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It’s that time of year where, depending on your company, managers are spending days or weeks compiling performance reviews and engaging in calibration sessions or a cabal of leaders are making sweeping decisions in secret about everyone’s future. Both options can hurt inclusivity, something research has been telling us for the last decade impacts the bottom line. For many reasons, including better business performance, inclusivity should permeate every aspect of leadership, including the active dismantling of the barriers preventing the participation and advancement of every individual.

Performance reviews are a critical part of career advancement, but many of the norms around performance reviews include outdated and well-meaning, but ineffective or harmful practices. To see where there's room for improvement, let’s delve into some of the controversial aspects of performance reviews and, relatedly, calibration sessions.

An image of calibration instruments with the text "Calibration sessions, touted as a tool for fairness and objectivity, often turn into a breeding ground for bias"

The Dismal Performance of Annual Performance Reviews

Let's face it, the annual performance review rarely meets expectations. If you’re only holding once-a-year conversations, you’re not nurturing employee growth and development, you’re hindering it and creating unnecessary anxiety. Some of the downsides also include:

1. Stagnancy and Delayed Feedback:

Annual performance reviews suffer from a fundamental flaw in that they occur too infrequently. A yearly cadence leaves employees in the dark for extended periods, hindering their ability to make real-time adjustments. Issues that could have been addressed promptly are allowed to fester, leading to suboptimal performance and potentially avoidable challenges. Stagnant feedback not only stunts personal growth but also contributes to a culture of complacency.

2. Bias and Subjectivity:

Annual performance reviews are susceptible to bias, both conscious and unconscious, including recency bias, hindsight bias, in-group bias, availability bias, confirmation bias, halo effect (the list goes on) when evaluating performance retroactively over a whole year. This subjectivity undermines the fairness and accuracy of the assessment process, creating anxiety and eroding trust. 

3. Disconnect from Organizational Objectives:

In a rapidly evolving business landscape, organizations must adapt swiftly. Annual reviews are often disconnected from the real-time needs and goals of the organization. This misalignment hampers the agility required for success in today's competitive environment. They also tend to be retrospective, focusing on past performance rather than future potential. This backward-looking approach does little to inspire and guide employees, and thus organizations, toward future success.

⭐ Best Practice: Embrace Continuous Feedback Loops

The best leaders understand that performance is an ongoing dialogue, not an annual or bi-annual monologue, and they foster a culture of continuous improvement that empowers employees to take charge of their own growth. This happens by embracing regular feedback, ongoing communication, and outcome-oriented evaluations. 

As part of a relationship built on trust and respect, feedback can be provided thoughtfully, intentionally, and liberally. This becomes a daily practice that no longer feels like “ok, I better sit down, I’m about to get feedback” and instead includes celebrations, reflections, and idea generating conversations around areas to improve, individually, across teams, and organizationally. To knit together what often feels like disconnected parts, align those feedback loops with regular goal check-ins to help make sure that skill and behavioral improvements are focused on relevant business specific outcomes (short and long term). Now you’ve got a continuous documented cycle of aligned goals, outcomes, performance, and feedback! 

Calibration Sessions: The GroupThink Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing

Calibration sessions, touted as a tool for fairness and objectivity, often turn into a breeding ground for bias and inconsistency, even amongst managers who have completed bias training. The secretive nature of calibration sessions can have a detrimental impact on employee morale. The perception of decisions being made behind closed doors without transparency breeds distrust and can lead to disengagement. Employees may question the fairness of the process, affecting their commitment to the organization. This is especially true when, instead of focusing on an individual's performance, these sessions devolve into a game of numbers, sidelining the nuanced understanding of an employee's journey. Other downsides include:

1. Bias Amplification:

Calibration sessions, intended to ensure fairness, often exacerbate bias. Group discussions may inadvertently amplify pre-existing biases such as anchoring, bandwagon effect, Dunning-Kruger effect, false consensus effect, fundamental attribution, belief bias and more. This leads to decisions based on perceptions rather than objective assessments and runs the risk of perpetuating systemic inequalities.

2. Lack of Individual Context:

Because calibration sessions often cross team boundaries, there is a risk of many calibration participants having little to no context for the specifics of someone’s domain, role, expectations, and skills, let alone their individual impact and experience. There is a tendency to focus on comparing employees rather than understanding their unique contributions and challenges. This lack of individual context undermines the purpose of performance reviews, as decisions are made without a comprehensive understanding of each employee's journey and can lead to under- or over-estimations of performance and potential, overlooking the diverse skills, strengths, and aspirations of individuals. 

3. Misinterpreted Signals:

Calibration sessions often sideline or misinterpret crucial behavioral skills that contribute to an individual's success like collaboration, adaptability, and leadership. These skills can be challenging to quantify and often lead to subjective assessments or bypassing them completely and instead focusing on numerical rankings and ratings. 

