Lessons from Ali: Give Performance Reviews Like The Champ

Do you want to become “the greatest” at performance reviews? Or better yet, do you want to reach the point when you can proclaim, in the words of the late, great, Muhammad Ali, “I’m not the greatest, I’m the double greatest”?

To clarify, performance appraisals are not the same as boxing. Far from it. But, let’s take a moment and consider, what if you approached performance appraisals like Ali approached the boxing ring?

Tweet This: How can you approach performance appraisals like Muhammad Ali approached the boxing ring?


How well you prepare for an employee evaluation can mean the difference between the success and failure of the review. After all, it’s in the preparation that the fight is won. Ali once admitted, “I hated every minute of training, but I said, ‘Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.’” Don’t you want to live the rest of your life as a performance review champion?

Then take the initiative and ready yourself to give performance evaluations. Part of that preparation is making sure your team understands the review process. Before the performance appraisal, give employees an overview of what they are expected to accomplish and what they will be evaluated on during their review. Performance reviews are widely misunderstood by employees and are often seen as a dreaded formality. It is your job to ensure that your people understand not only how their work contributes to the organization, but how they can continue bringing value to the company.

Tweet This: How to show employees they contribute value to the company during performance appraisals:

So you had better be prepared and ready to provide clarity to your team about performance reviews. It doesn’t help that 1 out of 5 employees feels that their manager is unprepared for their performance review. Prove them wrong and knock out those performance appraisals. And even if you’re not entirely comfortable giving evaluations, remember that Ali once said, ‘To be a great champion, you must believe you are the best. If you’re not, pretend you are.”

Note: Proper preparation is the difference between giving performance reviews and building performance culture.


“It isn’t the mountains ahead to climb that wear you down. It’s the pebble in your shoe.” -Muhammad Ali

What is the pebble in your shoe? It’s the small things, the things that wear on you every day. The pebble that often impedes the journey towards great performance management is bad communication. For many managers, this pebble is lack of consistent performance communications.

The very basis of a productive work environment and good relationships among the team is communication. The dialogue between a supervisor and their employee is invaluable to the successful outcome of a performance appraisal. For one thing, effective communication requires honesty. Both positive affirmations and negative issues in performance should be addressed openly and directly. Employees appreciate directness and honesty in communication, even if it is addressing a problem: 92% of respondents agreed with the assertion: Negative (redirecting) feedback, if delivered appropriately, is effective at improving performance.

Tweet This: 92% of employees say negative feedback, if delivered properly, is effective in improving performance.

But, encouragement also goes a long way towards motivating employees and improving their performance. There is always some kind of silver lining you can convey. Even Ali could deliver positive feedback: “If they can make penicillin out of moldy bread, they can sure make something out of you.” Surely you can do better than that.

Note: If you can identify the small, nagging issues in your performance review process, you can start fixing them. If you dread annual performance reviews because they are a slog through a year’s worth of feedback you avoided, make a point to schedule smaller, more frequent sessions with your employees.


Only 30% of HR professionals rank performance management as a top priority in their companies. If you want to float like a butterfly and sting like a bee, then you may have to make effective performance management a bigger priority, and be willing to put forth the resources to support it.

Many organizations already use a performance management system, but the software they purchased a decade ago doesn’t quite cut it anymore. Larger organizations are especially ready for the change, as a surprising 29% of them have had their performance management system for more than 7 years.

Technology changes and adapts, so must companies and business practices. Don’t be stuck using ineffective and outdated systems, or your performance management will stagnate. Instead, make use of cutting edge performance appraisal processes and take your performance management approach to a new level with useful tools such as 360 Degree Feedback systems, intuitive compensation dashboards and learning content integration. Ali understood the need to grow and adapt with the changing times, as he astutely noted: “a man who views the world the same at 50 as he did at 20 has wasted 30 years of his life.”

Note: Performance management changes as much as the workforce. What worked ten years ago, may no longer work for today’s employees. Staying on top of advancements in technology to enhance your performance culture makes you a better manager and a better leader.

Ali once famously claimed, “I done wrestled with an alligator, I done tussled with a whale; handcuffed lightning, thrown thunder in jail.” But, the Champ never had to wrestle with the difficult task of performance management, and never had to face 12 rounds of performance reviews. It’s a challenge, but go out and tackle it with the same boldness and audacity of the greatest boxer who ever lived.
Take the first step with a demo of Reviewsnap.


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