Review Your Performance Reviews

The often worst managed HR function can be a boon if well-implemented

As time creeps toward school-report season and that well-known Halloween gala event, many organizations are also looking at finally getting around to that dreaded report card or "performance review" process. You’ll notice I used the word "finally." I did so deliberately because performance reviews are almost always late or simply not done. In fact, the performance-management function is the worst managed area of the human resource field.

There are always plenty of reasons, but frankly, no real excuses for this delay. Some of the reasons include the fact a performance appraisal is quite political. That’s because the manager has to continue living with their employee every day, and any negative feedback will certainly cool the relationship for a period of time. As well, managers often tend to focus on more recent events rather than keeping track of performance all year round. Another concern is that many so-called measurements are really only "outputs" rather than "outcomes" and so cannot be effectively rated.

However, there is some good news: the philosophy of performance management has changed to be more participative. Employees are now welcomed as part of the overall process. If implemented effectively, employees are given their appraisal tool, asked to evaluate and rate themselves and then prepare for a discussion and agreement on goals going forward.

In spite of a philosophy of participation and the fact a performance appraisal is due, there are still many managers who are only now preparing to give the annual review. If that is the case, the following tips will assist you to conduct the performance appraisal.

Prepare the facts

It is important for managers to prepare well for the upcoming employee meeting. Review the individual’s performance from a continuous perspective and not simply the last three months. Otherwise, you are evaluating your employee based on what’s called the "recent" effect.

Review the goals that were set for the year. Identify accomplishments the individual achieved and review those that weren’t. Be sure to assess what may have prevented success. In all fairness, be sure to assess whether or not administrative or organizational barriers were involved instead of quickly blaming the individual for not accomplishing a goal. Be sure your evaluation is fair and is complete with facts and examples.

If you’re having the employee complete the performance form from their perspective, then meet with the individual prior to their own assessment and review the overall annual goals. Give the individual approximately two weeks to complete their assessment. Suggest they recall all of the work completed during the year and be prepared to provide examples. Ask them to identify issues of concern.

Prepare to manage your emotions 

A performance review is all about giving candid feedback. But let’s face it: this is sometimes difficult. Thus, you need to be very self-aware and conscious of how you personally feel about each performance review and how you will handle it.

Identify the nature of the impact both on yourself and the relationship with the employee. Acknowledge these emotions and identify ways to manage your emotions. Focus on being successful and put your plan in place.

Anticipate the employee’s emotion

It is also important to anticipate your employee’s emotional reaction. With luck, there will be no surprises. However, disagreement does occur and will be accompanied by an emotional reaction. These reactions range from tears to angry outbursts. You need to be prepared to deal with any of them. You’ve more than likely seen this employee’s emotional behaviour before, so reflect on how you’ve successfully managed it previously and how you can ensure a positive outcome.

Deliver the message

Be prepared to treat your employee with dignity and respect. To do so, you need to choose your words and tone of voice carefully. Also, be sure to choose the right place to deliver your message and give the employee sufficient notice of your meeting date.

Start by reviewing the performance goals assigned to your employee. Then apply the so-called sandwich approach of conversation by sharing a positive performance element, then an area of concern and next, close off with another positive performance feature. 

Give direction

Each performance-review session needs to incorporate frank discussion so goals for the next performance year can be prepared. Your employee has given thought to their performance and will present their views. Work with them to come as close to consensus as you can on the final review and then set the new goals in place. 

Should there be disagreement, it is important that the manager hold their ground because it is your job to balance the needs of the employee with the needs of the organization.

Should this discussion be a challenge, it is also a signal more time will need to be spent with the employee in order to avoid disgruntlement that could undermine the entire relationship.

Coach for success

The concept of performance appraisal and performance management has been around forever. Thankfully, however, there’s no longer a focus simply on controlling employees, avoiding mistakes and fixing a bad employee. Instead, we now focus on employee development and coaching.

Committing time and energy to coaching and developing employees increases an employee’s commitment and loyalty to their employer and helps them develop skills at the same time.

Reschedule for continuous review

Now you have your annual performance review completed, it’s time to create a schedule for an ongoing review so no surprises surface in the next review period. Develop a schedule for a formal "sit-down" review every three months. This allows you to catch issues before they become problematic. Provide ongoing guidance and coaching to help facilitate your employee’s success.

As mentioned earlier in this article, performance management continues to be the worst-managed function of human resources. 

Both management and employees often end up dissatisfied because the appraisal process isn’t valued, isn’t done on a regular basis and doesn’t focus on a balance of strengths and areas of challenge. As well, many appraisal processes don’t include career-development plans.

If your current performance process isn’t being well-implemented, then it’s time to review what you are doing and consider how to apply the newer approach of ongoing joint reviews and coaching for success. Believe me, it works in spades.

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