End of year reviews – a great time to have straightforward conversations

It’s that time of year again. Very few people honestly look forward to end of year reviews – managers or individuals - but they do have the potential to be incredibly insightful and motivating. 

There’s a good reason ‘having straightforward conversations’ is one of our ten management leadership capabilities. To be skilled in this capability takes courage, thoughtfulness and planning. No-one is born a skilled conversationalist, but everyone can learn. 

Read on to discover:

  • The top challenges managers and leaders face in performance review conversations
  • How you know you’re having straightforward conversations 
  • End of year conversations that inspire and motivate – top tips 

Leadership is all about conversations - about results, customers, strategy, learning, innovation, performance, wellbeing. Leaving people to guess what you really mean is rarely helpful. Great conversations can take courage, thoughtfulness and planning.

Top challenges managers and leaders face in performance reviews 

If you’ve ever experienced any of these challenges you are in good company. Most managers have. 

  1. Focusing more on ticking the process box than acknowledging and inspiring – the process is meant to support the conversation, but clumsily managed it can get in the way. 
  2. Recency bias - it can be easy to recall and focus on the most recent events, successes, mistakes – and not do justice to the whole time period. 
  3. Generalisations – our brains habitually oversimplify (to cope with the volume of inputs)  but being too vague can lead to misunderstandings and worse. 
  4. Imbalance between team members and in airtime - it maybe easier to spend time with some team members more than others, but you risk doing an injustice. Research shows marginalised groups often have shorter, less thoughtful performance and development reviews and their progression suffers as a result. 
  5. Surprising outcome – employees should never walk out of a performance review surprised by the results. 


How you know you’re having straightforward conversations

As managers and leaders, we spend most of our time having conversations. In fact, some commentators argue we don’t really do anything else! Sometimes they are challenging, sometimes they are courageous, but they always benefit from being outcome-focused, clear and straightforward.


At Hemsley, we know that leadership is a practice. Knowing is not enough – you have to take action and practice.
How often, and consistently, do you…

  • Foster a psychologically safe environment – so people feel able to speak up and share their perspective / lived experience.
  • Have regular, open dialogue, 1:1 and as a team – the team don’t have to second guess what’s going on.
  • Reflect and learn from challenging conversations – no-one gets it right all the time so take a few moments to access the learning from any tricky one.
  • Use a bit of structure – the best managers have a kit bag of ideas and processes to support 1:1 and group productive conversations.
  • Ensure a flow of constructive feedback in all directions across the teams / between teams – including with them.
  • Communicate openly and clearly – with straightforward language and clear outcomes.


End of year conversations that inspire and motivate – top tips

Given we are fast approaching the end of the year, most of us will be having some kind of end of year review – whether it’s formal or informal. Here are some specific top tips we can all use to boost the experience of end-of-year reviews

  1. Use a light structure - to ensure balance (between people) and so you do justice to the whole year – e.g. capture and acknowledge highlights for each quarter.  
  2. Steer clear of gushing platitudes – “you’re just great” doesn’t  motivate anyone or even boost their confidence. Also, no-one wants to feel you ‘cut and paste’ your praise. Acclaim should be specific and targeted to the individual. 
  3. Make the session inspiring not draining – even if you’re all winding down, remember this conversation needs to inspire – which literally means to ‘breathe life into’. Take a moment to create the conditions for an energising conversation – “what would inspire them?”
  4. Focus on learning – the end of year is not the time for saved up feedback that should have been given in the moment. Use it as a precious space to make sense of and capture learning insights and ‘aha’ moments. 
  5. Be straightforward – calm, clear, open, non-evasive, grounded. Paying attention to your posture helps a lot – breathe, roll your shoulders back, relax your face, be present.  

Learn more about our management and leadership framework…

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