There are very few times in my role as an owner that I feel distinct from my employees. I like it that way and my business partner and I have purposefully worked to set a culture of ingenuity and individuality. During our twice yearly reviews, however, the hierarchy is painfully obvious. I want to counteract that hierarchy and not just list issues or complaints. I want reviews to be transformative. I want an employee to leave the conversation with a shift in how they view themselves and re-enter his work world recharged. How do you do this? Two thoughts:
One, use the time to engage the employee. Every person that walks in the door is nervous. Most people are not comfortable talking about themselves for an hour, especially not with someone who has the authority to set pay, evaluate performance, and terminate. Societal stereotyping might suggest that this is “exactly where you want 'em,” but I couldn't disagree more. If your employee is in fight or flight mode, you’ll likely be conversing with a chameleon. Instead, create space to engage. The time you have together is special--almost sacred. Let the employee feel seen and heard. Welcome him to the hour. Close the door. Look him in the eye. Acknowledge that this isn't the easiest exercise, but explain how important it is to you and how responsible you feel to create a path for them to succeed.
Two, meet him where he is. As a leader, you’re used to giving people advice and direction—a contributing factor in your success. But now that you’re an owner, don’t talk so much. Transformative change happens when someone sees himself differently than he ever has before. Ask questions that create a platform of self-awareness for your employee. For instance, ask an open-ended question like “what’s exciting to you about your work?” Then wait. Listen. Shut off the urge to tell your employee how to stay excited about his work. Instead, ask how he currently maintains excitement and what might jeopardize it. Ask him how you can help him enhance this excitement.
Keep the employee the focus of the review. A lot of times leaders spend too much time on what they want to say and not enough time on how they want to say it. You can use a review to deliver your message, but in such a way that it registers in a profound way with the employee. —Allison Iantosca is a partner at F.H. Perry Builder, a Boston-area custom builder focused on building trust, dreams, and email@example.com