Do Athletes Wait for Annual Reviews to be Coached?

The answer is an emphatic no! While I’m admittedly not a sports enthusiast, even I know that in sports, where athletes make multi-millions of dollars, they are coached frequently. Most often, coaching occurs the minute the play is over and sometimes in the moment that the play is being executed. Now I’m not condoning yelling at your team members from across the conference table in a crowded room, or talking to them red-faced and pointing at them in a threatening manner, I am advocating for a new form of performance management that is widely valued by all participants. I’ve often counseled managers who are too free with their criticism that they should praise in public and punish in private.

The truth is, there aren’t many fans of the laborious annual performance reviews that take hours to complete and leave all parties in a disengaged, lethargic state. So, what is the alternative to this method? I’ve been very successful in transitioning organizations to a new model of performance management that is more engaging for everyone. Removing the focus on an “annual” review process doesn’t eliminate performance reviews altogether but rather shifts the process to a coaching methodology where the dividends are much more robust and solid and measurable business results are the outcome. It’s a series of frequent, brief and meaningful conversations that serves as a catalyst to promote performance. It’s the content of the conversation that is the focus, not the documentation. While this may sound blasphemous to other business leaders and HR executives, it’s a more effective way to promote a high-performance culture.

This process is predicated on setting goals and keeping them current to reflect economic and business realities. Similar to traditional models, the goals should be based on SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time-bound) methodology. By establishing aggressive, or stretch goals, individuals are in a better position to push themselves to achieve more and to navigate their career more effectively. There is solid research supporting the importance of writing down goals. The mere act of writing down goals dramatically increases the potential for them to be realized. I also strongly suggest that goals be published and shared with colleagues, business partners and team members to ensure alignment across the organization as well as to create a source of accountability. Frequently check on your goals and progress against their completion to ensure that they are relevant to the current business and economic realities along with your assessment that you are on-track to complete them in the identified timeline.

Now, here’s when the most significant departure from traditional annual reviews comes; the introduction of coaching conversations. This is the most critical aspect of the shift from the former process that was more focused on the documentation or annual performance review form. Historically, I have worked with managers and employees who labored for hours over rating and documenting deliverables instead of creating a platform for a meaningful conversation. Brian Souza authored a helpful book on this model, “The Weekly Coaching Conversation” in which he presents it in a fable style around a story about a coach that mentors and develops others in the moment. It’s a worthwhile read and helpful in implementing a performance review system that is predicated on hosting valuable conversations. Eliminating the voluminous documentation process doesn’t mean that it is absent of all documentation, the key focus is the conversation, not the paperwork. I work with companies to ensure that the process is validated by documentation while ensuring that the highlight is the people and conversations that promote a more engaged outcome. The cadence of the conversations is flexible to meet the needs of the individuals, roles, projects and support requirements. In these coaching conversations, the manager and employee discuss key accomplishments, recent wins as well as performance exceptions but they are all addressed immediately when they occur along with remedial action until the issue is resolved and an acceptable performance level is restored.

The conversations also focus on career interests, job progression and identifying critical paths for promotion and development. As a manager/coach, it’s important to know the career aspirations of each team member in order to promote their development. These conversations also review development plans with each team member regularly to understand the progress made as well as being aware of any barriers that may be in the way. These development meetings are typically employee led as they are most aware of their own development needs. The manager can be an integral contributor to the development by removing obstacles and increasing exposure opportunities for the employee. The brief coaching meetings are documented with a simple email between the manager and employee to document the outcomes; key point being that either one of the attendees can initiate the email. That’s the beauty of this system, it’s simple and has dual accountability by the manager and employee. Exactly the reason that the outcome is more engaging-everyone has skin in the game. Increasing performance for high-growth firms has always been a passion of mine. It’s so fun to see how receptive organizations are to these performance conversations. Let me know how I can help you and your firm!

Published by Maggie Debner

HR Executive Coach & Consultant

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