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No quick fix

Employee performance appraisal often mismanaged

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Employee performance appraisal and performance management has long been a core pillar in a manager's tool kit. However, I'm sure it isn't a surprise to learn that employee performance management is the most mismanaged functional area of human resource management. All kinds of complaints have surfaced such as inconsistency, subjectivity, lateness, a top-down approach and a failure to tie the process to organizational goals, to name only a few.

Some of the problems essentially stem from the fact that many organizations continue to take the old Taylorism approach from the 1800s where the focus is on "fixing" employees rather than developing them. On the other hand, there are many progressive organizations that have adopted a more coaching and mentoring approach to employee development and performance based on a set of competencies for each job.

However, in spite of the fact that performance management philosophies have become more in tune with how people learn and grow, the issue remains that most managers still do not like to conduct employee performance reviews. First-time supervisors, especially, find conducting their first series of performance reviews to be very challenging. That's because in many cases, the new supervisor may not have had a good role model who would have provided coaching and mentoring on the conduct of performance reviews. The result is that many new supervisors are flying by the seat of their pants. In an effort to overcome this, I provide the following advice to help new supervisors to gain some confidence in delivering their first ever performance reviews.

Understand the process -- review your organization's performance management philosophy, policies, the review cycle, the timelines and the process. As well, review the form and ensure you understand it well. Examine any earlier reviews by a previous manager and gain an understanding of the goals and objectives that were assigned to the employee. However, do not allow former views of the employee to colour your own judgment.

Meet and Inform the employee -- most review strategies today include input by the employee. Meet with your employee, review the process, provide the form and then give clear directions. Be sure to allow enough time for them to think about their accomplishments and to prepare their self-assessment response.

Review work product documentation -- as a new supervisor, you may not have much data to work with but if possible, gather as much information as you can so that you can make valid comments backed up by examples. Ask the employee to provide you with a list of projects, and samples of their work. Review the job description for the role you are reviewing. Review your departmental goals and objectives.

Understand employee learning stages -- if an employee is new to their job, as you are to the new supervisory role, you'll find you need to give more direction. Still other employees are working at or beyond their level of competency. Each level requires a different approach to review and guidance. Be sure to evaluate each employee with respect to where they are on the learning curve.

Complete the review document -- determine if you can accurately evaluate your new employee. If so, then prepare your comments with objective and concrete statements that quantify behaviour and will clearly describe strengths and areas of challenge with respect to the departmental goals. Focus on quality, timeliness, cost, effective use of resources, personal manner of performance and method of performing assignments. Be certain to consider if the employee is personally aware of their strengths and weaknesses.

Avoid judgment errors -- be sure to base your comments on facts and not assumptions. Being new to the job of supervisor, it will be easy to make an assessment based on first impressions and/or only one aspect of the employee performance. Be sure there is a link between behaviour and work accomplishments. In other words, because an employee arrives early every day doesn't mean he or she is being productive.

Meet the employee -- meet in a private location where you can sit across from the employee. Be appropriately sociable and explain the purpose and benefit of the performance review. Sprinkle positive observations and comments with those that represent constructive criticism. Probe the employee to ensure a good understanding of your comments.

Confront performance issues -- if a review will be challenging due to performance problems, be sure to write yourself a script to follow. Invite another supervisor to attend with you if possible. Think about the employee ahead of time and determine if you feel the lack of success is due to ability, attitude or a lack of opportunity. Identify one issue at a time and ask the employee for their thoughts on the issue. Outline your expectations and specifically describe the work behaviour that must be exhibited in the future.

Establish a feedback cycle -- the goal of any performance management system is to help employees become and stay successful. Thus, while you will not have had a great deal of exposure to the employees you are now supervising, be sure to set up a continuous feedback cycle. This will promote ongoing communication and enable you to understand personal motivations, work styles, individual capabilities and to deal with any issues that arise.

Brush up on your coaching skills -- as a supervisor, your role now is to coach and mentor your staff to excel at their job. This requires developing good listening and feedback skills, developing the art of questioning as well as the art of effectively challenging employees by identifying contradictions and helping them to see a different perspective.

Explore developmental opportunities -- your focus needs to be on assisting the employee to create success. Therefore, explore strategies such as stretch assignments, job shadowing in order to learn a new skill, secondments, job rotation and/or registration in a formal training program.

Demonstrate courage -- performance management is not simply a one-time supervisory task. In fact, as a supervisor, you need to be monitoring performance every day. And this means confronting unacceptable behaviour immediately, correcting and guiding behaviour and dealing with issues at the earliest possible date.

Performance management will more than likely continue to be one of the most challenging of human resource tasks and it is definitely not something that can be learned overnight. However, as a new supervisor, focus on building your skills, engage in self-reflection immediately following each employee meeting and ask for help from senior managers when you need it. Overall, focus on building positive relationships with your employees so that problems simply become learning experiences for all concerned. On the other hand, be sure to show personal courage when difficult steps must be taken.

Barbara J. Bowes is president of Legacy Bowes Group. She can be reached at barb@legacybowes.com

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 23, 2013 H1

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