EFFECTIVE PERFORMANCE APPRAISALS

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1 EFFECTIVE PERFORMANCE APPRAISALS When used correctly, the performance appraisal process is a useful technique to hold employees accountable for desired results, and aligning them with business strategy. It also provides a dialog to facilitate career development, training assessment and performance improvement planning. Good performance appraisals result in the following outcomes: 1. Commonly understood job performance results and future expectations between the employee and their supervisor. 2. Employees feeling they were fairly treated and accountable for desired behaviors and results. 3. A clear performance assessment at a given point in time covering the defined rating period. 4. Discussion summary of positive and constructive feedback with no surprises. 5. Defining employee development objectives, and discussion of career goals. 6. Plans to help the employee grow and improve, including training assessment and planning. 7. New employee work objectives and performance expectations for the upcoming appraisal period. This should be a collaborative process involving the employee as much as possible. 8. Achievement of job expectations, objectives and performance requirements. An effective performance appraisal process takes strong leaders who not only learn how best to use this tool, but effectively plan work objectives, clearly communicate expectations to employees, monitor on-going performance, provide timely feedback, and maintain good documentation long before the one-on-one appraisal meeting. Good performance leadership is a daily process of communications and involvement from the leader, not a once-a-year meeting with employees. Over the years, some leaders have taken on bad performance appraisal habits that can make the process ineffective and uncomfortable for leaders and employees alike. The following are deadly appraisal habits that must be overcome to maximize the performance appraisal process.

2 NINE DEADLY APPRAISAL HABITS 1. Annual Performance Only - Dealing with performance issues only once a year is a recipe for disaster. Positive feedback is so late it lacks in its motivating power, and constructive feedback is usually vague and brings out defensiveness. Employee are generally surprised and upset with the feedback. The leader blames the bad system for their now having to deal with employee conflict and low morale. 2. Unclear Expectations Some leaders do not clearly communicate what they expect to be accomplished during the year. In many instances, they don t even know what good performance looks like. There is a huge gap between how employees and their supervisor perceive performance expectations. 3. Fire Fight Appraisal The fire fighter supervisor is so busy that the appraisal is seen as an obstacle that is preventing him or her from doing things that really matter in their mind. The attitude is Let s hurry and get these appraisals done so I can get human resources off my back. The appraisal process is haphazardly done and the employee is left feeling like they don t matter and the process was a waste of time. 4. Inconsistent Implementer Inconsistency in how the leader applies corrective action, appraisal scores, promotions and other employment decisions is a quick route to low morale, employee problems and maybe even discrimination law suits. 5. Political Application This is where the supervisor uses the appraisal tool to manipulate salary increases or promotions for his or her team. For example, scoring someone higher to get their pay where they want it to be even though the scores were not earned. This undermines the appraisal process and discredits the leader. It can also come back to haunt the leader if they ve given strong scores and then need to terminate the employee. 6. Rater Errors in Recall, Rating process, and Observation Some supervisors try to remember everything on their own without keeping good notes throughout the year resulting in recall errors. Others don t follow the appraisal training or rating process resulting in inconsistency throughout the company. Some leaders misperceive performance and fail to adequately gather the facts. 7. The Generalist These supervisors like to speak in generalities without providing any specific examples or substance to their comments that helps the employee clearly understand either what they did right or wrong. Generalities cause defensiveness and are a poor way to communicate. 8. The Defender - I m right, you re wrong and I ll tell you why by defending my views throughout the meeting. This approach can cause the employee to close off, disengage in the discussion, escalate in defensiveness or eliminate his openness to do things differently. 9. Everybody Like Me These supervisors are so concerned about being liked by their employees that they falsify scores and avoid confronting

3 performance concerns. Their appraisal may be used against the company in a wrongful termination lawsuit or be viewed as a joke. This document will discuss how to resolve these challenges and make the appraisal process effective. Appraisal Complaints Common complaints about performance appraisals are that they take too much time, are not consistently applied, do not drive desired results, or don t add sufficient value. The following guidelines will help improve the performance appraisal process and eliminate bad appraisal habits: Clearly defined expectations (set at the beginning of the appraisal period) o There are two main ways to measure performance: 1) Establish predefined competencies or work requirements and compare the employee against these criteria. 2) Establish measurable goals with the employee and check to see if the goals were accomplished. o Define and communicate performance standards, goals and expectations ahead of time. o Communicate how employee s goals and desired behaviors align with business objectives. Show employees how what they do impacts strategy and the customer (Line of sight). o Management by objectives (MBO) works well for management and most professional positions. With this process, objectives are jointly defined that if accomplished, demonstrate that the employee has met expectations. Make sure objectives are SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Results-oriented, and Time bound. o Clarify what your department produces. How does it add value for the company and customer (internal and external)? o Define how you will measure your department s success or keep score. Also, define how each employee or various teams will contribute to department results. Define how you will communicate performance feedback or the score for the company, department and individuals. How can they check their own performance? o Define what behaviors are needed, how you will communicate these expectations and how they will be reinforced. o Write and update accurate job descriptions that define the purpose for the job, responsibilities and duties, along with needed knowledge, skills and abilities for each position under your direction. Make sure employees receive a copy early in their career and are informed whenever there are changes. It is good to update these at least annually.

