You want to see continual improvement by each member of your team? Then you have to give routine and honest evaluations of worker performance.


On the list of things companies do for all the wrong reasons, 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.

One of the worst things about these annual appraisals is the use of numerical values to rate performance. In your business career, 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.” An employee of a major corporation related the bizarre example of this attitude 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, 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.

 

DON’T FEAR CONFLICT

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 an employee’s feelings that they ignore bad behavior and poor performance even when it’s detrimental to the company. Once workers understand that no one will 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 crew of incompetents.

The annual review is not going to go away, but the most effective performance review takes place in real-time every day. Good or bad performance needs to be recognized immediately and consistently. Follow these tips and you can throw out that employee evaluation form full of boxes and numbers … and have better workers and a more effective boss/employee relationship:

Clearly define expectations.

To establish clear performance goals, the manager should ask the employee to complete a list of expectations of the job from the worker’s perspective. This should include job responsibilities and the worker’s level of authority. You should also do this from the manager’s perspective. Then, a discussion needs to take place to reconcile the two lists until both are in agreement. The manager needs to learn what the employee believes is needed from the manager to successfully perform the job.

Measure behavior, values, and skills.

In addition to establishing expectations, assessments should measure behavior, values and skills required for the job. Compare your measures to those of your workers. 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 improvement. Remember that the employee has to be a good fit for the job. No amount of coaching can remake a worker who is not suited for the job in the first place.

Communicate constantly and consistently.

It is the manager’s responsibility to provide a system that encourages constant and consistent communication. Coach the employee, don’t just evaluate performance. 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 him do his job. It provided me with the help I needed to do my job.

Provide specific feedback.

When employees meet or exceed expectations they should be told about it. Nothing inspires workers more than repeatedly hearing they’re doing a great job. The only exception is when those words are either insincere or untrue.

So when employees fail to meet expectations, they need to be told that, too. If they don’t hear what they need to improve, the only assumption they can make is that they’re doing what should be done – or that the boss doesn’t care what they 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. This creates a high level of anxiety for the employees and the manager.

 

THE BOTTOM LINE

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 company. Reviewing performance should be a matter of constant adjustments … and not about using a meaningless number system in a forced annual meeting between you and each member of your workforce.


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