The annual review | Turning the Review into a Coaching Session

One day two decades ago, I was sitting at my desk, flipping through an employee’s annual review and growing more frustrated by the minute. I remember thinking, Man, what a waste of time. There’s gotta be a better way to do this. My compliance-conscious HR people had insisted I use the same tired performance review form that had been around since the Industrial Revolution: Ask generic questions, circle “meets expectations” or “exceeds expectations,” drop in the employee’s file.

Review results

We’d briefly check the status of his operating-plan goals and other high-priority objectives that he was assigned during the year. This was largely an overview since I’d been monitoring his progress during our weekly one-on-ones

Assess strengths and developmental needs

First, I’d ask the employee to read me the positive attributes he listed in his self-appraisal. I’d endorse his assessment, then share his subordinates’ laudatory observations: “Okay, Joe, here’s what your team members had to say. Four of them said you’re really caring; three say you’re running tighter meetings.

Next came favorable feedback from his peers: “Wow, a couple of your peers also noticed you’ve been more empathetic. You must be putting extra effort into that. Way to go.” Then it was my turn. I’d affirm everyone else’s positive remarks and compliment him on anything else I noticed over the past year. (Although I have a pretty good memory, I’d also rely on the reminder notes I dropped into his file throughout the year.)

The best employees were realistic about the review and used it to their advantage. “All that honest feedback taught me a lot about myself,” said Hank, a key exec. “But if I had ten or twelve things that needed improving, I was never crazy enough to think I could fix all of them. I’d pick out the top five and work on those for the year.” Hank paid particular attention to the multiple complaints and ignored the one-offs. “Maybe you ticked somebody off and it was payback time,” he said. “Welcome to the world of management.”

After wrapping up the NTIS, I’d recap and affirm what was going well: “Overall, Joe, you’re doing a super job. You’ve got a great outlook, and a superior work ethic, and you interact well with your people. I’m impressed with your determination to get on top of the challenges we discussed, like keeping your temper in check, clamping down on payroll expenses, and getting more disciplined.”

Look to the future

I’d ask him to read me his self-appraisals career goals, both two and five years out. If his abilities matched his ambitions, I’d help him determine the action steps that would take him from daydreaming to day-doing. If he wanted to nab a promotion, I’d suggest a seminar or mentor, which he’d duly record in his Goals Activity Report. Finally, I’d congratulate him and thank him for his efforts.

Brad Burley credits the Roundtable Review for his promotions. “I was very comfortable expressing my career goals to my supervisor,” Brad said. “Out of those discussions, I went from being a store manager to being a wholesale sales manager to being a regional manager. That kind of upward mobility was built into our system.”

Last word

The Roundtable Review is a potent developmental tool. So I got upset when a sales associate at our Milwaukee store told me he hadn’t had a review in two years. I apologized and told the store manager and regional manager who was there with me to do his review before the week was out. At the next executive-committee meeting, I brought up the incident and said lapses like that were intolerable.

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