Do Your Employees Dare to Raise a White Flag on You?

BY C. Lee Smith
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If you’re still locked into the mindset of giving your employees annual performance appraisals, you’re involved in malpractice. That’s the wisdom shared by Wally Hauck, PhD, and of author of the books “Stop the Leadership Malpractice: How to Replace the Typical Performance Appraisal” and “The Art of Leadership: 3 Principles for Predictable Performance Improvement.” During his recent Manage Smarter podcast with us, Wally explained what’s wrong with the standard performance appraisal and how to empower your employees with a white flag.


In too many organizations, performance appraisal is a process designed to protect the company. Research indicates these appraisals only accomplish that goal about 42% of the time. Meanwhile, if you’re like most organizations, you’re dealing with about a 30% engagement rate from your employees. That level of engagement is a train wreck. 

To turn around your engagement rate, Hauck recommends using the complete performance improvement process. The CPIP, developed by Hauck, makes employees as accountable as managers. During CPIP meetings, managers ask employees about the challenges they face in reaching their goals. They also ask employees about the kinds of goals they should have in order to maximize their contribution to the company and the company’s overall worth.

This process sounds appealing. The problem is some employees may hesitate to speak their minds, especially if they feel a bit intimidated by their manager. A good manager must be sensitive to this situation. You can ease an employee’s stress by setting these meetings in a nonthreatening environment. 

If you sit behind a ginormous desk and ask your employee to sit in a small chair in front of you, what do you think is going to happen? When you signal a huge power imbalance, your employee will tell you what they think you want to hear. Fix that by setting up a comfortable seating area, perhaps at a small table where you’re facing each other as peers.

White Flag

As you transition to the CPIP, you may also want to arm yourself and your employee with meeting tools. Hauck likes to use a white flag as a tool. The flag symbolizes the international language of truce. During your meetings, the flag can be raised, indicating that one person is respectfully calling out disrespectful behavior on the part of the other person.

It’s all too common, and objectionable, for managers to check their phones during a meeting with employees. That behavior is the same as saying, “You’re not important to me.” If you expect that your attention will be diverted during the meeting, tell your employee ahead of time. When the interruption happens, step outside, handle it, and return to your employee. If you're not courteous enough to do this, expect the white flag to be raised on you.

You’ve spent a lot of time and money hiring the best people into your organization. When you use a complete performance improvement process, you’ll get the most out of these people. And when you give them tools to improve your interactions during meetings, you’ll increase engagement.