4 o Let employees know ahead of time how their performance will be appraised. Show them the tool and answer any questions. Mission/Objectives/Plan It is helpful for organizations and each department to define a mission or purpose for existence. This provides everyone with a common vision of expectations. o Each year, define new company objectives that achieve the purpose and business strategy. o Each department should develop objectives that align with the overall company s objectives and their specific function. A useful technique is to have the President set his or her objectives to accomplish the overall company objectives. Next, have each department leader set objectives related to their function that support the achievement of the President s objectives. These further rolls out with department leaders, asking each employee to set objectives designed to achieve the department s objectives and each employee s function. This process helps align individual performance objectives with the overall business helping execute business strategy. o When possible, involve employees in things that affect them. This helps them be more committed to any needed changes and feel that they are part of something important. If you can t involve them in what you want them to do, involve them in how they will do it. o Define resource requirements and make sure your employees have the help, budget, training and people needed to get their jobs done. o Look for methods to continually make improvements in your department. Plan, Do, Check, Act (PDCA) is an approach to help leaders plan, execute and revise departmental practices. Plan Dept plans a project or work method Do Team or individual does the project tasks Check Analyze the results Act Either standardize or begin the cycle of improvement again with new information. Communication throughout o Be clear about what you want from others. o Let your staff know how they re doing. o Avoid generalities. Be specific in details and examples when giving both positive and constructive feedback. o Praise and reward employee on a regular basis. o Provide positive and constructive feedback when things happen. A good rule of thumb is any time you are surprised, give feedback. o Check for understanding by asking questions and listening. o Score Keep track of employee performance on a regular basis similar to a sports game like basketball. What are the statistics for

5 each of your players? You need this information to help coach them. They need the information to get better and keep engaged. o Hold regular weekly or monthly discussions to keep involved in what employees are doing. o Documentation (who, did what and when) facts dealing with expectations and observed results. Keep a file on each employee where you enter positive and constructive observations and discussions. o Be consistent and fair. Never play favorites. o Know what s going on. Manage by walking around and being physically present when possible. o Be upbeat and positive. Appraisal preparation When you are getting ready to complete appraisal do the following: o Review prior feedback, notes and documentation o Review the prior appraisal. o Review previously set goals/desired behaviors. o Review the entire time period, not just the last couple months. o Clearly understand the appraisal/assessment tool and follow training and instructions. o Ask employees to do a self-evaluation. It is very helpful for them to assess their own performance and it can help when giving feedback. Note, don t look at their self appraisal until you ve completed your own assessment. You do not want to bias your own views and employees don t want to feel like they wrote their own appraisal. o Rate each employee and prepare written comments for high and low ratings. Be prepared to discuss real-life examples. o Avoiding common appraisal errors by evaluating the entire time period, taking good notes and focusing on results. o You are ready for your sit-down appraisal discussion when you are prepared to answer these questions for employees: How am I doing? What can I improve? What are my advancement opportunities? What will be expected of me before the next review? How will my work be evaluated during that time? What help or attention can I expect to get from my supervisor? o Although it is a good idea to prepare ahead of time possible employee goals, areas for improvement and needed training, don t write these out on the final appraisal. It will be more effective to finalize this working jointly with the employee. The employee may shed some light that may change the information or he may have

