Honesty is the best policy Featured

7:04am EDT February 27, 2003
Many moons ago, when I was a cub reporter at a small daily newspaper, I received my first real performance review.

I'd been a business reporter there for about six months, and thought I'd done a good job. My business stories were engaging and well written, I generated plenty of content each day and, more important, I rarely got scooped by the competition.

So it came as something of a surprise when the editor swept through those positives rather quickly, then spent the bulk of the meeting discussing areas where I needed improvement.

She rattled off a list that included improved communication with my fellow writers, a greater physical presence in the business community, better listening skills when dealing with superiors and, finally, more self-confidence in my abilities as a journalist.

As a rambunctious and somewhat cocky 22-year-old, that last comment seemed like a blow against my manhood. What did she mean I lacked self-confidence?

While I sat there stunned, the editor brought the meeting to a close with an even more puzzling move. She promoted me to business editor, effectively putting the entire business section of the newspaper under my watchful -- and youthful -- eye.

In the decade-plus that has followed, I've come to understand the performance review process better. Back then, I failed to take pleasure in my promotion and instead spent weeks viewing the editor's list as negatives before finally seeing it for what it really was -- constructive criticism designed to help my development as a journalist and manager.

Today's annual performance review process often gives senior managers pause. The business world has evolved into a litigious realm, where the smallest comment that could stand in the way of someone's career could turn into a costly lawsuit against your company, but done properly, the review process is a positive experience.

The goal is to help your staff improve their skills and grow their careers. It's important to provide an overview of your employees' positive performance and offer constructive advice for areas where there is, indeed, room for improvement. It's not necessarily the time to berate your staff.

As with many things, honesty is crucial. Without it, your employees will remain isolated in their ability to improve their skills and performance.

But with it, you'll help set them on their own path of success -- much as that editor did with me.