Performance Reviews: I Broke the Rules & Put My Team First

They were mortified.  As I looked at the confused faces of my team, I could barely contain my smile.  This was definitely going to be a moment of growth.

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I was in a series of performance review meetings with my team.  The reviews, mandated by the company we worked for, were outdated, did nothing to spur professional development and were unbelievably bloated (the annual review was 8 pages long !)

The premise was this: the manager listens as their team members tell us how they progressed against their quarterly goals and then we tell them what percentage of the quarterly bonus they qualified for (based on their performance).

My time wasting radar went off immediately.

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As their manager, I should already know how my team was progressing towards their quarterly objectives – that is part of my job. 

So, me being me, at the very first quarterly review I did something different.  The meetings were held with each team member individually.  As they would settle into their chair and prepare to read their quarterly status update to me, I stopped them and asked a question.

“What did you learn from pursuing your objectives?”

They gave me a quizzical look, so I continued “we both know which goals you achieved and which ones you didn’t.  I am more interested in hearing what you learned along the way.”

At first the responses were uneven, hesitant, then slowly taken over by a stream of consciousness-like flow.  Assumptions were called out, unanticipated challenges followed by how they would redesign their efforts or adjust their timelines to be more realistic if they could do it all again.  For me, this was more important, in many cases, than whether the objective had been hit. 

It is not about making excuses, it was about being accountable. 

Objectives and goals serve a purpose. I do not propose to reward someone who consistently fails to deliver and learns nothing from it.  I would, however, gladly recognize a person who achieves less than 100% of their goals and learns through the process over someone who achieved 100% by being a jerk to their coworkers.    

The majority of our meeting was devoted to them exploring the reasons why they failed or succeeded, how they might improve and what they took from the experience.  As the conversations naturally reached their end point, each team member anxiously awaited the moment of truth.  It was time for me to tell them how much of their bonus they qualified for. 

“I am supposed to tell you what you qualify for, but I’m not going to. You are.”

glendalynn dixon why are you asking me this

A confused face would stare back at me.

“Based on what you’ve just told me, and on your results this quarter, tell me what you deserve.”

Cue the horror music and discomfort.

My job as a manager is to develop my team.  This moment was a gift, one we would revisit every quarter.  I was determined to help my team build their confidence in stating their value.

We are funny little humans when it comes to stating our financial value.  With goals and objectives, most of us can definitively state if we achieved them or not.  As soon as we place a dollar value against that we clam up! My goal, as I quickly confessed to each team member when they finally answered, was to do just that. 

I assured them, this really is a no pressure situation. 

“Each quarter, instead of me dictating your value to you, you are going to tell me what you feel you deserve based the lessons learned and objectives accomplished.  If I agree, great.  If I do not, we will discuss where the gap is and work together to resolution.”

The reason, I told them, is practice.

I wanted to give them opportunities to practice speaking up to declare their value.  I wanted them to get used to feeling nervous so they could move beyond it.  It is important because one day they were not going to work for me.  They will need to ask their boss for a raise, demand better working conditions or draw a line in the sand…all of which rely on their ability to express their value with confidence.

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This quarterly opportunity remained a struggle, but my team understood why I asked them to participate and it became our new norm.  This exchange was a particular challenge for one individual.  They were incredibly talented, driven, yet had been overlooked for years before joining my team.  They were unable to see their true value.  This person could state they met 100% of their objectives (actually had surpassed some), describe the valuable insight gained along the way…and still could not comfortably answer the question of how much of their bonus they ought to qualify for. 

They would offer up a low-ball figure and keep chipping away at why even that might be questionable.  I would counter.

How many of your objectives did you achieve?

“100%”

Did you just spend a half hour describing, in great detail, all the lessons learned and how you can apply those going forward?

“Yes.”

So, what percentage of your bonus do you qualify for?

“100?”

That response was spoken with all the confidence of a freshman on the first day of grade 9. It was comical and exasperating. Clearly, for this individual, asserting their worth with confidence would take time. 

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By the end of the year, it was time for the 8 page annual review (don’t get me started). Part of the review was an open-ended reflection by the employee.

When it came time for me to read all the submissions, I couldn’t help myself, I went straight for the annual review written by that member of my team - the one who struggled the most with their confidence.  As I read their reflection, I started to shake.  They concluded their reflection by stating they felt strongly that they deserved a raise and went on to concisely detail their contributions to justify the request.

I put myself in their shoes, imagining how hard it must have been for them to type those sentences.  How long they had fussed over the exact wording. How much courage it took to finally save the file.  How big the knot in their stomach must have been when they finally hit ‘send’.

In that moment, the lump in my throat told me all I needed to know about why I choose to do things a little differently.


Glendalynn Dixon guides business transformations focused on culture, leadership & data management. She is a freelance writer, speaker and mentor who champions women in technology and uses stories from her wild ride of a life to challenge preconceived notions. She is also the creator of The Successful People Manager, a no-nonsense online management training program for leaders committed to professional growth.

Find Glendalynn on Instagram, LinkedIn or contact her here.

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