In theory, performance management has a simple yet noble mandate: to track and review employee performance and productivity.
A productive workforce is a happy one. One that has great retention and low turnover. One that encourages employees to succeed rather than admonish them for failing. It’s positive, collaborative and celebrates winning.
A productive workforce gets stuff done. It marches in sync with company initiatives, each employee contributing to the overall goals of the team. It’s clear, efficient, accomplishes its objectives in a timely manner, and wins deals.
When the conversation turns toward performance management, a lot of people cringe. Somehow, this - endeavor has become counter to its goals. Let’s face it, managing reviews and goals is painful.
- Painful for the meticulous employee because his “quick and dirty”-style manager may not appreciate his careful, methodical approach and may lower his performance score: “He is not meeting my expectations.”
- Painful for the manager who reviews his team member’s performance based on abstract or arbitrary competencies like corporate loyalty. Painful for a busy manager to review and compare a performance from two weeks ago against a performance 11 months ago. Is that even fair, given the changing environment of a small business that must pivot, change and grow?
- Painful for admins who have to chase down overdue reviews, send incomplete reviews back and hound all employees to complete their goals on time.
The bottom line is that performance management is marred by a widening gap between managers’ and employees’ workplace issues. This gap is obvious in how infrequent reviews are, and how infrequently goals are discussed. Once a year is not enough.
Narrow the gap time between reviews
Feedback is key to an ongoing discussion, creating touch points between performance reviews that are not baked into traditional performance management. It’s short, concise and real time. If an issue is raised, its long term effects are mitigated by dealing with it in promptly, not 11 months down the line in an annual review.
Use easy-to-understand review metrics
Core competencies, cascading goals and succession planning are certainly the bedrock of performance management. Those key fundamentals are to performance management what speed limits are to highways-they put a measurable number on performance. But, and this is a huge “but,” this kind of measurement language alienates managers and employees. They see these in a performance review and they shake their heads.
Keeping goals SMART-specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and timely—improves the likelihood -they’ll be understood and achieved. SMART goals are even smarter when they focus on a few important objectives rather than many.
Use more touch points
Goal timelines are another potential gap. Traditionally set at the beginning of the year and reviewed at the end of the year, goals may shift, i.e., an adjustment to a role, a pivot in the product or a service being sold. Goals should adjust, too. What’s more, some will be met during the year and others need to be created.
Touch points throughout the year will keep the goals relevant and will properly communicate an employee’s progress, good or not-so-good. Check-ins or milestones will also bridge the gap so that a goal remains manageable on a weekly, monthly or quarterly basis.
Encourage ongoing dialogue
The most important part of reaching a goal successfully is a regular cadence of dialogue between manager and employee. Regular touch points encourage everyone to keep things on track, make refinements and adjustments, or to simply cheerlead each other to success.
It’s not rocket science. The more we nudge our workforce to have regular one-on-ones, the more opportunities we’ll find to uncover issues, opportunities and build a stronger rapport.
Give a person a fish and you feed them for a day. But teach them to fish and you’ll feed them for a lifetime.
If performance management is strictly an HR function, then participation by the workforce is by invitation only, usually in the form a performance review, scheduled at the end of the year and usually during a year-end project. As a result, the integrity of the feedback is thin. However, when you empower your workforce to contribute with their own feedback—whenever and however they wish—attitudes improve. Owning their performance shifts people from having to participate to wanting to make a contribution. The integrity of the feedback becomes honest, full-bodied and it adds more color to your organization as a whole.
Performance management doesn’t have to be painful. It can be an empowering exercise when done frequently and candidly. It should draw out valuable and insightful information in real time, not months too late. It can inspire and encourage everyone to achieve their goals.
Performance management can, and should, be the driver towards a happy and healthy workforce, not just in theory but in practice. With a properly developed and maintained performance review process, there should be no gaps between employee and employer, resulting in no surprises during any formal year-end review.