Use performance reviews to get the most out of staff

employee performance evaluationIn order for a company to succeed as a whole, its managers need to help their individual employees succeed by effectively managing their performance.

All managers can benefit from these reminders.

Managers’ attitude matters

“The attitude of managers is critical,” says Jeannette Seibly, Human Per­­for­­mance Coach and Consultant, SeibCo, LLC (High­­lands Ranch, Colo.). “Man­­agers must have a mindset for the em­­ployee to win.”

The goal is to evaluate the employee’s performance, not attack his character; to build the employee up, not tear him down. This shouldn’t be a “gotcha” kind of meeting, says Seibly. Nothing in the assessment should come as a surprise to an employee.

Seibly also notes that too many man­­agers go into evaluations frustrated be­­cause they do not know what needs to be done to fix a performance deficiency. This “frus­­tration will come across more than anything else” during the evaluation, she warns. She suggests that the manager should “ask a boss or ask a mentor” for guidance.

Communication skills are key

Whether having an informal performance coaching conversation or conducting a formal annual performance appraisal, managers should be reminded of these best communication practices.

•  Be specific. Sweeping generalizations can too easily be misinterpreted or misunderstood. An employee needs to know exactly what he must stop doing or what he should continue to do.

•  Support the assessment with evidence. Evidence doesn’t necessarily have to be tangible (e.g., a letter of praise from a customer); the manager’s visual observation of an example of stellar or substandard performance can suffice.

Written performance appraisals should include narrative comments to support ratings/rankings. Copying comments from the employee’s previous reviews or only changing a few words here and there isn’t acceptable.

•  Set goals. Focus on improving or sustaining performance in the future, rather than dwelling on past mistakes. Negative feedback should include steps for improvement.

•  Take protected class and protected leave out of the picture. Watch for signs of illegal discrimination. For example, age shouldn’t be noted as the reason for an employee’s inability to learn new technology, just as leave taken under the FMLA shouldn’t be used as evidence of an attendance problem.

•  Talk with an employee, not at him. Some managers come across as more authoritative than necessary in order to be taken seriously. More times than not, however, such an approach backfires and puts an employee on the defensive.  

•  Do use a collaborative tone. Instead of telling the employee he should do this and he should do that, ask for his input on how to improve or maintain performance. You want “a two-way conversation,” says Seibly.

Employees should be allowed to ex­plain their actions and question the assessment, within reason. It’s good to know what’s on an employee’s mind; if the employee’s thinking is flawed or the manager has misunderstood, this is the time to clear the air.

•  Don’t sweep any awkwardness under the rug. For example, a recently promoted manager may have difficulty criticizing a friend and former peer. The manager should acknowledge this awkwardness and stress that the meeting is professional and not personal.

•  Do use the sandwich approach. Seibly recommends saying two positive things, followed by two changes the em­­ployee needs to make (make them doable!), and then ending by making two more positive points. This approach is “so much more positive and powerful than anything else you can do,” says Seibly, who cautioned against listing more than two changes at once for fear of overwhelming the employee.

•  Don’t apologize for negative feedback because doing so gives the im­­pression that the assessment is inaccurate.