By: Kayla Bell on January 31st, 2015

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Performance Reviews: Solve the 3 Biggest Problems

Total Rewards | Employee Relations

As we wrap up January 2015, many organizations have closed out the 2014 end of year performance appraisal process. This year, more than ever, I’m hearing from clients that their evaluation process “just isn’t working”. Their feedback is that for the last several years we go through the same process and the results aren’t worth the effort.

3 Common Problems with Annual Performance Evaluations

  1. Unsubstantial conversations related to performance are occurring;
  2. Managers perception that all of their employees are exceeding expectations resulting in a 100% above average workforce; and/or
  3. The process is time-consuming and the end result is a piece of paper for a file and frustrated managers.

I’ve written several articles pertaining to performance management, and I whole heartedly believe there is significant value in having a formal process for discussing and documenting goals, efforts and progress. That said, if your current performance management process isn’t working – change it!

Performance Evaluations for Large Organizations Vs. Small Businesses

If you’re in a large organization, deviating from the normal end of year form may be challenging, but it is not impossible. Larger organizations often utilize an HRIS platform that can offer electronic performance management. If your company has an HRIS, I encourage you to look into the options within your HRIS platform.

As for the smaller organizations, you may or may not have invested in a full-blown HRIS system that provides electronic performance management. If this is you, I encourage you to think outside of the box and develop a performance management system that works for your team. Just because the end of year evaluation is the “normal” way of doing things, doesn’t mean it is right for you. Below are five questions to get your creative juices flowing as you brainstorm your 2015 Performance Management Plan.

5 Questions to Help You Solve Your Performance Management Plan Problem(s)

1. What are we really hoping to gain from an evaluation process?

The intention behind a performance evaluation is to align expectations between your organization, the management team and their direct employees. Ideally, this is achieved by continually communicating expectations from the top of your organization, including executive team members and managers, clearly and consistently throughout the year. Performance reviews allow managers and employees to take a look at the past year’s successes and challenges to determine if organizational objectives and expectations are being met and determine a path for the upcoming year to help facilitate successful performance.

2. Why isn’t the form working?

I imagine you already have some thoughts around why your evaluation form isn’t working. Often times an evaluation consists of a rating scale of 1 – 5 or “not meeting expectations” to “exceeding expectations”. Managers and employees are asked to rate themselves on a combination of organizational and job-related competencies. There is a perception in many organizations that I’ve worked with that unless an employee is receiving a rating of “5” or “exceeds” he/she feels that they’ve received a negative review. Perhaps your employee’s salary increases are (or have previously been) tied to the final rating on his/her evaluation form so anything less than a “5” means less of a raise. Perhaps your employees don’t have a realistic picture of his/her performance. Maybe your managers are not communicating expectations throughout the year and employees are surprised to find that they are truly not meeting expectations. There is even the possibility, and I know this will surprise many of you, that although your form rates an employee on 15+ competencies, the form may not tell the story of an employee’s successes and challenges throughout the year. What do all of these obstacles lead to? A time-consuming process that results in a frustrated workforce.

3. Where does the value lie?
The value of performance management lies in the conversation. Employees don’t remember what’s written on the piece of paper, they remember what was discussed in the conversation around the evaluation form. Communication is the foundation for a successful performance management system. Start off the year by discussing performance and development goals. Meet with your employee regularly to determine progress against goals, discuss obstacles to achieving those goals, and develop action plans to overcome those goals. If an employee is not performing to their manager’s expectations, managers should be having those direct conversations so that the employee is both made aware of performance challenges and given an opportunity to correct and continue with your organization in a successful manner. As HR professionals we should remember to empower, encourage, and coach managers on how to have successful performance conversations.

4. Are we required to file an evaluation form every year?
In HR, we are required to do a lot of filing, and reporting to the government, and retain a lot of paperwork. The good news is, an end of year evaluation form that rates your employee’s competencies is not one of those requirements! Is it important to document performance? Absolutely! However, it’s not necessary to use the standard evaluation form found in most organizations.

5. What’s an alternative solution?
Focus on the conversation. Your organization likely has (and I recommend that you consider one if you don’t) a progressive discipline policy in place that addresses how negative performance will be handled. Refer to this process throughout the year to manage poor performance – so no need to wait to the end of year review to “document” poor performance.

Now how do we formally document overall performance of all employees? While managers and employees should have regularly occurring one-on-one meetings, consider a quarterly discussion that is solely performance focused. Managers and employees can meet to discuss established goals, progress, challenges, and next steps. Create a discussion guide where managers and employees document, together, the topics covered in the discussion. This “form” (which likely looks nothing like the standard evaluation form) serves as your formal performance management system. Depending on what this form contains, this can fully replace that standard evaluation form; I encourage you to include topics of discussion similar to progress made towards goals, challenges, major accomplishments, and general feedback about how the quarter has shaped up for the employee. At the end of the year, looking back at the progress throughout these four discussions will tell a clear story of an employee’s ability to meet goals, overcome challenges, and determine if the last year was a success or not. Stay away from the buzzwords in your organization that have led to an unsuccessful review process; for example, “exceeds expectations”.

Like many policies and processes, there are no one-size fits all when it comes to performance management so don’t be afraid to deviate from the norm and create your own solution. Remember to consider meeting with managers to discuss new performance expectations and changes to the process to help facilitate a successful transition into your organization’s new way of managing performance.