by Tim Gould
Performance reviews: The most-dreaded procedure in every workplace, painful for workers and managers alike. Here are some thoughts about why they’re often not effective, and how HR can help managers understand just how reviews should be useful to both employer and employee.
First, some thoughts about why they don’t work.
The main reason performance reviews fail is because the manager fails to properly prepare.
Often, it’s because the manager has failed to engage the employee, day to day, throughout the time leading up the review.
Then, the manager fails to think through how a review can be created that sets attainable goals for the employee and makes the job meaningful.
That leaves the manager to fumble through the review, creating confusion and sending the message that the review isn’t that important to the manager, either.
There are other reasons reviews fail. They include:
The manager and employee are friends and cannot separate friendship outside of work with manager/employee relationship.
The employee is hearing negative feedback for the first time during the review. Employees should never be “surprised” by the information they’re given during the review process.
Reviews are scheduled only when employees are struggling and facing possible firing. The employee already sees the review as the “enemy.”
The review is sugar-coated for whatever reasons and doesn’t truly reflect the employees work/position/abilities.
Some employees get reviews and others never do.
Goals and expectations are not clear, or not realistic.
Managers try to measure performance in abstract terms, such as attitude, motivation or dependability, and ignore concrete measures.
Lack of ongoing feedback
Performance reviews should not be seen as a substitute for ongoing and productive verbal feedback that managers and supervisors should engage in with subordinates on a daily basis.
It is more effective if managers do not “save up” criticism during the year to hit an employee with at performance review time. Otherwise, employees will feel “ambushed.”
Performance reviews are not PIPs
Common manager mistake: Blurring the lines between a performance review and a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP).
The PIP is a tool used in many organizations to address specific performance problems if they are serious enough and seem to be recurring in a such a way that the employee’s job may be in jeopardy unless the problem starts showing significant signs of being remedied in short order.
A review’s a tool for helping employees overcome difficulties and continue to improve job performance.
What an effective review actually accomplishes
Two important things to hammer home to managers concerning performance reviews:
they focus on a single individual’s role and performance of that role, and
they look toward the future.
The first rule of thumb: Avoid comparisons to other people.
Instead, the review should laser in on the individual, giving an honest assessment of what went right for that person, and what you think were the most important areas that could have been done better during the period being reviewed.
For instance, managers should avoid such statements as: “You only do six of these a day, and Beth does 10.”
Instead: “You do six of these a day. I’d like to find a way to build you up to 8, or even 10! What would you think of that? How do you think we could help you get to that?”
Give thought to focusing on what should happen for the employee to have success and for that success to make a significant contribution to the growth of the individual and the organization.
Granted, it’s always challenging for managers and supervisors to find the time and energy to conduct such individualized reviews.
Just remember: The payoff comes in terms of employee motivation, retention, better communication and attainment of personal and company goals throughout the year.
Establishes accountability and responsibility
This section of the review should cover the area(s) where the employee did not do so well.
But how these points are put forward is extremely important.
Properly phrasing shortcomings can mean the difference between an employee accepting responsibility and accountability for his or her work, and agreeing to embark on a campaign to improve, or an employee becoming defensive.
Remember: There is little to be gained from a mere enumeration of failures. This will depress the employee, may provoke defensiveness and hostility and may even engender further failures.Focus on outcomes
A good review is always focused on what the manager wants the employee to take away from it.
The review should make employees feel good about their service to the organization. An employee should also believe he or she has a good possibility of achieving success – even when that includes the correction of past problems.
The written review should lay out a clear career path and let people know that their work is appreciated by their colleagues, their manager(s) and the organization.
Managers may want to use some of these exact words (when they are true) to make employees feel good about themselves, their work and their employer.
It’s good to characterize the review by saying something like “This is a mostly positive review …” or “You’ve had a very good year … .”
Remember: Be careful with superlatives – since managers want people to have an even better year next year. For instance, it can never be the “the best ever …” since that’s always yet to come.
Fosters a ‘can-do’ attitude
Managers should focus on specific actions that are the most likely to correct a past situation, whether it involves behavior or performance.
The aim is to have the employee walking away from the review with a sense of responsibility for past shortcomings, but at the same time with a newly energized feeling that he or she can and will do better in the future. They should also see clearly that help will be available.
For example, managers shouldn’t write (or say), “Your production fell 10% last year and you need to raise that this year.”
This will merely put the employee in touch with the negative feelings he or she is no doubt feeling already.
Further, this kind of general criticism gives people no ideas on how to improve.
Instead, managers can try something like: “We all agree that raising production 10% will be the main priority for the coming year. At times like this, it’s best to fall back on all tried-and-true quality control methods, including” (then list those methods specific to your organization and that particular task or area.)
Establishing accountability in a positive way is the difference between creating hope or despair.
It is important that the effort to insert positive language into the review not be confused with sugarcoating the review.
Good managers do not gloss over deficiencies. Instead, deficiencies must be faced head-on, as long as the manager can help point to the way for the employee to get out of the situation.