I hate fishing. Many employees hate their employee reviews. There’s a thread here. Go with me on this one.
When I was young, my father would occasionally take my brother and me fishing with him. I recall the following high points of the experience:
- We would spend the night – often several – in a miserable hovel of a room described as a “fish camp”. In some language, somewhere, the phrase “fish camp” means “smelly concrete-floored mold haven with no air conditioning and no television and a mattress that no one wants to touch but Jeff has to sleep on”.
- To begin the day, Dad would awaken us with a well-placed thumb driven into the meat of our hamstrings. It was a wonderful way to greet the day. The thumb was administered at approximately 4AM. Apparently it is important to begin fishing while vampires still roam the streets. I never understood why.
- No one ate breakfast. Fisherman apparently don’t eat breakfast, though they begin drinking beer before the sun comes up. If they get really hungry they eat Vienna sausages. If you are lucky then you have no idea what a Vienna sausage is.
- Once in the boat we would spend the day on a shade-less lake under a blistering sun long before the time of sun screen. Blisters the size of quarters on our arms and legs were not uncommon. Gnats invaded every orifice. It was paradise.
- To bait our hooks we grabbed live crickets from a throbbing glob of insects amassed in a bucket. We would then skewer the crickets with a fish hook destined momentarily to lodge deep within a finger or – worse yet – a leg or a lip. I have always hated hooks.
- When we finally escaped the boat at the end of the day my brother and I were required to clean fish under the harsh glare of an outside bulb. Lots of them. To this day the stench of fish entrails remains one of my most vivid olfactory memories.
Now, tell me that doesn’t sound like almost as much fun as an annual employee review.
The fact is, lots of people like fishing. And they like it for one reason…they associate the experience with fond memories instead of miserable ones. I hate fishing because I didn’t have those. My early experiences were negative, so I assume future ones will be, too.
Many employees dread performance reviews simply because the managers who administer them make the experience a bad one.
Bad annual reviews point out failures and dwell on shortcomings. They condition employees to dread reviews like I dreaded those days on the lake cultivating blisters and fish-hook scars.
Next time you prepare to give someone a review, think about what you can do to make the process pleasant – even energizing. Build a culture where employees look forward to reviews as an opportunity to grow, interact and exchange ideas that will benefit company and employee alike. You don’t have to avoid constructive feedback, just do it in a way that conditions people to respect the process and value its take-aways.
And whatever you do, don’t drive your thumb into your employees hamstring. Trust me.
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Jeff Whittle founded and launched Whittle & Partners in 2011. Before that, Jeff practiced law in Dallas for 15 years and has an additional 20 years of executive business experience. He has run businesses ranging from startups to 300-employee operations.