You've heard it many times before: As much as many of us dislike doing, they're a critical part of our jobs as people managers, both to help our employees succeed and to keep our enterprises out of legal trouble. Here are some trustworthy insights from the pros:
It's not about the form. Yes, you need to have a standard approach for doing performance reviews. But that approach needs to be determined by the nature of the jobs (and even the people) in your workplace, not by the choices made by whoever designed your appraisal system. Communicate what you need to communicate to your people about how they are, or aren't, achieving success. And document what you communicate—on a separate piece of paper, if you have to.
It shouldn't be a surprise. If employees really don't know what's going to happen in a, you've waited too long to coach, counsel or praise them. In the days or weeks leading up to an annual appraisal, you should be more specific, sharing questions that you plan to discuss during the review itself.
It should be honest. There is not a corporate counsel or human resources director in the land who hasn't wanted to pull the hair of a front-line manager who decides Jane Doe has to go—after years of giving Jane above-average performance reviews. Even if you're primarily satisfied right now with Jane's work, you have to document and discuss her overall performance, both good and bad, since the last review. Otherwise, you're saying that any past mistakes and missteps don't matter and have been forgotten—which is fine if it's true, but too often it isn't.
It should happen as promised. It's probably best to postpone a review than rush through it without devoting your full attention to the task. But remember that from a legal perspective, it's very important that you make your best efforts to keep whatever promises have been made to employees regarding the appraisal process. This is especially true, of course, when reviews are tied to other employment actions, such as salary decisions or prospective layoffs.
As a people manager, what's the absolute worst thing you can do? According to authors and employee-retention experts Beverly Kaye and Sharon Jordan-Evans, who wrote Love 'Em or Lose 'Em (Berrett-Koehler Publishers), it's belittling people in front of others. Other cardinal sins, as identified by the authors' online survey, include lying, condescension, humiliating or embarrassing others, and micromanagement.
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