Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Reviews Suck No Matter Which Side the Desk Your On. Get Used To It

Today's topic is pretty self-explanatory. I'm not going to go in-depth on how to get/give a review, but I am going to talk about what's going on during a review.

First, its important to walk into a review with a poker face in place, whether you're reviewing or being reviewed. As noted in the title, reviews suck.

Oh, yeah, there are the "glowing" reviews that lead up to someone getting a bonus, but those are a rare. Most companies require an area where the person being reviewed needs improvement. Its not a bad idea--walking out feeling like you don't need to change anything might make some people less inclined to try harder. No one is, by definition, perfect, so there should always be room for improvement.

I rather hate that about reviews. It's good to help employees be better employees, but every once in a while you run into someone and the only feedback you really want to give them is to keep doing what they're doing. But you still have to figure out where they're weak, point it out to them, and then demand some improvement on someone who is pretty much already a rockstar. Maybe it's because I'm not a fully mature manager that I hate that part, but, well, reviews suck.

That said, going into a review, you're pretty sure there's going to be a period where you're told you're not up to snuff, no matter how many awesome things you did. If you're like me, no amount of "atta boys!" will make up for one "And you probably could have done this better." Yes, I have hangups. Not everyone does. However, if you are dreading the "needs improvement" portion of the program (as the receiver) I recommend the following:

1) Prep a happy place. Maybe it's petting a cat, cuddling with a loved one, standing on the beach in Maui. Have the happy place at hand, and try to think about that while absorbing the stuff you need improvement on. Generally, you want to behave professionally when you're in the office, doubly so when you're receiving a review. Happy places help you even out your face to avoid "angry face," "sad face" and "fear face" all of which can be construed as something the manager may feel he/she needs to act on. Also, if you're prone to outbursts when strong emotions come on you, the happy place can help prevent them.

2) Bring paper and pencil. Yeah, the manager will tell you that you'll get the whole write up later, but the best way to make sure you internalize something is to write it down in your own words. It also--despite what the manager may say--makes you look like your paying attention and they kind of like that when people are talking to them.

3) When asked about their feedback, thank them. If you are feeling strong emotions, try not to respond right then; let them know you need to think about it and will respond later. When you're feeling strong emotions is typically the least likely time you should open your mouth in front of your manager. Always thank them for the feedback, though, and always follow up--if you said you would--with feedback, later. Maybe feedback your friend or co-worker has reviewed to make sure you don't get fired, and sent in written form.

When you're going into a review, regardless of how "good" the review is, when you're giving the review, I recommend the following:

1) Prep your happy place. People receiving reviews will often argue about whether or not they deserve the praise and they will certainly have something to say--unless they've been reading my blog--about the "needs improvement" portion of the program. You need to maintain a benign, pleasant and professional manner, and a happy place allows for that. Visit it frequently during the review.

2) Do not set things up adversarially. An employee on one side of the desk and the reviewer on the other, with the computer monitor partway between is way too much like to people in separate bunkers firing shots at each other. Move your chair to their side of the desk. Turn the monitor around so they can see the review and you can point at it. Literally and physically, be on their side. Some bosses think this means that they are giving up their power in the relationship by making things seem equal. To that, I say, suck it up; a desk doesn't make you a manager anymore than a bicycle makes a fish a feminist.

3) Take notes. Not on the computer--that seems very formal, and is a bit scary for folks in a review who might think you're just adding to the review itself. Also, if you're taking my advice and they can see the monitor, it's hard to make notes to yourself. Take a pad and a writing implement, and nod while they talk and freaking take notes; some may end up in the review, but some might be notes to yourself suggesting that you do a round robin approach in the next meeting so everyone can speak, which may help this particular individual improve on teamwork by feeling comfortable enough to add something to the team.

4) Repeat back what you hear. Most employees want to be heard. They'd love to receive gold bricks for their bonus and nine months of vacation, but hearing you repeat back what they've told you in your own words is pretty good, too. You don't have to agree with them, but you do have to show you heard and understood them. It takes down a barrier to them understanding YOU.

Note: people receiving reviews might want to do this, too, but given the emotional state they may be in, they should try to do this cautiously so it doesn't interfere with the "don't respond emotionally" concept above.

Basically, as someone being reviewed, you are effectively vulnerable to the reviewer. If you aren't, you are probably an idiot or already miserable at work enough to look elsewhere--the purpose of the review is to improve your performance so you can make more money, get a better job and/or to be happier in the job now. Reviewers rarely note the vulnerability of the review--after all, they may have five more of these to do--but a good reviewer will grasp that vulnerable people are in a state to learn from you, and not to be bullied or trampled over.

In the end, the emotional states involved with reviewing SUCK. It's a dance of "Your baby is ugly but here's how he can look better" and "Thank you for telling me my baby is ugly" where the baby in question is the person sitting in the room with you. While they suck, they serve an important purpose. Done properly, the baby gets prettier and gets a nice raise later on.

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