How One on One Meetings Help You Give a Great Performance Review

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Even a mediocre performance review is difficult to produce if you don’t have information to write something meaningful. But if you want to give a GREAT performance review it’s essential that you have information that helps your team member feel noticed, encouraged, challenged and known. But what’s the best way to prepare to have a great performance review? Great one on one meetings, of course!

Make feedback a regular thing

If you’re familiar with any other content in the Uptick universe, you know we’re passionate about establishing a regular rhythm of one-on-one meetings. Making feedback the norm for your team helps keep your team engaged, working on the right things and developing deeper relationships. Let’s take a look at the numbers. Gallup has found that when managers provide weekly (vs. annual) feedback, team members are:

  • 2x more likely to strongly agree that they receive meaningful feedback
  • 2x more likely to strongly agree they are motivated to do outstanding work
  • 7x more likely to be engaged at work

Having regular one on one meetings will provide an opportunity to build healthy relationships with high levels of trust. If done well, your weekly one on one will be motivating and empowering as your employees provide input to their growth and goals as well as the growth and goals of their team and company.

Hidden benefits of regular one on one meetings

We addressed a few answers to the question “why one on one meetings” in a previous post. But here are a couple less obvious but important benefits of more regular one on ones:

  • Frequent conversations allow for many deposits (listening and encouraging your team member), so when it’s time to make withdrawals (having the inevitable difficult conversations) there is more in the bank. You’ve built that trust over time.
  • By creating some structured meetings, you can set up the systems you need to gather information so you can have all you need in one place! So wherever your “one place” is, (I use Uptick, of course), make sure you put you have a single repository for your most critical (and sometimes forgotten) feedback. More on this later.

Do one on one meetings help de-fang reviews? I asked my team.

After doing 1:1s with my team for a few years, I asked those who had been around a while if those meetings changed how they felt about performance reviews. EVERY SINGLE PERSON said it did, largely because our regular meetings dealt with constructive feedback real-time. There were no “gotchas” in the performance review because all the hard conversations had already happened. And they seemed less devastating because they were handled in the moment.

Providing regular feedback allowed the performance review to be more of a coronation than a confrontation. Because we worked on the issues as we went, I was able to highlight the progress my team members had made instead of simply pointing out their shortcomings. No wonder they appreciated our one on one meetings!

But to create a feedback culture, start with yourself!

If you, as a manager, consistently seek out feedback in the context of your one on one meetings, you will significantly impact the effectiveness of your review process. By setting the tone and accepting constructive feedback, you’re modeling humility and teachability that will then trickle through the team. Or, perhaps even run through it like a raging river!

Years ago I was managing a large team, and one of our responsibilities was to train speakers interested in improving their communication skills. Given that I was regularly speaking to both students and the larger team, I was modeling what we were teaching. Or, better said, I was trying to model those principles.

One of my leaders who was in charge of our communication training suggested that I have trainers evaluate me in my own communication.

My first thought was – WHAT??

I knew they wanted to help me, but it felt weird. People that reported to me were going to evaluate me? But, on the advice of this leader I did some soul searching and agreed. From that point on, any time I gave a talk there were 3 trainers in the back taking copious notes, which they delivered to me after I spoke.

It proved incredibly helpful to me on a couple fronts. One, I became a better speaker. Their feedback was clear, specific and was given real-time. Since I spoke fairly often, this allowed me to incorporate their feedback in short order. Two, I modeled this process to everyone in the organization – no one was above receiving feedback. It really DID improve our culture. It wasn’t always comfortable, but receiving feedback became more “this is what we do to get better” than “oh my gosh, someone is criticizing me”.

Would you like to boost productivity, increase trust and have a healthier, happier team?

Download your FREE 1:1 guide now!

How this works in your one on one meetings

You need to specifically ask your team members for feedback. Have you seen reality shows like American Idol where horrible musicians audition for the show. They have been told by their friends and family that they’re great, when in reality they’re…um…not. Why does this happen? Because people won’t tell you the truth unless you beg them to be honest.

So, beg.

