Have you notified the similarities between the annual performance review and New Year resolutions? Both happen annually. Both are full of big dreams for the coming year. Both tend to be quickly forgotten until next year rolls around. Both tend to fall flat on their face.

Every year we keep telling ourselves both of these are such a great thing to do.

How resolutions fade away to obscurity

One of my favourite resolutions focuses on losing weight & getting in shape. The process is quite simple, and it usually starts with minimal thought after a little drinking on New Year’s Eve.

When January 1 rolls around, I am excited about my resolutions! This will be the year of a whole new Mike! I’m going to eat better, drink less and join the gym. I even start doing these things, which gives me such hope … this year.

On January 15 I’m getting busy, so I permit myself to let a couple of things slip. It’s OK, though, as there’s still another 11.5 months in my resolution.

On February 1, I realize how I’ve lost focus on my resolution. I will return to the discipline of getting healthy. Who cares if I’ve slipped.

On March 1, what resolutions?

How performance reviews fade into obscurity

In companies around the world, this story starts with managers receiving an email from HR. The process starts by soliciting feedback, filling out forms, sharing the outcomes with employees, and filing the report with HR.

Employee & manager agree on objectives for the coming year. Objectives might involve project delivery, training & growth, teamwork and more. In most places, they even make the objectives S.M.A.R.T.

Phew, the Performance Review marathon is complete for another year. Send the documentation to HR, so we don’t get flagged as delinquent.

The story then goes much the same as with resolutions. Within a couple of months, the objectives are largely forgotten until the annual process starts again next year.

Then we start the process over again, except now we have to come up with a story for why we didn’t meet our objectives.

Why are both resolutions & performance reviews ineffective

There are many reasons both resolutions and the performance review processes fail. Here are a few that come to mind for me:

They’re approached from the wrong mindset

Often these goals we set based on an unconscious mindset, rather than what we want for ourselves.

For example, if you have an underlying belief you should lose weight. Or, perhaps you should take on more work than you can realistically handle to show you’re worthy of a promotion.

Both of these examples point to a mindset of obligation. The key word is should. When you focus on what you think is expected of you, you can easily end up in the mindset of obligation.

Big goals are fuzzy

I once worked with a project manager who loved the detail. The project manager’s schedules were so detailed, when asked he would tell you Sue would be working on task X for 1.25 days next February 2nd.

The problem is this was a massive, multi-year project and there were far too many variables to be able to schedule it so accurately.

When it comes to annual resolutions weight loss is much the same. Setting a goal like “I will lose 50 pounds this year” is not overly helpful. Where did you come up with that number? How do you know it’s realistic for you? What’s going to happen when you work hard and lose no weight for a couple of months.

Instead of setting these big audacious goals for ourselves, shift the focus to what you want in the coming year. Do you want to feel younger? Do you want to be a better version of you by next Christmas? Do you want to improve how you participate in project delivery?

Whatever it is, ask yourself what you want. Then, every single day work towards that goal.

Accountability cycle is too long

One of the biggest problems with many performance review processes is people approach them out of obligation as prescribed by HR. Then, there is no accountability to the content or goals until the next cycle rolls around.

You might do them annually or quarterly, and it’s still the same problem.

Great leaders don’t need a performance review process to help their people grow. They engage in an on-going activity of coaching, mentoring and championing the people. Big problems are less frequent as they have already been working with their people to correct the situation before it’s a problem.

When leaders engage their people in an ongoing process as of improvement, the accountability cycle is very short. It’s harder to forget about that little thing you agreed to yesterday, or even earlier today.

I don’t do resolutions or performance reviews

I’m self-employed, so there is no performance review process. I also don’t participate in setting New Year Resolutions.

Having said this, you might be wondering if I set goals for myself. I do. I am continually setting goals for myself.

When it comes to my health, I rarely step on a scale. My goal is to live a long, healthy life. I know one day I’m going to have a decline and die, but I want to defer that as long as possible. So my goal is to feel younger next year.

Then, on an ongoing basis, I set intentions for myself. For example, I notice I’m eating too much sugar lately (what can I say … Christmas, a sweet tooth and being married to a great baker are a bad mix). So, I set an intention to reduce the number of sweet treats I eat each day.

My career goals are similar. I want to be a better version of myself next year. It might even get a little more specific, like, in some way enhance the coaching experience for my clients.

Then, I set intentions throughout the year. Initially, it might be the study to understand humans better. Then it might flow over into understanding human behaviours differently. There would undoubtedly be some intentions applied to coach my clients, as that is where I’m going to learn the most.

Goal setting for leaders

If you work for a company with a defined performance review process, you likely don’t have any choice. Follow the performance review process. It’s certainly not worth losing your job over.

However, do not rely on the performance review process to create the conditions necessary for your team to succeed. Instead, engage with your team daily/weekly to help them grow and succeed.

Set the big visionary goals once a year in the performance review process, then work with them all year long to achieve them. Be careful about making the goals too specific as things are going to change.

Coaching & mentoring skills are invaluable in helping your team grow. Avoid the temptation to rush in to save them, or become directive. Instead, take a coaching stance to help them succeed themselves. And, if they fail, be there to support their growth as a result of the experience.

There’s an added benefit to such an approach. When you get to that annual performance review process, the two of you are only going to be documenting what you already know. In other words, the amount of work it takes will drop dramatically!