – most likely due to exposure.  We see ourselves, behaviors, and decisions as a reflection of situations and the more familiar we are with situations faced by others, the more we recognize that most of us are neither all good nor all bad.  Self-awareness allows us to see ourselves objectively, recognizing the impact our decisions have on others – and that every decision is a choice.  So, next time you’re forced to address an employee’s excessive absences or tardiness, ask him, “do you feel that everyone else that makes it in on time for work has it easy?  Do you feel they do not have extenuating circumstances that they must manage in order to get to work?”  This question can be a game changer in addressing similar behavioral issues.  With more serious behaviors like harassing others or insubordination, it’s important to focus on how the employee’s behavior impacts others – and how the behavior is not in line with the company’s values or culture.  When behavior issues are deliberate such as theft, fraud, or harassing behavior that’s hostile, manipulative, or calculated, it is very unlikely the leopard will change his spots.  There is always a chance that a person engaging in scheming and cunning behavior will change for the better; however, this is a decision she will make on her own.  No punishment, threat, or training will change the behavior and in many situations the person will only use warnings to behave poorly in a more conspicuous way.  It is up to each company and leader to find the right balance of forgiveness and accountability.  People will make mistakes and poor choices – to what extent you, as a leader, are willing to accept the harm those mistakes and poor choices brings to you, your company, and employees, is a choice you must make.

It would be great if we all just got it.  If we all saw our behaviors and decisions as choices and possessed the self-awareness to see how we impact others.  The reality is, we are flawed.  There is no such thing as a perfect person and therefore cannot be a perfect employee, or leader.  A successful workplace culture isn’t about perfection.  A successful culture is about a group of unique individuals coming together to achieve a common purpose.  So the key is establishing a common set of values and then communicating, upholding, and delivering on those values relentlessly – addressing when actions or behaviors deviate from what benefits the group, as a whole, or their collective purpose.  Strong and healthy workplaces have behavioral issues. They only differ from toxic workplaces in how leaders respond to those issues.  Address the behaviors harming your company’s culture today because it’s the only way you will ever achieve your purpose.

 

Watch our tutorial on how to address employee behavioral issues here.

Need help with getting employees engaged?  Contact a Culture Engineer!

Can a sucky interview be your key to success?

Prior to finding my career in HR and company culture, I tried out a lot of jobs.  A LOT.  One job I really liked was working as a matchmaker.  Setting people up on blind dates that is….not manufacturing matches to light a fire (you’d be surprised how often I had to clarify this point).  This was before internet dating and apps were popular and the company I worked for appealed to “busy professionals”.  Single clients completed a basic profile application, answering a variety of questions about themselves and their preferences, including hobbies and interests.  It didn’t take long for me to realize most people overstate their interests, activities, and hobbies in this process.  Hiking, rowing, sailing….it seemed that almost every client and potential client had the most active lifestyle on paper but in discussion would admit they rarely (if ever) engaged in these activities.  I found this so confusing.  Why would someone misrepresent their interests?  Later in life as my career progressed I found this behavior to also hold true and be equally as destructive in hiring.  In any type of interview environment, or when asked to describe ourselves objectively, we tend to describe the person we want to be rather than the person we are.  Both companies and job-seekers will often describe the workplace or person they aspire to be rather than who they actually are.  It’s then not a surprise that studies show 89% of turnover in the first 18 months of employment is typically due to a poor culture fit.  Turnover is estimated to cost companies 50%-150% of the position’s annual salary.  So, if you lost 10 employees this year with annual salaries averaging $40K each, your true turnover costs are likely somewhere between $200,000 and $600,000!  Anywhere from $178,000 to $534,000 of this cost is because in the hiring process you either failed to accurately represent your company’s culture, or candidates were disingenuous (and you’re failing to recognize it).  Neither applicants nor companies win when culture misconceptions happen.  Fortunately, both sides of the interview process can stop this cycle of dysfunction.  Here, are some tips that work!

