The Socially Intelligent Leader: Performance Reviews

26 Jun

It’s that time of year, when all good employees gird their loins for the opportunity to review themselves, their colleagues and their bosses. Some see this process as a chance to get something off their chests, to communicate a truth they’ve been unable to share during the regular course of doing business. Some approach it constructively, with the earnest intention of helping to make the collective business benefit from honest self-appraisal.

Every company has a different approach to the process. I’ve seen a few during my 20 years working in professional settings. In state government, the process is thorough but results are not connected to any incentives. In the private sector, insightful companies put in place programs that reflect the willingness of leadership to listen to employee input and incorporate it into building a better business.  Some companies follow a strictly democratic approach where 360-degree feedback drives the  review process, and others are based upon a hybrid approach where employee feedback is used but normalized by management.  In non-profits, evaluations are typically very thoughtfully conducted, and employee incentive is more linked to altruism than tangible incentives.

This is key: The review process itself must have integrity for employees to accept the feedback into their ways of doing business.

I have both delivered and received reviews this week. Upon some reflection, I do believe that this is an opportunity for all of us to embrace the leadership qualities that can improve our organizations. This includes:

  • Receiving flattering and not-so-flattering feedback with humility and honesty. Don’t get a big head, and don’t take things too personally—even though it feels personal. Some comments are to be absorbed because it’s not always easy to accept compliments. Others are to be viewed as outliers because they don’t make a difference in the long run anyway–and some people use the process as a way to communicate when instead they should have raised any issues in the moment rather than storing them up like squirrels bury nuts throughout the year. And still others are to be honestly examined for self-improvement, which is always possible.
  • Delivering reviews knowing that often you are the mouthpiece for others’ praise–which is gratifying to provide–AND others’ constructive criticism—not always so easy to share. Presenting the information in the context of your organizational reality is important positioning.
  • Finding ways to emphasize our strengths because—let’s face it—it’s hard to change habits that influence our “needs improvement” items. That being said…
  • Accepting weaknesses in ourselves and others with the wisdom of this adage: Give me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.
  • Once it’s done, move forward!

I found this article and video from Harvard Business Review to be particularly thought-provoking on the topic of social intelligence, a quality of leadership defined by empathy, connectedness and genuine desire to create an environment in which people are happy, inspired and productive because of these things. It’s a good reminder for the leadership in all of us that steps up to the plate at performance review time. At its core, this is an uber form of internal customer service, an “I’m not happy if you’re not happy, and our work will not be stellar if all of us aren’t in this together” ethic. In the course of my wanderings, I have grown to be more and more fascinated by this approach to leadership. It’s the Herb Kelleher style as opposed to the Donald Trump way of doing things. If I were queen for a day, I would wish this approach on all organizations. Of course, a combination of styles adds up to a successful business, but this one’s becoming more worthwhile in a world of businesses seeking transparency and authenticity.

Just something to ponder, for those who like a little balanced self-awareness during performance review season.

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4 Responses to “The Socially Intelligent Leader: Performance Reviews”

  1. Karen Twinem June 27, 2009 at 2:17 pm #

    Thoughtful column.

    • toknowbetter June 27, 2009 at 5:08 pm #

      Thanks, Karen. The social intelligence skillset is fascinating to me.

  2. Mark Henson July 14, 2009 at 4:53 pm #

    Back when I had a “real job,” I always hated reviews, simply because they were too few and far between. So when I started my own company, we instituted monthly “development meetings” with our staff instead. We basically have a performance review each month, only it’s focused as much on the employees goals and dreams as it is on improvements they need to make.

    We’ve found that by doing these so frequently, performance is rarely an issue because we’re in rather constant communication about expectations, strengths, areas of improvement, etc. Plus, I think we get a much more motivated staff because they know we’re really serious about their development.

    Yes, it takes some time, but only an hour for each direct report per month. Ours do follow a format, but we keep them rather informal/conversational. If you don’t have that kind of time, you probably have too many direct reports!

    • toknowbetter July 18, 2009 at 10:58 am #

      Great comment, Mark. I like this process. Maybe I can use it sometime…prefer the real-time feedback. More actionable.

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