To Be Most Effective, Break Performance Reviews Into Separate Parts.
By Steve Schumacher
I have yet to meet anyone at an aggregates operation who enjoys going through the performance review process. The idea of giving employees formal feedback on how they are performing on the job is a good one. Unfortunately, the process takes on a life of its own and becomes a burden to employees and managers alike.
Employees get anxious about being called into the manager’s office. Managers are asked to rate employees and are uncomfortable sharing bad news. Finance and HR want everyone to fit into a bell curve and there is not enough budget available to keep everyone happy. These are just a few of the things that make performance reviews difficult.
In order to make the entire process of performance review, think of it as a three-phase process. If you do it this way, both you and your employees will get the most out of the process. The three phases are Setting Expectations, Mid-Year Review, and End-of-Year Review.
Phase 1: Setting Expectations. This is the part of the entire process that involves goal and objective setting for the entire year. It sets the stage for everything you think your employees can, and should, accomplish throughout the year. It is your opportunity to get your employees involved in setting their goals, which increases ownership and buy-in.
Make sure you prepare in advance what you are going to say, what you think the employees’ goals should be, and what you see as some of the obstacles they may face. Have those thoughts in place prior to meeting face-to-face with your employees.
When you meet with your employees, your best tool to make this phase go smoothly is asking good questions. Ask the employee what they think they should accomplish in the coming year, what their specific objectives are to accomplish them, and what challenges they see ahead. Train your employees on the use of S.M.A.R.T. goal-setting. The best goals are Specific, Measurable, Agreed Upon, Realistic, and Time Bound. The result of the Setting Expectations phase should be that both of you understand clearly what the goals are, how they are to be achieved and a timeline.
Phase 2: Mid-Year Review. Somewhere around the middle of the performance year, it is time to formally check progress on the goals set at the beginning of the year. This is not a time to criticize, it is a time to simply check to see if the employee is on track with what they said they were going to accomplish.
Again, meet face-to-face with the employee and let them lead the discussion. Your role, as a leader, is to ask questions, coach, and encourage the employee. Go over everything that was written down at the beginning of the year and have the employee explain why they are on track, ahead of schedule, or behind schedule. Offer assistance when appropriate, but let the employee do most of the talking.
If there have been some unforeseen events that now make the goals unachievable, be honest and work with the employee to adjust the goal. Some events might be unexpected weather challenges, lost or new customers, higher than expected employee turnover, etc. We all know that change is constant in our companies, and the smart leader is one that learns to adjust. If everything is on track, and the goals are still achievable, give the employee a pat on the back and reinforce the fact that you are there to help, if needed.
Phase 3: End-of-Year Review. At this point, the performance year is coming to a close and it is time to take a look if what your employees said they would accomplish actually happened. This meeting represents the formal analysis of whether targets were met and a formal evaluation of the employee’s performance is put into their file.
Face-to-face at this point is key. As a leader, this is your opportunity to formally recognize your employees’ accomplishments and reward them accordingly. It is also the time that you must be honest with your employees about their shortcomings and develop a plan to improve them.
Have your employees do their own evaluation prior to the meeting. Keep in mind that most employees will be harder on themselves than you would ever be. Once the meeting is over, put the evaluation in the employee file and get prepared to use the information for the next round of Setting Expectations.
Performance Reviews are never easy, but breaking the process into three phases will make it easier and reduce surprises. We all like feedback from our bosses, so show respect for your employees by doing it in a professional manner.