“Guess what, I had a great time running, I wish you luck in the next round.”
It’s another cautionary instruction, but in the middle of a performance review, no less. And it’s something every employer loves to say, whether they want to say it or not. “Congratulations on your outstanding performance!” “Now remember: You have responsibilities, and you have a feedback loop to provide!”
The problem is, too many people, unfortunately, don’t take a cue from the boss when it comes to doing the same thing over and over again.
What to do when you can’t follow the needle to the top?
A high percentage of employees need one. For example, most of the people with cognitive disabilities have difficulty with detailed problems and complex tasks. To keep them from being a burden to management, companies get every effort they can out of them. I’ve personally worked with some who work many hours a week, sometimes under negative conditions that keep them in their blind spots.
Unfortunately, a lot of companies manage people this way, because that’s what they are used to. Unless you’re looking to evaluate them, don’t be so quick to cut short their every achievement. Focus on the expectations you have for them. If you fail to discuss expectations with someone who might give more leeway, then what do you do? Perhaps you fire them – but at the same time, what happens to all their knowledge and work already?
It’s the equivalent of forcing a person to jump off a cliff they’re not sure whether they’ll be able to reach. Again, that’s not recommended; if you cut someone off at the end of a hard day, and before you’ve given them a chance to learn and regroup, perhaps they’ll give up altogether.
One way to avoid this is by hiring those who need feedback. Their brains are still trying to work out how to do things, so they can’t give the feedback that you want them to deliver.
But that still leaves you with two possibilities. You can keep trying to nudge them toward higher expectations. This is another error. At that point, they’re already in a trough – unable to improve on any level. And it’s hard to predict whether they will ever improve; too many people say they “can’t change” – but studies show that exactly the opposite is true.
The other solution is to simply give negative feedback more often – and in different ways. Maintain the idea of imparting praise. But when employees give a performance review, do things differently. As the former Microsoft executive Karen White once said to me, “If you don’t need feedback, you’re not needed.”
The only way to keep people at the top is to keep them satisfied and engaged. So, as more and more companies phase out annual reviews in favor of more frequent, less punitive one-on-one conversations, give them the opportunity to actually make something of what they’ve learned. Tell them it’s up to them to learn how to.
Meanwhile, get them to the next performance review, and this time, remind them of the rewards they’ve earned. This is why HR people are so important.