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Avoiding common performance review pitfalls

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in Leaders & Managers,Performance Reviews

Over the years we've come to realize that if there's a perfect performance appraisal system, nobody knows about it. Here's some expert advice to help you avoid problems that seem to vex many managers:

It's not about the form. Yes, it is important to thoroughly document the topics discussed and decisions made as part of a performance review. Typically, the forms and formats used in your enterprise's appraisal process are designed to provide that documentation. They are not designed as communication tools or instructions to employees or managers. To do actual performance management, you need to have a conversation, perhaps followed up in writing, with the employee. The form is secondary, not the core of the process.

It is about the plan. Without at least the outlines of a performance plan for each employee, an appraisal is fairly useless: What are you measuring performance against? Your ultimate rankings reflect the worker's success compared to the goals in her plan, not compared to other employees doing different jobs. Unfortunately, the latter is too often what happens—especially when raises and hiring decisions depend on appraisals.

It's more than once a year. Think of your annual review meeting as the first meeting of the next year's appraisal cycle, where you and the employee together identify major goals, and perhaps more detailed objectives, to be targeted in the next 12 months. A once-a-year review simply doesn't cut it as a way to provide feedback on current performance. Smart managers give their employees regular feedback throughout the year, and when it comes time for that annual review, there are no surprises or hard feelings.

It's more than just results. In their desire to be objective and fair, many managers evaluate employees based solely on their achievement of measurable, quantitative results. They overlook the behaviors that produced those results and then, when those behaviors turn problematic, the performance review record is of no help in supporting discipline. There are ways to measure and quantify behaviors like teamwork and ethical responsibility, but at the very least managers need to make written comments, shared with the employee and filed with the review, about such concerns.

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