Understanding and evaluating others is the innate leadership trait and ability to see the individuality in others and to recognize a person’s perspective and how that perspective was formed. Demonstrating brilliance in managing the performance of employees is evident when leaders demonstrate authenticity and drive the right dialogues therein.

The very fact that a performance management process exists in an organization is recognized and acknowledged by high-performers as the means and vehicle in which their hard work, performance and potential is recognized and rewarded. However, performance management is typically viewed as a necessary evil, a one-sided affair (usually favoring the evaluator) and one where fear and uncertainty is abound and ever-present. Taking this fear out of the performance evaluation process is a must and the best way to do so is to focus on regular, high-quality conversations between the leader and the employee.

These conversations need to be meaningful, purposeful, timely, regular and frequent and conducted respectfully. Here are 5 recommendations to take the fear out of performance management and being authentic when trying to understand and evaluate your direct reports:

  1. Let employee lead – The process itself should be viewed by the employee as her own and that the manager or leader is there to facilitate this in a forward looking manner. The outcomes of the process would be viewed as a joint effort and both manager and employee can share in that future success. 
  2. Set goals early – Using the S.M.A.R.T (Specific, Measurable, Action-Oriented, Realistic, and Timely) tool to develop meaningful goals early in the process is a smart move. Goal setting should be conducted as part of a conversation where the employee is empowered to draft her goals upfront. During the conversation, both parties can make adjustments as necessary so that they are aligned and the goals are rooted in exceptional outcomes.
  3. Enhance quality of conversations – Performance conversations should be more about development needs of the employee (and also of the reviewer) rather than on what she did wrong. A good way to enhance the quality of the conversations is to start them with a positive note and done with respect and empathy.
  4. Ensure frequency of interactions – Performance assessments should be done as frequently as possible so that performance is on track to attain the aspired common goals. Moreover, the frequency of the dialogue allows both parties to make the necessary adjustments to enhance outcomes – where both results and behaviors matter.
  5. Make it collaborative – Ensuring that performance conversations are informal and conversational enables both leader and employee to build shared understanding and enhance intended outcomes. Moreover, a collaborative approach takes away the fear that most employees have for performance management and enable the parties to learn about one another so that each walk away from the process with opportunities to learn and continuing developing.

In a “people-first” organization leaders demonstrate true authenticity, focusing on conversations, taking the fear out of performance management, and not focusing on a rating scales or labeling people with numbers. Doing so leads to the levels of commitment that fuels a winning, high performing culture.