I propose ideas to improve the experience of accounting.

When it comes to feedback and performance evaluations, there is room. Some perspective on the current process:

  • Few leaders in accounting enjoy telling members of the team how they screwed up. Team members equally don’t like being reminded.
  • The past is limited and unavailable. It’s mired in perspective, subjective truths, and differing memories that when poked about, incite defensive and emotional posturing. Whataboutery.
  • There is a clear delineation between meeting with the individuals whose performance evaluations we are looking forward to giving, and those that we’re not.  

What if we enjoyed the discussion, talked about what was possible, and looked forward to having each meeting? We can.

Instead of focusing on the past, consider asking WTF questions.

“What can you do differently in the future?”, “What three things would be exciting to accomplish in the future?”, “What do you want to be proud of having developed in the future?”, “What about the future is concerning?”, “What behaviors would you like to change in the future?”, “What can I do to help you in the future?”

What The Future. “What” questions about “the Future”.

The possibilities of the future are dynamic and boundless. We can change it. Clients can be served with reckless abandon, books closed in record time, engagements finished under budget, and promotions to partner or CFO can be earned. Behaviors can change in the future. By creating curiosity for the future, the energy of the conversation becomes exciting, encouraging, positive, and dynamic. Possible.

And I’ll bet you address the individual’s feedback along the way, but with a much more positive understanding and effect.

If you want to change an experience in accounting, turn the attention of a performance evaluation from the unavailable past to the possibilities of the future. Have WTF performance evaluations.

Some other thoughts on the performance evaluation process:

  1. Surprises Aren’t Allowed: The roundtable approach to collecting feedback offers shelter for opinions and is festering with surprises. Surprise feedback is a comment on an individual’s performance that didn’t get delivered directly by the supervisor with the opinion. The “surprise” is when the individual hears it for the first time, from a third party, or late, causing confusion, distrust, and even anger. If feedback wasn’t delivered directly by the individual who witnessed it, it doesn’t belong in the evaluation.
  2. Lost in Grace: Constructive criticism often is wrapped in positive words and drowned in affirmations, to the point that you can’t taste the development. Providing too much grace can dilute or confuse the message of an evaluation, which should have a clear tone. Give praise certainly but be sure that the individual being reviewed hears the theme above the sometimes-noisy grace.
  3. Expired Feedback: Feedback has a shelf life, like milk, cheese, or running shoes. At a point, it becomes stale, and should be thrown out. Comments must be delivered (in any form) within 60 days of the performance it’s based on, or it’s too late and the window has closed. Stale Feedback doesn’t provide the effect we intend when delivered arriving bitter and curdled. Don’t deliver spoiled feedback.
  4. No TrollingTrolling is providing feedback to an individual with no intention to support them in the act of developing. If you’re not willing to help an individual with the actual development, you shouldn’t be in a position to provide feedback. An individual needs, or at least could use, your help. Consider the role you’ll take in that individual’s performance and offer more than feedback.
  5. Discontinue “Continue”: Remove this word from performance evaluations. For instance, “Continue doing a good job.”, “Continue serving your clients well.”, or “Continue developing your technical skills.” These comments are deflating and breed complacency, fixed mindsets, and surprises. Alternatively, provide context for where they are, where they can go, and what they should be developing in between.

 HOMEWORK (that you didn’t ask for):

  • Read Marshall Goldsmith’s Feedforward
  • Practice asking WTF questions. Ask one provoking question at a time, use “What” to open them, and focus on “the future”.
  • Question for you: “What’s the best outcome of a performance evaluation?”

I am a work coach, and accountants are my work.

That’s it for now. Until you hear from me again, and you will, destroy my inbox. Send me your ideas, insights, thoughts, or experiences on how the game of accounting can be changed.

Douglas M. Slaybaugh, The CPA Coach