Let’s start with a burning question: what is the goal of an employee performance evaluation? What does it seek to accomplish?
Most leaders we’ve asked this question have said things like to promote communication and provide helpful feedback about job performance, to facilitate better working relationships, to provide a historical record of performance, and to contribute to the professional development of employees.
For the record, these are all the ideal answers. However, does the typical annual performance review succeed in accomplishing any of these?
Annual Review or Annual Thrashing?
If your organisation is like many, annual employee performance evaluations are usually tensed, stressful, and anxiety-inducing situations. And they are typically one-sided too. One employee we surveyed said, “I hate being judged. Unfortunately, that’s all that appraisals are, one-sided judgements.”
The tradition of passing forms and assessing employees once or twice a year is stressful for everyone involved. That’s not how performance evaluations should work!
Appraisals are meant to clarify and reward. Therefore, they ought to be interactive and fair. They shouldn’t be brisk affairs that entail filling forms; they should involve dialogue and a real focus on the future, rather than just the previous months. What is more, appraisals need to work successfully for all employees—not just the high performing ones!
Though appraisals must encourage top performers to keep performing and improve their performance, it must also be a source of inspiration for average performers.
In this article, we’ll look at how you can optimise your performance review process for more actionable feedback, clearer goals, and more robust results.
But first, is your organisation’s employee review process delivering the desired outcomes?
Does your review process:
- Leave your employees clear on what’s expected of them?
- Identify areas for performance improvement
- Set goals to support employee development
The typical pattern of waiting six months or a year to give this kind of feedback just about guarantees that this information will be outdated by the time it comes. It makes little sense to wait months to give crucial performance feedback if we think about it critically.
People ought to be told what they are doing right or wrong as soon as possible to enable them to correct their course. Feedbacks are only effective when they are timely.
Hence, here’s what we propose (drawn from experience and research) to help you do better when reviewing your people’s progress:
4 Steps to Improve Your Employee Performance Evaluation Process
1. Create continuous and never-ending schedules for employee performance reviews
There are clear benefits to replacing the annual review with timely, on-the-spot, ongoing feedback. For one, managers can address minor problems as they arise, well before they become big ones.
It gives the manager a chance to address any lousy employee habits, helping to shape employee behaviour on the spot. This instant review allows for increased employee learning and development and better organisational alignment and engagement when done correctly.
Moreover, frequent feedback – weekly, monthly, quarterly or as needed— helps managers develop their people and coach them more effectively and promotes a stronger working relationship between managers and their teams.
As a result of these advantages, many companies are moving to more frequent one-on-one updates instead of waiting exclusively for the yearly or half-yearly feedback sessions to tell employees how they are doing.
To make this shift in your organisation, you will need to train your managers and supervisors to adopt a more spontaneous approach to providing their teams with feedback.
2. Deliberately build a structure to enable an ongoing performance evaluation process
Increasing the capacity of your managers to deliver in-the-moment feedback is one of the best investments your organisation can make in performance management and employee development.
To facilitate ongoing reviews, emphasis should be placed on taking notes in each session. These notes will then be used in the more extensive annual or semi-annual reviews. The fact is that being accurate in assessing your employees is extremely important.
Therefore, because it’s unreasonable to expect that all trip-ups, accomplishments, and other information vital to the employee’s evaluation can be remembered accurately throughout an entire cycle (particularly if it’s a year-long), we strongly recommend that your managers document all their on-the-spot performance reviewing conversations.
Good records can make all the difference between recognising the true contributions of employees or under-estimating their actual contributions.
Keeping records also prevents you from focusing on the one or two elements of the employee’s performance that you happen to remember. In our experience, this is one of the most fundamental mistakes that can be made during employee performance reviews. It has the potential to demotivate valuable employees and trigger turnover.
3. Communicate the review plan to employees.
Making the decision to revamp your review process must never be made in isolation. You will need to talk to your people about it. The best way to communicate these changes is to emphasise the advantages of an ongoing employee performance evaluation.
