Monday, May 13, 2013

The Performance Management Debate - What's Right?

It seems like every other day I am reading a new article about the 'right' way to establish a performance evaluation process for your company.  I have re-tweeted articles on the topic as there are certainly widely divergent opinions on the subject.  Some believe that the whole protocol of conducting annual performance reviews should be abolished in favor of more frequent feedback sessions throughout the year.  While I certainly don't claim to have 'the' panacea for this debate, I do have a philosophy on the matter that is built on years of experience as a people manager, HR business partner and believer of the principles of positive psychology. 

Do I think the formal annual performance review and meeting should be eliminated?  No, I do not.  I do think that if the performance appraisal document is crafted properly and the meeting is conducted effectively, it is an opportunity for the manager and employee to end one year and start the next on the same page regarding past performance, expectations and future goals. 

How does one craft an effective performance appraisal document?  There are many styles of documents.  I believe the most advantageous combination includes an essay appraisal section where significant projects or responsibilities are discussed, a section that contains a rating scale where employees are assessed on performance/dimension factors such as initiative, influence and problem solving ability and lastly a forward-looking section that discusses professional development goals for the next review period.  Regarding the rating scale section, prevalent job roles in an organization should be identified and managers of these positions should come together and agree on the key performance factors for success for each role.  All employees who have a given role should be rated on the same key attributes.  This is not difficult to do; I have done it.  It requires pulling together managers into a meeting, distributing copies of the job description and together building consensus on key success factors.  The key attributes or competencies should then be communicated to the employees.  Everyone is then operating on the same frequency. 

I will state in no uncertain terms that managers as a group greatly dislike writing reviews.  It is time consuming to do a good job and there are always other priorities that need to be pushed aside.  With that said, I think managers also know that it serves a greater purpose than those other priorities and therefore needs to earn the time commitment it deserves.  I have been at companies that have employees do self-appraisals first (I like this as it serves to create dialogue during the meeting) and have seen managers just regurgitate that self-appraisal with barely any addition or adjustment.  Managers, do not do this.  Some employees do write great self-appraisals, but the manager should always build on the self-appraisal as a foundation and add their own insight and feedback.  In order to do a great job on the write-up, the manager should keep a digest of each employee's work throughout the year.  This will allow you to write a comprehensive appraisal and allow you to provide vital coaching to your employee.

About coaching:  Some of the recent dialogue regarding performance appraisals is that they should be replaced with regular meetings between managers and employees where feedback is continually provided.  I absolutely agree that these regular meetings should take place.  Regular one-on-one meetings between manager and employee allow the manager to coach the employee on an on-going basis regarding the execution of job responsibilities as well as how the employee is doing.   Nothing that is in a performance appraisal should be a surprise to the employee.  I mentioned earlier that I am a fan of positive psychology.  Have you heard of the Losada Ratio as researched and asserted by psychologist Marcial Losada?  According to the Losada Ratio, on an ongoing basis team members should hear three positive comments, expressions or experiences for every one negative comment.  If you want to hit peak workplace performance, you should strive for a ratio of six to one.  This is not to say that you should not provide constructive criticism when warranted, but this philosophy will reap you and the employee benefits.  The very best managers I have had in my career have been the ones that are most transparent about how I was doing and the steps I needed to do to move to the next level.  The loyalty I felt for those managers was unparalleled.

The actual performance meeting discussion:  Give the employee the written appraisal 24 hours in advance of the meeting.  Let them have the opportunity to digest it and be ready for a robust discussion.  When the meeting starts, devote your full attention to the employee.  Do not check email or take calls during the meeting.  Do not start with small talk.  You do want the meeting to be a comfortable, but by staying on topic, you are giving it the merit it deserves.  Ask open-ended questions such as "You have had an opportunity to read the performance appraisal, did my feedback agree with your perception of how things have been going?"  Explain how the employee's job contributes to the overall goals of your group and the larger organization.  Use a little of the Losada principle, as appropriate, to drive discussion.  Then walk through the document and ensure you discuss developmental steps for the employee.  The discussion should be a two-way conversation with the employee doing at least as much talking as you.  Use active listening skills and reflect back what you are hearing.  As you end the meeting, ask the employee for any last thoughts. 

As a people manager, you can only look better if your employees are stellar performers.  Providing on-going coaching and formal performance feedback annually is one of the most prudent uses of your time.  Keep commitments you make to your employees regarding their professional development.  And don't sugar coat it when things are not going well.  Address any performance that is not up to standard when it occurs (and document it as appropriate).  Above all else, strive for the Losada six to one ratio in order to create a positive and motivating workplace for your employees.