6 better objectives. It is imperative that employees be involved if you want to secure their commitment and buy-in. During the Interview o Make the setting comfortable and private. o Set the employee at ease. State the purpose of the meeting and engage in a two-way conversation. Avoid too much small talk and get to the point of your meeting. o Seek the employee s personal view of his/her performance. Discuss your scores and try to understand and clarify any differences in perception. o Build on the last review discussing what was planned and what has been accomplished. o Discuss your ratings and comments. Look for non-verbal employee reactions to guide how much detail you go into for each point. If they appear to be upset, ask questions to get them to open up. o Give recognition for accomplishments and achievements. Find something positive to say. o Identify areas where improvement is needed. Ask for the employee s confirmation and suggestions for improvement. o Agree on specific improvement actions and a time frame to accomplish them. Write this plan out along with measurable objectives either on the appraisal or as an attachment. o Remove obstacles to performance and define what you can do to help the employee. o Provide employees an opportunity to agree or disagree with their evaluation. Hear them out and answer their questions. o Set new goals and schedule a follow-up session, as needed. o Where appropriate, this may be a good time to discuss the employee s next possible position with the company, where they are now at achieving this and what experience or skills are needed to get there. Do the following: Evaluate the performance, not the personality. Strive for objectivity by focusing on results. Apply performance ratings consistently. Keep track of job performance, noting both the positive and the negative. Maintain written performance-related records to help you when evaluating. Gather all relevant information before completing the evaluation. Think of specific examples to give employees when discussing problems and when giving praise.

7 Don t do the following: Inflate honest, accurate appraisals. Use evaluations to play office politics or to make yourself look good. Wait for a formal review to address performance problems. Evaluate performance based solely on the recent past. They should reflect the entire review period. Avoid the following common appraisal errors and tendencies: Halo effect: Where the employee impresses the Supervisor so much in one area of the evaluation, like productivity, that she/he rates them high in all areas. Horns effect: Where the opposite of the halo effect occurs. The Supervisor is so concerned about performance in one area that she/he rates them lower in all areas. Recency: Writing the appraisal based on the most recent past performance. Remember that the appraisal should cover the overall performance for the past 12 months. Leniency: This is where the supervisor sugarcoats performance appraisals so they are well liked by their employees. Being lenient on employees only hurts them and the Supervisor. Simply state the facts and tell it like it is. EFFECTIVE PERFORMANCE APPRAISALS Effective performance coaching requires timely recognition for a job well done, as well as providing prompt constructive feedback when improvement is needed. Supervisor observations and comments should reflect the employee's performance during the entire rating period. The performance appraisal must objectively review the performance of the employee in the essential functions of the job, as defined in their job description. Supervisors must be honest and candid as they prepare and give evaluations. If an employee s work is unsatisfactory, this should be discussed with the employee. Try to understand the core problem by asking questions and obtaining input from the employee on how they will correct the problem. Ask additional probing questions, as needed, to obtain root causes and details.

8 When possible, supervisor should have their employee appraisals reviewed by their leader or Human Resources prior to meeting with employees to ensure consistency and provide additional comments as needed. Maintain Employment At-Will Promises made during the course of conducting performance evaluations could potentially disrupt the Company s employment at-will status. Supervisors must avoid making any promises of tenure, duration of employment, job security, etc. Also avoid making promises about future pay increases, unless these are approved in advance. In summary, supervisors should follow these guidelines when evaluating employees: 1. Appraise employee s performance regularly, systematically and in accordance with Company policy. 2. Keep an on-going record of employee s performance in the various areas of their job to provide a basis for evaluating their work at the time of the evaluation. 3. Form the habit of informally reviewing employees often. Tell them how they are doing; give corrective feedback, redirection and praise as needed. Remember that there should be no surprises during a performance appraisal. 4. Follow up on goals employees have set for themselves, especially if the goal was a result of corrective/disciplinary action. Don t wait until year-end when it s too late to do anything about it. 5. Use measurable, job-related criteria when assessing performance. Avoid any implication of discrimination based on age, religion, gender, color, national origin or sexual preference. 6. Make it clear to employees that the purpose of evaluations is to help them grow and improve in their current and future positions with the company. 7. When possible, allow employees to evaluate their own performance, both verbally and in writing. Encourage them to discuss their failures and successes. 8. Point out clearly, with specific examples, where the employee s work meets expectations and where it falls short. Be as specific as possible to better guide future performance. 9. Review improvements made since the last evaluation and areas still needing work.

9 10. Be frank, yet tactful. Concentrate and direct feedback at employee s work, rather than at them personally. 11. Set specific goals and job assignments with the employee for improvement, complete with a time frame for completion. 12. Document everything in writing. Document poor performance or misconduct at the time the incidents occur and notify the employee at that time. 13. Supervisor should allow employees to state their feelings without reacting in anger. Listen and coach the employee without arguing. If the employee becomes upset, use active listening skills to let them vent and calm down. Maintain control of the interview through questioning techniques or by changing subjects when necessary. The bottom-line is to rate employees fairly, consistently and accurately using the appraisal tool provided by your company and these guidelines. Written by Ken Spencer, Human Resources Consultant and President of HR Service, Inc. Copyright 2006 HR Service, Inc.

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