Get your employees’ buy-in by helping them see why waiting too long between reviews leads to stale feedback that’s difficult to act on effectively. Help them appreciate that shorter, frequent check-ins offer:
- more opportunities for employee development and
- more constructive support from managers who will move from a performance-grading role to a coaching role
4. Prepare adequately for various employee reactions scenarios
Bearing in mind the impact that performance appraisals can have, you must be prepared to respond to the varying reactions from your employees during review sessions. Therefore, do your best to prepare for the following kinds of scenarios:
A . Employees who get overly emotional
If an employee gets emotional, strive to be patient and kind and stay calm. People manage their emotions differently, and some people are more emotional than others.
Being an effective manager requires that you have high levels of empathy so as to meet overly emotional people where they are. If possible, give room for employees to vent.
B . Employees who react angrily or defensively
It’s prudent to prepare for employees who may get angry or argue during a difficult review. Thinking ahead about how you’ll respond if an employee questions your assessment methods and fairness during the review is a good way to reduce the awkwardness of such situations.
One way to manage this is to provide copies of your review feedback to employees before your conversation. This way, they’ll have sufficient time to adjust to the information before you talk with them.
C. Employees who react with silence
It would be best to be prepared for employees who will remain silent throughout the review. Silence could be awkward, so it’s advisable to consider how to handle such a response ahead of time.
An excellent way to navigate this situation is to give them time to digest the assessment and then follow up in a day or two after they’ve had time to process the information.
How Managers Can Avoid Common Employee Performance Evaluation Pitfalls
As managers, we are often guilty of aggravating complicated reactions from employees by our unregulated reactions. Therefore, it is a mark of professionalism to assess your performance at leading these reviews.
The following are tips on how to avoid common managerial mistakes so you can have more productive performance review conversations.
1. Be sure to conduct performance reviews accurately
Don’t fall into the trap of mindlessly rating your employees, especially if you’re employing numeric rating scales. Giving an employee a high, low or middle rating to avoid conflict or attempt to motivate them will prove counterproductive in the end. Focus instead on being honest with everyone.
2. Prioritise active listening over talking
It is often tempting to do all the talking, especially if the review is difficult. However, always remember that developing someone requires a conversation, not a monologue.
Therefore, be sure to:
- Practice active listening.
- Push for feedback.
- Have employees complete a self-review as part of the process.
3. Always be mindful that the review is strictly about the employee.
One of the common traps that managers fall into is to judge employees based on their own level of experience. Don’t make the mistake of mentally criticising the employee for not handling a situation as you would.
Effective leadership requires stepping back and being objective about the employee’s capabilities and skills. It also requires humility. Always remember that no one has it all together. Everyone is different. Your employee may have strengths that you don’t.
4. Evaluate holistically
Keeping notes is the only way to keep from making the mistake of evaluating an employee’s performance in bits and pieces or in the heat of the moment. Regardless of whatever gaffes the employee may have recently committed, discipline yourself to assess the employee’s work holistically, over the entire review period, not only their most recent actions.
Professionalism also requires that you do not focus solely on the negatives. Instead, reinforce good work habits while making recommendations that foster improvement.
5. Set clear goals and be very precise.
Goal setting is one of the undisputed ways to manage performance. However, to be effective, these goals need to be clearly defined. Using ambiguous language when setting goals with employees can lead to misunderstandings. For example, “as soon as possible” is vague. “ASAP” to you may be in an hour; to the employee, it may mean in a day or two’s time.
Use specific language, especially when you are communicating a deadline. As an experienced manager, it’s up to you to help your team understand how to set goals and follow through. The SMART goal approach remains an invaluable tool.
6. Conclude each performance appraisal with a plan for the next steps.
Communicate clearly what you want the employee to work on next and attach a mutually agreed timeline to the next goal. Employee performance reviews are only effective when everyone involved understands everybody else’s expectations.
With proper goal setting, clear communication and careful planning, you can avoid the pitfalls that easily derail well-intentioned reviews.
Evaluating the performance of employees is worth getting right. They are, after all, the only way to help your organisation reach its goals.
At Workforce Group, we have an entire unit devoted to supporting our outsourcing clients in this capacity. If you need further clarification or require the help of our senior and experienced performance management consultants to set up a more effective performance management system in your organisation, please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.