The topic of annual performance discussions inspires very strong reactions. Whether they are called appraisals, evaluations or reviews employees are likely to dread them as much as managers dislike the process. The concept is well intentioned, the execution rarely meets expectations.
Mercer’s 2008 Performance Management Practices Survey found that 48% of respondents had performance management systems in place to give employees feedback but 56% of employers said their process “needs work.” The Mercer survey sited consistency in ratings as a key concern in effective evaluations. It’s common to work with one manager who, year after year, rates an entire department as exceeding expectations while another feels that no employee can ever achieve the top rating.
Start now to make the 2009 review process different. Move beyond a paperwork exercise filled with frustration to a useful endeavor that provides valuable feedback. Every employee wants to know where they stand. If your process is tied to increases and promotions establish clear guidelines and don’t keep them secret.
Evaluation documents can take many forms. Organizations may choose to use detailed documents that include every task, general statements of performance, a list of accomplishments or qualities that are important for success. Generic evaluation forms tend to produce mediocre results. The format that focuses on rating items such as, “Works well in teams”, “Is reliable”, “Maintains a positive attitude” and “Accepts criticism willingly” does not create a clear description of performance. The lack of specifics and statements that are not easily quantified provides the perfect setting for a manager to simply check boxes.
Robin Kessler in her helpful book Competency-Based Performance Reviews: How to Perform Employee Evaluations the Fortune 500 Way, describes the elements for effective ratings based upon job specific key characteristics. A baseline of competencies to be rated is strengthened by written accomplishment statements that detail the results achieved. Kessler explains, a controller did not simply exceed expectations she, “Managed 100% increase in accounts payable and accounts receivable volume without increasing 15-employee staff; streamlined work processes and provided incentives to improve individual productivity.” Competency-Based Performance Reviews includes clear examples and action words to assist in writing performance documents.
Evaluations are also sabotaged by surprises. An appraisal discussion should not provide the once a year opportunity to tell an employee, “You are absent way too often, keep this up and we’ll have to fire you.” Every employee absence, or lateness, is an opportunity for a coaching discussion about the importance of good attendance. This can certainly be reinforced on an annual summary.
Ongoing coaching and counseling is just as important as consistency between performance and documentation. Firing an employee for poor job performance a few months after a stellar review is bound to raise more than a few questions. It can be tough to explain away the excellent rating to an external agency.
I’ll be covering the nuts and bolts of the process in AHI’s web conference, How to Conduct Motivating and Legally-Sound Performance Appraisals on Thursday, January 8th at 1:00 pm Eastern Time. Join me next week for this informative session. Resolve to make 2009 the year that evaluations move beyond drudgery to an effective tool for performance management.