Performance Appraisals/Feedback & Defensiveness: they go together!

4 Oct

Hi there

I recently wrote this in response to a question from our Georgetown Community List Serve…thought it might be “food for thought” for some of you too.

It is performance appraisal time for many of my clients– I remember from David Rock’s Brain Based Coaching Training that folks often know their shortcomings better than we do. Therefore, leaders might ask employees what they believe their highlights and enhancement opportunities are first… before giving their own appraisal thoughts.  This may ease the leaders’ conversation into a coaching path rather than a path of defensiveness.

I have learned personally that my best hack for my own defensiveness is to be curious instead of defensive. It sets my ego free. And when I am curious, I am also listening actively—and others may hear themselves more clearly through my reflection back to them.

Instead of spending time rationalizing a rating, I encourage leaders to be curious about where the defensiveness comes from their employees.

To me the real path to growth for both leaders and employees is to spend most of the conversation in feedforward rather than feedback mode. We can’t change the past, but we can change the future. Leaders and employees together can envision what they see as the best version and possibilities for themselves by describing the expected behaviors to get there. This creates a future focused envisioning scenario.

I keep thinking about “bad beats” described in The Biggest Bluff by Maria Konnikova. The more time we spend dwelling in the mistakes and “less thans,” the more we reinforce these behaviors to take hold in our brains. The more time we spend on the possibilities and future embodiment of expected behaviors, the more we can transform.

I also coach leaders to have an “intention” in their minds before going into these sessions. This keeps them tethered to their purpose as a leader, and not having to be right. 

And I just learned a new question to ask—”What is at risk for you to change this behavior?” Employees might discover their immunity to change…an unconscious commitment that keeps them trapped in their status quo. We can’t change what we can’t see!

Finally, if leaders only appraise performance annually, there is lots more opportunity for defensiveness to occur. No one likes surprises. Quarterly check-ins represent best practices today for performance appraisals.