Performance Reviews: focus on motivation

A report out this week from Red Letter Days suggests managers are not getting it quite right when it comes to motivating their staff. Results of a recent survey show that nearly half of those questioned admitted to having negative feelings about their job, while 37 per cent could not remember a single time in the last year when they felt motivated.

The annual performance review is a great opportunity to make people feel good about what they’ve achieved and to spur them on to even greater heights. But managers are not always on the button when it comes to understanding what really energises staff and sadly, it’s not uncommon for people to leave appraisals feeling demoralised and dejected rather than raring to go.

The Red Letter Days report suggests that four key factors influence how motivated employees feel – flexibility, freedom, high quality tools and recognition. It points out that the big things (like money) play less of a role than we think – often it’s the quite small and simple issues (like work environment) that have a major impact on the way people feel about their roles.

So, as performance review season comes around, what can you as a manager do to make sure people come out of their appraisals fired up and enthusiastic about performing to their absolute best?

1. Do your homework

Appraisals probably come pretty near the top of the list of things managers really don’t want to do. They take up valuable time, detract from the day job and can sometimes mean getting into difficult conversations you’d rather not have. Employees, however, probably regard the appraisal as one of the most important conversations they will have with their manager all year – and will be pretty affronted if it’s obvious you have turned up without having given the meeting any prior thought or preparation. Make sure you give the meeting the time and attention it deserves by allocating enough time to look back at the last review, identify the achievements that have happened since and think about what training and development the employee will need to take their career to the next level.

2. Watch your body language

You may be on the fifth appraisal of the day – but make sure your body language doesn’t convey that you’re feeling tired, bored or would rather be doing something (anything) else. Maintain eye contact, smile and give your employee your full attention. If people can see that you are engaged and interested, they will relax and are much more likely to open up and talk honestly about their aspirations, any issues they may be experiencing and what their hopes are for their career going forward. If they feel they’ve had a chance to have their say and that you have listened, they are much likely to leave the meeting on a high rather than feeling it was a waste of time and you were just going through the motions.

3. Focus on the positives

Make sure you start the appraisal on a positive note by talking about what’s gone well and how people can do more of it. Of course you can’t sweep serious performance issues under the carpet, but if the whole conversation focuses around what people have done wrong, they will leave the meeting feeling dejected and that whatever they do, it will never be good enough. It’s important to recognise that most people actively want to please their managers and do a good job, and if they are performing under-par, there may well be underlying reasons, such as lack of training, personal or work-related stress or unsupportive colleagues. Make sure you acknowledge all the good things that people have done, highlight their strengths and skills and think about ways they can make even more use of these going forward.

4. Tell a story

Tap into the feel-good factor by letting people know what they have done has been appreciated by others – and noticed by you. Research suggests that knowing the work we do is helping others increases our unconscious motivation. If we can see that others have benefited as a direct result of our efforts, it creates a nice warm glow and spurs us on to do more of the same. So if you see a member of your team taking the time to coach a less experienced colleague through a task – or are aware they’ve gone outside the confines of their role to help another department – make sure you acknowledge or even reward it. If people can see their efforts to help others are recognised, they will be much more likely to do it again another time.

5. Give constructive feedback

If people’s performance hasn’t lived up to expectations, you need to give honest feedback or nothing will change. It is important, however, to think through how to do this constructively – and to understand how people typically react to criticism. Neuroscience tells us that our brains see criticism as a threat. So if you give an employee feedback they don’t want to hear, it’s likely they will immediately leap into defensive mode and convince themselves that they are right and you are wrong, even when that clearly isn’t the case. Negative feedback also stays with people for a long time, and as a result has a greater impact on people than the positive stuff. They remember what’s been said in detail and dwell on it, going over and over it again in their heads. Make sure any criticism you give is couched clearly but sensitively, so that people understand exactly what they need to do differently and know that you are there to support them in whatever they need to do to improve.


Finally, make sure you end the appraisal on an upbeat note – and don’t forget to record what’s been discussed and agreed so that everyone is clear and hopefully energised and excited about the future.

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