I had an interesting conversation on a recent flight. It concerned the annual review of an under-performing employee.
This manager was telling me how odd she thought it was that an employee of hers was completely divorced from the reality about his performance. From her perspective, the employee was clearly not meeting expectations. From the employee’s perspective, everything was fine.
What didn’t strike this manager was the fact that an employee should never be given the chance to be divorced from the reality of their performance. In fact, it is incumbent upon managers to ensure that employees know exactly what their performance goals are, and how their performance measures up to those expectations. And quite frankly, managers shouldn’t wait until the annual review to review performance … otherwise the annual review should be called the annual surprise.
If this does occur, it is highly likely the manager is lacking management courage.
A simple plan
Here’s an objective, straightforward approach to ensure your collective management team is acknowledging and addressing performance issues head on. This will ensure there is (hopefully) never a disconnect between employee and management perceptions regarding performance. This little process also serves a few other purposes such as management development, amping up management courage, and improving the speed with which performance issues are addressed.
- As a manager, at least once each year, evaluate your collective team (each employee) on a document that is for management eyes only. Write it down and present it to your peers. Start by ranking the performance of each employee…”A,” “B,” “C”, “D” and “F.”
- Then identify a couple strengths and a couple of areas in need of improvement for each employee. Finally, make a “train” or “trade” recommendation. Train those who have potential, and trade those who have unresolved performance and/or attitude problems, or are not a good fit with your company’s culture.
- Create a development plan for those you have decided to train. Document what it will take for each person to move up one grade (from “C” to “B” or “B” to “A”). Define what success looks like in measurable terms, and identify the development needed to achieve that success. Make sure to include a timeline for the required progress.
- Present this employee review to your peers (management team) providing your teammates with an opportunity to ask questions, challenge your thinking and to provide additional insight/input.
Now put all of this down in writing in the form of an employee evaluation. Include in the evaluation: roles and responsibilities, how the employee is performing in their role, your expectations for future performance, and employee development expectations. Identify the form that this development will take (e.g., skills training, classroom training, etc.).
Visibility and communication are key
To ensure buy-in, have the employee self assess. Then compare perceptions of performance. During the review, address any disconnects that exist between your evaluation of performance and the employee’s evaluation of their own performance. Be specific. If there are disagreements, have supporting evidence for your position. Ensure that you have a shared understanding of performance expectations.
At the end of the review, the evaluation should be signed by you and the employee. Then, rather than filing the document away for a year, use it as a guideline for the coming year’s performance. Hold periodic reviews to discuss how performance and behavior are matching up against expectations. If there are performance problems, address them right away.
Do not wait until the next annual review to call attention to unmet expectations.
Managing people is the hardest part of running a business. But with the right amount of candor and courage, you can (respectfully) address performance problems, achieve better outcomes for your company and never have a problem with an annual surprise again.