Real-Time Performance Reviews
By Jim Whitt
On the list of
things that are done for all the wrong reasons in organizations,
performance reviews would have to rank near the top. They end up
being “check the boxes” exercises that have little influence on
performance because they take place after the fact. The typical
performance review is the equivalent of landing an airplane and
asking, “Now, where are we?” It’s a little late in the game for that
One of the worst
things about reviews is the use of numerical values to rate
performance. You have probably met more than one manager who refuses
to give the highest rating to anyone using the excuse, “I don’t
believe in giving perfect scores.” Recently an employee of a major
corporation related the bizarre example of this attitude he
experienced in his most recent performance review. After the end of
the evaluation, his manager said, “Nobody scores that high!” He then
proceeded to lower the employee’s scores.
If the scale is
1-5 and no one ever gets a 5 then that means you’re a lousy
manager. Why can’t the people who report to you ever hit the mark?
What’s sad is that the boss who is afraid to acknowledge someone has
met or exceeded expectations never quite understands why people quit
trying to meet or exceed expectations. If you never give a 5 (or
even a 4) when it’s deserved you create a culture where 3
becomes your standard of excellence. Mediocrity is not only
acceptable, it’s as good as it gets.
On the flip side
is the failure to let someone know that they’re just not
getting the job done. Too many bosses are so
fearful of conflict or hurting people’s feelings that they will
ignore bad behavior and poor performance even when it’s
detrimental to the organization. Once people understand that
no one will ever call their hand when they fail to meet
expectations, the tail starts wagging the dog. Guess what happens
when a supervisor gives a 3 or a 4 when the employee deserves to be
shown the door? Pretty soon you end up with a group of employees
that makes The Three Stooges look competent.
The annual review
is not going to go away, but the real performance review
should be taking place in real-time every day. Good or
bad performance needs to be recognized immediately and
consistently. The manager’s role should be like that of a flight
instructor. The employee’s role is like that of a student. The
instructor and student fly side-by-side.
Define Expectations: First, there needs to be a flight plan with
clearly defined expectations. To establish the plan, the manager
should ask the employee to complete a list of expectations of the
job from the employee’s perspective. This should include what
he believes the responsibilities are and what authority he
possesses. The manager should do the same from the manager’s
perspective. Then, a discussion needs to take place to reconcile the
two lists until both are in agreement. The manager also needs to
learn what the employee believes he needs from the manager to
successfully do his job.
Behavior, Values, and Skills:
In addition to establishing these
expectations, assessments should be completed to measure behavior,
values and skills required for the job. Then corresponding
assessments should be completed by the employee to see how they
compare. This establishes a benchmark that helps the employee to
understand his strengths and helps the manager understand how to
capitalize on his strengths. It also identifies areas which need
strengthening. It’s important to remember that the employee has to
be a good behavioral fit for the job. No amount of coaching can
remake someone into something he is not.
Constantly and Consistently:
Now, that there is a flight plan in
place it is the manager’s responsibility to provide a system and
process for constant and consistent communication. He has to
coach the employee, not just evaluate his performance to keep
the plane on course. In my first job out of college, my sales
manager called me every Monday morning. His questions included:
What’s going on? How are you doing? What can I help you with?
This provided him with what he needed to know to help me do my job.
It provided me with the help I needed do my job.
Specific Feedback: When
employees meet or exceed expectations they should be told they are
on course. This needs to be specific. There is nothing in the
world that will inspire you more to keep doing a great job
than to hear from the boss that you are doing a great job.
The only exception is when those words are either insincere or
fail to meet expectations they need to be told they are off
course. Again, this needs to be specific. If you don’t
hear what you need to improve on the only assumption to be made is
that you doing what you should be doing — or your boss doesn’t care
what you do. I know of a case where employees describe their manager
as a wonderful person but do not think he is a good manager. They
like him but dislike working for him because he gives them no
direction. They feel like they are flying blind. This creates a high
level of anxiety for the employees and the manager.
Direction: Employees need
and want direction. How and when it is done is what makes the
difference — for the employee, for the boss and for the
organization. Like flying a plane, reviewing performance should be a
matter of constant course adjustments. If you wait until the end of
the flight to make adjustments to the course you will always be
disappointed with where you land. Worse yet, someone else will
probably be sifting through the wreckage to figure out why the plane
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