Constant change requires leaders to excel in the basics

10 skills at the heart of every leader’s arsenal.

“Topic 6 – Achievement reviews.”

transcript written by Wayne Brown

Hello and welcome back to our series; constant change requires leaders to excel in the basics.

Today we continue our discussion about team and employee feedback by looking closer at turning the traditional approach of the annual performance appraisal on its head and offering achievement reviews instead.

It’s a logical step if you have already adopted the learnings from the previous five leadership basics. And by now, your team would be motivated and heavily engaged while working on their assigned and chosen tasks. They will be able to see and share their progress & at the same time receive ongoing & immediate feedback.

Hence, the need to conduct that one-off annual performance review is greatly diminished. Instead, we turn this event into an opportunity to celebrate the success each employee is experiencing. Given that we’re at the halfway juncture of this series, however, and before plunging headlong into this topic, let’s quickly recap what we have covered in the first five episodes.

Topic 1: Understanding your place in the team – looking at nine key stakeholders and managing and setting expectations.

Topic 2: Motivating your future team – turning our focus to one of the key stakeholders and learning about seven primary considerations to achieving positive and sustainable motivation.

Topic 3: Creative delegation techniques – introducing task prioritization & the correct assignment of those tasks, but incorporating Activities of choice, showcasing progress & team collaboration.

Topic 4: SMART rules and reward goals – modernizing the traditional SMART goal setting tool by adopting an online gamers mindset to enable immediate gratitude and feedback (at least weekly)

And last topic 5: Feedback strategies – where we looked at the importance of everyone soliciting feedback, whether informal and formal and for the leaders, we offered several tools to improve their ability to prepare and deliver.

And one last item before we start our discussion on replacing the traditional performance review with our Topic 6 alternative, called Achievement reviews.

First, the technology uses web and mobile-based applications that offer instant real-time feedback to employees and leaders alike. In addition, many of these applications provide a modern version of the 360-degree employee assessment.

More and more organizations are adopting this approach from start-ups thru to Fortune 500 companies. Awareness of this practice was recently showcased by Tony Robbins and his interview with Ray Dalio (one of the greatest Hedge Fund managers of our time). Dalio explains the process adopted within his company Bridgewater and the tremendous value the use of this feedback application has bought to the employees and company alike. Essentially during any given period (meeting or at any time when the system is open), an employee or leader can provide feedback to other team members. The receiving team member can receive this feedback immediately and react or adjust accordingly.

So, we’re now ready to tackle our feature topic by throwing out tradition and the annual performance review process and replacing it with our approach, which focuses on the successes rather than the improvement gaps or failures.

To kick start this, we begin with a long-standing motivational theory. How many of you recall in topic two that we spoke about several motivational theories? One of these was the Needs theory or Acquired Needs theory from David McClelland.

From his research, he concluded that people have motivating drivers that are directly linked to needs, regardless of age, gender, culture, or race. He identified 4 of these needs as achievement, affiliation, power & avoidance.

McClelland also developed his version of the iceberg model, using the same Needs Theory. The Iceberg model looks at a person’s visible behavior, knowledge, and skills plus the underlying, unexpressed and unconscious HIDDEN deeper layers.

It provides an insight into the (learned) needs of someone based on his Acquired Needs Theory and links this to what the person does (i.e., what’s visible above water level) and what they think and want (which are hidden and below the water level).

In short, we want to utilize the learnings from this theory and model to understand how we can maintain our employee’s motivation during this dreaded once or twice a year event. Ensuring that we focus on achievement, affiliation, and power while being careful not to trigger any hidden (below the water) reaction in the minds of our team.

Rather than go cold turkey and turn off the performance evaluation mentality all at once, we’re going to provide here a soft transition. By offering an interim step, we hope to make everyone feel more comfortable doing this gradually. Therefore we discuss first a practice that has become quite popular in recent years, and that is the use of 360-degree feedback.

The traditional method of 360-degree assessment has always been quite costly to perform, particularly with a large volume of participants. Therefore these assessments are conducted less frequently and for special occasions, such as Leadership or talent development, and perhaps with some coaching scenarios.

Fortunately, the evolution in technology has also impacted many of these HR assessment platforms, and with it, we can find relatively lower-cost 360-degree assessment options for businesses.

The concept, however, remains similar. The person seeking feedback will request input via a questionnaire related to their performance. Typically, in addition to rating themselves, they seek this input from peers, direct reports, and their immediate boss. Still, from time to time, the clustering may be broader and involve customers or suppliers, depending on the circumstance.

There’s considerable advantage in this approach over and above the one-on-one performance review. The cross-section of respondents provides a balanced means of comparative feedback, which is easier for the employee to accept and often offers insights which the leader may not have known existed. 

However, the real challenge is to ensure that the results are interrupted correctly and the feedback coupled with concrete actions as an outcome.

The downside to the 360-degree assessment process is that it is seldom specific to the individual’s role or tasks and, more so, around personalities.

Therefore, the final method addresses that issue and is our preferred concept for all semi-annual or annual reviews – we call it the Achievement Review (remember the McClelland Needs Theory).

As the name implies, leaders will meet with the employee to acknowledge their successes during the past 6 or 12 months. If this leader has adopted our methods from topics 1- 5, this will be a consolidation activity. All the tasks or projects having already been discussed weekly throughout the year.

The initial acknowledgment meeting will still be in private one on one.

And then, continuing from our earlier online gaming phenomenon, each employee’s project results will already be known. The consolidated results can be made visible to the other team members, thus creating a form of competition,

But they are also offering the opportunity for continued, immediate gratitude and feedback from all. (again, remember McClelland’s theory and the need for Affiliation and Power).

Through this method, you skillfully satisfy all three motivational needs based on visible behaviors (i.e., above water actions) while also shaping the deeper & hidden thoughts and wants.

The outcome is a reinforcement of great performance, which becomes somewhat self-perpetuating for the employee and a sustainable, results-driven team.

Hopefully, you’re able to see how each of these six topics feeds into and supports each other. It’s not a linear approach but a truly powerful combination of parallel skills and activities. In short, an excellent way to the end of topic six and our focus on feedback. Well, almost – in topic 7, we acknowledge that even the best leaders and their teams have their moments, where not everything goes as scripted. There are those times when individuals express or demonstrate their disapproval about a situation. It’s human nature and a part of our DNA.

Suppose you remember the learnings from the SCARF model. In that case, you’ll recall that we each have our own unique personal behavior preferences, which ensures we can perceive situations as a threat just as easily as we can a reward.

It’s therefore not likely that every member of the team will always agree with everything the leader wants or needs to do.

So, in the next episode, we look at this reality and explore ways to deal with it – from handling conflict to turning the situation into a problem-solving exercise where everyone can learn and grow. 

We hope you are enjoying this series so far and have already subscribed to our video channel Mentors Rant and our podcast channel couchTALK. If not, we’d love to have you join us and receive your feedback and thoughts about these episodes, so please take a moment and leave a comment below. Here’s hoping that your day as an elevator-escalator tribe executive is productive, fruitful, and safe. Bye for now.