Five Ways to Rock Performance Evaluations
Let’s face it, performance reviews can be the bane of our existence. They may vary greatly by organization, but the basic objectives are often painfully similar. Managers need to set new goals, motivate employees, and assess rewards. Traditional performance evaluations were developed for this framework and worked well for a while, but as a leader you face a different reality today. Long gone are the days when human capital was so abundant that all managers needed to do was classify their staff as individuals they wanted to reward, keep, or let go. Things have changed. A complex talent shortage that affects many industries is pushing for a much-needed shift in that paradigm. Organizations now also realize that meeting their human capital needs requires investing in developing their talent. Leaders have come to understand that to grow, motivate, and engage their staff, developing their talent needs to be at the center of the performance evaluation process.
We asked our clients a few weeks ago how they make the best out of performance evaluations and what they find most challenging during the process. We have combined their great insights with some of our experiences and research to create our top five tips to set you and your staff up for performance evaluation success.
1. Provide the right kind of feedback
Quality feedback is key to development. “You do a great job” is not useful. Neither is “I think you can do better,” especially if the conversation only takes place once a year. Provide ongoing and specific feedback. Isolated feedback that occurs only during performance reviews and is quickly ignored can be frustrating and demoralizing. It can also be seen as meaningless. Conversations that occur during the performance evaluation process need to continue throughout the year. Add this item to your standing one-on-one meetings, where rather than telling employees how to proceed, you can ask questions to understand their perspectives and explore growth opportunities. Deliver criticism with respect and be sure to point out what’s working too. We are often too quick to notice what’s wrong. Remember to point out progress, even if it’s small, as this is a great motivator. Lastly, ask for feedback for yourself. As leaders, you are all growing and need to know what you can do better, exploring growth opportunities for yourself. Your staff may appreciate the chance to provide “bottom up” feedback regarding your managing style. They may also appreciate the opportunity to discuss how this affects their work, even if they feel apprehensive about it at first. If you need a great tool to help you open up lines of communication, try our Oil Change hack.
2. Focus on goal clarity and significance
When we asked our clients what they find the most challenging during the performance evaluation process, many pointed to goal ambiguity, or as one of them put it “not knowing what’s expected of me.” Effective performance goals are clear, concise, action oriented, and phrased in a way that leaves little room for interpretation. They serve a roadmap. The desired objectives need to be clear and specific because the process of setting goals is fundamental to determining your direction. Goals also need to be meaningful to the employee. This is what is often referred to as “task significance”—the extent to which our work has internal and external impact, making other people dependent on it and giving meaning and importance to the work. Our clients have several methods for setting goals: Goal Pyramid, BSQ (Think Big, Act Small, Move Quickly), Tiered Goal Framework, Locke and Latham’s 5 Principles, Backward Goals, OKRs (Objective and Key Results), and SMART Goals (Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Relevant, and Timely), among others. Whichever method you prefer should establish agreed-upon, result-oriented goals that are aligned with your overall objectives and the organization’s strategy. Ask yourself: Do these goals help my employee effectively and clearly contribute to the goals of my department and the organization?
3. Build from strengths
We get it. It’s important to talk about “areas of improvement” during performance reviews. Ignoring them can derail careers and organizations. Asking our staff to work on them allows them to get better at the tasks that don’t come natural to them but may be inevitable. So, help them tackle their weaknesses. Provide good feedback and assist them in minimizing negative impact, but keep in mind that they are likely not going to reach excellence in their “areas of improvement.” They may however excel in their strengths—the broader aptitudes that make them shine, inspire them, and motivate them to make significant impact. Spending time, money, and energy on learning how to use and develop their strengths will yield infinitely better results for them and the organization. As one of our clients wisely pointed out, assessments should be used to “mentor, coach, encourage, and build up natural talent and diversity.”
4. Mind your span of control
How many subordinates do you have? If the answer is in the double digits, you may have too many, and your exhaustion and anxiety around performance reviews is well grounded. Your span of control (the number of subordinates you have) is an important factor to understand in organizational structures that is often overlooked during performance evaluations. If your performance reviews tend to be as described by a client “robotic and not individually structured to the employee,” your span of control may be to blame. The need to develop and deliver numerous performance evaluations yields canned, impersonal, and meaningless results. While there is no quick fix to organizational structures with wide spans of control, it is something you should discuss with your leadership and Human Resources department, and not just for the sake of performance reviews. Wide spans of control can lead to role confusion, management distrust, and high turnover.
5. Make it a team sport
You don’t have all the answers and that’s OK. Others’ perspectives, such as clients and peer managers across the organization, can be very valuable. If your staff works in partnership with other individuals in a variety of projects inside and outside the organization, use these sources. As companies become better integrated, employees collaborate more and can have more influence. Consult with other managers and gain a wider perspective on the impact of your staff. Offer to speak to other managers about the support other staff provides you and your team. It’s a practice that can break up silos, strengthen relationships, and build trust.
Performance evaluations are among the most challenging tasks in talent management. So take a deep breath and know you are in good company! We hope these tips can help you navigate this process. For more information on talent management strategies, read about the WAG method, and if you need assistance, please give us a call. We are here to help!