Necessary evil. Pain in the rear. The management penalty. Performance reviews are called many things, few of them positive. What’s up with that?? One of the most important things we do as senior managers is setting, and managing to, performance expectations.

Why, then, do we anguish about it so?

The problem, of course, is we frequently confuse performance appraisals with performance management. We make the appraisal process so damn onerous that no one wants to do anything but the appraisals… forgetting, of course, why we do those silly things in the first place.

It’s because we don’t take ownership of the process. It’s not the form we use, the rating scale identified, nor the percentage of pay increase associated with various rankings. It’s that we just don’t see the process as significant in our pursuit for business success.

And that’s just wrong. The capital markets continue to get stronger – both debt and equity. Initial public offerings are coming back in style. The DOW is headed back up. It’s not about all the “other” resources anymore – it’s about the people.

People make us competitive, successful, and allow us to differentiate. Believe it, get used to it, and embrace it. It’s here to stay.

Having said that, what, then, do we do about those dreaded reviews? How can they help?

People want feedback. You do, your boss does. Your staff does as well. A good performance review is nothing more than feedback–feedback that you should be giving all along anyway. So, here are some tips to make the performance review process bigger, better, stronger, faster…

  • Get it off-line. We don’t need the speed of digital; we need the effectiveness of face-to-face. Make an appointment; sit in a chair next to your staff member, and talk. Really; people have been doing it for years. It doesn’t hurt nearly as much as you think.

    Realize that the goal here is not a form… it’s managing/improving performance. Oh, yeah… we sometimes get so lost in the process, that we forget the real purpose. To manage and improve performance.

    Let’s don’t attempt to simplify so much that we lose sight of that objective.

  • Make it work, and then leave it alone. Everyone – I see this all the time – is constantly reinventing, changing, and modifying their performance review process. It’s just a form, people.

    Furthermore, the choices are actually quite simple; there are only three performance results:

    • (a) Doesn’t meet expectations,
    • (b) Meets expectations, or
    • (c) Exceeds expectations.

    All else (in my opinion) are provided for comfort and conflict mitigation, not accuracy. More rating choices enables poor performance management, in my mind. The key is in the conversation, not the tool or the ratings, so don’t spend an inordinate amount of time here.

    Performance management, conversations, dialog, and setting expectations ARE keys, so there’s the real focus. To that end…

  • Train your managers. It needn’t be a two-day seminar, but give your managers the communication tools they need to do this effectively. Your success – and your company – depends on it.
  • Use performance reviews as the foundation for year-long conversations about performance expectations and management. Set clear measurements. Revisit them frequently. Give periodic metric updates. Prevent surprises and manage performance in real-time. Help managers learn how to manage performance  through conversations first; reviews, then, merely memorialize  those performance conversations.

Performance matters. We all know this intuitively, yet we wrestle with the best way to manage that performance in our workplace. Own the process, decide that it’s about success, not perfection, and schedule that conversation.

Our success depends on it.

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