Browsing the archives for the performance reviews tag.

5 Tips for Effective Performance Reviews

Geek 5, Managing people, Uncategorized

In previous posts, we discussed some of the ins and outs of delivering effective performance reviews as a manager.  One of the Geek 5 risks is around managing people – and managers often fail at doing effective reviews.  Here are five tips that can help you be successful:

1.  Prepare – If done well, reviews can be very impactful.  They wrap up the previous year and set expectations for the future year.  To have an impact, you as the manager need to prepare – and that means doing more than filling out the forms.  You should: 

  • look back over the whole year for successes and opportunities
  • seek feedback from co-workers who interact with your direct report
  • consider “what” got done but also “how” the work got done
  • compare your direct report to expectations for his or her level and job description
  • think about the value or pain that the person brings to the team dynamics
  • come up with concrete examples of good and bad behavior
  • fill out the paperwork so it reflects the message you want to send

2.  Build off coaching in the moment – Remember, if you are coaching in the moment all year long, you should be continuing those conversations.  That means that there should not be any surprises in the final review.  If you haven’t been coaching all year, then this is the place to start.  Set firm expectations for the year and continue the conversation all year long.

3.  Have the difficult conversation – Remember, having the honesty to help someone improve areas of opportunity is kinder in the long-run than pretending everything is okay.  Have mercy by being tough but honest.  To prepare for a tough conversation: 

  • have concrete examples of behavior (instead of saying “you are not a team player” you can say “you were asked to assist Sally with a critical deadline last month, but you refused to help because it was not a normal part of your job”)
  • think about how you will phrase the feedback – having a script makes it easier if you are nervous
  • anticipate emotion – your direct report might get angry or cry – you should give them time to calm down and then continue
  • work with your HR Manager if you need some coaching on how to give tough feedback

4.  Remember the positive – These posts have focused a lot on having difficult conversations.  Many geek managers struggle with giving direct, negative feedback.  With that said, don’t forget the positive.  Reinforce the behaviors he or she does well.  Re-state your confidence that he/she will continue to improve and be a valuable member of the team.   Unless someone is in serious trouble, try to leave all reviews on a positive, future-focused note.

5. Follow-up – Remember to extend your conversations throughout the year.  This is especially important if someone is on an improvement plan.  One common mistake is that managers put a direct report on a plan and then never follow-up.  The performance does not improve or is not sustained, but the manager is not paying attention anymore.  Put a note on your calendar for check-in points.  If you don’t hold your direct reports accountable, you lose credibility as a leader.

Managing people is not always fun, but it can be rewarding as you help your direct reports develop and improve.  In any case, performance reviews and giving feedback are key parts of your role as a manager.  Do it well!

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As a manager, lack of coaching can take you down

Geek 5, Leadership, Managing people

In this last post, we covered how a lack of “coaching in the moment” can cause employees to be surprised by a bad performance review. One of the Geek 5 risks is about managing people. When you are in a leadership role, managing people is one of your most important and most visible responsibilities.

Another common problem I see with managers during performance reviews involves giving an employee a solid performance review score in order to avoid a difficult conversation. My company uses a 1-5 rating scale. You almost never see ones or fives, and most ratings cluster around 3.5. When we look at a distribution of the ratings, we see a big spike at 3.5 but we also see another spike at 3.0.

This second spike has a simple explanation. Any employee who gets an overall performance review score below 3.0 is not eligible for a bonus or merit increase. As a result, many managers with poor performers give the lowest possible score that they can give without having to have a “no bonus” conversation.

So, you might be thinking, what’s so wrong with that?

What’s wrong is that a needed conversation never happens. The employee gets the impression that everything is good or at least good enough. One of our senior leaders refers to a 3.0 as the coward’s review score. The manager is not acting as a manager and a leader. This avoids a short-term conversation, but usually leads to trouble down the road.

The employee keeps on doing what he or she has always done – after all, the review was okay. As poor performance continues (since it has never been addressed) the manager and company are usually growing more and more frustrated. At some point, an issue will tip the performance from poor to unacceptable.  The manager has had enough. He generally storms down to Human Resources saying that he wants to fire the poor performing employee right away.

As HR probes into the situation, it becomes obvious that there has never been a conversation about the problems and that there is no written documentation. In our company, that puts a hard stop to the conversation. Unless there is a serious policy violation, the manager is asked to go back, give feedback, do coaching in the moment and give the employee a chance to get back on track.

If the manager continues to avoid the conversation, the company starts seeing the manager as a performance problem. The manager’s boss starts giving feedback about poor management skills, and the manager is suddenly at risk. When you are a leader, you must act like a leader. Avoiding tough conversations shows a lack of leadership courage. Part of leadership and management is having tough conversations when you need to. Otherwise, it becomes your failure. And believe me, those failures get noticed. Next thing you know, you’ll get called in to your manager’s office to get some coaching about your poor performance as a leader.

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No Surprises in Performance Reviews

Geek 5, Managing people

In my company, we are in the middle of performance review season. Part of my job is to run the process including developing procedures, creating forms, communicating steps and time lines and following up. Yes, I am THAT person from HR who keeps pestering you about your reviews. As such, I see reviews for people all over the company from senior leaders to hourly workers. I also hear a lot of feedback about what works and what doesn’t.

Folks in my company complain a lot about the process. We don’t have a system that runs the process, so everything is done manually. Our review forms are on Word documents and Excel spreadsheets. Documents are shared via email and the final forms have to be printed out and signed and kept in central storage – otherwise we would not have a historical record. So obviously not a perfect process. We’re working on that and hope to have something better in the future. Believe me, the manual process is harder on my team than it is on other folks in the company.

With all of that said, the process should not matter. Performance reviews are not about the process, they should be about having the right conversations. Good processes and an automated system will not make up for weak conversations.

One of the Geek 5 risks is about managing people. Geeks often struggle with people management. An important skill to develop is having difficult conversations and giving appropriate feedback. One formal opportunity for giving feedback is the annual performance review. However, more often than not, performance reviews become a check the box activity and don’t provide real value.

I am a firm believer that there should never be any surprises in performance reviews. One responsibility of a manager should be to give regular, ongoing feedback. This is referred to as coaching in the moment and should happen virtually every day. Coaching in the moment means giving feedback and praise immediately after the behavior is done. If you witness a direct report doing something great, tell him or her. Be specific about the behavior you saw and explain why you appreciate it. Verbal praise and recognition go a long way to keeping your team engaged and productive. You are also reinforcing the behavior you value and want to see more of.

Coaching in the moment also means immediately giving corrective feedback when you see a behavior that is not appropriate. Don’t wait six months to tell someone that they were rude and abrupt in a meeting or that their presentation was poorly written. Do it immediately. Give them specific feedback about what was wrong – explain the behavior – and set expectations for the behavior you want to see. By giving immediate feedback, you help them correct the problem faster and they can easily remember what happened.

As a manager if you are coaching in the moment, there should be no surprises in the performance review. You have been giving feedback and guidance about good and poor behavior all year long. At the annual review, you can re-cap the year and discuss progress and additional needed progress.

If your direct report is surprised in an annual review, it is a reflection on your management style. Constant feedback means no surprises.

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