LBNT Spells Performance Improvement

Try this simple performance review tool to transform landmines in employee relations into steppingstones to collaboration.

Attention, supervisors and managers. Name the one responsibility that stresses you the most and for which you feel the least well trained.

If you answered, “giving my staff feedback on their performance,” you’re in good company. Especially for bosses without training in feedback skills, conducting an employee performance review can be a sweaty-palm experience akin to stumbling through a minefield. From merely uncomfortable, the encounter may grow tense, painful and perhaps downright hostile.

Even performance reviews that go well from your point of view may be time wasted in the eyes of your workers. In a January 2006 survey by the North American unit of Adecco SA, the world’s largest staffing solutions provider, nearly half of American workers (44%) said that the feedback they received from their bosses was not constructive or useful.

An effective way to sidestep this “damned if I do, doomed if I don’t” dilemma is to conduct performance reviews using the LBNT principle, shorthand for the questions: What did you Like Best about your performance? and What would you do differently Next Time?

When you invite employees to self-review their performance using the LBNT questions, you are using an energizing feedback tool with powerful, positive effects on worker morale and productivity and your own managerial effectiveness:

  1. Everyone has a gut feeling about the quality of their performance. A person’s self-appraisal of their work is most accurate when you ask for it immediately or very soon after they have done a task or completed a project. Because LBNT is simple and informal, you can use it to hold a review at any time; there’s no cumbersome paperwork and no waiting for an arbitrary annual or semi-annual review date.
  2. LBNT positions you as a helpful coach, not a critical judge. Asking someone to assess their own work pays them the implicit compliment that you consider them the expert on what they do and that they are worth heeding. Additionally, listening to an employee makes them feel supported and that you are enabling them to succeed, rather than forcing them to.
  3. The non-confrontational nature of LBNT encourages employees’ to trust that they can express opinions without retaliation or rejection from you. This confidence opens them up to providing important feedback on your performance as they review their own. You gain the opportunity to practice one of a manager’s most critical interpersonal skills: the ability to take input well as to give it.
  4. LBNT focuses on the present and looks to the future. Dwelling on past performance deficiencies won’t reverse their negative consequences and may instead provoke defensiveness and resentment in an employee. When that happens, the road to improvement is blocked. Better to head down it at once by asking an employee for his or her best judgment on mapping it out. This takes advantage of the tendency in all of us to keep on doing well what we already do expertly and to increase our gratification and the praise we receive by perfecting our results in areas where we perform less skillfully.
  5. As an open-ended inquiry, LBNT unveils what matters most to employees and what best motivates them. Ask me what I like best about my performance, and I’ll zero in on what carries the greatest weight with me for my self-image at work: my thoroughness, my efficiency, my expertise, or my effectiveness, for example. Simultaneously, I’ll reveal what I find most rewarding and inspiring-flexibility and independence (so I can be thorough), adequate resources and equipment (so I can be efficient), recognition (so others realize my proficiency), or training (which broadens and increases my effectiveness). A supervisor who receives these indicators from employees is much better equipped to increase their buy-in on specific projects and their engagement overall with their work.

These payoffs by no means exhaust the advantages of LBNT. Especially for employees, it gives them practice at solving problems proactively, encourages self-initiative and promotes self-responsibility for their own job satisfaction.

Best of all and for employees and managers alike, at performance reviews where you employ the Like Best and Next Time questions, you won’t have to pick your way through landmines; instead you’ll be laying steppingstones to a respectful collaboration that increases everyone’s value to your company or organization.