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  • Writer's pictureJosh Vaisman

3 Steps to a Motivational Performance Review

Have you ever bowled a perfect game?

That’s 12 strikes in a row for a score of 300.

No? Me either. Which is actually embarrassing given I spent 5 years of my life managing a bowling alley.

All those hours on or around the lanes, access to the best equipment money could buy, surrounded by talented bowlers all readily sharing advice, and I couldn’t hit that elusive mark of honor.

I did, however, meet my wife there. So it seems I won anyway.

And thank goodness, because the guy I worked for was horrible.

We never knew what mood he’d be in when he walked in the door. Heck, we didn’t know what mood he’d be in from hour to hour.

When things were going well we’d feel this odd mix of peace and alert. As if the wolf was asleep so it was ok to be in the area, but goodness do not make a ruckus!

If something went awry – the definition of which was a moving target – we knew immediately. Growls and barks and bites ensued as the wolf lost his shit and let us all know.

Critical feedback was a common form of communication. Did something well? Don’t celebrate for doing your effin’ job.

Oddly enough, when it came time for an annual performance review, we’d get very little from him. That is, when we got the review. Sometimes the “annual” reviews happened 18 months apart!

And they often went like this:

“You’re doing a fine job. Here’s a 3% raise.” End of review.

Needless to say, we had a lot of turnover and a highly disengaged team. Sure, the fear would keep us “in line” while he was in the building. And the cameras kept us at least appearing like hard workers when he was gone. But he did not get the best out of us. Not anywhere near it.

And no one believed he cared on bit about us as human beings.

Which is unfortunate, because the research suggests when we feel our manager actually cares about us and our success, we perform better, are more engaged, and bring an invigorated desire to improve to our work.

You Really Care

A recent study shows the link between perceived supervisor support (PSS) and motivation to improve (MTI) in a fascinating and powerful way.

When managers adopt a strengths-based approach to performance evaluation, employee PSS increases which drives up their MTI. As an added bonus, their ability to accept low performance feedback also goes up.

If we think our manager genuinely cares about and support our success and growth, we want to do and be better, and we are far more accepting of critical feedback.

There’s some critical nuance here. As leaders, we do often see opportunities for our people to improve and grow. There are often areas where they are struggling and need some coaching.

Strengths-based management need not ignore this reality.

The problem is, we’re already quite good at noticing the deficits, pointing out the flaws, shining light on the weaknesses of the people we lead.

If this is all we see and act on, our team is left feeling “less-than”. No one feels supported or cared for by someone who leaves them feeling deficient.

Strengths-based management is about balancing the need to improve with routine, targeted attention on what’s best in people.

Here’s how it worked in this study.

Your Rock. Do More of That.

The managers who excelled at a strengths-based approach seemed to do three things well:

  1. They identified their employee’s strengths

  2. They genuinely supported continued use & development of those strengths

  3. They helped the employees craft their work to give them more meaningful opportunities to use those strengths

As a result, their reports believed their genuinely spent time and energy discovering, appreciated, and offered support for further utilizing what’s unique and best in them.

When this was in place, even when under-performing team members were reviewed and given poor scores, they reported feeling positively engaged and motivated to improve.

Veterinary leaders, here’s a 3-step process for putting these lessons to use in your performance evaluations:

  1. Discover the team member’s strengths. A week or two before their review, ask three people who work closely with them to answer this question – “In as much detail as possible, what is Toni Technician like when she’s ‘at her best’?” You may do this in a one-on-one meeting or have them write it out. Don’t accept a one or two sentence response. Dig a little and try and get as much detail as possible. Look for themes and write them down. In the review, ask the employee to tell you what they feel like when they’re at their best at work. Then share your findings and explore.

  2. Develop and leverage those strengths. Together with the team member being reviewed explore opportunities to build on those strengths and use them in the future. What strengths does the employee want to grow? How can you support them in this?

  3. Craft more opportunities to use their strengths every day. Are there tasks, job duties, or projects you can delegate to this employee that would afford them more chances to let their strengths shine? Are there ways they may want to bring their strengths to their day-to-day work? What are they struggling with these days and how might their strengths help them overcome those struggles?

At the bowling alley, I was never confused.

My strengths were unspoken, by me or my boss. My weaknesses, however, were common fodder for yelling, admonishment, and “growth opportunities”.

Which is too bad, because I actually loved it there. The 1500 league bowlers became like family to me and I looked forward to seeing them every week. And my co-workers grew into some of my closest friends.

Sure, I was imperfect. There were things I needed to improve upon. But the longer he honed in solely on those deficits with eagle-eyed precision, the less motivated I became to be better. It wasn’t long before I’d be doing “just enough” to get by.

Truth be told, had he balanced the criticism with an awareness of the best parts of me a genuine desire to support my growth and success, I might still be there.

If we want to grow the best in our teams and organizations it’s not enough to fix the broken pots. We must also find what's the best seeds for each pot, plant accordingly, and support with nutrients.

In this way, from flaws come blooms.

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