Tips for Performance Evaluations for Small Business Owners
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Collaborate, Don’t Evaluate

Performance evaluations have gotten such a bad rap over the years that sometimes we forget why we do them. It’s a high-stakes conversation, sometimes adversarial. The employee wants a raise and we want better performance. The risk of frustration, disappointment and even anger seems ever present. I’d rather go to the dentist!

Tips for Performance Evaluations for Small Business Owners | Anchor Advisors

At Anchor Advisors, we agree with those sentiments – to a degree. But we have found that it’s not the performance evaluations that are the problem, but rather, the approach. We have found that the best approach to performance evaluations is not to act as a judge but as a coach.

In early January, I scheduled a workshop that would introduce the performance evaluation documents they would use and talk about how to conduct a powerful and effective performance evaluation using a coach approach to the conversation. I sent her the agenda and right after receiving my email, she received a promotional email with the following subject line: “Why most performance reviews are a waste of time.” Hmm . . . my curiosity was piqued to see what this other email in her Inbox might reveal.

I looked at the content of this other email to find that they were promoting a coaching approach to conducting performance evaluations. Ahh, sweet validation. The benefits of coaching employees vs. the traditional approach of managing employees has moved from a good idea to being sold on the Internet & email. I emailed the owner back, assuring her that she wasn’t missing anything. We had included this approach in our workshop customized to her company and needs.

So, what is a coaching approach to performance evaluations? Here are the basic principles.

1. Build a two-way street.

Using the coach approach to performance evaluations starts with a shift from a one-sided report by the manager to an intentional two-way conversation between the manager and the employee. Remember, the aim of performance evaluations is to align the employee’s perspective and job performance with the organization’s vision, values and goals. If you really want your organization to be successful, and if you really want to be successful, then it only follows that you want your employees to succeed in their jobs. Given that objective, it is imperative that the manager approach the employee as a coach – someone who is genuinely interested in the employee’s success and demonstrates that interest through the use of communication skills such as listening, paraphrasing, and giving feedback. So right from the start we are avoiding the adversarial approach that makes most of us run for the hills.

2. Listen … and then listen some more.

Most of us listen at a minimum level because our situations and distractions don’t require more. We scrape by with the bare minimum of listening skills and never build a strong muscle of listening. In fact, how many times are you actually thinking about what you’re going to say when it’s your turn to talk rather than focusing on listening to the person doing the talking? And then there’s emotions. We have a long history in the U.S. of being uncomfortable with emotions at work. But the sooner we face up to the reality that emotions are part of being a human, the sooner we can build stronger relationships. Think about it: when we conduct a performance evaluation, we are talking to someone about their performance, their behavior, their way of being – a topic that I guarantee will elicit strong emotions. This is one of the reasons we dread these conversations, we know the emotion is there!

Now think about it in the context of asking them to change. Many of us are uncomfortable acknowledging emotions at work so we ignore emotions, or avoid them, or try to cover them up. But my advice to you is: don’t. Instead, practice your listening skills just as you would practice any other skill of good management and put your full attention on the other person. You’ll see your employee get bigger when they know they are being listened to. And don’t forget to paraphrase what you heard and get confirmation that you understood their point of view before you move on. This act alone is so powerful and unexpected in the workplace that it can build trust and relationship quickly. And when there is trust, the employee will be more open to hearing your feedback and more willing to work on any changes you identify.

3. Allow the employee to arrive at the answers.

As the manager in a performance evaluation, we think we are expected to come to the performance evaluation with “the answers.” In a coach approach, you have to let that go. The manager as coach focuses on helping employees come up with their own answers to solving performance problems. Use your listening and paraphrasing skills again. If the employee’s solution is acceptable, go with it and hold your tongue about how you think it could be done better (assuming their approach won’t do major harm) and give them a chance to. Most of us, once we are clear about what is expected of us, prefer to have the independence to figure out our own way of getting it done.

4. Don’t judge.

Finally, as our business owner learned, self-awareness is the gift that keeps on giving when it comes to performance evaluations. As human beings, we come to every situation armed with a lifetime of knowledge and experiences that influence every interaction we have. Two people can experience the same event and come away with different interpretations of what happened. The key is to continually and consciously monitor yourself. When you become aware of jumping to judgment, stop. Consider if your judgment is more a reflection of your own needs and values. The more you start to be aware of your own biases and filters, the more you can be open to understanding what might be getting in the way of your employee’s performance.

It’s been my experience that most of us want to do our job well. And I imagine that includes you. Sometimes when I teach people about coaching and turning up the volume on their self-awareness, they think I am asking them to be soft with their employees and they dismiss it. In my career and my life, what I’ve learned is exactly the opposite. The disciplines of listening and self-awareness take persistence and courage; and a sense of humor doesn’t hurt. Albert Einstein once said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. So, what will you do differently to make employees stop dreading and start asking for their performance evaluation?

Jean Bruno is an advisor at Anchor Advisors.

Photo credit: woodleywonderworks

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