Skills-Based Approach: Performance Review

Thinking of a performance review, an employee pictures a sit-down with a supervisor where there is a discussion of positive and negative experience over the prior period. With good management, the supervisor has a report consisting of grades or measurements based on desired behaviors and expectations; a great report has benchmarks and input from team members.

A performance review is an ideal time to apply the Skills-Based Approach methodology. Its central premise is the development of a skill set throughout a career in four stages: planning, building, presenting, and validating.

Skills-Based Approach addresses all of the ‘ten biggest mistakes bosses make in performance reviews’ mentioned in a Forbes article, but in particular, reviews that are: based on most recent events, no discussion of a professional’s goals, inaccurate assessments, no follow-up, lack of management preparation, too vague, and no pats on the back.[i]

There are a few reasons why Skills-Based Approach is an effective platform for a performance review:

Shows career progression. A performance review is far more effective if both parties understand how an employee has progressed over a period of time. Thinking in terms of a skill set is particularly useful because skill sets are malleable – adapting to changes in a career trajectory. Addresses the problem of “recency effect” by documenting what an employee has accomplished over the previous period (as well as a career).

Represents career goals. During the planning stage, an employee defines who he or she is and wants to be – thinking about passions, strengths, personality traits, etc. – then translates the results into a desired skill set and an action plan to establish an expertise with each skill. Of course an employee chooses what to share with management, but whatever he or she chooses to share is powerful. A good leader listens and guides an employee along his or her career path by planning to build skills going forward (assigning a project, going to a seminar, getting certified, etc.). Both parties ask the question: Is there room for this employee to grow with the company? Addresses the problem of “no discussion around the (employee’s) career ambitions”; the planning stage is all about showing career vision.

Bridges learning and career development. A skill set can be used to describe education and employment experiences. Learning has become a lifelong commitment for many professions, so it is likely an employee spends time outside of work building skills – an opportunity to signal management of extra efforts. Addresses the problem “everything’s perfect – until it’s not and you’re fired”; an employee does not get blindsided by a scathing review because there are skill assessments.

Shows management’s investment. An employee knows what the company has done to improve his or her wellbeing. Has management assigned a mentor? Are they giving assessments? Are they providing access to learning and/or training resources? (In the past few years, there has been explosive growth in online training resources to build skills.) Addresses the problem of “no follow-up”; everything management has done for an employee is on record.

Addresses interpersonal capabilities. Soft skills – those representing interpersonal and emotional capabilities – are an important component of a skill set. Everyone is talking about the value of emotional intelligence – EQ. Unlike an IQ, you can improve your EQ.

Defines a clear framework to base the review on. Create tables laying out the progression of a skill set through each of the stages. It is simple, yet effective and doable. (See appendix in A Skills-Based Approach to Developing a Career as a point of reference.) Addresses the problems of “no preparation” and “too vague”; management is required to review the four tables representing each stage of a Skills-Based Approach.

Reference for rewards. As an employee validates skills – getting a certification, earning a degree, etc., he or she earns a raise or bonus. For example, when accountants get their CPA, they get a raise of ten thousand dollars. Addresses the problem of “no pats on the back”; whether it is monetary or a gesture, management has clear bars to give recognition.

Way to communicate skill set expertise. Whether the audience includes clients, partners, or teammates, employees benefit by letting others know about their skill set – the presenting stage of Skills-Based Approach. It might be an assurance (prevention oriented) or a show of strength (promotion oriented). A good topic of discussion during the review is how an employee is communicating his or her skill competencies – on a personal website and social media.

Of course, there are other issues in a performance review that would not be captured in the context of a Skills-Based Approach – such as discussing particular projects, communication interactions, and legal issues. Part of the review should be about ‘company culture’. However, the crux of a performance review works with a Skills-Based Approach.


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