I was recently asked what I think is the most important thing a manager can do to develop his or her people. The answer is simple: a good manager who is committed to developing his or her employees is also committed to always providing meaningful performance feedback. And by always, I don’t mean once a year during an annual performance evaluation.
Every employee in your organization deserves to know where he or she stands at all times. That’s why the dreaded annual evaluation process doesn’t work. Having a once-a-year discussion with an employee about her goals and performance isn’t motivating nor does it change behavior.
So what do I do, you say? I recommend getting rid of your annual performance review and commit to having regular performance conversations. At least once per quarter (although I try to do it twice per quarter due to its effectiveness), you should meet with each of your employees to discuss what’s going well and what isn’t, and create an action plan for career development and improvement. This is also a good opportunity to ensure your employees are working on the RIGHT things…work that ties to strategy execution and that is of high value to the company.
To prepare for these performance discussions, ask each employee to write out his or her answers these 4 questions…
- What do you feel you are doing well?
- What do you feel you aren’t doing well?
- What are the two most important things you are working on right now?
- What can I do to help you improve or do your job better?
Once they have provided you with their responses, add your comments. Be sure to highlight examples of things you’ve seen going well and give candid feedback on what can be improved, even if it seems insignificant. Even the smallest of course corrections can yield big results. Analyze their responses to the third question about what they are working on right now. Notice I didn’t ask “what are your top two priorities?” Priorities don’t always tie to what an employee is actually doing and this is a problem. You need to make sure that they are spending their time on the RIGHT tasks, ensuring that their goals are aligned with the company strategy. This is far more effective than setting goals once per year. Lastly, the fourth question should never ever be overlooked. Even if he says that there is nothing you can do to help him improve, dig a bit more. Ask if there are things you do that get in the way or make his job harder. Don’t be satisfied with a non-answer. Getting feedback from your employees is how you improve your performance.
But this takes so much time, you say? Yes, it does but the results you get from giving regular feedback far outweigh the time it takes to sit down for 45 minutes to talk about performance. I can promise you this…your employees need and want feedback; they crave it, both good and bad. It helps them get better at their jobs, which is a good thing for you as a manager. Don’t believe me? Check out this HBR article. Plus, what could be more important than helping your employees improve? People are your greatest asset and rock star employees are what make a company successful. Your number one goal should be to develop as many of them as you can.
But I don’t have the ability to influence my company’s annual performance review process, you say? So what? Follow the above process anyway. It will make your job easier at the end of the year when you have to prepare the annual evaluation; you’ll have four (or eight) documented performance conversations to refer to. You will also have motivated and productive employees because they are getting regular, meaningful feedback throughout the year. And if you have an employee who has continuous performance issues with little corrective action, it’ll be easier to manage him into another role or out of the company because you’ll have plenty of documented conversations to back up your decision. HR will love you for this!
Lastly, don’t wait for your quarterly (or bi-quarterly) meetings to give feedback; receiving it real-time allows employees to more clearly see how their behavior or effort is affecting their performance, especially when it’s tied to a specific instance. For example, if an employee is checking her phone during a meeting and generally not paying attention, pull her aside afterwards and ask her about her inattentiveness. It’s important to understand why she’s exhibiting the behavior before jumping into the feedback. This will give insight as to what’s going on without making her defensive. Then share with her that both you and the team don’t feel that she is engaged when she’s not actively participating, and this hurts her ability to be an effective teammate and it causes her to be perceived as unhelpful. Help her come up with a plan to solve her issues around why she wasn’t participating so she can actively engage and be a better teammate. This is highly effective…it would have lost its punch if you would have waited until the next performance conversation to share it…in fact, you probably would have blown it off and not said anything. Doing it real-time allows her to make immediate changes and it gives you insight to an issue she was struggling with, allowing you to help her move past it. This is great management.
I hope this inspired you to improve your performance review process. If this blog post didn’t, perhaps this will…
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