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Why it’s more important for staff to review their own performance

Dr Amantha Imber

I remember my very first annual performance review like it was yesterday. It was a horrific experience, in which I was expecting a glowing review, and instead, my boss ignored everything good that I had done and instead spent the whole time focusing on what was wrong with my performance. Contributor Dr Amantha Imber,  Founder – Inventium.

I left the meeting feeling deflated. I also left the review feeling underappreciated and started my search for a new job that night. From talking to many people about performance reviews, people often leave feeling a sense of unfairness. Most people’s bosses are not working next to them 24/7 and therefore miss a lot of what can happen in a person’s working life.

But in addition, most people don’t actually stop and reflect on what they have achieved over the period of time between reviews. We simply rush from one thing to the next, reacting to the tornado of emails and meetings that come our way every day.

Research led by Giada Di Stefano examined the impact of staff in a call centre spending 15 minutes at the end of each day reflecting on what they had learnt. After 10 days, those who were regularly reflecting had increased their performance by 23 percent compared to those who did not reflect.

Yet it would be rare to find a person who spent this much time reflecting in your typical office environment.

The benefits of reflection extend to leaders too. Research by Klodiana Lanaj and her colleagues found that just a few minutes spent reflecting in the morning improved engagement and energy levels, in addition to leaders having a more positive impact on their followers.

When my consultancy Inventium moved to a Holoaracy model of working almost three years ago, whereby we did away with managers, we thought deeply about how we would do performance reviews in a way that felt fair but also insightful.

A key part of the solution was asking the team to complete quarterly self-reflections, whereby they would look back over the last 90 days and answer some key questions about their own behaviour. They essentially critique themselves.

Each team member is asked questions such as:
What are the key things you have done/achieved this last quarter which have made you proudest?

What have been your most significant learnings this quarter? How have these led to self-improvement?

Reflect on a time that you may have failed this past quarter. How have you incorporated the learnings from this into your future ‘self’?

What are you most looking forward to achieving next quarter?

The nine questions we include link directly to our values. For example, one of our values at Inventium is “Bring Zest”, in the form of energy and enthusiasm for what you do at work. As such, one of the questions we ask people to reflect on is “Reflect on your ‘work self’ this past quarter. How would you best describe your attitude, overall demeanour and how you have worked with your teammates? Is there anything you’d aim to change for next quarter?”

As the head of the company, I meet with every staff member once a quarter to talk about their own reflections and add my own to the mix. Using other data points, such as client feedback, helps to provide a complete picture of each person’s performance.

For businesses or individuals looking to introduce more reflection time, think about how you can ritualise the behaviour (is it something that happens daily, weekly, quarterly?) and be strategic with the questions that people use to guide their reflections.

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