Employee Performance Reviews that Work


Annual Performance reviews are often dreaded on both sides of the desk. There are a number of reasons for this unfortunate truth. Performance goals may not have been revisited since they were set a year ago, and both the manager and the employee are uneasy about whether or not they are still valid, let alone whether or not they have been achieved. Managers may have been less than satisfied with employee performance in several areas over the year, but they have not bothered to confront the employee with these concerns.

The employee has no idea that a less than satisfactory rating is coming, and the manager is not a little uneasy about how the review will be received. The employee may be dreading the review because he spent all year working on projects and tasks that he was assigned initially only to suddenly find out that they became obsolete or unnecessary months ago. As you can see, there can be some significant issues to overcome. The time to overcome them is, obviously, not during the performance review.

Performance Reviews are usually thought of as discrete, isolated events. They are not. For performance reviews to be effective, they need to be taking place all year long. Then when the official annual performance review time comes, the manager and employee simply wrap up a year-long dialog about the employee’s performance. No surprises. No tantrums. No dysfunctional, non-productive behavior to deal with until the employee calms down.

How do you handle performance reviews so that they are the valuable tool they can be? It does take some planning. Before the beginning of the performance cycle, usually a calendar year, the manager should meet with his or her direct reports to explain what corporate, department, and work group goals will be for the coming year. He should set a date by which employees need to have their own preliminary goals to him. These goals should support the goals assigned to the department, but they should also reflect at least one goal for employee growth and development. The manager should then meet with each employee individually regarding the goals the employee proposes for himself for the coming year. The agenda for that meeting should be to determine if the goals are appropriate, are measurable, have incremental targets to insure progress, and are well understood by both parties. Once the goals are established, the manager should encourage the employee to draft a time-line to ensure success.

The next step is one that will take place several times during the year. The employee and manager should meet at least quarterly to review the goals, decide if they are still relevant, update progress, and discuss any re-direction of effort. These meetings are the time for the manager to let the employee know if progress or performance is unsatisfactory. There are several valid reasons for this approach. If the manager is not getting expected performance from the employee, the results of the department are not what they should be. Extra work may be falling on others. Resentment could be building. And, believe it or not, the employee in question may actually not be aware that he or she is not performing as expected. The time for intervention is immediately, not at the end of the year.

Quarterly meetings like this also reinforce the fact that responsibility for good performance belongs with the employee, not the manager. The manager is responsible for making sure goals are clear and reasonable, and for insuring resources are available. But he is not responsible for doing the work. The employee is responsible for doing the work. If for some reason, the employee finds he cannot meet stated and understood performance goals, it is his responsibility to alert his manager and work out a way to handle the shortfall. Should this kind of thing occur repeatedly, the manager and employee need to meet more often than quarterly. Revisiting the goals, checking for understanding and making sure needed resources are in place should be the priority of the first such meeting. Obviously, the manager should be documenting any such meetings whether they are quarterly or monthly.

The final performance review of the year, should, therefore, be no surprise at all to the employee and not difficult for the manager to assemble. The manager simply looks back over his notes from the quarterly or monthly meetings, summarizes his thoughts, and prepares to meet with the employee. The employee should separately do the same before meeting with the manager. This meeting should be to create the final performance review of the year based on the employee’s evaluation of his performance with his manager’s comments and opinions added.

I don’t mean to imply that the employee will have a vote, so to speak, in how he is evaluated. But he will have the opportunity to present objective evidence regarding his ongoing performance as well as a summary of the total year’s results. With that data in mind, the manager is less likely to rate based on personal opinions or personality disconnects. When ratings are perceived to be objective rather than biased, the employee is far more likely to accept the ratings he or she receives.

Performance management is a difficult area for most managers. We don’t like to find fault, and many of us resist confrontation. But if we wait until the end of the year and have just one Official Performance Review with our employees, we are missing an opportunity to support good performance and effort and redirect where we need to as the year goes on. In the long run, can any of us afford not to do a good job in the area of performance management?

Categories Performance Management

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