A few years ago while managing a department, I was faced with the need to confront one of my employees regarding his poor performance. I found myself spending a significant amount of time trying to figure out the best way to approach this employee, how to get my point across and hopefully change this person’s behavior. For some reason this specific task, with this specific individual was extremely difficult. I had a lot of different ideas, but really no way of knowing which would get me the result I was looking for. It was at this point, that I found myself doing what any self-respecting manager would have done. I called my mom… I mean after all, she is an industry expert on employee development.
After an hour or so of venting about all my frustrations with this employee, she said to me, “well you obviously know what the problem is; now let me teach you the fundamentals about performance reviews and situational leadership.”
From that conversation I was able to develop a plan of attack that I knew was directly in line with what I wanted to accomplish. It incorporated industry standards and limited any potential liability for the company I worked for.
As many managers begin to gear up for their annual employee reviews here are some things I wish I had known that would’ve helped me provide a better review.
1. Review the job description of the individuals you’re evaluating: It is only fair to evaluate someone based on the tasks he or she has been charged with performing. Be sure to ask yourself “are my expectations reasonable for this person based on his/her job description?”
2. Gather and review all documented occurrences of good and poor behavior displayed by the individual: You will be expected to speak in specifics and not generalities. You must be able to explicitly describe the poor behavior that you’re wanting to address giving specific examples (i.e. remember when we spoke on Oct 14, 2009 and I shared my concerns regarding X?)
3. Review the last performance review that the individual received: If you weren’t his/her manager at that time, but he/she was still working for the company then, contact the previous manager and ask that person to fill you in on his/her perceptions of the individual at the time of the last review.
4. Ask yourself if the problems you’re having with the employee are a ‘competency’ or ‘commitment’ issue: A competency issue means that the employee simply hasn’t been taught the appropriate way to perform the job and therefore is doing it wrong. The simple solutions to this are to clearly define the appropriate behavior and if need be, provide additional training. Commitment however, is around the fact that the employee is choosing to behave poorly. Competency issues can and should be considered growth opportunities, while commitment issues require immediate performance feedback.
5. Prep yourself with how you might approach a certain topic: How will you phrase what you want to say and what are some potential ways that the discussion could go. In essence, be prepared. Watch for “you should” statements that will put the employee on the defensive. Remember, the person is fine; it’s the behavior you’re trying to correct.
6. Identify what you want to happen after the review: Not just what will happen immediately, but what will happen long term. What would you consider to be the appropriate action by the employee to change his/her behavior, and communicate that to him/her (i.e. so Jim, tell me, what’s going on with X?)
Remember that the ability for your employee to complete the expected tasks to the detail in which you expect will depend on how exact your initial description of the poor performance is and how clear you are in telling that person exactly what the right behavior is.
7. Review your company’s evaluation form: Does it provide the employee and you with the opportunity to share opportunities for growth? If not, then consider an addendum for your department that asks the employee to identify areas that he or she would like to improve in and what their career goals are. Then be sure to provide feedback on what the employee needs to do to be able to reach that goal (i.e. if the employee wants to become the head of the department some day, then you may share with the employee what he/she needs to do to advance in the company.)
Key Points to Remember:
· There is a reason it’s called a performance review. The premise of this process is to review behavior or conduct that has, at an earlier time, already been discussed with the employee. The employee should not be surprised by anything that shows up as a deficiency on his/her review.
· To discuss with the employee the difference between reality and perception, the point being that it’s not about what he/she intended, but how it was perceived (received) by others.
· Clarity when describing behaviors is a must. If I said, “Jim is a good communicator,” that provides neither Jim nor anyone else with a clear description of his behavior. In this case, how does Jim know what to continue doing in order to be a ‘good’ communicator? Now if I said, “Jim regularly and effectively communicates the status of assigned projects and is diligent in making sure his project team is thinking about the next step in the process,” doesn’t that provide a very clear picture to anyone reading it as to what Jim does very well?
· Be honest. Experience has shown that a majority of poor behaviors continue (resulting in eventual terminations) because managers simply do not communicate with the employee how poor his/her performance truly is, and
· If there are potential consequences for failing to comply, be sure to communicate those consequences.
Annual reviews are typically viewed by employees as a negative experience. They are used to point out areas of weakness and cause the employees to doubt their competency. Such reviews are also seen as a way for the manager to dodge the bullet of actually having to manage. In many cases it gives the manager the ability to summarize the entire year in one document, but let’s be honest; it’s only the most recent situations or occurrences that are typically used as examples.
It is not out of the realm of possibility to turn the annual review process into something the manager and the employee look forward to. If the steps above are followed, there should be no surprises and both individuals will be able to use the process to gain better insight into achieving each other’s personal and professional goals.
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