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Talent Engagement

7 Tips to Conquering the Performance Divide

Drew Stevens, PhD.
Contributor: Drew Stevens, PhD.
Posted: 12/08/2010

The end of the year is a time for reflection as well as rebirth for organizations. As companies settle into the remaining weeks, managers in many organizations will be meeting with staff to review organizational goals. This is the time to reflect on the good to help strategize for the year ahead.

One of the most important year-end discussions is the traditional performance review. Begun in the 1920’s during the time of Fredrick Winslow Taylor, the father of scientific management, reviews were used to measure output of the manual worker. Presently, they continue to be used in such a manner, yet there is an issue with the communication of output. Typically, many performance reviews focus less on output and more on behavior. In addition, many performance reviews fail to address real issues because:

1. Appraisals aren’t expected – Traditionally, performance reviews are to be conducted at the annual anniversary of the employee or at or near conclusion to the organization's fiscal year. The problem is many managers are entrenched with organizational issues and become distracted with timing, comprehensive content and proper feedback. In one instance a bank employee awaited her performance review 20 months.

2. Appraisals aren’t fair – The largest issue concerning performance feedback is that it pits the employee against the employer. Employees can either be castigated for recent events, insulted from personality clashes or true issues completely ignored because the manager is fearful to engage in conflict. One recent manager took a sales management position to find that for over 5 years all 14 employees received stellar reviews.

3. Appraisals aren’t balanced – Reviews are traditionally one sided: manager to employee. Employees need to become part of the experience.

4. Monetary conditions mar the experience – Performance reviews are meant to communicate one thing: performance. Monetary issues have no place in a review. These are to be separate conversations conducted after the review.

To be clear, organizational productivity issues are prevalent in the workplace. Performance reviews help to mitigate concerns by providing feedback related to organizational goals and standards. In addition, reviews are meant to 1) Improve performance by aligning responsibilities with organizational goals, 2) Improve morale by providing candid feedback and 3) Reward past performance based on feedback of interoffice personnel and customers.

These issues then beg the question, is there a proper method for providing a better review and gaining the desired productivity from employees? The answer is yes.

Here is a simple template:

1. Create Timely Feedback – The best reviews are conducted weekly and monthly not annually. Research in the area by a myriad of universities and consulting firms illustrate that employees perform better when they understand in real time how they are performing. This means that managers must meet often with employees to review goals, ensure clarity of tasks and realign performance to meet annual performance objectives.

2. Encourage Employees to Provide Feedback – One of the more accomplished feedback loops is when employees provide their interpretation of performance. Prior to the physical meeting, employees conduct a personal assessment and indicate to management their personal assessment of behavior, education, skills, customer service, and adherence to MBO’s. Thomson Reuters relies on this process and it is very effective in providing a more balanced approach and articulate dialogue.

3. Crucial Conversations - The inability to confront individuals about performance has undermined organizational performance. It is imperative to have the discussions no one desires to have so that employees understand their strengths and limitations. Withholding information only leads to future issues.

4. Money Can’t Buy Happiness – Having a monetary discussion during a performance review sends an incorrect message. The focus of the conversation is meant to enhance morale and productivity. Many individuals are concerned about their bonus and raise that are determined by the board of directors and senior managers, not front line supervisors especially during difficult times. Further, individuals leave poor managers not poor salaries. Employees that focus solely on pay make poor performers and will never work productively. More importantly they will not adhere to individual achievements but rather focus on the next future opportunity.

5. The Heart of the Matter - At the heart of performance appraisals is an employee’s effort. The first phase is a measurement of how the employee performs relative to the position and the standards of the job. The effort is accomplished with a review of the job description, the organizations policies and procedures and finally, individual responsibilities. Second, the employee’s goals should be congruent with the strategic direction of the organization. For example, if a hotel chain’s direction is customer excellence then the employee’s goals should reflect desirable behaviors such as speedier check in and providing friendly and welcoming greetings such as found at the Four Seasons or the Ritz Carlton.

6. Be Personable not Personal – All performance feedback must be objective. While there are personal elements of the conversation, feedback is based on observed behavior and not personality issues. Pragmatism is paramount for the proper feedback. Seek change by issuing content based on observed behavior not personality disputes.

7. Decide on Mutual Action Plans – As the performance process moves towards achievement and future success, plans must be made to measure the actions. Both parties must agree on deliverables and time frames. More importantly, it is the manager’s responsibility to use milestones to measure and communicate success. Implement key performance measures to ensure that both parties understand what needs to be acquired and when.

T
he myth of performance feedback is that the process must be short term. This cannot be farthest from the truth. Performance feedback operates daily to help create a culture that engages employees and works to ensure organizational achievement. Aligned with morale, performance feedback is a resource that aids job satisfaction. When employees understand their strengths, have proper relationships with employers, understand their position and know their goals they can reach better levels of individual success and higher productivity.

What are some techniques your firm utilize to assess talent annually. Provide your tips or offer your insights in the comment area. I would love to hear from you.

Drew Stevens, PhD.
Contributor: Drew Stevens, PhD.
Posted: 12/08/2010