It’s here again. July. The beginning of a new fiscal year, and the time to evaluate prior year performance. For many, performance appraisals remain among the most dreaded of all managerial tasks. It is often made more difficult because the criteria seem vague, and it’s easy for the process to become so subjective that it’s perceived as a popularity contest. There are several ways to make this a helpful rather than painful process.
Establishing Clear Expectations
Challenging appraisals often result from having set vague expectations (or none at all). Evaluations should be based on a clear delineation of duties that are tied to quantitative and qualitative measures. The internationally used 12-item Gallup Survey of Employee Engagement asks if there are clearly delineated expectations, attesting to the importance of this to employees.
I generally group expectations into quantity, quality, and timeliness measures with a separate section for staff development and team participation ratings. For example, how much work should be performed each week? This could relate to billable hours, a set of deliverables, time spent in certain activities. Qualitative measures reflect how well the work needs to be done. Are client satisfaction or outcome targets (e.g., improvement scores, peer review ratings or audit compliance scores)? Is the work to be completed in a certain timeframe? Is service reporting, for example, required to be completed within a certain timeframe? Do work orders need to be completed within a certain number of days? Payments recorded daily?
Each employee should also have development goals that improve their skills. These can include everything from computer skills to leadership or management skills. Is the employee an engaged member of the team? Measures here can include attendance, promptness for staff meetings, contribution of ideas and feedback, willingness to be involved in organization-wide initiatives. Having specific measures and targets makes documenting performance much easier (e.g., using a form to do so) and provides an excellent organizational compliance tool.
Reviewing Performance Targets
Once the duties and measurement targets are set, the employee must understand them and agree that they are achievable. This cannot be accomplished by sending them a form to sign, but rather in a meeting to review the document, make sure the individual feels capable of meeting the targets, and given an opportunity to tell the manager what support they may need to achieve them. Done correctly, this process builds employee commitment and engagement, as well as making the evaluation process more transparent and standardized; both of which aid with performance related personnel actions when needed.
Tracking Progress and Providing Feedback
With that, the tracking process begins. The organization needs to have the ability to track data and provide information to team members about their performance status. Once that is in place, feedback becomes critical. Most organizations are required by somebody (e.g., accrediting body, funder, etc.) to evaluate performance annually, but that’s not really a good practice. Employees should be receive feedback from managers routinely – especially if there’s an issue. And these discussions should be documented, along with any corrective measures and support or coaching being offered. And of course, recognition for good and excellent performance. It’s not uncommon for us as managers to focus on the problems. Some days it feels like putting out fires is the job. It’s easy to neglect the great staff (they’re not a problem), and those who are not an on-fire performance issue (why have another difficult conversation that could start a fire?).
The truth is everyone needs regular feedback. It can be a quick monthly recap of the key performance indicators, praising what is going well, and coaching or offering training on areas where there is a problem. Progress reviews allow staff to request help and give managers feedback about resources needed or how they can best be helped by the manager. When appraisal is frequent, face-to face, and documentation is metrics-based, there is less subjectivity and more time to focus on staff development, and performance improvement. Neglect demoralizes the good performers; and when performance problems aren’t addressed in a timely fashion (by the way, this is a measure along with staff retention for managers’ job descriptions), team morale declines and eventually so does team effectiveness.
A Metrics-Based Approach
With these steps, year-end evaluations are made easy. They are a summary of the periodic performance reviews, and discussion about new goals and staff development. In all cases appraisals need to be viewed as a process, one that begins with clear expectations, frequent communication, and a commitment to coaching and development for all staff.
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