The formal performance evaluation period is one of the most important times for your business. It is a time to recognize achievements and set expectations for future job performance. It is also a time to have honest conversations about performance gaps and how performance can be improved. It’s a time mutually beneficial for your employees and yourself. Most of your employees are eager to know how they can improve their performance, from the past, understand performance expectations for promotion and raises, or prepare to change jobs.
A 2014 assessment of employee attitudes towards “positive” and “corrective” feedback by Zenger/Folkman for the Harvard Business Review revealed that 57% of respondents preferred receiving corrective to positive feedback. When given properly, 92% also believed “negative” feedback was effective in improving performance and those who favored constructive feedback rated their managers highest for being honest and straightforward in their reviews.
Consider the following tips to have a constructive conversation with your employees as you complete formal performance evaluations:
- Develop simple written procedures: it will help your employees and managers agree on common standards and tools, record consistently information and sign off outcomes of the discussions. Make sure you include in your policies a review audit system to ensure bias and personal feelings don’t impact the evaluation and avoid claims of discrimination.
- Gather 360 degree feedback: Gather feedback from multiple sources, including: colleagues, managers who have worked with the employees, clients and other stakeholders directly impacted by his/her performance. Consider simple questions, asking for concrete examples to illustrate ‘what should the person continue to do? Stop doing? Start doing?’ in complement to specific objectives on which the employee is being evaluated.
- Prepare your meeting: If you don’t prepare, you may discourage the employee about how the company’s value achievements and miss a valuable opportunity for constructive feedback and improvement. Before the meeting, analyze feedback collected including self-assessment from the employee. Structure the evaluation meeting and prepare some key points for discussion. The more concrete examples, the better to illustrate your points. At the beginning of the meeting, explain the agenda, set the tone and define the role the employee plays in the evaluation meeting and process. You may adapt the following questions with specifics to structure your discussion, and leverage the enclosed performance evaluation form.
- What was the hardest thing you faced this year?
- Which accomplishments are you the most proud of?
- Which areas would you like to improve in? How will you know if you’re successful?
- What keeps you up at night when you think about your job?
- What can I do better to support or guide you
- Build trust: Demonstrate effective listening and genuine interest in helping the employee to grow and develop. Adopt an empathic and humble attitude to build a safe environment in which a constructive discussion can flourish.
- Follow through: Recognize the employees with positive feedback and encouragement when they are on the right track and have implemented discussed changes.
- Lecture: A successful performance evaluation is the result of a two-way conversation finding a solution together, not a one way lecture how the employee did well this period and how she/he can improve. Both should have the time and feeling of being safe in order to share what they think worked well and what could be improved in the employee’s performance, and also respond constructively to each other’s.
- Focus on pay: If the conversation focuses on how income will be impacted, you may lose the opportunity to get an honest conversation about the performance itself and plan for employee growth and development, which should be at the core. Leverage this time instead for the employee to plan for learning new skills and abilities, exposure and other ways to develop. For areas for improvement, concentrate on one or two to start in order to avoid overwhelming feelings and confusion.
- Wait for the annual review to discuss: Annual performance reviews can tend to focus on the most recent events and ignore the contributions an employee makes all year long. Those are often less documented even by peers consulted prior to the evaluation and through the ‘halo’ effect, managers will tend to refer to the employees most recent success or lack of successes. Conduct quarterly formal performance evaluations rather than annual ones including career development discussions, and implement weekly one-on-ones with your employees for real-time feedback on their performance. They should not hear about feedback for the first time at the formal performance evaluations. Regular feedback also allow for flagging and mitigating faster underperformance areas up to disciplinary misconduct, to provide the employee with sufficient time for potential improvement before warning and termination if needed.
- Evaluate the wrong metrics: Did you take time to set clear, Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time Based (SMART) objectives beforehand with your employees and clarify what are expected from them individually with clear Key Performance Indicators (KPI)? Are KPIs really adapted to the level of performance you want to monitor? Rather than being based on opinions, performance evaluation should be based on clear evidence of accomplishments. The clearer your framework is, the easier it will be for you to evaluate performance achievements and areas of improvements and hold a constructive performance conversation.
For more information about the studies quoted in this article:
Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman, ‘Your employees want the negative feedback you hate to give’, Harvard Business Review, January 2014