Questions An IT Managers Should NOT Ask During A Performance Review

Sometimes a performance review is all about what we don't say...
Sometimes a performance review is all about what we don’t say…
Image Credit: John Lawlor

Until someone comes up with a better way to evaluate the performance of the members of our team, we are going to be faced with conducting annual performance reviews. The sad thing here is that we don’t look forward to doing them and the members of our team don’t look forward to participating in them. However, even with these disadvantages, we still need to use our IT manager skills and do them and since we’re doing them, perhaps we should be careful to not ask the three questions that will cause problems.

Tell Me About Your Year

As an IT manager, you have some responsibilities going into a performance review with a member of your IT team that you should have learned in your IT manager training. One of your most important responsibilities is that you need to have done your homework. You need to know what this person worked on over the past year and how those projects turned out. You are going to want to be very careful and not ask any questions that make it sound like you are not familiar with either them or their accomplishments. The goal of the performance review needs to be to focus on the employee and how they’ve grown over the course of the year.

A critical question that a lot of IT managers like to ask, but that you should not, is “what was your most successful project and why?” If you ask this question, then you are just going to be showing this employee how out of touch you really are. You need to have done your homework and already know the answer to this question. In fact, you really should have talked with other people who worked on this project and have found out from them what this employee’s true contribution was.

Another popular question to ask, but once again one that you need to stay away from, is “how did you handle a big conflict?” The problem with asking this question is that you are not going to get any real useful information from the employee. They’ll tell you about a conflict that they faced and how they handled it. End of story. A much better question to be asking is “what could you have done to avoid your biggest conflict?” This is going to cause the employee to do some more soul searching in order to answer it. If they have a good answer to it, then you’ll be able to determine how much they have grown over the year.

Tell Me About You

One of the reasons that IT managers handle performance reviews so poorly is because we ask the wrong questions. We ask these questions because we don’t have a good understanding of what a performance review is all about. What we need to remember is that as an IT leader you are supposed to be interested in the growth and development of each member of your team. The purpose of a performance review cannot be just to collect information. It has to be to truly evaluate how a person has changed over the year.

This, of course, leads to yet another question that IT managers should not be asking during performance reviews. This question, “why should I give you a raise this year?” is just a bad question from the get-go. If you ask this question, you are going to appear as though you are relying on the employee to help you make your case for justifying a raise for them this year. You want to get more than just facts from the team member, you want to engage them in a discussion about their personal strategy and their viewpoints.

A great question to ask during a performance review would look something like “tell me about your greatest skills and what you did to improve them this year.” This opens a lot of doors and can reveal if an employee has developed beyond what you may have expected for them. You want the focus of your performance review to be about how the team member feels as though they have improved this year. If you can get answers to this question, then it will have been a good performance review.

What All Of This Means For You

No IT manager looks forward to doing performance reviews, but we are all responsible for doing them. What this means is that we need to find ways to make this annual activity produce the best results for both us and our IT teams. One step in making this happen would be if we would stop asking the wrong performance review questions.

The first question that we should stop asking is “what was your most successful project.” This just shows that we’ve not done our homework in preparing for this performance review. The next question is “how did you handle a big conflict?” That will just provide us with a lot of information, what we need is knowledge. Finally, we want to stay away from asking “why should I give you a raise?” Instead, we need to dig deeper and get an understanding of how our team member has changed over the course of a year.

I personally think that performance reviews should be a celebration of everything that someone has been able to accomplish in the past year – sorta like a IT team building exercise. This should be a joyful time! Now, it might be a little joyful or it might be a big joyful, but still there has to be something there to celebrate. Learn how to ask the right questions during a performance review and you’ll be able to get a lot more out of these required meetings.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Management Skills™

Question For You: How much time do you think a performance review should take to complete?

Click here to get automatic updates when The Accidental IT Leader Blog is updated.

P.S.: Free subscriptions to The Accidental IT Leader Newsletter are now available. Learn what you need to know to do the job. Subscribe now: Click Here!

What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

p>The way that most of us become an IT manager is that we just happen to be in the right place at the right time. Somehow we find ourselves being assigned or appointed or even awarded the position of IT manager no matter what our IT manager skills are and then all of a sudden there we are. It’s what comes next that really matters – how good are you at this management thing? Far too many of us end up failing at this leadership thing. This brings up the critical question: why do some IT leaders succeed while others fail?