⭐ Best Practice: Transparent and Collective Calibration on Measurable org or Company-wide Expectations

Rather than calibrating each employees’ performance and promotion readiness, hold sessions regularly to quantify and calibrate the company expectations for core competencies. Engage in open and transparent discussions about performance standards in each competency and the collective goals that define impact. Discuss what not good enough, good, and excellent look like and why, then document that using detailed anonymized examples. Embrace the idea that employees can have different shapes which can be defined using scales of depth, breadth, technical skills, behavioral skills, experience, etc and explain those using a variety of personas to help people recognize that meeting expectations doesn't have to take the same shape in everyone. This will help contribute to a more diverse and fair environment. Make these sessions an opportunity for shared learning, inviting both managers and individuals to contribute, and help bridge the gap for leaders and teams to grow together. 

Call to Action

Transformation is catalyzed in the discomfort of change. It's time to break free from familiar old ideas of conventionality and reimagine our approach to performance reviews and calibration sessions. We have the power and the responsibility to shape a future where every individual is empowered to thrive. The journey may not be easy, but the destination is worth every step.

💬 Share your thoughts and questions below to continue the conversation. Are you ready to lead the charge? If you'd like help along your journey, reach out today and set up a free coaching consultation.

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The last few years have seen massive numbers of layoffs. While data collection is inconsistent across all job sectors and globally, here are some data points:

  • 40% of Americans have been laid off or terminated from a job1

  • 48% of Americans experience layoff anxiety1

  • In 2022, there were 15.4 million employees laid off in the US (42,192 people per day)1

  • In 2023, in tech alone, there were 1186 companies with 262,582 employees laid off globally (720 people per day)2

  • In 2024 as of mid-January in tech alone, there have been 86 tech companies with 17,092 employees laid off globally (1,068 people per day)3

You spend enormous chunks of your life at work, so it’s unsurprising to identify with your role, your company, and your status. Your job is how you house, clothe, feed, and care for yourself and your loved ones. When that ends in a way that’s outside of your control, and especially when you’re in a tight financial situation, it can feel devastating and create uncomfortable feelings that need to be acknowledged and worked through. 

The first time I was laid off as part of a reduction in force was over twenty years ago. It was devastating, but I was lucky because in that case, the acquiring company hired me back less than a month later and I stayed with them for over ten years. The second time I was laid off as part of a reduction in force was ten years ago, after I’d spent two years helping lead the parent company’s acquisition, merger, and an associated divestment. By that time, I was burnt out and took a year off to recharge. When that year was over, I found an amazing opportunity waiting for me. The third time I was laid off was about five years ago after a large internal restructuring. I was offered a different role internally that I wasn’t interested in, so I declined and took the exit package. I chose a role working for a company I adored that really aligned with my values, which leads us to the fourth time I was laid off as part of a reduction in force last month. This time, I finally embarked on the career pivot into leadership coaching that I've been wanting to for years. 

Through all of these experiences, I worked on my emotional resilience, a critical skill for leadership and an indispensable skill for navigating the unpredictable nature of today’s job market. It wasn’t easy and there were deep and difficult emotions to process along the way. Each time, I went through the same internal rollercoaster of shock, bargaining, anger, grief, depression, and eventually acceptance. As I honed my emotional resiliency, I was able to move a little more gracefully through the full range of emotions, showing up compassionately for myself while engaging thoughtfully and authentically with others. 

An image of clouds and weather in the sky with the quote "You are the sky. Everything else is just the weather." - Pema Chodron

Stress is a natural human reaction to adversity. You can work to counteract that stress by fostering a resilient mindset. This allows you to approach challenging situations, embracing change, staying flexible, navigating conflict, keeping focus, and reducing wear and tear on your mental and physical health. In short, emotional resilience allows you to engage in effective problem-solving rather than sliding into reactive responses. 

So, how do you practice emotional resilience? You start by recognizing that setbacks are not roadblocks but stepping stones to a different path. Here are some strategies:

Tip #1 - Practice mindfulness and other therapeutic explorations

This helps to anchor yourself in the present moment and build emotional regulation through a variety of techniques including breathwork, tapping, expressive movement, shadow work, getting out in nature, or whatever you find works for you. These methods can help you learn to pause when faced with a triggering situation, take a moment to breathe and consider your response consciously rather than reacting impulsively.

Tip #2 - Journal your thoughts and emotions

A reflective journey will build self-awareness and help you to enhance your emotional intelligence by becoming more aware of your own emotions and those of others. When you do this, practice constructive self-talk by replacing self-critical or negative thoughts with compassionate ones.

Tip #3 - Maintain perspective, especially during tech layoffs

Take a step back when facing challenges and ask yourself if the current situation will matter in three days, three months, or three years and use that to avoid becoming overwhelmed by the present moment. Mentally put yourself in the shoes of others involved in the situation, considering their perspectives and emotions. This exercise fosters empathy and a more nuanced understanding of the interpersonal dynamics of the situation.