 Steps for employers:

 1.  Define your culture.

What is your company culture?  If you’ve not gone through this process, it’s important to first understand what “company culture” means.  It’s not about looks, age, gender, or anything that your workplace might represent physically but instead, what underlying core values, characteristics, and motivations does your team share.  A good place to start if you’ve not defined your culture is having an informal chat with your most valuable employees to understand what matters most to them about their jobs.  What benefits or perks of the job do they most appreciate?  What keeps them motivated to show up everyday and kick butt?  How do they describe the workplace to friends and family?  What things do they most appreciate about their coworkers?  What do they dislike about the job or workplace?  There are great workshops and structured activities that can help you in this critical process, but don’t use that as a reason to delay.  Truthfully, you should have these discussions regularly within your company – at various levels.  Your culture isn’t something that just appears.  It’s what is created each day by every decision, change, hire, policy, and conversation.  It’s an experience, not a uniform.  An employee’s perspective both creates and is created by a company’s culture which is why it’s important to make them a part of this culture-defining process.  Leaders may guide and support culture, but all employees create it – so ask them about it rather than just assuming.

2.  Identify ways to test the culture-fit factor in job-seekers.

Now that you have identified some commonalities shared by your team, look for ways to test whether or not a job-seeker shares those values.  Here’s where you can get creative.  For example, Google, a company known to value out-of-the-box thinking (often to solve for complex problems) asks questions like “If you were a platypus stuck in a dumpster and your feet were made out of butter, how would escape?”.  There is no way to really fake creativity in this answer.  There is also no real “right” or “wrong” answer, although an answer lacking imagination is obviously wrong for Google.  Southwest Airlines calls on employees to have a “fun-LUVing attitude” and will sometimes asked flight attendant applicants “how do you keep the workplace fun?”.  Both are great examples of not just asking job seekers to describe themselves or traits consistent with your culture, but demonstrate them.  These questions give insight to the candidate’s mindset in an unexpected way that cannot be practiced or rehearsed.  Look for ways you can do the same in your interview process.

3.  Create a candidate experience that resembles your employee experience.

A few weeks ago I was talking with one of the original leaders to join Tuft & Needle, a Phoenix-based mattress company that has disrupted the industry.  I asked him about hiring during their intense growth, going from 80 employees to 140 employees in just one year.  He said it was at first an all-hands-on-deck, chaotic approach – lacking any structure, consistency, or strategy.  When I asked him about the culture during this phase, he described it similarly.  In this sense, T&N’s candidate experience was a success because it accurately resembled the culture that existed for employees (at that time).  If you’ve been part of a startup, you know it takes a certain type of grit to do well in such an environment, and perhaps a glutton for punishment to love it.  A person in a startup needs to be passionate and intensely focused on goals, yet extremely willing to switch gears when priorities change as they often do in such an environment.  So, if your company is going through a transitional period, does it make sense for the candidate-experience to be smooth and seamless?  Are you hiring for the company you are becoming or the company you are today?  Chances are, you need fill some critical positions today, so save candidates the frustration of feeling they’ve been victim to a bait-and-switch job offer and start exposing them to the experience as it actually is.  Is your workplace highly-competitive?  Then so should be the process you use to hire new employees.  If your company lacks structure, then so should your hiring process.  Companies will often gently guide candidates through the hiring and onboarding process, then dump this same person into an autonomous , sink-or-swim company culture, confused as-to why yesterday’s stellar job-seeker is today’s under-performing employee.  Keep in mind, as an employer, your goal is not simply to find applicants with the best skill sets and experience.  Your goal is to find the applicants that will transform into your best employees.  To find these gems, you need to observe them in the right environment that resembles your workplace.

Steps for job-seekers:

 1.  Research the culture before interviewing (or even applying).

Before you buy something, you likely research the online reviews.  Because most purchases will not impact us or demand as much from our lives as our jobs, it only makes sense we put as much, if not more, energy into learning about a company we may work for.  There are several places you can learn about a company’s culture.  Two of the most popular websites are Glassdoor and Indeed.com.  On Glassdoor, in addition to current and former employee reviews about working for the company, you can also learn from candidates about the company’s interview process.  Look not only at the company’s rating, but also the reviews.  What matters to one person may not be what matters to you, so keep an open mind.  Pay specific attention to trends.  Like most review systems, the unhappy customers (in this case, employees and candidates) are often the first to submit reviews.  If you aren’t able to get what you need from these job sites, try using LinkedIn to connect with existing or former company employees.  Many people are eager to talk about their experience.  In this approach, contrary to the feedback you’ll likely get from the job sites, you’ll tend to hear back from employees with a positive employee experience.

