by Robin Throckmorton, MA, SPHR
Randstad’s 2002 Employee Review (www.us.Randstad.com) showed that 92% of employees with regular performance reviews were satisfied with their manager or supervisor while only 72% of those with no regular reviews were satisfied. Repeatedly, we see supervisor effectiveness as one of the top reasons employees leave an organization. The cost of either an employee loss or just a loss in productivity from supervisor ineffectiveness could be very painful to the bottom-line. So, if this statistic is true, do we really want 20% of our workforce to be dissatisfied with our managers simply because they do not have regular performance reviews? If not, then we need to provide managers with techniques and tools to make performance reviews less painful and more beneficial.
Beyond this statistical analysis and potential cost, let’s talk about some other reasons why a manager should do performance reviews. To begin with, every employee in the organization contributes to the success of the organization or they wouldn’t be there. So, providing feedback to employees on their performance impacts the performance of the organization. Next, how often are we told we aren’t communicating enough? If done right, performance management provides multiple ways to improve communications between managers and employees, which will improve morale and retention. Next, we are all human and actually are motivated by assessment, feedback and recognition which is one of the purposes of performance management. Last but definitely not the end to the list, performance management helps build self esteem which leads to greater commitment and better work relations for everyone. Wouldn’t your managers like to reap some of these benefits?
Before you can provide guidance to your managers, you need to be sure you are providing them with effective tools and resources. Evaluate the effectiveness of your performance management program, top management support, evaluation tool, policies and procedures, and communication and training of the program. Once you have these components in place with input and involvement of your managers and employees, you are ready to hand the baton to the managers for implementation.
When you pass the baton to the managers, there are a number of guidelines you can provide to help make their jobs easier and more effective. To begin with, managers should be aware of the common mistakes that we all tend to fall into and do their best to avoid and prevent these:
- Halo / horn effect: This is where we get caught focusing too much of our review on one event whether it was good (halo) or bad (horn).
- Recency: Too often, we focus too much on events that happened recently and forget those that happened early in the review period both positive and negative.
- Bias: Each of us is very different that’s why we are human. As managers, we need to be sure our own values, beliefs, or prejudices are not influencing how we evaluate our employees’ performance on the job.
- Strictness / Leniency: There are often two types of managers. One is the type that is very reluctant to ever give someone a high rating. In their mind, nobody is outstanding and always can improve. But on the other hand, you have the type that doesn’t like giving low scores to anyone. The result of either of this situation is that everyone great, good, or needing improvement tends to get the same ratings (i.e. three or four) with little differentiation for performance.
- Contrast: Many times managers make the mistake of comparing one employee to another rather than just evaluating the employee’s performance.
By helping your managers become aware of these mistakes so they can avoid them will result in more quality reviews, which will benefit the managers, employees, and the organization.
Next, another common mistake we make with performance reviews is that we fail to do our homework well before actually doing a performance review. Below is a list of some of the things that should be done before the review:
- Review the employee’s job requirements / description (if it is wrong, this is the best time to update it).
- Review the goals you and the employee set at the beginning of the plan year (notice I said that you AND the employee set at the BEGINNING of the plan year).
- Review the employee’s past performance reviews
- Seek input from others that interface more regularly with the employee than you
- Ask the employee to self evaluate him or herself and provide it to you in advance
- Identify variances between your review of the employee and their self evaluation
- Identify many positive and developmental examples so you don’t get stuck referring to the same situations over and over in your review
- Identify career development opportunities for the employee as well as future goals
- Develop questions that can be used to engage the employee in the review session so it is a two way conversation
- Develop an agenda to ensure all key points are covered during the session
As you can tell, this is a great deal of homework that should be done in advance of the actual review session. This means, a manager should schedule a review session a few weeks or more ahead of time. This will not only give the manager time to do this homework but make the employee feel like their review is important enough that the manager wanted to schedule it well in advance to give both of them time to prepare.
The homework may end when the session begins but there are still a number of things that a manager can do to ensure the session goes smoothly. First, be sure to schedule the session in a neutral, confidential location with no opportunities for interruptions. If it has to be in the manager’s office, be sure both the employee and manager sit in front of the desk not across the desk from each other. Second, the manager needs to pay attention to his or her non-verbals. The employee is already nervous about the session and non-verbals can be very threatening or very comforting. For example, it is more comforting to see open hand gestures than pointing. And, regular eye contact shows commitment and interest where as the opposite can be interpreted as no interest or hiding something. Third, it is important to start the conversation with something positive and be sure to use “I” or “you” as often as possible. Doesn’t it sound better to say “I was so impressed with the outstanding job you did on the Smith project” rather than “you did a great job on the Smith project”? Fourth, a manager needs to ask many open questions (i.e. what, how, describe for me, etc.) to involve the employee and listen. Believe it or not, 60 – 70% of this meeting should be listening to the employee not the manager. Last, be sure to provide the employee with lots of examples to support the feedback being provided. This will help the employee understand both positive and developmental feedback and use it more effectively.
While it may feel like the performance review session is over once the feedback has been provided, it is also important to close the session right. Be sure the manager and the employee end by setting new goals for the coming plan year. Also, it is important that the manager summarize what he or she is going to do to help the employee during this plan year. Last, let the employee digest the information provided in the session and then get back together to sign the written summary. This will allow the employee time to think about what was said and talk to the manager about any concerns rather than all of his or her co-workers.
Most of these guidelines so far have focused on what to do to prepare to conduct the annual performance review session. This day is very stressful for both the employee and manager. These guidelines will help ease but not eliminate that stress. Another tip that will help ease and maybe even eliminate that stress is provide feedback to employees on a regular and ongoing basis. If employees receive feedback immediately, it will immediately have a positive impact on their performance. Plus, this leaves no surprises for the end of the year review, which is better for everyone.
As you probably can tell, many of these techniques and tools are common sense. But, like with time management, we need the refresher to remind us to do them. Develop a tool kit for your managers with some of these reminders for them to review a few months before performance reviews are due. This will help give them the encouragement to use your performance management tool effectively. Remember, we are all human which means we thirst for feedback both positive and developmental to be the best we can be.