I was recently asked to submit an article on the do’s and don’ts of performance management. It doesn’t appear that article is going to be published, so I thought I’d put it up here for your reading pleasure.
Performance evaluation and its trappings can be a nasty little beast. You have your top performers, who can hardly wait for the opportunity to get into a room with you to recount their accomplishments and hear your praise. You have your under performers, who debate how to spin their shortcomings into a palatable yarn and dread the conversation. Then you have the middle, many of whom will merely comply with the exercise and may find it stressful or useless. This is also the group where self perception and manager evaluation are the most likely to be misaligned, producing further angst on both sides….
Some executive teams and HR thought leaders believe evaluations are going the way of the fax machine, but I believe they’re still relevant and useful if done properly.
Too often, the performance review process becomes a box-checking exercise for managers and employees alike. A form is filled in, ratings are assigned, a conversation may or may not take place. This is a missed opportunity for managers to create a narrative for each of their employees and to communicate an honest and holistic picture of how someone has performed and what the implications of that will be.
An annual evaluation process with a semi-annual “check in” works well. This means that an in-depth written evaluation happens annually, but every six months there is a conversation that sets expectations for what that evaluation will cover. It ensures that bad news isn’t collected for 12 months before being shared.
My preferred process is to have employees fill in a self evaluation that includes examples and evidence to back up their assessment and provide this to their manager. The manager then writes her evaluation, including feedback from other managers who interface directly with the employee. The manager provides the whole document back to the employee a day or two before their review conversation is scheduled so the employee has a chance to process the information before the discussion.
The review discussion should be a dialogue that covers: past performance, areas for improvement, professional development goals for the employee, and upward feedback for the manager. They should be in person where possible, but phone, Skype or video conference sometimes has to suffice.
Here’s a list of Do’s and Dont’s I put together a training I recently delivered.
Have a two way conversation, don’t lecture the employee
Be specific in your feedback, refer to prior conversations or issues
Focus on examples rather than conclusions
Prepare for the conversation – have an overarching theme that you want to get across
Consider your audience before the meeting and spend time thinking about your tone and messaging. Is the employee sensitive? defensive? ambitious? angry?
Talk about behaviors, not just skills
Use the opportunity to tie together examples into a narrative
Inspire people to continue great performance, or to improve
Use adjectives like “be more proactive” “be less negative”. Use real examples and specific ways you want the employee to act on the feedback.
Talk about money, vacation, or tangential issues. Save that for a separate conversation – this is the employees’ time to talk about themselves, not about larger company issues.
Give critical feedback on things they can’t control, for example “new to role” “don’t know product” “client was slow or uncooperative” etc. This takes accountability away from the employee by blaming an external factor. It also robs them of the ability to act on the feedback.
Bring new expectations into the conversation. There should be no surprises in a performance review.
Allow comparisons – the bar is not set the same for everyone.
Give fifty pieces of feedback. Prepare for the meeting and choose the key points that you want them to hear
Get into an argument. If you and an employee disagree, listen to his side. If you don’t believe that his perspective is correct, tell him why, and move on.
Its almost July, which means that now is the perfect time for a semi-annual check in conversation. Go to it!