Performance Management and ‘The Review’

Performance reviews are problematic. To the extent that some companies have abandoned them altogether and now manage employee performance through other means, most notably via an ongoing open dialogue with employees. This means feedback is given often and in a much more informal way. Which could allow for an overall more productive relationship between supervisors and staff.

But before deciding to forgo the more traditionally-structured performance review, it’s important for employers to understand both sides of the story, and also how HR should be involved in whichever avenue they choose.

What is employee performance management?

Put simple, it is the monitoring and measuring of an employee’s work towards meeting a previously-set objective. For example, it is common for management to outline company goals and assign tasks to staff at the beginning of the year. From there employees will likely need to meet certain targets as the year progresses. How the employer tracks progress and determines the productivity of the employee needs to be clearly defined BEFORE any work on an assigned task can begin.

The method in which this is done can be accomplished a number of ways but the following will greatly help in establishing mutual understanding of expectations.

  1. Collaborative planning. Involve the employee in developing their goals for the year. This is a very effective way of motivating employees since they played a significant role in determining important objectives.
  2. Provide resources. A common complaint of employees who do not meet objectives is that they were not provided the necessary tools to get the work done. This includes everything from tech to having a point person for questions/concerns. Don’t make this elementary mistake. Employees cannot be expected to work successfully if they’re not sufficiently supported.
  3. Be VERY clear on what it means to achieve targets and goals. An employee should walk away from this meeting feeling confident they know just what to do and how their output will be measured along the way. Are we talking certain numbers being met or a general upswing? Any ambiguity here will only crumble the confidence and productivity of the employee.

So the task(s) were set in motion, the employee worked hard, and now it’s time to review their performance. We’re all familiar with the traditional sit-down and discuss method and there’s a reason why it’s so popular. It’s relatively easy to do, for one. But before you jump right into the conversation, let’s ‘review’ how to implement this method properly. Because yes, it can really backfire.

The pros and cons of the traditional performance review

The most notable benefit of sitting down annually with an employee is that it is a relatively easy and familiar process. While employers should put a lot of effort into their review plan, once it is  completed they can implement reviews year after year with modest adjustments to them. Other highlights to this format are the chance to clarify expectations, cooperatively manage the scope of responsibilities, acknowledge achievements and address concerns. If an employee leaves the meeting with a thorough understanding of expectations and been given the tools needed to meet them (eg training), then the review is a successful one. But if not, the review may have done more harm than good.

Unfortunately harmful performance reviews are rather common. While they should be objective, well-researched and conducted professionally (and with HR present), they often suffer from being woefully subjective, ill-prepared, and to top it off, out-of-context. Sound like a complete waste of time that may even harm employee engagement and productivity? You bet. Rather than building a healthy rapport with the team, a bad review widens the gap between supervisors and their subordinates. A discouraging influence for building a healthy company culture. 

HR’s role in performance reviews

If you’re not quite ready to abandon a traditional review, then let us stress that HR should play a role in developing and conducting it. HR personnel have the knowledge and skill-set to develop reviews that are relevant and in compliance with current laws. They can also lend additional perspectives on how employee performance should be addressed and encouraged. At the very least, HR should be present at the review for both record-keeping and to ensure that the process remains respectful and legal for both employer and employee. Their assistance in the procedure could help make the end result a constructive one.

It’s important to note that employee development is not a one-time thing but rather a process. And performance reviews should reflect that. It’s helpful to see them as a living entity, they can grow and alter to suit the current needs and situation of employee and employer. Being able to identify where adjustments are needed is crucial to ensure that they are relevant and useful to both parties.

Here is where an experienced HR team like Eos HR can help. We make sure small business teams are successful in maintaining the practices that support a productive company culture. Schedule a free consultation today to learn more.