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How to Conduct Employee Performance Reviews: X Factor Style

Posted by Ryan Howard on Mon, Nov 05, 2012

performance review

A new way of conducting employee performance reviews.

"Performance reviews".  "Employee evaluations". "Employee appraisals". No matter what they're called, it's likely that your executives, managers and supervisors hate conducting them (if you employ someone who enjoys them and does them well, give them a raise!). Performance reviews are usually all business, but they often get very personal, and not in a good way.

Yet a performance review is key to protecting the investments you've made in sourcing, interviewing, hiring and training an employee.  Employee performance reviews are a critical part of the employee's success with a company and ultimately the employer's success. 

Simply put: a Happy and Productive employee = a Happy and Profitable employer. 

One reason that no one really likes performance evaluations is because they are viewed as a harbinger of bad news.  Everyone involved knows that; the entire process is often shrouded in anxiety (if not dread) which leads to procrastination which only generates greater anxiety.  It may seem like a strange idea, but the process becomes a lot more comfortable if it becomes more creative and, perhaps, even a bit more fun.  Yes, fun. 

Before we get to how you might be able to make that happen, let's remember a few basic things about performance appraisals in general: 

  • Be sure the evaluation relates to the job being evaluated, not just the one outlined in the original job description or even the prior review.  Performance review comments that address a job that has changed over time and now includes benchmarks different from the work description or last evaluation are akin to comparing apples and orangutans. 

  • Have the supervisor/manager examine whether he/she has any issues with the employee that may impact the objectivity of the review.  Although easier said than done, checking ego at the door is essential to a fair and productive review process.

  • Separate the job-specific components from those that aren't.  Focus on what's important. 

So what next?  How can an organization change the mindset surrounding performance reviews from negative to positive and inject some life into the process?  One way is to increase the amount of collaboration and interaction.  Here's one example of how to do that: 

Conduct employee performance reviews X-Factor Style.

Wait, what, you ask?  X-Factor style?  Yep.  For those unfamiliar with The X-Factor, it is a television music competition show along the lines of American Idol, American's Got Talent and the like.  As described on Wikipedia, however,  "Unlike Idol, where the judges only critique the contestants' performances, on The X Factor each judge "mentors" the finalists in a particular category, aiding them with song selection and styling, while also participating together in judging the contestants of the other categories".

X Factor Style Employee ReviewLet's think about this, then.  How can this concept be translated to employee reviews?  Well, as they say in show business, let's take it from the top.  In the show, a judge "mentors" contestants in particular categories (Pop, R&B, Rock, etc.) and aids them with song selection and styling.  Can this idea transfer to conducting performance evaluations? It can.  If your organization is like most others, your current employee appraisal process measures specific and general items and includes personal comments sections.  

Here's how you can conduct X-Factor performance evaluations: 

  • Consider having the supervisor and the employee choose one or more components of the the employee's job that is mission critical. 

  • Create a hypothetical situation and collaborate on coming up with possible solutions.

  • Request that the employee review the options, choose which is best and make a formal presentation as why that choice was made and also why the others were deemed less suitable. 

  • The supervisor should mentor the worker by increasing their ability to identify issues, getting her to think more in terms of "what if" in order to expand the perspective taken when solving problems.  Remember, an employee evaluation isn't designed simply to reflect on past work but to build competence to achieve future accomplishments.

Contestants in X-Factor perform.  They sing, they dance.  As part of a performance appraisal, the employee can be asked to show their stuff in various ways as well.   Why not have the employee make a formal presentation of his/her preferred solution to the problem presented?  This will allow for an evaluation of several things:

  1. Knowledge of the job, the technology and the terminology associated with the work (especially if the presentation is followed by a Q & A session);

  2. Strength of issue identification;

  3. Communication skills;

  4. Leadership potential.

Most importantly, the process should always be treated as an opportunity to manage by coaching, not as just some "standard" annual job review.  We suggest doing this at least every 6 months to make sure there are no 'surprises' if a new direction with the employee is needed. 

Performance Reviews X-Factor Style:  It may not leave your people singing and dancing, but it's probably more fun (and effective) than what you're doing now. 


Topics: Employee Relationship Management