Conducting an effective performance review is one in which problems of underperformance are discussed. This demands considerable skill on the part of the reviewer in such areas as giving feedback, agreeing objectives, assessing performance and development needs, planning for performance improvement and carrying on a dialogue.
One advantage of introducing an element of formality into the review process is that it highlights the skills required to carry out both formal and informal reviews and emphasizes the role of the manager as a coach. These skills come naturally to some managers. Others, probably the majority, will benefit from guidance and coaching in these key aspects of their managerial roles.
The criteria for assessing performance should be balanced between −
● Achievements in relation to objectives
● The level of knowledge and skills possessed and applied
● Behavior in the job as it affects performance
● The degree to which behavior upholds the core values of the organization
● Day-to-day effectiveness
The criteria should not be limited to a few quantified objectives as has often been the case in traditional appraisal schemes. In many cases, the most important consideration will be the jobholders’ day-to-day effectiveness in meeting the continuing performance standards associated with their key tasks. It may not be possible to agree meaningful new quantified targets for some jobs every year. Equal attention needs to be given to the behavior that has produced the results as well as the results themselves.
This is probably the area of greatest concern to line managers, many of whom do not like handing out criticisms. Performance reviews should not be regarded as an opportunity for attaching blame for things that have gone wrong in the past.
If individuals have to be shown that they are accountable for failures to perform to standard or to reach targets, that should have been done at the time when the failure occurred, not saved up for the review meeting. And the positive elements should not be neglected. Too often they are overlooked or mentioned briefly then put on one side.
The following sequence is not untypical −
● Objective number one – fantastic.
● Objective number two – that was great.
● Objective number three – couldn’t have been done better.
● Now objective number four – this is what we really need to talk about. What went wrong?
If this sort of approach is adopted, the discussion will focus on the failure, the negatives, and the individual will become defensive. This can be destructive and explains why some people feel that the annual review meeting is going to be a ‘beat me over the head’ session.
Underemphasizing the positive aspects reduces the scope for action and motivation. More can be achieved by building on positives than by reviewing performance concentrating on the negatives. People are most receptive to the need for further learning when they are talking about success.
Empowering people is a matter of building on success. But this does not mean that underperformance should go unnoticed. Specific problems may have been dealt with at the time but it may still be necessary to discuss where there has been a pattern of underperformance. The first step, and often the most difficult one, is to get people to agree that there is room for improvement.
This will best be achieved if the discussion focuses on factual evidence of performance problems. Some people will never admit to being wrong and in those cases you may have to say in effect that ‘Here is the evidence; I have no doubt that this is correct; I am afraid you have to accept from me on the basis of this evidence that your performance in this respect has been unsatisfactory.’
If at all possible, the aim is not to blame people but to take a positive view based on obtaining answers to questions such as these −
● Why do you think this has been happening?
● What do you think you can do about it?
● How can I help?
A well-conducted review meeting provides ‘quality time’ in which individuals and their managers can discuss matters affecting work and future developments. They also provide an extra channel of communication. Properly planned review meetings allow much more time and space for productive conversation and communication than is generally available to busy managers – this is perhaps one of their most important purposes.
There should be ample scope for communication about the organization’s or department’s objectives and how individuals fit into the picture – the contribution they are expected to make. Information can be given on significant events and changes in the organization that will impact on the role of the department and its members.
One of the objections that can be made to this free flow of information is that some of it will be confidential. But the need for confidentiality is often overstated. If the feeling is conveyed to people that they cannot be trusted with confidential information it will not do much for their motivation.
Traditionally, line managers have been asked to predict the potential for promotion of their subordinates. But that has put them in a difficult position unless they have a good understanding of the requirements (key dimensions and capabilities) of the roles for which their staff may have potential. This is unlikely in many cases, although the development of ‘career maps’ setting out the capabilities required in different roles and at different levels can provide invaluable information.
In general terms, past performance is not necessarily a good predictor of potential unless it contains performance related to dimensions that are also present in the anticipated role.
Because of these problems, assessments of potential are now less frequently included as part of the performance review meeting. They are more often carried out as a separate exercise, sometimes by means of assessment centers.