As we roll toward the middle of July, it’s fair to say that summer is in full swing. There is so much to enjoy this time of year: trips to the beach, lazy weekends by the pool, taking in a baseball game and mid-year sales performance reviews.
What’s the matter? Not a baseball fan? 🙂
The mid-year review can be a powerful coaching and motivational tool if done well. But the reality is, for many the process is just another administrative task that both the field sales leader and representative muscle through in order to move on with their busy lives. And while I’m not sure there is anything that can be done to turn this process into a day at the beach, there are some actions we can take as leaders to help improve both the experience and impact of the exercise for our teams.
People with strong HR expertise and loads of academic research data have written extensively on this topic. That’s not what you’ll find here. What follows are 12 practical tips (of probably hundreds that could be written…) that come from spending time in the field on both sides of the table for a mid-year review. Hopefully one or two will strike a chord and make a difference for you and your team this year:
- Mindset: early and often, remind yourself that you’re doing a mid-year performance review for a real, live person. That person is not just a collection of sales data and competencies but rather a complex human being with goals, dreams and aspirations. I respect that we need to anchor a review in observable, tangible examples – but never forget the person. Less process, more people.
- Start Early: We all have a ton going on but don’t wait until the last minute to get started. The first thing we do under time constraints is cut corners. The quality (and eventual impact) of work goes down as the amount of copying, cutting and pasting goes up. Schedule blocks of time well in advance to craft thoughtful, well researched comments for the folks on your team.
- Gather information FIRST: I hate stretching before I run but I know it improves the overall quality of my training and helps me run longer and faster. The same idea holds true here. Invest time in collecting your performance examples first. Don’t just jump in to start writing a review and THEN scramble for examples. You’ll never get into a writing “flow” because you’ll be jumping around and searching through e-mail, documents, etc.
- Set clear expectations: It’s really important to set clear expectations for your team around what competencies are being reviewed, what powerful examples look like and precisely what they can expect from you in the process. Also, it’s critical to proactively offer direction to your team around expectations for writing their self-evaluation (if that’s part of your process.) I shamelessly borrowed language from a colleague this year which I felt hit the mark!
- Write offline: If you’re formally documenting mid-year performance review information in some kind of an online system, consider first using a simple offline tool, like MS Word. This approach allows you to be flexible with your writing time (no need for Wi-Fi and no fear of a dreaded outage before you hit save), offers reliable formatting options and creates a copy you can save in your records.
- Limit the jargon: The language in the mid-year review you write should sound like YOU, not like a stitched together quilt of business clichés and corporate jargon. Remember you’re writing this for a person. It certainly needs to sound professional and include appropriate references to the list of competencies you use but it should still sound human. Steve Woodruff offers some great insights on jargon here in a recent blog post.
- Be direct: No one loves to be flowery and long winded in writing more than I do, but it has no place in a performance review. (There…I tried.)
- More results, less activity: Performance reviews are often just a long inventory of activity. The more stuff you can write down, the better. But we’re in sales, so what really matters is the RESULT of activity not just being busy. This puts the performance in performance review. So, include fewer examples in your writing and instead focus on depth and explanation around the impact that a person’s effort had (or potentially, didn’t have.)
- Pick a creative spot to meet…Nothing screams “I mailed this in” as much as camping out at that same old Panera Bread again to discuss a performance review. If you’ve taken the time to prepare and write a thoughtful review, have your meeting place reflect that same level of effort. You’ll be shocked at how much more energy is in the discussion with a change of scenery. Check out that cool coffee shop in town, grab lunch at a place you’ve always wanted to try or even take a walk and talk. It’ll be worth it!
- Be present: We are all pressed for time and trying to juggle more projects than we can realistically handle. But for the block of time you have to discuss a review with someone, they deserve your full attention and energy. Don’t cram 5 meetings into one day if you can help it. Consider doing it first thing in the morning so you’re fresh and fully caffeinated. Put your cell phone in your bag. Make sure you have the time, energy and attention to show your team that you’re invested in them.
- Embrace candor: This is a really important time of year to let members of your team know exactly where they stand because there is ample time left to make adjustments, if necessary. Avoiding tough conversations or glossing over strong performance will only hurt the progress of your team and make an end of year discussion even tougher.
- Stay future focused: Spend more time in your mid-year review discussion on the next steps versus the recap. The “review” portion of the review should really just set the baseline for a more important conversation around what to do next. If you’re direct and candid enough in your comments, there should be plenty of time to focus on the future. Get your team involved deeply in that conversation and help them set a clear course for success.
If a bunch of mid-year review discussions are in your future, I hope this list got your wheels turning around ways you can prepare for, write and deliver a better overall experience…for you and your team!
Please leave any suggestions or thoughts you have on the topic of performance reviews in the comments section below and if you found this helpful, consider sharing it with someone who could benefit as well!
Until next time,