All too often, managers and employees alike get that sinking feeling in the pit of their stomachs when it comes to Performance Management. You know the feeling. As an employee, you dread the discussion with your boss. What’s he/she going to say? What do I have to respond to? What tiny detail from nine months ago will he/she spring on me?
From a manager’s perspective, the thought of preparing the document and setting the time and date of the discussion is no less shuddersome. I have no idea what to write! I can’t remember what they did last week, let alone over the last year! What if they take my message the wrong way? What if they get defensive and close down? Or worse, what if they become indignant?
Task vs tool
If the Performance Management process conjures feelings of discomfort for BOTH manager AND employees, how can we make it better? For one, we need to stop thinking of it as a task and one of a tool. By definition, a tool is an object that makes it easier to accomplish something. It’s not a good use of time and effort to simply tick the box and declare the task “complete.” If that is all it is, we’d be better off using the time to defrost the lunchroom freezer or inventory the paperclips. Instead, we need to make the process more SOLUTION oriented. What happened last year? What worked well? What didn’t go as we’d planned? Why? How do we make it better?
One way to do this is to ensure that Personal Development is involved. Have an open dialogue about what skills, knowledge or experience the employee thinks they need for greater success. This is not meant to be a sign of weakness or failure. If the employee drives this part of the discussion, the Performance Management process takes on a different light. It has a positive focus. “Huh. The company stands ready to invest in me. That’s pretty cool.” But it’s all in the delivery, isn’t it? If the manager uses a failure or inadequacy of performance to address something the employee needs to do as a result, the positive aspect is lost. Now, the development plan item becomes another box to be ticked as the result of “my manager blaming me.” Let the employee suggest things first!
Set specific & measurable Goals
Another way to make Performance Management feel less burdensome and more positive is to ensure the goals for the employee are set properly. When goals are ambiguous or difficult to measure against success, there is the opportunity for a surprise during the review. No one likes surprises. One goal that appears on so many review forms that is fraught with ambiguity is “Provide great customer service.” Bravo! What a great idea. Or is it?
The employee walks into the discussion feeling confident that he has excelled throughout the year on his goal. The manager gets ready to rate the goal low since sales are down. Neither is able to accurately measure anything since the goal is so vague. The result? SURPRISE! You think you’re great and the manager thinks you’re horrible. The discussion is uncomfortable and unproductive, the engagement of the employee sinks, and the perception that the Performance Management process is something to dread continues. At least we get to tick the box that the process was completed though, right?
If there is a surprise, the onus is on the manager. Goals should be specific and measurable. Coaching should occur throughout the year, not just during Performance Management.
If your organization suffers from “Performance Management Dread,” give ASA-U a call to help overhaul it. Make it be the positive tool that it is meant to be, not something that is distressing or simply a valueless task.
Need help with your Performance Management process?
ASA University staff is here to help
630/ 467-0000, ext. 111