2.  Identify your goal for the interview.

An interview should be a get-to-know you, fact-finding mission.  It is not a process designed to help you overcome any professional insecurities you may have by “winning” a job.  All too often job-seekers fail to recognize that they too have a responsibility to choose a job in which they believe they can be successful and happy.  To decide whether or not you will do a job well and will be successful with a company, you need to first learn about that company. Ultimately, if the person conducting your interview is uncomfortable with your directness, perceiving you as “entitled” or challenging their authority, it’s likely not the job for you.  I still remember one of the first times I was challenged in an interview to be honest in a way that I feared may take me out of the running for the position (and I REALLY wanted this job).  The CFO asked me, “if I were to ask your current boss what feedback she’s received on you that you need to work on, what would she say?”.  In that moment I thought to myself, I could lie and give a fake, safe answer like “don’t be such a perfectionist” or “stop working such long hours”.  On the other hand, I could instead give her my honest answer, that I need to work on being abrupt with people because it gives them the impression that I don’t care.  My manager recently gave me this exact feedback and accurately pointed out that I put too much value in solving the employee’s problems and not enough value in listening to employee concerns.  The feedback was ugly and unflattering, but it was true.  Sweating and clenching my fists, afraid that I was kissing my dream job goodbye, I responded with the truth.  About a year later over drinks, because I did get that job, the CFO and I laughed about my answer.  She shared with me that she too struggled with a similar problem and felt it wasn’t a big deal so long as I was aware of it and working on it.  By being honest and genuine I was able to test the company’s willingness to develop and support employees.  It was a win for us both.

3.  Be authentic.

Recently we were contacted by the Huffington Post to give insight on their upcoming article “The First Thing You Should Do After You Walk Out of That Job Interview. Within the article, they discuss the effectiveness of post-job-interview follow-up, asking whether or not candidates following a job-interview should send a thank you note and how to do so without coming off as a kiss-up.  My advice was to be authentic.  Once you’ve researched and interviewed with a company, you should have enough information to decide if you and the company are a good match to move forward.  If you are the type of person to follow-up with a thank you note, send a thank you note.  If you are not however, or perhaps the company is not the type to appreciate such a gesture, perhaps it’s better to skip the sentiment.  You will be happiest and successful in the jobs that compliment you, and that’s not every job out there.  So, be genuine in your interactions with the company so that the interactions are uniquely “you”.  Although my advice to be authentic is not meant to encourage you, the job-seeker, to act as you do with friends at happy hour, you should be your genuine professional self.  I was never meant for a stuffy overly corporate job.  While an HR person at heart, my approach has always been non-traditional and direct.  Not everyone loves these qualities in their HR department so it was important that I found companies that valued these traits, allowing me to be happy and successful in my jobs.  The same goes for clients we support today as any productive, effective relationship ultimately comes down to a good culture fit.  A good company should reveal to applicants the true culture of the workplace (both good and bad).  Companies as well as candidates can make themselves out to be flawless during the interview process.  While this is highly unlikely, really consider what it means when a company or person sees themselves as without flaws.  Do you value perfection?  If this is not your thing, best to seek out a company and job where continuous improvement is valued, and imperfections are seen as opportunities for development.

The 4th and final step for both employers and job-seekers is to be relentless.  Tony Hsieh, founder of Zappos, an online clothing and shoe retailer known equally for their great customer service as they are a rewarding company culture, tells a story of having their core values tested.  Be humble is one of their 10 core values.  Years ago, they would often include the shuttle driver, responsible for shuttling traveling applicants to and from the airport and headquarter location, in their interview process.  They would ask the driver how the candidate treated him/her.  Hsieh recalls having to pass on some exceptionally smart, talented, experienced executive candidates because they failed to “be humble” in their interactions with the driver.  While they could’ve likely advanced the company at the time, Zappos and Hsieh were unwilling to compromise on their culture to do so.  Considering Amazon purchased Zappos for $847 million in 2009, their decision to preserve their culture above all else while challenging at times, proved to be the right decision.  If you are looking for a job or you are an employer looking for the right candidate, focus on the experience.  Mahatma Gandhi said, “action expresses priorities”.  A person may describe and even see himself a certain way, but how he responds to your hiring process is more telling.  Similarly, a company may have an impressive purpose, mission, vision and values statement, but how you feel when employed by them or interviewing with them is more indicative of their company culture than anything on paper.

 

Teresa Marzolph image

Teresa Marzolph is the Founder and Head People Strategist for Culture Engineered believing valued employees produce valuable results.   In her HR and culture career she’s helped both small businesses and large corporations attract, develop, and retain top industry talent.