Skip Your Low Performers When Starting Performance Appraisals
This article originally appeared on Forbes by Mark Murphy, Founder of Leadership IQ
Whatever you call them, performance appraisals (or employee evaluations or annual reviews) are painful. But our high performers aren’t making these events strenuous; it’s our low performers that make us dread these conversations.
And while there’s a school of thought that says ‘take whatever is most painful and get it out of the way first,’ when it comes to annual reviews, that’s a mistake.
If you have the opportunity, it’s best to start your employee evaluations with all your high performers. Then, when you’ve finished with them, start on your middle performers. And then, when you’ve finished with them, you’re ready to start talking to your low performers.
Starting annual reviews with high performers first, middle performers next and low performers last is a simple process change that makes performance appraisals a more effective and resonant experience for everyone.
Here are 3 good reasons why you should start your performance appraisal conversations with your high performers (and avoid your low performers until the end):
Reason #1: It stops low performers from spreading negativity
If you do employee evaluations correctly, your high and middle performers will leave your office feeling motivated and energized. After all, they’re your high and middle performers; by definition, they’re doing good or even great work and they should be recognized accordingly. And this positive energy is going to inoculate high and middle performers against any negativity that might emanate from low performers.
Some (maybe many) low performers leave their performance reviews angry and defensive. They’re filled with denial, blame, excuses, and a driving need to manipulate everyone around them into thinking negatively about the organization and its leaders—especially you.
Meeting with high performers first, middle performers next and low performers last takes that power away from low performers. Low performers may still vent post review, but high and middle performers will be insulated from low performer emotional toxicity. These good performers, who have already completed their reviews, will still be riding the emotional high of their positive review experience. They aren’t going to care what low performers have to say, let alone be influenced by it.
Reason #2: It differentiates high and low performers
Scheduling high performer reviews first, middle performers next and low performers last sends a clear message that says “this organization values high performers.” This means your best folks get to walk into their review proud to be an acknowledged high performer while low performers get to sweat it out waiting.
If you saw our recent study, you already know the shocking news that in 42% of organizations, high performers are less engaged than low performers. And one of the big reasons why high performers are suffering from such low engagement is that leaders don’t do enough to differentiate between high and low performance.
Anyone who’s had a real job for more than a few years knows the demoralization that comes from being a high performer surrounded by low performers-getting burned out by carrying their load, and resentful over a lack of recognition for your work. Give your good performers the differentiation they want by meeting with them first during review time. The added bonus is that there will be no more mistaking the low performers in your organization.
Reason #3: It builds momentum that makes low performer reviews more effective
Turning low performer reviews into deep and meaningful conversations that result in positive change is easier to do when you’ve built up some momentum that sets the tone for these difficult meetings. Talking to your best people about performance and goal setting and growth is fun, and it builds up your mojo and momentum. The same goes for middle performer reviews, which also tend to be mostly pleasant.
By the time you get to your low performers you’ll be mentally insulated, almost like you’ve had a vaccine against the challenges these folks are likely to present. Plus, by this time, your low performers have figured out the order you’re moving in. They know they are last for a reason, and this compartmentalizes them, softening them up emotionally, making them less defensive, and thus potentially more receptive to your appraisal of their performance.
Mark is the founder of Leadership IQ, and author of five books, including the New York Times bestseller “Hundred Percenters: Challenge Your People to Give It Their All and They’ll Give You Even More.” Mark also teaches a series of weekly webinars for leaders.