Management Consulting Strategies

SURPRISE!… don’t meet expectations



SURPRISE!… don’t meet expectations


Well, it’s that time of year no not the holidays…the dreaded “Performance Review”. I say “dreaded” because for many of you it’s a stressful intense time where your year’s performance is center stage. My argument has always been that this should be the most positive “look forward to” experience of the year. If the performance review truly reflects what took place during the year then both parties should have the expectation that the conversation is a reflection on lessons learned and progress moving forward…..unfortunately this doesn’t always take place. Often times the performance review is a crap shoot where the receiver of the review goes into the meeting having NO idea what the result is going to be. This is unacceptable. I can certainly place blame on the leadership (e.g. boss, manager, “the big cheese” etc) for the lack of consistent feedback/communication during the year which would minimize any surprise during the review, but the employee is just as much at fault. If there’s consistent coaching on the part of leadership and proactive follow through from the employee the performance review at the end of the year should be a formality. In other words the “Performance Review” should be implemented throughout the entire year if you think about it. In the sales business we would have what’s called a “field conference report” that would be utilized throughout the year to consistently measure sales performance and the competency of the sales representative. It’s a wonderful tool for the sales manager to implement as a coaching apparatus while also keeping tabs of performance so that by the end of year you have solid performance data. By performance review time if the sales manager and sales representative had consistent work sessions and dialogue during the year the performance review was much more a productive/positive meeting. This same process can be implemented for other internal disciplines (e.g. marketing, operations, HR etc). One of the most unfortunate occurrences that take place during the performance review is the exposed lack of clear communication during the year between manager and employee. For senior leadership in an organization the performance review not only provides performance metrics….it exposes how employees work together or for that matter not work together. I give this example often and have highlighted it in my recent whitepaper Cross Functional Leadership…. “Leading Across The Ambiguity Aisle” , it comes from my favorite author Ferdinand F. Fournies:

“It has become quite common in recent years to blame performance problems and organizational conflicts on poor communication. The face-to-face medium is the predominant medium of communication between manager and employee; therefore, it is of critical importance. I remember a story in the New York Times, following a baseball game between the Boston Red Sox and the Yankees in Yankee Stadium. The story explained that when the score was Boston 5, Yankees 3 in the ninth inning, and the Yankees were at bat with two outs and two men on base, a new relief pitcher was sent in. The coach instructed him to pitch tough. The first pitch resulted in a home run. Afterward the coach was quoted by the New York Times: “If that’s pitching tough. I don’t know what pitching soft would be like”. Obviously there was a lack of communication”.[1]

“The Ambiguous Review”

Have you ever received a performance review that seemed out of left field? It didn’t line up with what took place during the year….the good ole “Ambiguous Review. This by far is what gives the performance review process its bad name and causes the bulk of the stress. I use to anticipate quite accurately how a performance review setting was going to go by watching the beads of sweat roll down my leadership team’s forehead. From a leadership perspective this didn’t provide me satisfaction in part because I felt responsible for the stress of not properly preparing my team throughout the course of the year. Again, and I repeat the performance review process should be a formality in capping off the year where both parties are expecting the same result…whether it’s a good or bad review. Ambiguity often occurs when both parties haven’t had the same level of commitment towards communicating what has taken place throughout the business year. I say commitment because there’s no effort to ensure there’s an agreement on “Expectations”, “Performance”, and “Accountability” during the year which causes the ambiguity at the end of the year. Make no mistake both parties are at fault for the ambiguity and unlike many I do not believe it’s just a management problem, employees have just as much accountability to ensure throughout the year there’s communication with their leadership that expectations are being met. To be surprised of a “Not Meets Expectations” or poor review should be unacceptable and not tolerated if you’re in a senior leadership position. As a matter of fact there should be an evaluation on that type of response because it clearly demonstrates what didn’t take place throughout the course of the year….COMMUNICATION. The ambiguous performance review can cause all sorts of HR issues that need not be spelled out (I think you can name a few), but critically can cost a company millions of dollars if ambiguity is allowed to continue metastasizing in a corporation.    

Steps to Avoid the “SURPRISE!… don’t meet expectations” review

Below are steps both management and employee can take throughout the course of year so as to avoid the stressful “Performance Review”:

  1. FORGE A PARTNERSHIP: be predictable by letting each other know what you expect from a leadership and subordinate perspective. Lead by example and inspect what you expect consistently throughout the course of the year. Effective communication is a must.
  2. INSPIRE A COMMITMENT: ensure that “Development” is a focus on every work-session, and placing a feedback/tracking system to keep both parties engaged and aligned to performance and development expectations.
  3. GROW SKILLS: create an effective learning environment; discuss with each team member and gain agreement on ways to work with them that will promote partnership and a learning opportunity throughout year. Weekly Status reports from team will also help aid the development process.
  4. PROMOTE PERSISTENCE: ensure the team remains focus on executing objectives/goals. Each team member will be held accountable to execute results in their given responsibility (through status reports, sales results, and development plan). Each work-session will begin with the review of prior actions plans that were completed to ensure follow through.
  5. SHAPE THE ENVIRONMENT: (For Management) complete quarterly a 360 Feedback review from your team on your performance. Ask team members what kind of feedback and support they would like from you. Recognize development efforts and continue creating an environment where learning, consistent feedback and accountability are the culture.

SURPRISE!… don’t meet expectations


Take a look at our whitepaper: Cross Functional Leadership….”Leading Across The Ambiguity Aisle”

Thank you!

Andre’ Harrell

AH2 & Beyond Consulting


[1] “Coaching for improved work performance” (Ferdinand F. Fournies)


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