In just 43 short days we will be at the end of the 2017 financial year. Time for EOFY parties (time to let off some steam), mid-season sales (ohhh I would like some new ankle boots, thank you) and fat healthy budgets for 2018 (of course we can have our conference in Fiji!). But beyond this (albeit slight) chance to breathe out and start working on fresh plans, for most of us, the end of the fin year is the time for the often dreaded ‘annual performance review’. Yep, this is the time of self-assessments, sometimes boring or tick the box discussions, team calibration and bell-curve rankings.

We all know there are a heap of different ways that businesses manage performance. Some  great; some terrible; some beige, and some a mixture of all three. While approaches may vary, most processes will see a leader and their ‘direct report’ formally come together to discuss the good and bad of KPI’s, behaviour and development.

Ideally, this performance discussion should be one of MANY throughout the year, however for a lot of people this discussion is a VERY important one as it can link directly to bonuses, salary increases and even promotions.  While I don’t necessarily endorse this performance approach (in fact I don’t – I think there is a much better way of approaching performance which you can read about here), pragmatically I understand this the reality for many people.

So, given this – how can you nail a killer performance review – as either a leader and employee?

After years of working in HR (designing and running performance programs) and participating in performance discussions as both an employee and leader, here are my ‘tips and tricks’ from the other side. The ‘big four’ things that, from my experience, will ensure this is worthwhile conversation for everyone involved.

Care (really) about the other person

It’s a little known fact that people on both sides of the desk dread these conversations, so wherever you sit, start with an intention that this is going to be good for both sides. You won’t always find yourself from someone who shares your commitment, but you can certainly own your part. 

If neither of you care, the best you can hope for is a quick ‘tick and flick’ exercise – a wasted effort for all involved. If you both (honestly) care about each other and the discussion, and work hard to make it work, it may just be a worthwhile investment of both of your time.

Meet as two adults (not as leader and minion, or worse, overlord and victim)

The end of year performance review can be a weird one for people. I have heard it described as being ‘like a kid, handing in your homework’, or even worse, like ‘going into the courtroom and waiting to hear your sentence’. Dramatic, yes. But for some, a reality.

While you cannot deny that there is often a power distance between a leader and an employee, this doesn’t mean that one party gets all of the power the other gets none. In fact, such an unequal power distribution is bad for everyone involved. The leader feels like they need to tread softly and try not to damage the other person with their ‘power’; and the other person feels defeated before the discussion has even begun.

Performance discussions (like most discussions), work best if both the leader and individual involved approach the discussion like confident adults. Acknowledging both people have an important role in, a unique perspective and are accountable for their own role in the discussion and the overall performance.

For leaders this means empowering, expecting and supporting individuals to bring their best, have a say and play a real role in the discussion and outcome. For individuals, it means being brave and owning your own performance. It means being accountable, proud and even challenging.

Prepare (for more than 5 minutes directly before the review meeting)

Most people set aside five minutes to jot down a few defensive notes prior to the discussion, or if feeling really under siege, prepare three ring binders for their defence. Neither is useful. Instead, over time make sure you’re clear on the work expected and being done, keeping track of results and feedback, and having a few notes to summarise things. 

Preparing for a performance discussion shows the other person you respect, care and value the performance.  It is a great way to show you’re invested in the relationship.

For leaders, this means taking the time to really understand the person’s contribution. Even if you’re doing ten reviews in one week, for the other person it matters a great deal. Make it count.  Show them you value their contribution. If you need to give tough feedback, carefully think about (and even practice how you might do this) to make sure the person is receptive. Feedback is pointless, if no one hears it. 

For the individual, it means making a realistic assessment of your work and contribution.  What worked well, what you’re really proud of and what could have been better. Avoid the laundry list of the ‘101 best and worst for things of FY17’. Instead, be to the key things that really added value to the team, business and broader community. Use clear examples and real feedback, which can then help your leader represent you well in calibration/ranking processes. Remember, no one knows your real performance better than you. Own it.

Have a real conversation

Performance discussions are not the time for platitudes, smoke blowing or bath water drinking. Both people need to prepare for a real discussion, including the good and the tough stuff.

For the leader, this means being clear and honest about what was great, what could have been better and what should be improved. Provide clear examples, metrics and situations to help the other person understand your feedback and perspective. Be open to what you may have missed. Ask questions. Don’t shy away from the tough discussion points which need to be had.

For the person, it’s about being just as honest. Be proud and take ownership for what you did well, while acknowledging the others who have helped you and those you’ve helped. Be accountable for what didn’t go well, with ideas on how you’re going to improve. A word of advice – a performance discussion is not the time to tell your leader ‘it’s not your fault’ that some KPI’s weren’t nailed. By this time, it’s too late. In fact, making excuses is worse for your brand and reputation than taking ownership for what could be been done better.

So there it is. The ‘big four’. And yes, maybe these are not super sneaky ‘tricks’ that will guarantee you a performance rating at the far right of the bell curve, or secure you the biggest bonus in town, but they will add to the relationship you have with your boss. You’ll be predictably good to work with.

As a leader, you’ll be the person who put the time and effort into understanding contribution, giving great feedback, and being open to the things you might have missed.

When both people in the performance review actively try to add value to the conversation and each other, you are much more likely to make a real positive impact and focus on the outcomes that really matter to the business, team and you/the individual. And at the end of the day, that’s what a great approach to performance is all about.

Good luck. Hope it goes (really) well.