Friday, 21 October 2016

The Art of Performance Review Discussions: 3 Must Haves in your Leadership Training Program

So, you'd like your leaders and managers do better performance review discussions with their staff?
You've decided that perhaps, a mere pep talk on how to conduct One-on-One meetings won't do!

In case you're thinking of organizing a formal training program, that sounds like a big step indeed.

Have you got your curriculum whetted and sorted out? Before you send out the request to the training department let's make sure we've got the i's dotted and t's crossed!

Let's look at three key skills/competencies that can help your leaders do pretty well and get best value from their performance management discussions. Ensure that your training program includes rich learning experiences that do justice to these concepts and themes.

Animated, Inspiring Conversations about the future

Add in a Module on making inspiring yet grounded conversations. This is a vital ingredient.

It's not just the STAR performers. Even that big chunk of "B performers" in your teams want to feel a genuine sense of pride. Pride and belief in themselves, and what they can do and accomplish. Most of us want to to keep this belief alive. And we feel so relieved when our circumstances and environment help us do that.

Not a vacuous sense of hope. But one that's backed by opportunities to bring out a better version of ourselves. We want to believe that given the right opportunities, we will be able to validate ourselves with our unique strengths, capabilities and skills.

How well do your leaders tap into this hope across their teams? Are they able to have conversations that acknowledge and awaken this hope? And, then go further to get the folks inspired about opportunities and possibilities, and thereby embrace change? Can they articulate it with the right energy and enthusiasm? People want to see, hear and 'feel' the connection to the larger goals of the organization.

Snazzy powerpoint slides may not achieve what a sincere ten-minutes conversation can. Where the leader excitedly helps them “personally walk through” to the future goals of the team, the department and the organization.  The key point to be noted: They must “see themselves” in this journey, and get the connection clear.   

It helps them understand what it takes to move towards these outcomes, as an individual. The skills, behaviors, attributes, qualities, knowledge and understanding that will make it possible. It's of course not possible to join all the dots. But an overall sense of direction can spur them on to go ahead and make it happen.

This is not about converting all your leaders into perfectly suave “dream-merchants”. Introverts, extroverts, big picture folks, the doers, the dreamers, the detail-driven perfectionazis...Your leaders fall into all these categories and more! They can all inspire their teams with sincere, well pitched, meticulously prepared and thoroughly articulated messages.

Help your leaders develop and nurture this skill. To be able to make such conversations in a structured manner. You’ll be amazed at the kind of alignment and buy-in they'll secure. Train them to learn this craft of animated and inspiring conversations. And to apply it without coming across as contrived. Those dots are indeed worth connecting!

Generating Authentic and Accurate Self-Insight

This module is the perhaps the toughest and most critical one in your training program. So, pay good attention and make notes!

Of course, performance discussions can't be all about the excitement waiting in store in future! You have to dispassionately talk about past performance. Deriving the right lessons from the past is critical.

This is typically where things can go out of control.

There's conflict avoidance and over-sanitized talk at one extreme. At the other end, it doesn't take too long for a few words and expressions to spark combative encounters! Not the best way to generate self-insight in the individual. With injured pride and a baggage of defensiveness, reflection is the last thing on their minds!

Your course curriculum must train your leaders in the art of making conversations that lead to reflection and self-awareness. To get people to examine facts, nuance and the context, minus filters and inadvertent (or even deliberate) distortion.

Special emphasis must be made to avoid language traps: overused and inappropriate expressions, misplaced exclamations, gestures, hooks that trigger those "touch-me-not" responses, provocative frowns, dismissive smirks, pejorative words... It isn't that tough to go downhill with "unclean" language! 

As you might have guessed it, a leader who is lacking in self-awareness can't hope to get any big breakthrough with his/her team. Performance discussions have a power asymmetry built into it. How to transcend that barrier? "Know-it-all-seen-it-all" folks won't have a clue!

Notes for Curriculum Design: Make sure your curriculum deals with this theme with sufficient depth and sensitivity. Some of your leaders may have lived with these traits for a lifetime. Without any awareness at all! Will your training course help them take a new direction?

Doing a performance review that generate "actionable" self-insight is an art. The one question you want people to keep asking themselves repeatedly is "What more will take me there?" And the last word in this question ("there") is the key to the future. With the right resources, tools, knowledge and support, many goals are within reach. Self-insight is most useful when we get these "Aha/Wow" moments. "Oh Yes, this is what I need to learn; this is the help I need; this is the challenge that's likely to trip me again...." You really want conversations that allow people to think aloud, and connect these pointers. Without being held back by resistance, self-pity or aggression.

Your curriculum must help leaders work out an approach that helps them stay in charge and avoid dysfunctional patterns.

Functional Empathy!

Note: This module is of a high-investment nature with potential for high returns! Find out what more can be done for even better yields!

“Well, we've heard about empathy and why it is essential to feel what others are feeling etc... In a professional setting like a One-One discussion, all this touchy-feely stuff can be intimidating to some!

Especially those who have trained themselves to "leave them emotions at the entrance gate". Your training course needs to first tackle these derisive and disparaging attitudes towards empathy, and then help leaders create a personalized "GPS Direction Finder”.

This direction finder will help them set the right pace and tempo to predict, acknowledge and address some of the strong emotions people experience in these discussions.

What is triggering that fear about a certain change? What concerns are they leaving unarticulated? What is the confusion they aren't acknowledging? What’s making them clam up? What weakness are they shying away from? What lies beneath this pretense of confidence? What is the anger they're suppressing?

It is important for the leader to spot these signals and decode them quickly. A large part of this information needs to be picked up from non-verbal signals and by reading between the lines.

Relax! The idea is not to start a psychological therapy session! But to pick up the signals, and then assuage some of these concerns in a resourceful manner. Use the signals to ask questions that lead to enlightening exchange of views and authentic awareness for both parties. With this level of understanding, the discussion gets transformed totally.

The trust that it generates is worth its weight in pure gold! Trust that the leader is not merely looking at "utilizing resources", but going several steps further to help people realize their potential. That's how you get performance  that isn't employment-centric, but employability-oriented and far beyond that, actually.

Getting people to set audacious goals, raise their risk appetite and go all out to attain them will seem like a natural progression. Several of your "B performers" have that benign "killer instinct". Help your leaders ignite that spark in their people.

Examine your curriculum and look for learning experiences that help leaders understand people and their unarticulated messaging better. You can call your modules  "Empathy" or "Social Intelligence" or whatever. Don't bother about terminology. The meaty part is the "understanding" thing.”

Moving Beyond Role Plays and Simulations

Talking about the learning experience, you want these skills to take deep root.

You want leaders to not just get the best out of these discussions, but to also come across as sincere. Of course, your training needs to have the right kind of case studies, group discussions, role plays and simulations. What more can you do?

Discreet 360 degree feedback might be a good idea, as a post training check, if you can afford the time. The idea is to eventually have them apply these conversational styles in day-to-day work situations. Not only in formal performance review discussions.

A personalized cheat sheet with key learning insights, plus some practical tips and tricks may also be a great idea. Ensure that there is a robust mechanism to keep the post training learning experience enriched and on-track.

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