It’s hard to believe we are already well into fall. In New England, that means colder weather, apple picking, pumpkins, and football. For many organizations, the season is also filled with a flurry of talent management activities, from onboarding and training to gearing up for the annual performance review process… Definitely a busy and potentially daunting time for most HR professionals.
In trying to meet all of the demands of the season, it may be tempting to take a “check-the-box” approach to parts of the employee evaluation process. For example, review meetings between employee and manager/advisor may be carried out pro forma, even if written reviews reflect the time required for high-quality feedback. And when large numbers of reviews are scheduled back-to-back, review meetings can be hurried along in almost assembly-line fashion. One HR business partner at a client recently shared that she was responsible for more than 60 individuals during the review season! Managing high volumes and providing in-depth feedback and appropriate follow-up — all while attending to ongoing HR and management responsibilities — is daunting indeed.
Review season can also, of course, be a tense time for employees. In particular, it can be challenging for multicultural employees, for whom feedback on training and development opportunities is so key, and so dependent on thoughtful performance review communication. These employees will often interpret feedback through the lens of their own cultural norms, and some may still be developing fluency in the American business culture. They will likely need very specific, actionable input on how they can develop in key areas, especially those related to their communication.
Below, I discuss several ways in which managers of multicultural employees can better leverage the review season not only to catalyze career growth and promote an exponential return on employee engagement, productivity, and advancement, but also to support diversity and inclusion.
First, spend as much time on the conversation as on the written review. The employee performance review should be a conversation, an opportunity for building rapport and establishing trust. But if the employee comes from a culture in which asking for feedback isn’t the norm, a two-way dialogue may not be intuitive. Managers should encourage individuals to share their own perspectives on the value they provide to the organization, and offer to be a sounding board, or to meet periodically to hear the employee’s thoughts on progress and challenges.
Also, in coaching employees of multicultural backgrounds, we’ve noticed that most focus 90% of their efforts on the written self-review (in which they feel they have the greatest control over the content), and only 10% on planning for the review meeting. They’re not always aware that the review conversation is just as important as understanding how to write a performance review. If managers can take time at the outset of the review to gauge the employee’s understanding of the process and their expectations of each another’s roles, they can help minimize miscommunication and enhance the potential for a productive dialogue.
In delivering feedback, managers will also want to be sensitive to word choice (using specific examples and being very clear; it may be wise in some cases to avoid idioms) and be tuned in to the employee’s response, both verbal and attitudinal, via body language. Do they appear receptive to constructive criticism? Enthused about receiving training or coaching to address specific issues? Or do they come away with the impression that they need to be “fixed”? Thoughtful and comprehensive messaging can eliminate any potential stigma that coaching candidates might experience and make it easier for management to communicate the benefits.
Second, ensure career development resources are at the ready. Multicultural employees often need additional time to make desired changes — especially concerning communications development involving presentations and writing skills, effective communication, or dimensions of emotional intelligence. These complex skills are learned and achieved over time, so before making specific recommendations for future progress, managers should already have worked with HR to identify available tools – mentoring, training, coaching. Because once the employee is given feedback, he or she is up against the clock to demonstrate progress. Gaps between giving the review and initiating training can extend development efforts well into the next review cycle, delaying goal achievement and career growth.
Third, promote cultural competence and be aware of biases in performance review feedback. Review time should ideally be an opportunity to build closer relationships between employees and managers and advance shared goals. In an earlier article, I noted that an understanding among managers of cultural differences is essential to developing trust-based relationships. And perhaps no aspect of talent management benefits more from cultural competence than employee evaluation.
In their book Cultural Competence for Public Managers, Professors Espiridion Borrego and Richard Greggory Johnson III, note that “cultural competence can be built into the knowledge, skills, and performance measures… developing a cultural intelligence helps managers manage a diverse and multicultural workforce where many cross-cultural interactions occur.” HR leaders can enhance cultural competence at the management level through training and ongoing communications initiatives, providing practical guidance that might address, for example, how to handle communications challenges facing multicultural employees, or sensitizing managers to non-verbal cues signaling a cultural disconnect.
While promoting cultural competence, HR should also be attuned to any potential bias, unconscious or otherwise, in written and verbal reviews. As Eric Krell points out in HR Magazine, “To recognize and reduce bias in performance evaluations, HR professionals must carefully examine their overall performance management system, including job descriptions, objective measurement methodologies, and other relevant policies and procedures.” Even the perception of bias can be both derailing to individual employees and damaging to the organization’s diversity and inclusion efforts.
Performance Review Tips For Managers New To Employee Review Meetings
Think of delivering the performance review in terms of giving a presentation, and draw on best practices:
- Know your “audience”: their background and any behaviors raised in feedback that may be related to different cultural norms.
- Focus on results: don’t just offer constructive criticism, be prepared to speak to the impact (“a lack of structure and grammatical errors in your written communications results in rework for your manager”).
- Provide and summarize a few key takeaways, along with specific supporting details for each point.
- Be aware of both verbal and non-verbal employee reactions; pause frequently along the way to “take the pulse,” inviting questions or clarification.
- Be very clear on next steps: what is expected from the employee on what timetable, and what resources will be provided to help.