Of all the things employees despise, end-of-year performance appraisals (PAs) are at the top of the list. The Washington Post has research to support that “basically every single person hates performance reviews.” Regardless of how we arrived here, leaders are no longer bound to the mistakes of the past. When conducted well, the end-of-year review is one of the most powerful tools in your quiver as a service leader. Having conducted a large number of these conversations over the years, I follow a simple framework called “The 3 Cs” to ensure a meaningful dialog. When you engage your agents through the narrative of celebrating, calibrating and cultivating, they will walk out of their review refreshed and ready to serve customers better than ever!
Most of us have a long history of terrible performance appraisals. Many employees will enter the conversation and instinctively strike a defensive posture. The primitive brain’s “fight or flight” response mechanism is likely to trigger unless an alternative path is followed. When we begin the session with an edifying tone, it allows the employee to relax and demonstrate vulnerability. This is done by celebrating his or her accomplishments at the very start. When you put in the time and effort to understand and document what went well, several wonderful things happen:
- It puts you and the agent on the same side and eliminates the built-in adversarial dynamic.
- It shows the agent that you care about them as a person and you are concerned for their success.
- It shows that you are capable of viewing their performance holistically, versus many leaders who only keep track of perceived wrongs.
By taking the first 5-10 minutes to recognize great performance, you establish credibility for the coaching conversation to follow.
A performance appraisal is not the time for new coaching. One of my favorite mentors in college used to say that going to church on Sunday morning was like putting the frosting on a cake he’d been baking all week through disciplined habits. Performance appraisals are the same way. You (hopefully) have been putting in the hard work of coaching this employee all year. The review is simply a formalized conversation evaluating what the employee already knows in regard to their performance against established objectives. It’s never appropriate to bring up brand-new coaching expectations as part of the end-of-year performance appraisal. This creates a “gotcha” scenario which is entirely unfair to the agent. If, as a leader, you’ve not taken the initiative to coach them on an issue prior to the PA, then that’s on you. The review session is the right time to calibrate any existing coaching plans and set exceptionally clear expectations around performance for the following year.
A performance appraisal can be a huge milestone, not just in someone’s career, but also for life in general. We all should take time throughout the year to reflect on how we are growing as people, but the reality is many do not. As their manager, the PA offers you an opportunity to inspire your team members both personally and professionally. A good review can help agents to set a precedence of goal-setting in all aspects of their lives. By asking relevant questions about their performance and allowing agents to self-appraise, you are equipping them with valuable skills. As an example, I’ve got two managers currently participating in Toastmasters. Not only do these enhanced communication skills increase their customer service capabilities, but it gives them additional confidence to pursue their hobbies and better their relationships.
At the end of the day, the performance appraisal should be future-focused. You’ve covered the great things that should continue into the next year and the coaching opportunities that can be even better. The final dialogue should be about the agent’s future and how you can help them to achieve their goals. If they have no idea where they’d like to focus their growth efforts, this does not mean that the conversation is over. This simply means you need to expose them to opportunities and resources that will challenge them and help them find their path. I’m not saying that everyone needs to switch jobs every two years, but we all need to have meaningful goals that will keep us engaged and focused over the long-haul. This is especially true in a contact center role. There is a high propensity toward burnout if not for a purpose and intentional growth.
As a critical milestone in the agent experience, this means the performance appraisal is a critical milestone in the customer experience, as well!