Businesses which run without its owner have two distinctive qualities. The first one is that there are proper systems and structures in place and the second is that it’s people are also provided with those same structures, with the added bonus of being the business’ greatest asset. A terrific example is from the Virgin empire, whose very foundations have always been its people.

The Virgin Pulse CEO Chris Boyce said of its greatest assets ...“Success in business is all about people, people, people. Whatever industry a company is in, its employees are its biggest competitive advantage. They’re the ones making the magic happen - so long as their needs are being met.” (1)

Richard Branson himself said “Put your staff first, customers second, shareholders third.” (2) He was a big advocate of looking after his staff first and the business will be taken care of as a result.

A business owner in any market who grows and nurtures their people will find the business itself will skyrocket. How to get to this point through the process of a review, is the topic of today’s paper. We attempt to answer the tricky question - how do we review a person?

Definition to a role is like oxygen to the lungs.
People need it.

Each role within a business is occupied by a real person. Someone with feelings, thoughts and more critically - needs. And people need to know the what, why, how, where and when’s of their specific area within a business. In previous One Week At A Time papers we talked about the need of matching specific roles to DiSC personality profiles. We take this notion further by arming the person who we now know has the correct DiSC profile for role, with the information for them to perform their role. Once a person knows what is required of them, then they have the parameters to work on how to best service the business. Without role definition, each person will fall back on their skills and become reactive to the urgent needs of the business (refer to our other papers on Time Target and Delusions for more information on reactive business management).

Fit for purpose

Many moons ago the nomenclature when it came to employing staff was “job fit”. The personality of the person had to “fit in” a culture and the swag of skills they possessed along with their congenial nature equalled success. Job fitness in business then moved on to include personality profiles on top of a good “cultural fit”. Again the skills plus profile plus culture fit equalled success. This was used widely in all role definitions across the country.

These terms have been repositioned and job descriptions include what is called “fit for purpose”. Fit for purpose is taking a role, defining all it’s deliverables and outcomes, culturally fitting in and  personality profiling and adding the important layer of “purpose”. Why is any of this important?

Going back to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs top of the pyramid “self enlightenment” - where a human being is doing something for the greater good. Better than the self. Fit for purpose was invented to work in with this primal need within all people because “having a purpose beyond increasing shareholder profits is key to the modern corporation’s ability to survive and thrive”(3).
Purpose is the most important element in role definition.

Cover the bases

Each staff member has a different classification under the Australian Government regulations. When a role is created these classifications and rules need to be adhered to under Australian Business laws. Therefore when providing a role definition, job description and general terms it is advisable to cover the bases of each type of role, not just the skills required for that role. For example a full-time employee will have different needs and entitlements to a fixed term employee). Please refer to and Many employers fall into a common trap of the review conversation getting bogged down by a lack of transparency in this area. Best to nib this in the bud and include this as part of the role definition criteria (e.g. clearly outline the role status - full-time, fixed term, apprentice, etc - along with the classification’s specific parameters).

It’s time for that conversation

Arriving at a place where the clarification of role, the skill set, fit for culture, fit for purpose and basic rights are covered will all set up the best possible conversation to have with an employee. Here is where it gets tricky.

For a Manager who has reviewed employees many times, the basic information will help them feel less tense. And if that Manager are like many thousands of other managers out there, they will think of all the good things the staff member did and the most recent not-so-good things they did and write all that down. It’s human nature after all right.

On the other side of the coin, the staffer lists all the projects they completed where they have contributed, and then dutifully crosses their fingers hoping no curveballs are thrown their way. There is a fundamental underestimation of how stressful this process actually is for those being “assessed”. Dressing the review up in an HR campaign of “fun” or a “two-way feedback process” and “healthy constructive criticism”, doesn’t take away from the fact that it is what it is. One person sitting in front of another person they are about to judge(4). How to reduce this stress comes down to

What the experts say

Harvard Business School have performed many studies in this area and solid business practices have come from their learnings. Here is what they have have to say about how to have an effective performance discussion(5):

  1. Make it clear from the beginning of the year exactly how you will be evaluating employees with individual performance plans.
    Remember, changing goal posts mid-play won’t make your players win the game. They need to have practiced each pattern of play before you change tacts on the field (that’s an analogy for the American Football fans).
  2. Give your employees a copy of their appraisal before the meeting (some suggest the day before some suggest an hour before). This means the manager fills out the forms first, lays their cards on the table, then gives that to the employee so that they can have a private emotional response, process the information and come back with a cool head.
  3. For good performers deliver mainly positive messages, concentrating on their strengths during the conversation.


And these are the “don’t do”s of performance reviews:

  1. Don’t Generalise. For example, “you need to be more proactive” that doesn’t mean anything. Instead say “you need to take more initiative in calling sales leads”. Being specific about what exactly in a person’s behaviour can improve gives them something tangible to work with. Sweeping generalisations get lost in a conversation.
  2. Don’t talk about compensation. This one is not widely talked about. According to the experts here, it’s advisable to have the conversation about compensation separately. Remuneration is tied to company profits, its shareholders and other areas which are out of the person’s control.
  3. Don’t sugar coat it for clear poor performers. If they are not performing then that’s the conversation that you have.


Pick a side. Controversial? Not really.

Another area the Harvard professionals believe that managers would be best to do is break the cycle of what they term the “feedback sandwich” (or Australian’s have referred to this as “the slap and the pat”). This is when a manager compliments, criticises then delivers more niceties. The recipient isn’t clear what is going on. Additionally, this techniques does 2 things - it undermines those who are doing well, and washes over those people who aren’t. It’s a tough ask for managers but it has to be done - decide which side the person is on and stick to it. Is the person a good performer (in which case almost exclusively concentrate on what that person did well) or is that person a poor performer (in which case be specific and share what activities are making that happen)?

Nine times out of ten

Performance reviews were never meant to be a walk in the park, and they also weren’t meant to resemble a root canal at the dentist’s office either. Most businesses and their leaders want to empower the staff that they believe in and have employed, to continue to positively contribute to the business. Reviews are a way that they can keep track of the most important areas in each role, so that, like a symphony orchestra, all the instruments are coming together to produce an amazing sound. As managers, it’s easy to lose sight of this, and as employees it’s important to remember the love of music keeps you in the orchestra. Nine times out of ten, performances are good. And in business good means on track. Put another way, if everyone from the lighting crew, the conductor, the choir and the flute section know what to do, practice it regularly and enjoy making the music together, come review time, they’ll turn up for the a good way.

If you would like a copy of the Action Centre Performance Review Form please contact Brett Burden, Senior Business Coach on 1300 971 763.


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