It’s more than an Annual Checkup!
The term “Performance Management” may bring a few things to mind: Self reviews and annual review forms, as well as verbal and written warnings with action plans when things aren’t going so well. But what if it was less an annual event and more a periodic practice? Great performance is an achievable goal – what, outside of the annual performance review can be done to achieve this?
The Annual Performance Review Conundrum
The tough part of the traditional performance review process is the very fact that it IS a once-a-year event. In a fast-paced business, it can be tough to recollect enough detail to make an assessment of an employee’s work performance over the period of a year. Too often, managers find themselves using only very recent examples to come up with a performance rating, neglecting to consider the exceptional work the employee put in months earlier to complete something by the deadline or forget when he or she dropped the ball on a project and didn’t take accountability.
There is also the pitfall some managers fall into (and usually not intentionally) of waiting an entire year to bring up performance issues with employees. This is akin to a major league baseball coach addressing performance AFTER his or her team loses in the playoffs. Some employees are lulled into a false sense of “all’s-well” if they don’t hear any news and may be shocked at a poor rating later; others will get frustrated with the lack of feedback and have no idea if they are on the right path. Both can lead to a low morale and decreased self-motivation.
The “file and forget it” aspect can also be problematic. What good is a performance review once it’s been checked off and tucked away? What were the takeaways? What were the goals that were set?
Periodic Performance Consulting versus the Performance “Review”
A solution to the problems of an annual (and only) review may be to periodically, proactively consult and coach employees on performance and offer guidance as needed in order to keep them on track. Managers may manage, but can they coach? While a manager can get employees to show up on time, are they doing their best work while at work? Are they motivated to succeed? Do they feel they have the resources they need to meet performance goals? If not, why not?
Imagine that your job is to assemble baskets and specifically, to attach the handle piece to the rest of the basket. You spend some time in training and you’re off and running. After assembling 30 baskets, the individual packing baskets into crates for shipment notices the handles are falling off. He notifies your supervisor, Lucy, who gets busy and forgets to address it with you. You go on assembling them in the same way for another couple of weeks and unknown to you, the compromised baskets are being shipped to customers who are contacting the company with complaints about the loose handles.
The complaints get back to your manager and she writes you up for poor performance at the request of upper management. “Why,” you may wonder, “did no one let me know I was doing it wrong before now?”
Periodic coaching on performance can work to great benefit to both employees and their managers in a few ways:
- It addresses issues in real time. Gradual corrections and tweaks are much easier to address as small issues arise before bad habits are formed and frustrations get high. Can the report be better formatted to make the information clearer? If someone isn’t as prepared as he or she could have been for a meeting, what could you offer to help that individual prep for the next one?
- It gives employees needed feedback. While some employees would be just fine if they never heard a word, good or bad, about how they were doing, most would appreciate some sort of response. If they are hitting everything out of the park, great… let them know. If there is something specific they should be doing differently to be more successful, it will only help them – and you- if they are aware of it.
- It gives them a chance to improve… before being formally reviewed or written up. No one wants to be surprised when the annual review rolls around, especially if unknown performance issues will affect an opportunity for a raise or bonus. Most employees would welcome the chance to correct what they are doing and keep on track with what the company needs. Sometimes employees don’t know what they don’t know or were not aware of a misunderstanding.
- It can help employees work as a team. If you have a longer-term employee who can offer his or her experience and expertise to a newer one who is struggling, or a tech-savvy employee help a co-worker who has famously avoided something in the past simply due to not knowing how, it can be a great boost for the team at large.
- It can be a spot-check for managers too! Believe it or not, some performance snafus arise due to a miscommunication or explanations that aren’t clear. It can also be an indicator of a lack of resources or information. Finding out that you neglected to go over a step during training can only help you fine-tune your internal processes – an SOP (Standard Operating Procedure document) may be helpful for complicated, many-pronged tasks.
While Annual Reviews as a concept may never be phased out completely, acting as a performance coach in order to help your employees be more successful by making small adjustments along the way can only enhance the process.