Why My Performance Reviews Fail – Creating expectations vs collaborating on goals

The worst performance reviews I’ve endured are those where I have had to explain how my hard work, creativity, innovation, and elbow grease failed to obtain the unrealistic goal some “corporate type” created for me with zero consideration for my specific abilities, my team’s past performance, and my local challenges.

Of course every organization has basic expectations – integrity, respect, boundaries, etc… Those are self evident and non negotiable – this blog is to address individual performance measures.

As I start the process of creating my own “midterm performance review” – something my manager doesn’t do but rather I create my own performance assessment then get “graded” by “the bosses” based on their assessment of my assessment of their goals dictated to me – I am reminded of how a poor performance review process can be confused with a “coaching experience” and therefore used for forces of evil in any business, when the original intent was to be a force of good…

Performance reviews should be to change behavior, not to punish. Too often the reverse tends to be the case. Why? Because in the past I too often let unreasonable and non collaborative expectations overshadow all other performance successes. I allowed the “easy way” method of having universal goals, then followed it with self assessments, closed out with poorly constructed (and one way) reviews, and thus the company, the manager, and the employee miss out on what should be a long term coaching relationship.

“It’s a good place when all you have is hope and not expectations.” Danny Boyle

Better late than never, I’ve realized that DISAPPOINTMENT is not so much a reaction as it is a wrecking ball. Disappointment’s closest friend, and the driving force for its existence, is EXPECTATION. Having a high expectation to one’s self is one thing, it’s how achievement happens in most cases, but disappointment rises when we place those expectations on others, or we allow those expectations to be forced upon us.

As a sales manager or production leader, disappointment, it turns out, is simply an ego driven placement of my own EXPECTATIONS, my own emotions, on someone else… We I what I “want to happen” – rather than what WE want to happen – on someone else, then we allow ourselves to be disappointed, angry or frustrated when they don’t play the role I created in my mental script. When there is AGREEMENT of a goal, then the results become a coaching opportunity. Where there are dictated goals, there will be something else.

“Anger always comes from frustrated expectations.” Elliott Larson

Collaboration is almost always beneficial. Not just in performance management, but in our interpersonal relationships. When I place MY expectations on someone else, and I assign them a certain role in my play, I automatically start looking for a specific result, response, reaction, or behavior that fits into my expectation, without regard for their intentions or their goals. With expectations assigned rather than agreed to, I set my team up for disappointment, and I set others up for frustration. From what we expect we most often wreck.

“In life and in movies, it’s a similar challenge, where you have expectations, and you end up in situations that are not meeting your expectations.” Jeff Bridges

The set up of others stems from our internal struggle with expectations. Consider the impact on the poor soul that falls into the trap of trying to fill your expectations. Chances are, in the win some/lose some game of “meet my expectations” – it is often self esteem that will be the first to fall. When others delegate themselves to OUR expectations, they are playing to our ego, and relying on us for validation, rather than taking ownership of their own esteem. Then they are condition to seek validation rather than take responsibility for their own esteem. Their professional growth is stunted, and their ability to take ownership of results in hindered.

When we can express ourselves for ourselves, rather than with an agenda, hidden or otherwise, of “I say this then you play your part” – we can truly see past our ego. Dictated expectations of others feed insecurity, resentment, and frustration. When I can let of expectation, I can let go of disappointment and get back to coaching for growth. This starts with building then sustaining a culture of collaboration, where managers don’t dictate performance goals, they work with their team to build custom goals where both parties have a voice, and where both parties buy in to the plan. Only then can I start a performance management process that is open to coaching, development, and trust…


About Frank

Consultant to small business owner/operators who want to grow their income, improve their efficiency, and implement successful systems to maximize productivity.
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