The November issue of Talent Management magazine has a feature article on performance reviews.  It contains many valuable insights into performance management and a plan for integrating performance discussions into your daily or weekly routines.

The author asserts that annual performance reviews “inspire defensiveness, incredulity, and even disgust.”  I think most people can relate to some degree with this view.  Its my view that annual performance reviews become missed opportunities because they aren’t tied to clear and documented expectations and the time gap between performance and evaluation is often so wide that the opportunity to act is lost.  Here are some reasons provided in the article.

  • Performance-related items – good and bad – are often forgotten by the time formal reviews are conducted
  • Observations and input from stakeholders seem arbitrary and unfair because they aren’t adequately documented
  • Performance measures appear subjective and/or reactive

The article advocates a program that “invests time and resources to proactively and regularly engage with employees to make targeted observations, listen to concerns and offer customized feedback.”

Sounds great doesn’t it?  Who doesn’t want to be proactive?  What employee doesn’t want to receive targeted observations and receive timely customized feedback?  Is that how your performance is evaluated?  If you are a manager, is this how you view performance?

According to the author, “the catalyst [for change in performance management] is going to be two things: People at work are focused primarily on helping themselves and advancing their own careers; they’re going to start bringing tools to work that make a difference in the workplace.  Also, performance systems will begin integrating into work systems.”  I don’t put much stock in the first premise.  In a previous post I referenced a book by Daniel Pink that indicates people are motivated by more than self-interest.

What would this “new” form of performance management look like?  Here are some high-level recommendations from the author.  Managers should

  • Consistently build one-on-one dialogues with employees
  • Spell out performance expectations
  • Review previously set performance expectations

Here are 8 steps managers can follow to implement this strategy.  According to the author, “15-20 minutes per conversation is all a manager needs.”

Step 1: Get in the habit of holding regular daily or weekly one-on-one meeting with each direct report.

Step 2: In these one-on-ones, practice talking like a coach or teacher.

Step 3: Build each unique dialogue with each person based on what’s needed to be successful in the role, and what that person needs to improve his or her performance.

Step 4: Make accountability a process by getting people in the habit of giving regular ongoing accounts of their performance in these one-on-ones.

Step 5: Spell out expectations in detail every step of the way.

Step 6: Track performance in writing every step of the way.

Step 7: Solve small pr0blems before they turn into big problems.  I would add that it is important to know what is truly a big problem.  I have more thoughts on that below.

Step 8: Do more for some people and less for others based on what they need.

What does it take to implement a program?

  • Tie performance to specific business goals.
  • Don’t confuse activity with performance.
  • Document performance expectations (step 5) briefly.  Too much documentation will undermine your efforts.
  • Exercise restraint.  Everyone is under pressure.  The tendency is to overemphasize problems.  The point of this approach is to improve performance.  It only takes one overreaction to undermine trust.