Performance Reviews: Treating Employees as Adults

performance reviewsIn a great article ‘Revamp Performance Reviews to Strengthen the Employee Experience’ Kaya Ismail quotes Tracy Cote, chief people officer at Genesys, saying

“Employees hate performance reviews because they are [seen as] a waste of time. This is because employers fail to realize that employees want to be treated like adults. So, rather than giving them the business equivalent of a report card once a year, employers should encourage management to speak with their employees about their performance on an ongoing basis”

I was struck by Tracy Cote’s comment on treating employees like adults. I’ve recently been working with a group of mentors looking at exactly this issue – how to resist parenting our employees (and believe me, some of us do this much more often than we are aware of)

Performance Reviews: Parent / Adult / Child?

Tracey Cote is clearly talking about the design of the performance review system; the ‘report card’ element, but I think most of us managers might benefit from a quick review of our own performance review practices to check if we are (probably unknowingly) playing parent

My understanding is the concept of ‘Parent / Adult / Child’ comes from Eric Berne the Canadian born psychiatrist who created the theory of transactional analysis as a way of explaining human behaviour

A quick description would be:

Parent: an unconscious mimicking of how our parents (or other parent figures) acted – or how we interpreted those actions

Adult: an objective appraisal of reality

Child: in which people behave, feel or think similarly to how they did in childhood

Now there are complex reasons why a manager might find themselves in ‘parent’ mode (dealing with a persistent poor performer may be an example) but let’s agree that for the majority of employees it’s not an effective, or motivational, way to behave in a performance review meeting. Why?  Let’s take a look

Performance Reviews: The Parent Manager

When managers adopt the parent mode in a performance review they normally do this as ‘critical parent’ (which does what it says on the tin) rather than ‘nurturing parent’ (‘there, there’, ‘poor you’, ‘never mind’ – equally useless but at least less offensive)

Critical parent loves to tell (and tell, and tell). That’s their job right? So typically they:

  • Tell their employees how they’ve performed (the report card)
  • Tell their employees what they need to do to improve
  • Tell their employees what their targets / objectives should be
  • Tell their employees how their performance will be monitored
  • Tell their employees what their development goals should be

And on, and on, and on

Of course there’s absolutely no problem at all with managers being clear on expectations. Quite the opposite; it’s one of the key performance review and management skills. But as I illustrate in this blog, the most effective way of achieving that clarity is by having ‘adult to adult’ conversations where the manager AND the employee discuss their performance, objectives, development needs and so on

Performance Reviews: How to be Adults

As with many management skills or behaviours, the start point is often self awareness. So, the first tip I would give is simply to mind your language. If you find yourself in ‘tell mode’ ask yourself; am I playing parent here? If you are, and unless there’s a very good reason to do so, then just stop


Focus on seeking agreement

I know it sounds obvious, but very few people (with some exceptions) respond well to being treated like a 5-year old, or a willful teenager. And I know it’s hard (when you do know exactly what your employee should do and how they should do it) not to save time, cut to the chase and just tell them. But if you stand back, take some time and maybe use some of the techniques outlined in this blog to seek agreement you’ll be treating your employees as mature, intelligent, collaborative adults. And really, who wouldn’t appreciate that?


Would you like a step-by-step guide – that you can read in just 10 minutes – on how to run motivational performance review meetings?

performance appraisalThen why not take a look at my Kindle book ‘A step-by-step guide to running performance appraisal meetings that that motivate your staff to higher performance and higher job satisfaction’

This guide was easy to read, well structured and easy to follow… I particularly liked: the emphasis on motivation; the inclusion of job satisfaction ( not something I had come across as a specific appraisal topic before); the approach of drawing in the staff member to the whole process ( making them prepare and getting them to give their views first); the idea of sharing performance feedback and that the manager should be prepared to change their mind on whether objectives have been met in the light of information given by the member of staff.

You can check it out on Amazon (and try a sample) HERE

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