The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

santa_readingWhat do Santa Claus and performance reviews have in common? Basically, everything. Your boss may not look like a jolly man with a round belly and a stable of reindeer, but at performance review time, he/she certainly holds all the gift-giving power with their big bag full of bonuses and merit increases.

As a child, when did you start thinking about Santa Claus? April? August? No. You started thinking about Christmas when the big toy catalog arrived in the mail in late October. Suddenly, as you flipped through the pages and circled every item for your wish list, you remembered the naughty or nice list. No one worries about being on the Nice list in February! There are 10 months left to make up for February’s mistakes. We treat performance reviews the same way. Around November 1st, your employees start dusting off the set of goals they submitted to HR and keep their fingers crossed that they’ve achieved whatever they submitted. Why do they have to keep their fingers crossed? Because they probably don’t even remember what they submitted. That’s not a knock against the average employee, it’s just a fact.

As a leader, how many times did you reference your team member’s individual performance plan goals throughout the year? If you haven’t seen them since January, shout “Ho, Ho Ho” aloud.

As you shimmy down the chimney by asking your employees to complete their self-reviews, what items are you stuffing in your red gift bag? Toys or coal, right? With a traditional performance review, the end result is usually either a moderate merit increase or an individual performance plan and additional scrutiny. That sounds a lot like a bag of toys and a lump of coal. Is there anything in between those two dichotomous offerings? Studies show that average employees often receive above average performance reviews because managers don’t want to hold back merit increase opportunities for their team members. On Christmas morning, everyone gets a toy.

And finally, once Christmas is over, we spend only about 6 days enjoying the rest of the holiday season before we start dismantling the tree and carefully packing away the decorations. Each perfectly planned piece of Christmas cheer is bubble wrapped and stored in a plastic tote that will gather nothing but dust for the next 12 months. Each year we say we’ll plan more strategically next year. We won’t wait until the last minute to buy gifts and examine the Naughty/Nice list, but year after year, we approach performance reviews the same way—as an event.

Let’s face it. The performance review process is broken. It’s so broken that many companies are eliminating it altogether. Now, they’re not eliminating feedback, they’re just changing the performance review model from a once-a-year event to a process that involves real-time data, evaluation, feedback and coaching all year long. When your team becomes comfortable receiving immediate feedback and the opportunity to correct their behavior/actions, suddenly it will feel like Christmas all year long.