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Do we value performance reviews?

Like it or not, many organisations still undertake a formal performance review process annually.


In another of his series of articles looking at traditional business practices, Mark Hallam looks at why performance reviews are not always as effective as they might be.


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Managing people can often be a “Time Bandit”, as the day is eaten away resolving issues such as personal problems, conflicts and disagreements. All this, along with tackling everyday business barriers, is a drain on the working day.


These invariably generate extra paperwork, acting as an unwelcome distraction from the smooth running of a business, which in itself requires focus to do it justice.


Most managers prefer to avoid conflict, particularly when it undermines the workplace harmony, but one significant contributor to creating a toxic atmosphere, if handled poorly, is the much-maligned annual performance review.


But this is a fundamental role of manager… isn’t it?


We hope so… but all too often, as working hours are a premium, it’s a task that is rushed or even deferred. Finding time in a busy day is difficult and attending impromptu meetings and dealing with issues which crop up can take precedence over reviews. Understandably this can leave employees feeling flat, as they have thought of very little else and been waiting in anticipation all day.


So why does this happen?


Most managers, don’t relish the prospect of conducting reviews, but what is totally unforgivable is when a manager’s excuse for postponing a review at short notice is really down to them not being in the right frame of mind.


Unfortunately, this practice is all too common, possibly driven by managers being uncomfortable when dealing with difficult employees or appearing too judgemental with under-performers. The tendency is to put things off until they’re in the right mood to handle it.


Another discouraging factor for managers when conducting an effective review, is the inherent dislike of completing the review form. Struggling to find the appropriate words to capture an accurate view of an employee’s performance is not always an easy task and can be very time consuming.


Pitching the right comments in a way that positively affects future productivity without being misunderstood is always a balancing act, but by taking notes aligned to the review forms disciplines, allows a manager time to compile their thoughts professionally and avoid completing the form during the meeting.


Managers should never walk into a review ill-prepared or pre-occupied and whatever happens during the review, should determine what’s included in the appraisal form, as it is critical in getting the results they are aiming to achieve. For an employee to be motivated, they need to trust the performance review experience and recognise its designed to improve their performance.


Identifying their development areas and mapping out prospects is important but most importantly to an employee, is that their feedback is being listened to. This is why preparation, particularly when dealing with sensitive areas or awkward employees, is paramount for managers to avoid missing key areas of concern.


Examining the KPIs against pre-determined targets and subjective objectives such as soft skills; written & verbal communication, punctuality, appearance etc. are usually the main focus in reviews and many employees look forward to the review experience, particularly if they’ve had a successful year and anticipate a bonus or even promotion as a result.

Conversely, others find the whole experience daunting and dread the prospect of being analysed, considering it to be more of an opportunity for managers to criticise, leaving them demotivated, which is contrary to what a performance review sets out to achieve.


People like to relate to specific examples of where they’ve not met expectations and as reviews have a tendency to analyse what’s gone before, managers can often reflect on the most recent events of what they can remember… So why wait for the annual performance review?


Most managers don’t have the opportunity to change annual company review policies, but by holding informal reviews throughout the year, giving and receiving regular feedback, helps resolve issues before they become real problems and means both parties feel more in control.


This not only encourages self-development, which is an important benefit for any employee, it also provides an “open door” policy for them to feel comfortable approaching managers and identifying problems and clarifying future expectations.


It makes it far easier to have a fulfilling and meaningful annual review meeting and alleviates the pressures and uncertainty at the end of the year.


We may ask; Isn’t this exactly the role of a manager? … “Yes”… should be the answer, but all too often in today’s highly-charged world, it can fall by the wayside as the working day is eaten away.


By adopting a rolling review in this way - say monthly or quarterly - it fosters empowerment and real change which contributes to avoiding unnecessary micromanagement, but also identifies under-performers before their performance deteriorates further.


Performance Reviews are one of the most important processes during an employee’s year, as so much credence is placed upon the outcome. The least we can expect from managers is to factor adequate time and preparation that an employee’s review deserves.


It can serve to enhance a manager’s relationship and a professional business leader should never shy away during the review, asking questions such as; “How as a manager, can I help you?... Or… How can I be better for you?”


It’s said, that people are an asset. So why not treat them as one of the most valuable an organisation has. After all, it’s people that make the difference.


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Contact Mark at mark@thechangemakergroup.com