Tip #4 - Cultivate a growth mindset

Instead of viewing challenges as purely negative experiences, seek to extract lessons and insights by reflecting on past challenges and considering how they have contributed to personal growth and development. Try to work towards an expectation that change is continual, so when it happens (not if), you’re more prepared emotionally.

Tip #5 - Build a support network

A strong support network can offer perspective and encouragement during challenging times, sharing burdens and celebrating victories together. This isn’t a space to fill with bluster and toxic positivity, so try to cultivate a safe environment to be authentic, vulnerable, brave, and grow together.

Tip #6 - Establish clear and realistic goals

Start to move forward by building clearly defined, realistic goals broken into smaller, manageable tasks that provide a sense of purpose and direction. This will reduce the overwhelming feelings and help you stay focused and build confidence in the face of challenges.

Tip #7 - Volunteer your time

Giving of yourself by providing support to others fosters a sense of community and contributes to more good in the world. It can also be a valuable resource and productive way to spend some of your time during challenging moments. 

Pema Chodron, an American Tibetan-Buddhist monk who published a number of inspirational books about emotional resiliency, teaches a technique of observing your emotions and being curious about them instead of judgmental, e.g. “what am I feeling?” instead of “why am I [negative judgment]?” Practicing this, along with the other techniques shared above, provides the space to reflect and learn, to be brave and kind with yourself and others. At its heart, this is emotional resilience. As Pema says, “You are the sky. Everything else is just the weather.”

When you cultivate emotional resilience, you gain the ability to not just weather storms but to thrive and flourish. Share your thoughts, experiences, and your favorite strategies for emotional well-being below! 💬

2Layoffs. “Companies with layoffs'' Accessed on January 16, 2024.

3Trueup. “The Tech Layoff Tracker” Accessed on January 16, 2024.

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There are many things in life that you do because you’re expected to, not because they’re meaningful to you. Some of those things are essentially required of you as a functional member of society, like paying taxes and taking out the trash, so I can't promise this is going to get you out of doing any chores. However, some of those things are less required than you may think and as a result, you probably spend a lot of time essentially sleep-walking through life, acting and speaking out of habit, without real intent and thoughtfulness, and without aligning your words and actions to your core values. You can feel the difference when something is meaningful, because it recharges and fulfills you instead of exhausting you.

an image of a Black person laying on a bed of leaves with their hands covering their eyes and the text "You can feel the difference when something is meaningful, because it recharges and fulfills you instead of exhausting you."

In The Way of Integrity, Martha Beck talks about this concept, labeling it integrity and noting that many of the negative emotions you experience in life are a result of a fundamental misalignment between your personal values and your broader actions. This schism begins from the moment you are born, with subtle and overt pressures to conform to cultural expectations, creating internal division that shifts your state of being from integrity (one thing) to duplicity (two things), or even multiplicity (multiple things). The way of integrity starts with curiosity and openness, kindness to yourself, and a commitment to paying attention to how things make you feel.

Leading with integrity isn't about moral high ground, it's about being honest and authentic with your deepest self. Whether you're in a formal leadership role or leading as an individual contributor, finding your authentic leadership style is how you can connect your personal values to the actions and impact you want to make. Here are some tips to begin that journey if you’re just getting started, or to reflect on if you’re already on your leadership path.

Tip #1 - Self-Reflection is your compass:

Your leadership journey starts with self-reflection. What are your values? What drives you? Dive deep into your core beliefs. Your authentic style stems from aligning your leadership with your true self. Authentic leaders are genuine, flaws and all. Embrace your imperfections; they make you relatable. Authenticity builds trust and rapport, creating a more profound connection with your team.

“If you don't walk your true path, you don't find your true people. You end up in places you don't like, learning skills that don't fulfill you, adopting values and customs that feel wrong.” ― Martha Beck, The Way of Integrity: Finding the Path to Your True Self

Tip #2 - Embrace your unique strengths:

Your strengths are your superpowers! Identify them and leverage them in your leadership. Whether you excel in strategic thinking, empathy, or innovation, these strengths form the foundation of your authentic style. Remember that self-reflection you just did in identifying your values? Well, they’re your North Star. Let them guide your decisions. When faced with dilemmas, align choices with your values. This consistency builds integrity and reinforces your authentic leadership.

Tip #3 - ExperimentAND ITERATE:

Leadership is a journey of continuous learning. Stay curious, explore new perspectives, and be open to evolving. Don't be afraid to experiment with different approaches. Actively ask for and be open to feedback and iterate on your methods. The more you learn, the more refined and authentic your leadership style becomes. Celebrate your growth and achievements along the way. Acknowledge the milestones, learn from the challenges, and appreciate the unique leader you are becoming. Your leadership journey is as important as the destination.

Remember, your authentic leadership style is a reflection of your true self.

Embrace it, nurture it, and let it shine! Share your thoughts and questions below to continue the conversation. Reach out today and get information on exploratory leadership coaching sessions to help you on your journey to becoming an authentic leader aligning your core values to your actions in ways that are meaningful to you and impactful to others.

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