Most companies have performance management policies and processes that require, among other things, an annual formal written evaluation for each employee. Some companies go further and also require quarterly reviews. The policies usually explain the review process and tell employees the time frame in which reviews are done. Unfortunately, many employers do not comply with their own policies and either conduct the reviews late or not at all. A late or missed review represents an opportunity lost and can create risks that were otherwise avoidable.
Companies expect employees to abide by their human resources policies and procedures and will often discipline or terminate employees for failure to comply, particularly with regard to standards of performance and conduct. Credibility is lost if a company (through its managers), in effect, takes the position of “do as I say, not as I do” when it comes to following its own performance management guidelines. To preserve credibility and enhance the capabilities of the workforce, it is important for an employer also to abide by the same policies and procedures it applies to employees. If a review policy states that reviews are given on the yearly anniversary of the hire date, it is best practice to observe the policy requirements.
Performance reviews provide an opportunity to have conversations with employees that managers may not otherwise make time to do. A well-written performance review that is discussed with the employee serves many purposes and can help turn a mediocre employee into a valued contributor. It can also help managers to discover the cause of a particular employee’s performance challenges. Some performance problems are rooted in personal troubles unrelated to work or can be caused by ineffective direction, coworker issues, or other manageable problems. In those cases, taking the time to deliver a well-thought-out review and talk with the employee about performance can have broad positive effects.
On the other hand, where performance issues are ongoing, written performance reviews that are discussed with an underperforming employee can serve as documentation that performance concerns were clarified before the employer took some adverse employment action. If an employee were to file a legal claim against an employer, the documentation in a properly written and delivered review is helpful to defend against liability. Regardless of the underlying reason for doing a timely review, dedicating the attention and energy to following the performance review process is time well spent.
If a performance management policy sets a time frame for delivering annual performance reviews, failure to comply with the policy can cause problems later if an employee is disciplined or terminated and does not agree with the action taken. Oftentimes, the issue that caused the employer to take action could have or would have been addressed in the review. In that case, an employee would be on notice of performance issues as well as the employer’s expectations for addressing the issues. By communicating in this way, employers can help a poorly performing employee turn the performance issues around and become a vital contributing member of the workforce. Or, if poor performance continues, a timely and accurate review helps provide a basis for taking adverse action.
If an annual review is required but is delivered late or not at all, the company’s failure to follow its own policies can be used against it. Employees may claim, after termination or discipline, that performance concerns were not communicated. This failure to communicate can be used to bolster an adversarial position against the company or, at the very least, to persuade a jury that the employer was not “fair.” And while “fairness” may not be a specific legal issue in the case, most jurors will nonetheless be less inclined to find against an employer if the employer behaved fairly. Failure to deliver timely reviews also can be used to paint the manager as uncaring or inadequate in a leadership role. This too can be used against the company in a later lawsuit.
Companies invest a lot of money in designing performance management systems. But sometimes the system is flawed because managers are not well trained in the process and the money that was spent is wasted. Good performance management requires that managers are educated in the written and oral communication skills that will be needed. This is particularly helpful since most people are naturally reluctant to have uncomfortable or confrontational conversations. If properly trained, a manager is better prepared to look out for the employer’s and employee’s interests. And mastering the review process is one of the indicators of a manager’s competence.
Some employers demonstrate their commitment to the value of the review process by considering the manager’s compliance or noncompliance with the performance management guidelines when conducting the manager’s own review. While a particular manager may not agree with the company’s process, taking the manager’s compliance into account is one possible step in motivating managers to learn and master the process.
It is a benefit to the employer and the employee to deliver timely reviews. The review can serve as documentation of good and bad performance. And if the relationship becomes adversarial later, a properly written, timely review can help show that the employer was communicating with the employee about performance issues. Or, if an employee listens to constructive feedback and changes his or her performance accordingly, an employer will benefit from having longer-term relationships with good employees. Work with your human resources consultant to review your performance management process and get trained in how to deliver timely, effective reviews.
Barrie Gross is former Vice President and Senior Corporate Counsel (Employment Law) for an international Fortune 1000 company and is a regular contributor to AllBusiness.com. She is the founder of Barrie Gross Consulting, a human resources training and consulting firm dedicated to assisting companies to manage and develop their human capital. Visit www.barriegrossconsulting.com to learn more about Barrie and the services BGC provides.
Note: The information here does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as legal advice. If you have a legal issue or wish to obtain legal advice, you should consult an attorney in your area concerning your particular situation and facts. Nothing presented on this site or in this article establishes or should be construed as establishing an attorney-client or confidential relationship between you and Barrie Gross. This article is provided only as general information, which may or may not reflect the most current legal developments or be complete.