I'm embarrassed to admit that this is the first year I'm giving our managers detailed training on how to conduct good performance reviews. In the past, I've sent them forms to use and a few words of encouragement, and not much else. In retrospect, this was a crazy plan, since most people haven't done many of these in their careers and people have different ideas about how to go about them.
So this year I'm doing a group training for managers. In addition to talking about the specifics of our forms, especially the nuances of our rating categories, I'm also going to cover the following:
1. Why do we do performance appraisals when our goal is to be giving feedback on a regular, ongoing basis through the year? Answer: To provide a substantive, overall assessment of employees' performance and ensure the manager and employee are on the same page; to provide suggestions for growth and improvement, helping fair performers become good and good performers become great; to provide an opportunity to delegate more responsibility to the employee; to find out how the employee is doing internally – happy, thinking of leaving in the next year, wanting more responsibility, etc.; and in the case of poor performers, to send (additional) clear messages about needed improvements and to supplement documentation in the event termination becomes necessary.
2. How long should a manager expect to spend on the process? Answer: Plan to allow at least an hour to write each appraisal, if not more, and allow another hour to meet with each employee individually. And no matter how tempting procrastination may be, don't put it off, since it sends a terrible message to the employee when their evaluation is delayed and delayed.
3. Be specific and use examples to illustrate your points, both when praising and when identifying areas for improvement. For instance, you could say "you did a great job with the new inventory system," but it's more effective to say "your revamping of the inventory system has saved the company money and I've heard several people comment about how much easier you've made it to find the supplies they need."
4. Be honest and direct about problem areas. If you have any complaints/concerns, they must be included. Potentially uncomfortable, yes, but it's also your obligation as a manager. (And if you ever find yourself needing to defend a firing in court, you'll be in real trouble if the plaintiff's performance reviews were misleadingly positive.)
5. Be specific about what can be done to improve. Note that that says "can be done," not "needs to be done." That's because even if someone is doing a good job, you should still take the opportunity to tell them how they could to move from good to great.
And be sure to be specific here too. Don't just say "work faster" when you could say "process all checks within three days and respond to customer emails within two days."
6. Pay attention to the overall picture you're painting. I've seen managers write bizarrely lukewarm evaluations for employees I know they love and would devastated to lose. Likewise, if the employee is a mess and needs to make major improvements, make sure that comes through in the overall message. Make sure that the sum of the parts adds up to the correct whole.
7. What if the employee has struggled with something all year but recently improved? What if he or she has done well all year but recently had a major error? Answer: Resist the temptation to be overly influenced by recent events; the evaluation is (in most cases) for the whole year, not just the last few months. That said, if someone has struggled all year but improved recently, be sure to note that so the person doesn't feel his or her efforts are unnoticed.
8. Consider getting feedback (in confidence) from others who work closely with the employee. You may find out aspects of the person's performance, both good and bad, that you didn't know about.
Anyone want to add to this list? I'd welcome more ideas.