It might be scary for them at first, (and probably for you!), but once you show them you want the feedback by expressing gratitude and not reacting negatively, they’ll become more comfortable with it. And so will you!

One on one meetings help give you context for the review

Your team doesn’t check their lives at the door when they come to work. They are whole people, and what’s going on in their lives will affect how they interact and perform with the team. Regular one on one meetings will help you build a relationship where you may have more insight into what you’re seeing in their work. Of course you need to be careful notto pry, but as the relationship grows you will likely start to learn things like:

  • Have they had a child? Moved? Struggled with illness?
  • What do they like to do?
  • Where did they grow up?
  • Do they like the outdoors?
  • Did they just finish a good book?
  • How many kids do they have?
  • How are they feeling about their career trajectory?
  • How do they like to recieve feedback?

You can see that there are a broad range of things you can learn about your team members by more regular, transparent conversations. And due to the number of people working in a remote environment, this may never be more important than it is now. Really getting to know your team member by understanding context is a essential to giving an informed, meaningful performance review.

One on one meetings reveal the story arc of the review cycle

A lot can change for a team member over six months, and you can’t understand that journey as a series of isolated data points. Instead, by documenting my one on one meetings, I find a narrative that looks at an individual’s entire journey. Thinking of mid-year reviews as a story helps you to find the context of what went right and what went wrong.

After gathering information real-time in the one on one, I look at my notes for a team member from oldest to newest. That helps me find that story arc the way a reader would. That way I can say, “The quarter started off with the team member working at a certain level and working on specific goals. Later, we hit an obstacle and dealt with it, recalibrating goals as we went.” This is what this looks like in Uptick (for a more in-depth look, click here):

Be a real-time information gatherer

Everyone likes to feel seen, heard and resourced. By having the information you gathered real-time and communicating it to your team members you will gain a platform to both encourage and exhort your team member. And having this information allows you to answer questions like:

  • Is their performance improving quarter by quarter?
  • Are they acquiring new skills, contributing to your company culture and meeting the modest goals you set for them?
  • Are they pushing or needing to be pulled?

I have a specific example where having real-time information saved me quite a bit of embarrassment. A couple years ago I had a member of my team, typically a very high performer, who went through a month where he was barely productive at all. In our review cycle, he did a GREAT job for the first two months, but in the last month it was as if he took a nap.

So review time comes along and what do I remember, the two great months of productivity or the nap?

You guessed it…the nap.

When I went into Uptick and reviewed the quarter I was quite surprised, and I was able to give a balanced review. He knew he had struggled, but he also knew he had done well early in the quarter. Addressing both saved me the embarrassment of recency bias, and it deepened our level of trust significantly.

Bonus thought: Know what motivates them

Many people have a visceral reaction to personality inventories. But they have their place if you’re willing to ACTUALLY get to know your team members. Understanding your team member is the goal, and having access to some specific tests can help you serve your team well.

Here are a couple I like:

  • StrengthsFinderThe Clifton StrengthsFinder™ measures the presence of 34 talent themes (strengths). This is my personal favorite. Since it deals with strengths, it generally resonates well with our staff.
  • DISCThe DiSC profile is a non-judgmental tool used for discussion of people’s behavioral differences. The DiSC model provides a common language that people can use to better understand themselves and adapt their behaviors with others—within a work team, a sales relationship, a leadership position, and other relationships.
  • Myers Briggs Type IndicatorThe Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® (MBTI®) personality inventory is an introspective self-report questionnaire. It reveals psychological preferences in how people perceive the world and make decisions.
  • EnneagramThe Enneagram of Personality, or simply the Enneagram, is a model of human personality broken down into 9 interconnected personality types.
  • There are, of course, many more!

Of course, the goal not to box them in by assuming they are somehow an aggregate of the information you accumulate. Instead, genuinely seek to help them. Knowing more about each team member will be incredibly helpful to you.

Wrapping it up

I think we can all agree that performance reviews are generally hard, and often awkward. But they don’t need to be a liability. By having regular one on ones and gathering real-time feedback you will see that performance reviews can actually enhance your relationships with your team members.

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