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Why Emotional Intelligence is Your Key to Better Performance Management

*Originally published on Cornerstone On Demand: https://smb.cornerstoneondemand.com/resources/emotional-intelligence

It’s that time of year again! I’m going to assign you a rating that’s going to define you and the path you get to take in our company! Feel the anxiety? I do. 

In recent years, organizations have been shedding annual performance reviews in favor of continuous performance management. This shift comes as no surprise as more and more data accumulates on the flaws with the process – 95% of employees express dissatisfaction with the traditional approach to performance management, and 58% of companies say it’s not an effective use of time. (source)

Continuous performance management represents a change both in the TIME and PURPOSE of the process. 

Continuous implies a change from once a year to all the time. Think of it this way: the bare minimum a manager had to do in the past is to provide feedback once a year. Now, organizations are asking managers to do better by providing feedback in the everyday flow of the work. It’s a new part of the modern manager’s job.

Regarding the purpose of the process, consider this: the term performance management can have many helpful and not so helpful interpretations. In the past, it was more about performance reviews. It was a look back to determine the worthiness of the individual moving forward. I argue that the process was more about “Up or Out” management than performance. We’ve had a laser focus on promotion and exit criteria at the expense of managing and inviting ongoing high performance. Not so helpful. It’s a very narrow view of performance management and it’s why the process has lost value and meaning for employees, managers, and organizations. Where are we headed? Towards practices that provide the data and the support that invite consistent high performance, not just carrot and stick-style motivation.

So how do we shift our management skills from annual performance reviews to continuous performance management? We tap into our emotional intelligence – and here’s a secret that might surprise some of you: by tap into, I’m implying it’s already there and you just have to put more emphasis on it!

What is Emotional Intelligence?

Jan Shirkani, an EI expert, breaks up emotional intelligence using the “Three R” method, which explains emotional intelligence as the ability to recognize your strengths and weaknesses, read others and your environment, and respond appropriately given the company and situation. In other words, emotional intelligence is more than just feelings, it’s about self-awareness. It’s the knowledge you have about yourself and about others around you in order to drive better responses to situations. We can often eschew emotions in business because it can imply sudden reactions and transitory feelings. Emotional intelligence, however, is not about the transitory – it’s about the well-thought-out reflections on the data you are constantly surrounded by about people and the situations.

Think about it: Do you already have what I’m talking about?

Of course, you do! We all have some level of awareness about ourselves and our points of view on others. Now it’s time to put that to work outside the once a year, up and out thinking that our systems have encouraged historically.

Managing Your Triggers to Create More Objectivity

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had someone tell me their manager just doesn’t like them and that’s why they’ve gotten certain feedback. They might have terrific results, but sometimes their managers just have a different way of working and they don’t understand one another’s approach. How do you avoid being a manager that looks like you’re playing favorites or excluding diverse ways of working?

Emotional intelligence is a key capability to help you. Think critically about yourself and your point of view before giving feedback. Is there a certain way you expect deliverables, communication, or other organization norms? Is that driving your need to give feedback? What behaviors are you perceiving as negative and why? 

In order to invite consistent high performance, rather than simply stating their behavior is wrong or bad or low performing, give them the reasoning behind your feedback. What’s normal to you? Why is that normal important for higher performance? Giving them the background thinking shows them you’re emotionally intelligent and invites them to share their reasoning – treating them as equals.

Inviting Two-Way Dialogue to Plan Forward Together

Once you’ve provided the reasoning behind your feedback, ask them questions on their approach. What do they see as high performance? How do they want to get there? Are there ways to draw on both of your points of view to get a power-packed result? These answers can include thoughts on the technical “how-tos” about the work, but it can also include how to treat team members, how to communicate progress, how to enroll others, and other team dynamic topics. You might find your point of view and your idea of normal gets expanded during this conversation! Your emotional intelligence will get a workout recognizing any weaknesses your approach has while acknowledging your employee’s point of view on the situation and their strengths.

Notice how this approach of recognizing and explaining your triggers, then asking for their point of view creates a forward-looking way to align on and achieve performance. You both walk away having an idea of what high performance looks like and an agreement that leverages their strengths and your norms to create contribution.

Emotional Intelligence is Your Shortcut to Better Performance

Whether in the past or the future, the role of the manager and the company is to support the employee in contributing higher performance and on their career journey. The modern approach of continuous performance management enables agility and is the fastest way to better performance. Check-in conversations that happen at regular intervals and allow for on-the-spot praise and course correction in the moment it matters. 

The results speak for themselves, employees who receive frequent feedback are 6x more likely to agree that the feedback they receive is meaningful and 3x more likely to be engaged at work. We all have bad days, but a big part of emotional intelligence is the ability to regulate negative emotions and express everything in a thoughtful, constructive way. Reacting strongly can be a good motivator in the short term, but destructive over time. The scales must be weighted towards a positive and emotionally intelligent workplace. 

“Managers with higher levels of emotional intelligence predicts higher levels of job satisfaction – even in situations where the employee has lower levels of emotional intelligence.” Leaders, it all begins with you! If you want employees to give their best performance every day, not just once a year, become a role model by exhibiting your emotional intelligence.