Be The Coach, Not The Critic

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Many organisations use this latter part of the year to undertake the ceremonial business event of the year for white collar workers in post-industrial societies – the annual performance review. While 95% of people dislike them, they will go ahead. Managers dread them. Employees resent them.

There is no other business practice that is held to and practised so religiously year after year, that fails so often to bring about the outcomes it sets for itself. The very reputable Society for Human Resource Management found that more than 96% of appraisal systems are unsuccessful.

They cost a lot of money and produce mountains of paper work – still! Some innovative organisations have developed different approaches. Some tinker around the edges, but for most it is fundamentally the same.

It is rare to read an article that says much about them that is positive, but I did find one: How Performance Reviews Can Protect You From Unfair Dismissal Claims. I suspect this is one of the major reasons organisations keep doing them – to cover their backs.

The performance appraisal’s biggest defect is its tendency to focus backwards, to give feed-back, rather than to feed-forward.

Performance reviews “force” you, the leader or manager, into the role of the critic who passes judgement on your team member’s past performance. This is what causes the tension, stress and anxiety that see few handling it well.

There is a better way. Be the coach, not the critic. While few leaders and managers will have made an investment in developing coaching skills, this needs to be an area for your professional development in the future.

What do coaches do differently? They take an engaged and collaborative attitude and they communicate it.

You’re on my team. I have a game plan and I want all of you to play with me to win this game for the organisation and for your career development. I want you to work with me, not just for me. This is the role I want you to play. Can you do it? How can your team members assist you? How can I help? I’m going to set up a psychological contract with you – if you look after our organisation, and work with me to achieve its goals, our organisation will look after you and help you achieve your goals. What are your career goals? I will help you align them with those of the organisation so you can achieve them here. We are in this together. It’s a win/win game.

This is the inspiring and motivating conversation you have with your team.

  • You feed-forward to what they can do to achieve the fulfilment they want from their work in the future.
  • You focus on their strengths, not their weaknesses, on their behaviour, not their personality.
  • You create an empowering space where they can seize opportunities to become the best, to perform at a higher level than they did last year.

Leaders and managers who develop the skills to work with their people in this way will be highly sought after. These are the soft skills that are as equally important for your success as your technical, industry specific skills.