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I remember the first time I was on the receiving end of an annual appraisal. My hands were sweaty, my stomach was tight, and my heart was pounding. This would be the first evaluation added to my “official record.” I crossed my fingers and hoped that my supervisor believed that my strengths outweighed my weaknesses. To make a long story short, it turned out that my annual appraisal was more of a check in the box for my manager than it was an honest critique of my performance. After 45 minutes, all I learned was that I was meeting the requirements to fulfill my job duties. No helpful information was offered, and I left the meeting with no insight into what my supervisor felt I was doing well or how he would help me develop in areas where I needed to improve.
When I started my leadership development business, I noticed a trend: All my high-functioning clients had similar performance review methodologies. First, none used performance appraisals to guide pay raises or promotion decisions. Many of them didn’t even bother to do annual reviews at all. Instead, they had frequent strength-based conversations. I became convinced that these conversations are the difference between mediocracy and greatness. Here are the four most compelling reasons not to do annual reviews.
1. Conversations are more engaging than performance reviews
An exciting thing happens when you ask an employee what they believe they do well. Not only does the employee feel heard, but you are also opening up a dialogue and learning what the employee enjoys. Having a conversation focused on how the employee feels about what they are being asked to do is powerful. Understanding what that employee feels their strengths are allow you, as a leader, to develop a growth plan that will empower the employee to spend more time doing what they already want to do. It also helps shore up their weaknesses by creating a customized development plan that may include coaching, mentoring, training or counseling.
2. Conversations allow for greater accountability without fear of failure
Identifying innate strengths in your employees and finding new and creative ways to use those strengths gives employees and leaders opportunities that they didn’t know existed. As the conversation about strengths evolves, leaders must understand their role in the employee’s growth plan. At the same time, the leader and the employee are engaging in a conversation about what should take place to facilitate growth; they will also discuss their roles in making that growth happen. As a team with a common goal of capitalizing on strengths, leaders and employees align action with purpose.
For example, your conversation with the employee may go like this. “We agree that you are a great writer, and we need to find a creative way to leverage your skill. I will talk to the marketing manager and see if there is a possibility of using you to help build content. I will call them tomorrow and tell you what I have discovered.” By acting on behalf of the employee and the business, the leader is now the curator of success instead of a victim of a broken and outdated system that would have kept these strengths in check.
3. Conversations inform managers on how the team is doing overall
With a complete alignment of purpose and method, all that remains to complete this cycle is to measure how well we are doing. Each team member understands their role and the expected outcome and they’re now free to discuss results. Both the leader and the employee understand why and how these newfound strengths are directly connected to team success. Conversely, a new path can be charted if the actions did not yield the expected results.
4. Strength-based conversations provide flexibility for leaders
Imagine a world where your contribution is measured by how successful your organization is at growing talented people. What if you were no longer constrained by a job description but instead expected to help people grow out of their position. Suppose we could focus our attention on assisting employees in refining their skills while increasing their overall contribution to the business. Wouldn’t this give you the freedom to help your team be successful in the most efficient and empowering way possible?
For many, doing away with a weakness-focused appraisal system is terrifying. A strength-based culture that values growth, teamwork and leadership seems like an out-of-the-box idea and can make some leaders anxious. The simple answer is: You start at the beginning. Start today by having an honest discussion with leadership about how you can start focusing on your team’s strengths and utilizing those to build an evolving and resilient organization.