Giving Performance Reviews — Are You Ready?


By Tom Dossenbach



The year-end holidays are approaching and many managers and supervisors are thinking about those dreaded "annual performance reviews" for their employees. Some are looking forward to that time and — unfortunately — some managers have never given the subject a second thought. For example, I actually overheard a furniture executive tell a new staff person one day, "I don't believe in performance reviews — if you don't hear anything from me you know you're doing a good job!"

A performance review's purpose is to provide a mechanism for evaluation of an employee's performance and feedback by measuring it against predetermined expectations, which are defined by specific responsibilities. These are spelled out in a variety of ways — all which should be documented — such as job descriptions, goals and objectives.

A company's success depends on the collective and individual performances of its associates. If a manager does not know what an employee's performance level should reach, he or she cannot evaluate its effectiveness nor make corrections if any efforts are missing the mark. In addition, as human resource professionals know, there needs to be a documented basis for such decisions as promotions, transfers, merit increases or lack of the same.

Every major survey on the subject of employee job satisfaction concludes that a feeling of importance to the company and knowing how they contribute to its success is at the top of the list. Providing performance feedback as often as possible is a way to satisfy this important basic need of everyone in an organization.



    Performance Feedback Questions

Before conducting a review of someone else, a manager should ask: Did I (or did we):


  1. Identify our greatest company or department challenges?
  2. Set goals for the company or my department to meet these challenges?
  3. Set my own goals and how-to action plans?
  4. Share company or department goals and my goals with employees?
  5. Have employees set their own goals and action plans?
  6. Review goals with them and set time lines for results?
  7. Ask managers and supervisors to repeat steps 4, 5, 6, 8 and 9?
  8. Work the goals with planned actions?
  9. Have periodic progress reviews?
  10. Go back to step one at least once a year?

Last November, I wrote an article titled How To Make 2000 Your Best Year Ever. I stressed the importance of goal setting, sharing goals with others, having employees set goals and having periodic progress reviews. It was my intention then to encourage anyone not doing this to get started so that a year later — today — they would be prepared to conduct reviews with their employees. The same steps used in goal setting can be used for effective performance evaluation and feedback. (See "Performance Feedback Questions".)

First Things First

Every manager in a company from the CEO to supervisors on the plant floor should conduct a self-evaluation before even considering conducting one with another employee. Before undertaking any performance appraisals this year, a manager should begin by asking the Performance Feedback Questions.

If a senior manager has gone through this year without identifying his or her company's greatest challenges, setting goals to meet these challenges and setting personal goals and action plans to contribute in solving these challenges, the manager receives a poor self-evaluation score! Likewise, a manager or supervisor who cannot answer the first three questions of the Performance Feedback Questions affirmatively has fallen short of his or her responsibilities.

As stated above, a performance review's purpose is to provide a mechanism for evaluation of an employee's performance by measuring it against expectations, and without defining these expectations for ones self, a manager or supervisor cannot measure self-performance for him or herself and especially not in others. The first three questions are essential for a self-evaluation and are the foundation for the final seven steps that get others involved in a coordinated goal-setting and problem-solving exercise. Therefore, if all 10 steps have been ignored, employees will not know what is expected of them and their supervisors will not be able to evaluate their effectiveness nor measure their value to the company!

Those who answered the first three questions affirmatively can now move forward to step four and begin a productive dialogue.

Conduct a Feedback Session

If a company or department does not get involved in the 10 step process, they will be forced to rely solely on subjective performance reviews which look at qualities such as knowledge, skills, attitude, volume of work, etc. and give a rating such as: outstanding — above average —” standard — below standard — or marginal.

It used to be that a manager or supervisor mandated improvement and waited to see how things turned out at the end of the year. For example, a cabinet manufacturer is producing four cabinets per worker per day and it is determined that this level is just not adequate to sustain profitability. Charles, the plant manager, said last year, "We have got to increase production by 15% without adding any additional labor!"

One could correctly assume that this can be a company goal for the coming year. However, how is Charles going to get this accomplished? If he were to assemble his supervisors and get them involved, they might come up with suggestions of how to increase productivity by 15%. These ideas could be incorporated into their personal goals and they could then get their own departments to set departmental goals to contribute to increased productivity — as suggested starting in step seven.

If employees are given the opportunity earlier in the year to participate in all 10 steps, by now they should be deeply involved in the improvement process throughout their company. How they approached these goals (that were mutually agreed on in step six) during the year forms the basis of a meaningful performance review (or feedback session).

Charles can ask his cutting department supervisor, Sarah, about her efforts in reaching the goals they set to increase production by 15%. Maybe she has set her own goals of reducing absenteeism by 50% and set-up times by 75%. How did she go about this? How does she feel about her efforts and the efforts of those in her department? Is she satisfied with the progress made this year? Why or why not? Does she have any ideas to help in this area in the year 2001? Are there other areas she feels need attention in her department next year?

These are just a few examples of the type of questions that can be answered in a feedback session if it is a part of a planned continuous improvement process. Will Sarah feel her ideas and actions are important? Of course she will. If her manager conducts this type of review with her, what type will she likely conduct with those in her department?

Notice that the technique is to try to get Sarah to analyze her own performance. If she has goals and has shared them with her team and they make a good faith effort to reach the goals, Charles should be pleased and tell her so. On the other hand, if she continually puts aside any effort because she is too busy, an attitude adjustment is definitely needed.

Set The Stage for 2001

In either case, every manager and supervisor should go through this exercise now to get ready for their reviews for 2001. The longer this process is postponed, the longer the company will wander aimlessly amidst its challenges.

The focus of this article was not intended to be employee involvement. But it can readily be seen that without employee involvement, performance reviews are just a farce because a job is more than shoving parts in a tenon machine. In fact, the effort should be made — no matter what the size or complexity of an operation — to get everyone involved in goal-setting and feedback sessions in their own areas of responsibility.

Get involved in feedback sessions of your own at least four times a year by following the 10 steps in the sidebar. You, your employees and your company will all come out on top. Good luck!


Have something to say? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.