Performance Reviews: Character vs. Skill Set Issues

It’s the most wonderful time of the year – performance review time! The company l lead is conducting employee reviews for all employees over the next two months. Many people think I’m crazy when I say this, but I really do love conducting performance reviews! I love having growth conversations and discussing employees’ goals and looking toward the future.

Of course, not all growth conversations are about what teammates are doing right. Sometimes these growth conversations must focus on a performance issue that must be addressed (though leaders should never wait until the annual performance review to address an issue that has been going on for some time).

One thing I’ve noticed over the years after leading and coaching many employees is that when there is a challenge that must be addressed, it’s almost always caused by one of two issues – a skill set issue or a character issue.

Skill Set Issues

Indicators that the challenge is a skill set issue:

  • The position doesn’t play to the employee’s strengths
  • The proper tools/training/resources would equip the employee to do his job well
  • The employee is open to coaching and guidance on how to improve his/her performance
  • The employee seeks out your constructive feedback and has an honest desire to succeed
  • The employee is aware of their own performance issues and takes ownership of them

Skill set issues can often be easily addressed. It’s simply a matter of you, as their leader, working with them to identify what they need to do to get where they need to be and how they can get there. Of course, sometimes a position simply ends up being a bad fit for an employee’s skills. In that case, if they are a valuable employee, I’d do whatever I could to move them into a position that’s a better fit inside the organization.

Character Issues

Indicators that the challenge is a character issue:

  • The employee points fingers or makes excuses for performance shortcomings (it’s never his/her fault)
  • The employee doesn’t take ownership of his/her role on the team
  • Instead of discussing solutions, the employee prefers to whine or complain about the problems
  • The employee doesn’t offer up any solutions for how they can resolve the issue

As you can tell, character issues are much more difficult to address because you can’t help an employee “fix” their victim mentality or their lack or ownership. You can make them aware of their issue and help them think though a plan for improvement, but the willingness and desire must come from them. Since our character helps make up who we are, it’s a much harder thing to change. However, with good coaching and teaching on behalf of the leader, combined with the engagement and willingness to learn and change on behalf of the employee, drastic improvements can be made.

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