Marching to your doom AKA your performance review.

This weekend, for those who may not know, was the National Equality March. A lot of GLBT folks and their supporters marched in our nation’s capital to draw attention to the want and need for our rights – and yes, I wholeheartedly use the word “our” here, since I identify with the cause.

I met some people that had marched earlier in the day and when I asked them about it, they said that they were shocked and annoyed at the less than enthusiastic attitude demonstrated by their fellow marchers. One guy said that after Prop 8 was passed in California, “people got up and did something about it”. This included not going to work the next day in solidarity, organizing street rallies, getting on megaphones screaming about rights and getting people riled up, etc. In comparison, this person was miffed that people were marching for the sake of marching, that they had no energy and that they weren’t excited for the cause.

I didn’t go, so I can’t comment. But the reason I didn’t go had nothing to do with my lack of enthusiasm for the cause (which, let me reiterate, is very high – I’m 150% behind gay rights, don’t you dare say that I’m not). I find that “marches” like that don’t do very much. Yes, they give a sense of unity, and I do like that. But I find that they usually serve the purpose of touting greatness amongst the group asking for rights instead of calling people to action and inspiring them to do more. People don’t get riled up by that and instead end up participating because they feel they should (i.e. I’m gay so I SHOULD go to the march), not because a fire is lit in them by the single event. I’ve been to many rallies like that for different causes and I’ve stopped attending. I already know this is a worthy cause to support, I don’t need to hear that. I need a reason for being there that can motivate me. I need to hear what’s happening and how I can contribute. I need to know how I can make a difference and inspire change in others. I need a next step to follow up on.

In the workplace (since this IS an HR blog), this sounds exactly like performance reviews. We just started talking about them last week as we move into review season (so rest assured I’ll have much more to say on reviews) and this same lack of purpose is one of the big HR fears related to reviews. We’ve been doing our best to make sure that the review is not “You’re great! Yay!” but is a balance of “You’re great! Here’s why! Also, give me your thoughts on where you need some improvement and I’ll give you my thoughts about what you need. Let’s work out a plan of action together.” Now, that’s the ideal. But in practice, that obviously doesn’t always happen.

As you go into your reviews, try and remember that, whether you’re a reviewer or reviewee. Even if your process doesn’t necessarily lend itself to it because a form is limited or it’s just atypical of your culture, try your best to be open with the other person/people in your review and have the full conversation. As the reviewer, it’s obvious – ask questions that draw out of someone their strengths, challenges and opportunities for improvement. Get to the bottom of it. You probably do this once a year, so make the most of your time. As the reviewee, it’s a little harder. While the meeting is about you, you’re not really in control. Do take the time to discuss your greatness (because you’re great, that’s a given), but be honest and figure out what you need help with in advance and then bring it up for discussion. Your supervisor will appreciate the thought you put in and will be ecstatic that you brought this up and they didn’t have to (because managers – and let’s face it, all people – hate confrontation). Both parties will leave the review with a sense of accomplishment but also a sense of purpose because there is a clear direction – the reviewer knows what you want and can help you while the reviewee can get to work on it. Plus, the precedent has been set for future meetings. It’s a win/win!

So yes, you do HAVE to do reviews (unless you don’t have them – and that gives me anxiety). But give yourself a reason to be doing a review in the first place, beyond the “HR MADE me!” reason (which is true, but it’s not good enough). When you stop marching along for the sake of marching and call yourself to action, you’ll find that you have an inspiration that will push you in a new and interesting direction – one that you’ve chosen for yourself.

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