How Performance Management Software Can Help
To reduce the financial burden on your small business, you might consider integrating performance management software into your annual review process. Companies such as Insperity, Namely and ADP Workforce Now are HR platforms that help small and midsize businesses provide effective employee feedback.
A quality performance management system delivers real-time reports and enhances collaboration between employees and managers. The platform helps you complete the process and stores the results for later review. But even with such a program, you still need to know what to say and how to say it if you want your review process to result in greater employee engagement and retention.
- Provide regular, informal feedback.
While performance reviews typically happen once or twice a year, feedback should not be limited to those short review periods. You should offer consistent assessments throughout the year so there aren’t any surprises come review time.
“Don’t catch your people off guard in a performance review,” said Erika Rasure, assistant professor of business and financial services at Maryville University. “This should not be the first time that they are hearing from you that they are not performing as expected. Be clear in writing [and] sending calendar invites, and setting expectations and the tone for the meetings.”
You should also take constant notes on employee performance – especially when there are no performance reviews on the horizon.
“Employees deserve a robust assessment of their work for the entire period being covered,” said Gary Schneeberger, founder and president of ROAR. “Far too many performance reviews are based only on what the manager can remember from the last few weeks before the evaluations are due to HR. Managers have to be intentional about taking and filing notes.”
Don’t neglect your top performers. If you’re only addressing issues or focusing on the employees who aren’t performing as well as others, you’re missing an opportunity to express gratitude to those who shape the innovation, creativity and culture within your company. Though they may not need as much guidance as other employees, these individuals could lose their passion or motivation if they are not occasionally recognized.
“Highly valuable employees who do their job and do it well are often not the priority of concern in performance review cycles, resulting in missed opportunities to communicate how much the organization values the drive and the results of the top performers,” said Rasure. “An unexpected ‘keep up the great work’ email [or] a quick phone call or text sends a consistent signal to your employee that you are paying attention and value what they do.”
- Be honest.
No worker is perfect, and there will always be room for improvement. Decide what is worth addressing, and don’t hesitate to bring it up. If you know an issue is affecting your team, tiptoeing around the subject won’t get you anywhere.
James R. Bailey, professor of leadership at the George Washington University School of Business, encourages being honest with workers, but not brutally. Deliver feedback in a way that you would want to receive it. The discussion is unavoidable, so choose an appropriate approach and stick with it.
“If someone is a poor performer and you don’t squarely address it, know that everyone else in the office knows that the person is a poor performer, and [employees] will brand you as weak or cowardly for not addressing the situation,” Bailey said.
Managers should also demonstrate and expect clarity, said Leon Rbibo, president of Laguna Pearl. “There needs to be crystal-clear clarity on both sides of the table, both in what the manager expects from the employee moving forward and in what the employee needs from the manager.”
Without clarity, Rbibo said, nothing you discuss during the evaluation will help the situation, and you’ll find yourself discussing the same topics at the next performance review. So be clear, be honest, and remember that nothing will change if it is not addressed.
- Do it face to face.
The written review should be a brief but direct overview of discussion points, making for a more nuanced face-to-face conversation. You might want to schedule a meeting in a coffee shop or out-of-office location to provide a comfortable atmosphere. If you’re reviewing remote workers, schedule a video chat so you’re still having a live conversation. This approach leaves room for discussion and feedback on their end and prevents miscommunication.
“The only way to deliver performance reviews is face to face, with ample time to present and process, listen and respond,” said Bailey. “It’s just too important to relegate to email or telephone. Doing so would send a signal that you didn’t care enough about the subject to even take the time to meet.”
After outlining any shortcomings or mistakes, discuss resolutions to those problems, and push employees to comment on the issues you raised.
- Use tangible, pertinent examples.
When discussing areas for improvement or things an employee has done well, make sure you have clear examples to reference. (This is why it’s important to take notes over a long period of time.)
“If you’ve got nothing to refer to, then you’re speaking anecdotally,” said Rbibo. “This prevents clarity and understanding. If an employee is falling behind in certain key performance areas, point to one or two specific examples, and address how you’d like those handled differently in the future.”
Having examples proves to the employee that you are paying attention and adds credit to your expectations.
- End on a positive note.
Don’t leave the review without mutual understanding and respect, and don’t let any employee feel like they’re in the dark going forward.
“Use the review process as an opportunity to set attainable goals specific to addressing the expectations the employee isn’t meeting, but which also makes the employee feel like they have a clear, reasonable plan of action that can get them back on track,” said Rasure.
Encouraging your employees and expressing your appreciation gives an added boost to a primarily good review or lifts your employee’s spirits after a somewhat negative evaluation. Positive reinforcement and constructive feedback can go a long way in giving workers the confidence and drive they need to perform better.
- Choose your words with care.
Pay close attention to how you phrase your evaluations. Here are five words and expressions that will help you effectively highlight an employee’s contributions, based on James E. Neal’s Effective Phrases for Performance Appraisals (Neal Publications, 2009).
Achievement: Incorporate this into a phrase, such as “achieves optimal levels of performance with/for … “
Communication skills: Phrases like “effectively communicates expectations” or “excels in facilitating group discussions” go a long way with an employee.
Creativity: Appreciating employees’ creative side can make for happier, more motivated staff. In a performance evaluation, try phrases like “seeks creative alternatives,” followed by specific examples and results.
Improvement: Employees like hearing that they are improving and that it’s being noticed. “Continues to grow and improve” and “is continuously planning for improvement” are two constructive phrases to use in a performance review.
Management ability: Leadership skills and the ability to manage others are key to employee success. Phrases such as “provides support during periods of organizational change” carry weight with your employee.
Richard Grote, author of How to Be Good at Performance Appraisals (Harvard Business Review Press, 2011), said that instead of using terms like “good” or “excellent” in a review, employers should opt for more measurement-oriented language. In an interview with Hcareers, Grote noted that action words like “excels,” “exhibits,” “demonstrates,” “grasps,” “generates,” “manages,” “possesses,” “communicates,” “monitors,” “directs” and “achieves” are more meaningful.