For many managers, the end of the calendar year heralds the arrival of the dreaded annual performance review process – the one and only time each year when they sit with employees in an official management capacity to discuss job performance.
Why Evaluations Matter
An effective performance management system is an ongoing process with regular communication that includes goal setting, coaching, and the delivery of timely feedback.
The benefits of conducting annual performance appraisals as part of this system include:
- increasing the employee’s level of engagement with the company and their position;
- aligning employee and company goals;
- setting clear expectations so employees can more effectively self-manage;
- improving the employee’s view of their relationship with their manager;
- contributing to an employee’s sense of accomplishment.
Performance evaluations are not meant to be a last-minute dumping ground for the difficult conversations about poor performance that were put off throughout the year. Instead, they are meant to advance development plans for employees and to focus management and employee efforts on the attainment of company goals.
Why Managers Get Annual Evaluations Wrong
The reality is that very few managers have ever been trained on how exactly to conduct and manage this important process. And with their own responsibilities and jobs to do, performance evaluations and employee feedback often find themselves at the bottom of a very long to do list.
This lack of training and preparation can lead to procrastination and ineffective, rushed evaluations, or even worse – no evaluations at all. Failure to officially review the performance of your employees, or doing a half-hearted job of it, sends a message that you don’t value your employees’ contributions, which is clearly not the type of motivating message managers strive to deliver.
And yet THAT time of year is already upon us, that means a considerable number of managers are staring at their computer screens, facing their annual make-it-work moment. Again.
When Time is Short
If your performance evaluation deadlines are looming, and you‘re feeling woefully unprepared, here is a game plan to get you on track:
- Review Job Descriptions. If you don’t have one for a position that reports to you, create one. Make sure you and your employee understand their essential duties, job requirements, and performance expectations. This job description is the basis for every performance discussion going forward.
- Create a Working File on Each Employee. Use emails and other documents from the entire review period. This will help you quickly create as accurate a review as possible for the entire cycle, and not just the two of three most recent events that are the freshest in your mind.
- Consider Adding a Self-Evaluation. One that requires your employees to provide supporting examples of their self-ratings. If an under-performing employee rates themselves highly across the board, remember that your lack of feedback is at least 50% responsible for this problem, and you should plan your conversation accordingly.
- Prepare for Difficult Conversations. For areas where an employee’s performance is below expectations, bring ideas for training and support to the meeting. Be prepared to consider the employee’s suggestions as well. Create a mutually agreed upon development plan for the coming year that focuses on these areas – and then follow through.
Preparing for the Next Year
If you’re determined to do right by your employees and not get pulled back onto the hamster wheel of last-minute, ineffective evaluation cycles, then you are in luck. The start of a new year is the perfect time to reinvigorate your performance evaluation process.
The keys to a good employee evaluation are preparation and planning.
- Start with the Job Description. As stated above, this document is the basis for every performance discussion going forward. It should be: review with the employee annually and updated as necessary. Make sure the employee understands his or her essential duties, job requirements, and the expectations of their role.
- Maintain and Expand Those Working Files. This file is separate from the main employee/personnel file. During the review period, you should document the employee’s performance. Example: if the employee exceeds expectation for a writing assignment, document this information in the employee’s working file. Include the date, the project name, and an evaluation rating (“good”, “excellent” or “outstanding”). If you determine areas of weakness, you should document this information as well. Having this consolidated file will reduce the time needed to prepare a review, provide balance to assessment of the year as a whole, and keep specific examples at your fingertips for the evaluation discussion.
- Provide Feedback Throughout the Performance Evaluation Period. The written annual evaluation is the end of an ongoing process. An effective performance evaluation process is a constant, interactive, yearlong cycle. It is recommended that you set regular 10 to 15-minute employee development meetings, also known as one-to-ones, with each member of your team. These meetings can be weekly, bi-weekly or monthly, depending on the position.
- Consider Whether to Adjust the Timing of Your Evaluations. Is there a valid business reason to evaluate all your employees at the end of calendar year? Even with the more informed, less stressful process you’re putting in place, this can still be time consuming. As more companies disconnect performance evaluations from salary increases, there comes an opportunity for flexible timing and a less burdensome process, such as one that culminates for each employee on their anniversary date.
As a manager it is your responsibility to make sure your employees are successful in their roles. Great leaders help other people succeed. Preparation throughout the year allows you to execute a well-organized and accurate performance evaluation, one that can help motivate and encourage your employees all year long.
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